Look for winters small pleasures
- Barbara Ashmun
- Portland Tribune - Features
I know a lot of gardeners have closed up shop for the winter. Not me. Call me a garden junkie - I need my daily fix. Whether it's feeling the mossy lawn beneath my garden boots, touching the soft earth as I pull up small cress seedlings, or running my fingers through mint-scented rosemary, I have to commune with my garden, regardless of the weather.
Lately I've been slug hunting. Beneath the blanket of recently fallen leaves that keep drifting down from the sweet gum tree, infant slugs are making cozy homes. Small soft gray slugs, and also black ones with yellow undersides, nap beneath the litter. Now is the time to dispatch them to their next incarnation. Each predator that makes it through the winter represents future tribes; I get great satisfaction by reducing the population now.
The best hunting grounds are around the crown of daylilies, hostas, and hellebores. While raking out leaves and spent foliage, when I spot a slug, one snip and it's a goner.
Gardening in the winter has so many fluctuations that I keep a wall-mounted coat rack in the garage, loaded with clothing for every kind of weather: a hooded fleece jacket for mild cold, a down vest for super cold, a waterproof nylon parka for rain.
I thank OSU for my favorite bright orange fleece hoody, in which I could be mistaken for a pumpkin. Drivers sometimes yell out their window, 'Go Beavers!' startling me in the middle of a garden reverie. I just smile and don't let on that I'm not partial to any team. My last hoody was a green and yellow one from U of O, and I loved it until it got shredded when I got tangled up in a thicket of roses.
I've got plenty of gloves too - surgical gloves for weeding, nitrile gloves for pruning, fleece gloves for raking, ski gloves for intense cold. Silk glove liners help my hands stay warm - I wear them underneath surgical gloves when it's biting cold out.
If your hands get as cold as mine do in winter, you'll like Little Hotties Hand Warmers. The small cloth pouches, once shaken to activate the ingredients (iron powder, water, salt, activated charcoal and vermiculite) become warm enough to bring my hands back to life. Mostly I keep them in my jacket pockets, reaching in to squeeze them when my hands get chilled. Oh the sweet relief!
Little Hotties Toe Warmers are the solution for cold feet. Just the other day on a visit to the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, I saw a volunteer slip a pair inside her boots. Ardent gardeners will always find ways to get out in the garden.
Winter especially is a good time to visit the Portland Classical Chinese Garden. Graceful pavilions, carved wooden panels, intriguing stone pillars, the pattern of pebble mosaic floors - so many beautiful details to enjoy. On the windy day I visited, the wind rippled the surface of the pond. Tiny waves caught the sunlight, glimmering hypnotically.
Buds dangled from the bare branches of the edgworthia shrubs and panicles of yellow buds adorned the Chinese mahonia, promising flowers soon to open. Japanese camellias held fat buds for their springtime show. Everything is ahead of us in this dormant season, as we wait for the garden to color up once again.
Thanks goodness for foliage - black mondo grass was especially dramatic, interplanted with golden sweet flag (Acorus 'Ogon'), the two playing off each other. Plenty of evergreens keep the garden beautiful in all seasons - pine, bamboo, camellia, daphne. A few last persimmons still hung from the tree's bare branches, gleams of warm orange on a cold day.
My winter garden
In my own garden the golden-leaved Hebe 'Hinerua,' resembling heather, as well as gray-leaved hebes like 'Red Edge,'show up best in winter when they have little competition. I grow these towards the edges of borders to frame the picture within. They've made it through many winters.
Larger 'Sundance' Mexican orange glows in a large turquoise container just outside the greenhouse. Variegated forms of boxwood and osmanthus also radiate light, along with variegated snowberry bushes that have held their leaves so far.
I love the small glossy leaves of boxwood honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida). This subtle plant takes a back seat in summer, but in winter it shines. Inspired by European gardens, I've kept mine clipped into a low hedge at the front of an island bed. I also enjoy the larger shrub honeysuckles - bright 'Baggeson's Gold,' and the green-leaved form, aptly named 'Red Tips.'
Especially in winter, every little pleasure is welcome.