Featured Stories

Look for winters sparse rewards

Garden Muse

Even though I understand that winter is a given, that the seasons will change just as they always have, I don't like it! I want to hold on to autumn's warmth, to the late blooms on the fuchsias and dahlias, to the beautiful orange tints on the parrotia trees and Japanese maples.

By now, the last flaming leaf on 'Grace' smoke tree is gone, the Concord grapes have all burst and fallen, the roses have turned to papery husks. I feel sad for the absence of color, for the loss of sunshine's invigorating energy. I wish I were more like the detective Erlendur, the protagonist of Arnaldur Indridason's Icelandic mysteries, who loves winter. Here in 'Hypothermia,' Indridason paints a portrait of his flawed sleuth:

'He had never dreaded winter as so many did, not like those who counted the hours until the days would start to lengthen again. He had never regarded winter as his enemy. Time seemed to slow down in the cold and darkness, enfolding him in peaceful gloom.'

A time to read

Can I look at winter from a different angle? After all, thanks to the shorter days I can indulge in reading more detective novels and discovering writers new to me. A trip to Murder by the Book on Southeast Hawthorne expanded my reading list hugely. I love the way the store's bookcases are organized so that you can easily find what you enjoy most. Some are clustered by the setting, whether Scandinavia, Alaska, or Paris. Several shelves feature mysteries starring cats and dogs. Legal thrillers, cozies, noir, and true crime fill the shelves. There are even mysteries with protagonists who love to cook, complete with enticing recipes.

I discovered Batya Gur, whose 'Saturday Morning Murder' is set in a psychoanalytic institute in Jerusalem. Character driven, with a detective as smart as the analysts he's investigating, the novel was compelling enough to take my mind off the garden, for a while. Sadly, like best selling author Stieg Larsson, Gur died too soon, in her 50s.

A time to plan

Reframing aversion to winter with more comforting thoughts can turn things around. I remind myself of Shelley's 'Ode to the West Wind,' where he says, 'If winter comes, can spring be far behind?' All the excitement of spring and summer is ahead, so there is great anticipation. Winter is a time to dream and plan.

A growing collection of sticky notes on the door to the garden look ahead to spring. 'Underplant hydrangea bed on the east side of the grape arbor with ferns and hostas,' says one note. 'Plant Solomon's seal under the plum tree,' orders another. 'Prune cutleaf elderberries in the back border,' 'Remove 'New Dawn' rose from the arbor,' 'Take cuttings of 'Mutabilis' rose.'

A time for friends and family

I'm convinced that winter holidays were invented to get us through the dark season. Thanks to the cold and rain, we reach out more to connect with friends and family, to warm ourselves by gathering together for comfort, music, conversation and laughter.

The traditional foods we love, whether candied yams or potato latkes, egg nog or egg creams, have the essential sugars to lift us out of the gray gloom. The company of friends and relatives, the soft light of candles and sparkling lights, the beauty of the night sky, when it's clear and cold enough to see the moon and stars - we can thank winter for all these pleasures.

A time for gifts

If you're still wondering what to get your gardening friend or relative, consider giving your time: design a personal gift certificate for an afternoon's help in the garden, or for an outing to a favorite nursery in spring. Dancing Oaks Nursery (www.dancingoaks.com) in Monmouth, Sebright Nursery(www.sebrightgardens.com) in Brooks, and Joy Creek Nursery (www.joycreek.com) in Scappoose are wonderful destinations starting in spring. Each has beautiful demonstration gardens to inspire and educate you.

Pack a picnic lunch to make the trip leisurely. These nurseries also offer gift certificates that would thrill any gardener.

For a friend who is new to the garden, a gift certificate to one of the local plant societies makes a great present. Hardy Plant Society of Oregon (www.hardyplantsociety.org), The Portland Rose Society (www.portlandrosesociety.org), The Portland Classical Chinese Garden (www.portlandchinesegarden.org), The Portland Japanese Garden (www.japanesegarden.com), Leach Botanical Garden (www.leachgarden.org) and more.

Links to many groups are listed at the Hardy Plant website.