Garden diary: remembering winter

We had a taste of it. On December 5, a little frost, a thin crust of ice on the pond. Later, a sunny day, the temperature moderated and it’s been warm ever since. Now we’re past the winter solstice, and still no winter.


The canal pond is overgrown and cluttered by end of summer. I like to clear its edges before winter; a little more open space near the house prepares the way for a snowy entry. Next spring the bridge may have a wooden “stepping stones” added beyond the right end if I can find log circles, Black Locust preferred, to make a pathway across this jungle of Petasites.


The geometry of frosted Petasites. Such a large, dramatic plant, it drops at first frost and dessicates so thoroughly there’s almost nothing left by spring.


Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) stippled with ice.


The garden appears to rise up to the house.


Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’.


The box ‘caterpillar’.


Stone circle with brawny trunks of Japanese Fantail willows (Salix sachalinensis ‘Sekka’).


A pollarded willow, Salix alba ‘Britzensis’. I’d like to have three or four (more?) in this area for winter color and structure. To give a sense of scale, its branches top out at about eight feet.


Graceful Prairie Cord Grass (Spartina pectinata ‘Aureomarginata’), one of the few native grasses that thrives in my garden.


Toward the woodland garden at one end of the house.


In autumn, I call this area of senescent grasses and blackening perennials the sunfield. Glowing grasses catch the light, transforming the dying perennials into sculptures of darkness.






The circle of red logs, a reminder of process and order in a season of increasing disorder.


Fertile fronds of Matteuccia struthiopteris. In mass, these provide interest poking up through the snow (snow?).


Back up to the house …


… looking across …


… and out …






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14 thoughts on “Garden diary: remembering winter

  1. Wonderful that you get such a great long season this year since one recent fall I recall you had snow or ice early that leveled many plants. And I’m happy to see Zelda out enjoying your garden – it’s a magical place for adventurous spirits young and old(er). Happy (almost) New Year, James 🙂

    1. Paul, yes, I think two years ago we had a heavy, wet snow in late October. Even with that, the plants compressed against the ground had a subtle beauty, like a fine, ornate kind of paper-making. Happy New Year to you.

  2. Hello James,

    Beautiful photographs as always…
    I like the idea of a stump path (you’ve seen of course the picture of the stumpery in Highgrove, or perhaps you’ve visited?). I was charmed by the variety of surfaces of some Dutch gardens, and in my garden I would like to put in a path that shifts from bluestone pavers to pineneedle to river stone to the lovely kind of geometrical paving made of tiny slivers of polished stone that you see in some of the great gardens in Italy…. a new year’s project perhaps. Ross

    1. Hello, Ross – yes, I’ve seen photographs of the stumpery at Highgrove, though I haven’t been there, and I’ve wished I had equipment to move several close by. I’d plant them with ferns. Good luck on your new path. I have little doubt you’ll do it.

  3. Much the same here…it really hasn’t gotten cold yet, although we’ve gotten a fairly spectacular amount of rain, at least! I love your winter photos…there is something so very satisfying about the garden in winter.

  4. I think we have had similar weather, but the frost we had was light enough to only damage a few things and it sent those things that should be deciduous into an in between state where they don’t know weather to defoliate or push out new growth. Some are attempting both.

    1. Les, we finally had a freeze this week, and it’s continued to be cold. The week before, I saw a large camellia in full bloom in the Liz Christy garden at Houston and the Bowery. It’s not blooming now though. I’m itching to burn and cut the garden, but I know I have to wait for some snow.

  5. No winter so far for you James, yet I had a killing frost at the start of the week at the (so-called) summer end of the planet. The basil is gone, the courgettes look terrible, though maybe salvageable, and I took to the tomatoes with the hedge clippers today to take off the top third which was dead.

      1. Elevation is part of it James, we’re about 350 metres above seal level here. Latitude too, of course, at 45 degrees south we’re halfway between the equator and the South Pole (roughly the same as Ottawa in your neck-of-the-woods). So a frost at any time of the year is not unheard of. The severity of the one we had on Monday though, can be attributed, I think, to the big El Nino this year which is bossing the weather right across the globe at the moment and typically delivers a relentless, cool, south-westerly airflow across NZ. Drought conditions are taking hold along the eastern rain-shadowed coastal areas of both the North and South Islands.

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