December weather has arrived, and it is really beginning to feel like late fall. All the leaves are down, and the mums and sedum are giving their last blasts of color for the season. I even have a few late roses in the garden, although their leaves have turned reddish orange and their buds are scarred with frost.
Growing up in Michigan, as I did, you may find it odd that I was raised to believe this was a sad time of year. The garden was dying, or going to sleep at the very least, and the next several months were going to be winter, the equivalent of a dirty word to most garden-lovers.
My parents were, and still are, avid gardeners. They live for the warm days when they can putter about, planting, weeding, trimming, etc, so it is not too surprising that they were not big fans of winter, since all they could do was peruse the nursery catalogs and make plans for the next spring. Winter on the farm meant work, too; chores in a freezing barn meant breaking water out of the animals’ dishes and making sure everyone was cozy. It meant plowing piles of snow that blew down across the field to clog the driveway; it meant a treacherous, dark drive on icy roads for my father to meet his carpool. So I understand their attitude, somewhat.
I, however, love winter. Yes, it means scraping ice off my car and shoveling snow. It means layers of bulky clothing and frozen fingertips. But it is not a death-knell to the garden, or to outdoor beauty. The winter garden is not dead, nor is it ugly or sad; it is just a different kind of beauty, a different kind of life.
When the leaves are off, the stark sculptural beauty of an oak tree can be appreciated. Birds and wildlife are glimpsed more frequently, too. Visit a botanical garden after a snowfall, and you will notice beauty that is hidden in high leafy summer. Evergreens, pines and even dried perennials take on a new dimension when all around them is removed. No longer eclipsed by brilliant summer flowers, they can be appreciated for their more subtle color and beauty.
Underground, plants are not sleeping; they are growing roots, and, in the case of my tulips, I think they are having “babies” so they are far from sleeping or dead under the blanket of snow.
It does get a little dreary when the sun doesn’t shine and it is too cold be be outside. I do miss the smell of earth and plants. But if you live in Michigan, you know we spend nearly half of our year this way, and that is a little too much to just hunker down under a blanket and wait for warmer weather. That is a lot of living to be forfeited. So what do we do? Aside from outdoor sports (which really aren’t my thing) we love to visit botanical gardens.
Our absolute favorite is the conservatory on Belle Isle. If you haven’t been there, or if it has been a while, you owe it to yourself to go again. During the winter, just walking in the place is a treat for your eyes and nose – last January, thousands of cyclamen adorned the atrium – I never realized how fragrant they are! The building itself is beautiful, with several different rooms filled with interesting plants and trees, and a few birds. Best of all – it is FREE!
The Belle Isle picture was taken by Mikoyan, I hope he doesn’t mind me using it. You can see his other beautiful photos here:http://michiganexposures.blogspot.com/2012/01/random-shots-around-belle-isle.html#
If you are on the other side of the state, you can visit the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The outdoor acres are beautiful, but if the weather is frightful, you can enjoy the indoor gardens, which include a Victorian garden, and carnivorous plant garden, and others. Below are a few I took in September:
If you drive south from Detroit, you can visit the Toledo Botanical Garden. It is all outdoors, but is so beautiful with a covering of snow its worth braving the weather to enjoy the trees. Without benefit of leaves and flowers, the garden takes on an ethereal quality, and beautiful evergreens could really be appreciated. We enjoyed it so much, we went back again in the summer. They also are home to an artist community, and the Blair Museum of Lithophanes.
There are so many fun and interesting things to do in winter, even if you don’t enjoying skiing or skating; take some time to explore the beauty around us, and try to enjoy winter for itself. After all, it is going to be here a while.
PS – if you are wondering why there is a picture of kittens at the top of this post…because kittens are cute, that’s why!