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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Nov 30

Winter Gardens

Posted on November 30, 2018 at 9:17 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

winter gardens
Top to bottom: Goldfinches on nyjer socks, burning bush (Euonymus alatus), and Helleborus
Landscape design requires giving thought to a well-balanced garden comprised of year-round interest. Three of our four seasons are easier to consider in terms of garden use. But let’s face it, winter gardens are a challenge compared to the draw of any other time of the year.

Spring, summer and autumn harbor many plants to entertain our eyes as they dance over the splendor found within. Spring and summer beds are full of flowering bulbs, fruiting trees covered in white and pink blossoms, or emerging perennial flowers waking from a long winter’s nap. 

Even the heat of summer is no exception as the sages, lavenders and other pastel-shaded flowers seem to reduce the temperatures not only with their color but as their fragrant oils fill the air we breathe. Pathways are oft times lined with groundcovers drawing us forward to explore beyond our first view of the garden. And what better time to follow those paths than warm evenings of summer.

Even the cooler autumn days are not a disappointment. Leaves of interest decorate shrubs and trees. Many of those leaves provide a spectacular display as they drop the chlorophyll to reveal their gorgeous and vibrant reds, yellows and oranges normally hidden beneath the green. 

Winter gardens are a different animal. It is cold and wet out there. Plants are dormant. Leaves have fallen. The days of barbequing for a party of 20 or two are put on hold until warmer weather. Gardening is reduced to chores such as pruning, cleaning fallen diseased leaves and winter spraying. 

Given the dreary conditions, what can be done to increase our pleasure in the winter garden? It definitely requires more thought to create interest in winter. Don’t overlook drawing inspiration from nature. Sometimes creating interest can be as simple as hanging nyjer seed in mesh socks to attract the intense yellow goldfinch into our yards. Perhaps a well-placed bird bath will encourage birds to visit for a quick dip. And garden art with movement is always a source of interest. 

Also consider plants that thrive in winter. Helleborus is an elegant addition to the winter garden. Sasanqua camellias can be introduced for blotches of color. Cyclamen can encircle that well-placed bird bath for a show of red, pink or white blooms through May. Plants can be added to provide colorful berries. Trees and shrubs such as some of the Japanese maples or dogwoods known for their interesting, colorful barks will also attract the eye. I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest one of my favorite garden fragrances: Daphne odora is a dead-of-winter bloomer. This low-water-using shrub thrives on neglect—just be certain it has good drainage. 

Winter gardens don’t need to be dreary. It will take a little thought and some eye-catching placement from the windows of your home to make it work. Meanwhile, pour a favorite warm beverage and use your imagination!

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