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Garden for All Seasons

A friend recently sent me a copy of an article featured in the New York Times. Although we are fast moving toward the spring equinox, the article “Enjoy the Long Nap” [1] is still relevant for us who are about to pick up our spades to till the warming earth. In Sara Barrett’s interview with Dutch landscape designer, Piet Oudolf, he expounds on the importance of giving life to all the seasons in the garden. So often we forget our yards and landscapes in the winter as we retreat to the warm indoors. And, yes, it is a time for rest- both for the gardener and the land- but if enough forethought is put into the planning there will be winter interest to observe and enjoy as we sit at the fireside looking out.

As much as we all love color, be it primary or secondary, monochromatic or chromatic, Oudolf makes a big point that color is only one facet of garden design. If not at any other time, the barren season illustrates the critical role texture and shape play in the over all plan of a garden. It is these two elements that hold the interest in the¬†winter. We see the “bones” of the landscape, where bare branches expose their true form, and where the texture of bark pops against a bland background. Long after the color fades from the flower, what’s left is a compellingly interesting seed head.

Bald Cypress

Symmetrical skeleton of the cypress stretching it’s branches upward to the sun.

Hydrangea bones

The upright hydrangea stems revealing it’s form.

River Birch

Triadic trunk sloughing off it’s shaggy bark.
shaggy bark of the River Birch

Curly layers of shedding bark

Oudolf goes on, waxing poetically about the reflection of our human life cycle in the garden, remarking how winter is the stark reminder of our mortality. Spending time observing the winter landscape we come to accept the frailness and decay of old age, then death. Yet, the many seasons I’ve observed in my garden have revealed to me that after each loss, when life lays tiresomely fallow, birth follows. New beginnings are just a season away….