The panacea for winter, drear and cold, is most often suggested as a snuggly day, plumped upon down pillows in a cozy window seat, sipping Lapsang Souchong tea from Grammy’s Haviland teacup, all the while poring happily over a panoply of seed and garden catalogues.
Sounds like fun, I heartily agree. However, winter is also the time I pay my dues and suffer the consequences of my horticultural impatience. Hopefully I have kept notes on last seasons beds along with a graph of sorts, recording what was planted and, most importantly – where? In my haste and impatience I have often filled every inch with greenery, creating a pleasing tableau at the moment with little appreciation about eventual spread, height, and reseeding tendencies.
In California the winter garden could have a certain poignancy, a beauty in sparcity, but it was far easier to look at the underlying structure and reassess the bones. The general design still showed, even when the perennials had died back or taken a seasonal break. Here in Minnesota the piles of snow have covered not only the beds, but my memory, I fear.
That’s where the notes and graph paper come into importance, marking the mistakes and (on fresh paper) planning the new season. And hopefully I have taken lots of photos for “compare and contrast”. After that initial plan, it will be spring before the emerging successes and mistakes pop up and can be celebrated, tossed into the compost pile, or potted up and shared with friends. And successful reseedings are happy free-bees that can be sprinkled throughout the beds.
In the meantime, when I rifled through my folders and notes from last year I came across some forgotten how-to’s and inspirations.
As a general rule of thumb guide: Plant the majority of perennials 1 to 1 ½ feet apart. Plant small “front-liners half that distance. Plant large plants and small trees 4 feet apart. And of course, consider shape and color, flowering time, light availability and soil needs. That’s a given.
Most importantly, I need to keep reminding myself that when spring finally comes I will be too busy finding homes for the new darlings I discovered at the local nursery, overwhelmed at the necessity to “get on with it” and too deep into a heightened planting frenzy to be garden-rational. That’s precisely why I need to be extra vigilant in the winter and do my planning in the down time.
Two other thoughts I jotted down in my garden notes when I was digging for last year’s plan (don’t know the authors) gave me some horticultural sustenance – “Few of us manage a winning combination more than occasionally, and by accident more often than we realize.” Thank you for that!
And – “You might have a well conceived plan, but it will need constant tinkering.” Yes, that’s comforting. Sort of.
Don’t forget to work on the plan in the “down time.” While you’re sitting and sipping in your cozy spot, enjoy your seed catalogs, but always remember the bones!