Winter Interest? I guess….

Just like nearly all the rest of the Northern hemisphere we here in NE Pennsylvania are dipping into another cold spell.  As far as cold spells go it’s not anything too intimidating, since we’ve only dipped into the single digits one night, but it is cold enough to make you reconsider running out to the mailbox without a coat on and it encourages you to think of the garden from more of a spectator point of view.  Even from the comfortable side of a windowpane winter interest is still slim pickings around here, but now that a few years have passed things are starting to turn a corner.

paperbark maple winter

A low winter sun catches the russet peels of paperbark maple (Acer griseum).  I may have it in a spot far too close to the house, but at least it’s finally starting to grow well.

Winter interest here does not include early snowdrops or hellebores nor the occasionally exotic winter blooming shrub, winter interest here is a desperate flash of green holding out against the winter, or a fresh blush of colorful bark or bright conifer needles brightened by the weak winter sun.  I guess if pressed I’d include dried seed stems and stalks, but honestly unless they’re frosted in ice or topped with snow they really just remind me of all the cleanup yet to be done before spring.

winter panicum dallas blues

Ok I guess I do like the golden(?) winter tint on the dried stalks of Panicum ‘Dallas Blues’.  While other grasses take on a faded dead beige, these seem to hold on to a much richer color which shows up even better when surrounded by snow.

In the meantime, before the rush of spring hits, there’s still plenty of time to sit back and consider the winter garden.  Snow helps.  There’s really nothing to do out there when snow hits other than watch the comings and goings at the bird feeder, but until we get a couple inches down there’s always a restlessness every time the sun comes out and things look like they’re just waiting.

box hedge winter

The smallest bit of winter structure.  A boxwood hedge which has finally grown in enough to look intentional.  It may not say good design the way I just have it randomly in the yard, but I do love my little hedges and always try to get it just a little more level and a tiny bit straighter.

If cropped perfectly and shot from just the right angle… and if the light just happens to work out, you can halfway believe that my garden has something worth seeing once the flowers have died and the leaves fallen.

winter interest garden

A lawn still holding on to green (which has faded significantly from the last arctic dip), a few little bluestems and dried hydrangeas, a blue spruce… it all looks somewhat interesting right now.

Maybe in a few years I’ll be able to offer something more constructive in the way of winter gardening advice, but for now I’m just glad I can wander through without snowshoes.

magnolia grandiflora seedlings

Future winter interest may be just what these Magnolia grandiflora seedlings will offer… assuming they prove hardy.  Last winter was a protected outdoor test for several dozen, this winter will be an open garden test for the remaining three.

More snow will come of course, and when it does things will officially enter the indoor “puttering” stage of seed sowing and houseplants, but for a few more days I’ll brave the cold and look for even the tiniest sprouting buds of hope.  My anxious side wants to find them everywhere, my cautious side wants them to wait another two months.

galanthus merlin

Here’s a new snowdrop which didn’t get the NE Pa memo on winter storm watches.  Here’s some news for you ‘Merlin’, there will be more blasts of cold, and you shouldn’t be out so early.

So in the mean time we will deal with the ice storms, shovel out from the snow storms, and bundle up for the cold spells.

ice storm

A nice glazing of ice kept the kids home last week.  No good for sledding but they were fine with the day off 🙂

All this talk of braving the weather has been made a whole lot easier with a look at the ten day forecast.  The fluffy snow and single digits from yesterday will warm up and melt rapidly in temperatures that don’t even dip below freezing in the foreseeable future.  This wouldn’t be the first January thaw to ever hit us but considering the ground is barely frozen under the snow, I don’t hold out much hope for convincing bulbs to stay dormant.  February may be ugly if too many things decide to give growing a go, but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes.

37 comments on “Winter Interest? I guess….

  1. I think it’s pretty cool that you have magnolia seedlings. Any advice on germinating redbuds?

    • bittster says:

      Have you ever tried the Deno method for starting seeds? Give it a google, the process is too much trouble for easy stuff but for things that might be fussy it’s a great option. Other than that no real advice. I’m going to guess the redbuds need a warm-cold cycle before you get anything, but other than that 🙂
      I wonder how a magnolia seedling would do up by you? Probably a lost cause, but the way the last few winters have been going Southern magnolias might be something new for cold climate gardeners!

    • bittster says:

      Bob Nold left some advice below for your redbud seeds. It sounds easy enough and makes me feel a little guilty about the unsown seeds I have. The only iffy part might be ‘nicking the seedcoat’. I’m never all that sure about what qualifies as a ‘nick’.

      • Bob says:

        I use a watchmaker’s loupe, so I can see, and, holding the seed between thumb and index finger, make a sort of flicking motion with a very sharp knife (I use an Opinel). A couple of millimeters is fine. I use the part of the blade closest to the handle, always conscious of the fact that I have this knife very close to my face. When the seed coat is properly nicked, you can see the endosperm. Sometimes it takes a bit of practice.
        Some people, with younger eyes than mine, can do this holding the seed on a mat (say) on the table.
        I admit that occasionally a seed has flown across the kitchen, never to be found again.
        Here’s a link to a picture I took of a nicked seed of Caesalpinia repens.

  2. Eliza Waters says:

    I love your honest approach to ‘winter interest.’ It is hard won in our neck of the woods! Let’s hope we can make it past the worst of the cold before our plants break dormancy. I always worry about losing them!

    • bittster says:

      I may struggle with finding winter interest, but your blog is proof you have no trouble!
      Up and down winters seem to be more and more common of late and the winter damage is so frustrating, but I was kind of hoping for a cold and snowy La Nina winter to give us a break. We’ll see.

      • Eliza Waters says:

        I’ve just about given up on having an old-fashioned winter, one that has mostly snow, that is. ‘Wintry-mix,’ that dreaded thing, seems to be the new norm. (Tonight we are getting all three, rain, freezing rain and snow.) 😡

  3. We barely missed the ice storm and now we are having spring-like temps. I noticed the daffodils were peaking through. My bees were even out and about. Phooey on winter interest–give me springtime! lol

    • bittster says:

      I’m with you, spring for me as well! -but in the meantime 😦
      I hope your bees found something good out there, I think they might still have a few weeks before their flights become really productive.

  4. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Your pictures sure make your garden look very interesting right now. I’m beginning to think that winter interest might best be found by spending January and February in a tropical destination.

  5. Pauline says:

    Love your little hedge! I think if I had all the snow that you get, I wouldn’t worry about winter interest, just wait till spring, it isn’t far away!

    • bittster says:

      We have nearly two of the darkest months behind us and from here on the strengthening sunshine does more than anything to cheer me up!
      The coming and goings of the snow is interesting, and it does cover up a lot of mess, but I will still be much happier when green grass returns. Two and a half months, but in the meantime at least I have snowdrop sprouts to watch!

  6. Christina says:

    Apart from evergreens I don’t have a lot of winter interest here either; it is usually too warm, or there hasn’t been a cool enough autumn. Some of the winter gardens in the UK are amazing; as beautiful as in summer but with more perfume! Climate is the controlling factor of our gardens and we can’t really fight it all the time; we might win in one season but not all year! That said I love your Acer griseum, one of my favourite trees. Keep warm!

    • bittster says:

      I do admire the color of the UK winter gardens, but that endless dampness and gloom… I think I might actually prefer the frozen white even if it means being separated from the garden for a few months. Don’t expect the same comment in late February though. By then the novelty will be gone and I will be entirely disgusted with ice and cold.
      I’ve always thought of your garden as having plenty of winter interest! The green flush which the rains bring and the promise of early bulbs are always exciting, plus you have so many options to get out and enjoy the countryside. Here the options are more limited.

  7. Cathy says:

    Ooh, cover that little sprouting snowdrop up quickly before he catches his death of cold! I am not even hoping to see any signs of life out there yet, and our cold December kept everything dormant right from the start. We have a nice layer of snow though, which may act as protection for any ambitious crocuses.

    • bittster says:

      We did have a cold start to the winter, but then it’s been off and on again. Not enough off to wake things up, but I think that will change this week as warmer temperatures bring on a few more things. You are right in that I’ll be covering plenty each time a cold front moves through….

  8. Ian Lumsden says:

    “Merlin” is a dependable snowdrop. Mine are a little more advanced but then I’m hoping to escape snow this year. It can happen.

    • bittster says:

      Good luck on avoiding the snow. It’s pretty to look at but the novelty wears thin rather quickly.
      I’m hoping for great things from “Merlin”, he’s new this year and already looks promising.

  9. Winter interest? Too much snow, too little snow, storm debris, sand from the icy driveway. All choice scenes in various parts of my garden right now. Nothing as pretty as your grasses and green seedlings.

    • bittster says:

      Apparently it is the winter of ice storms across the country. We also had quite a bit, but nothing like your mess! Stay safe until it melts, which fortunately should be within the next few days thanks to this warm spell.

  10. I was wondering about bulbs in our area too. Weather here is spring like with days and days of rain. I know it won’t last, but it really seems like bulbs will be surfacing. I love the paperbark maple. Such an interesting tree.

    • bittster says:

      I’m already looking around and trying to figure out which bulbs will be worth covering and which will be on their own. If it warms enough I may move some mulch around and try burying sprouts, but honestly I don’t get much out of gardening in January…

  11. Derek says:

    Love your garden posts, very inspiring! I have a question about your Southern Magnolias. I’m doing a test similar to yours in Iowa to see if one will survive winters in our neck of the woods, A while back ago you tried Little Gem, I was wondering how that did for you over there? I tried ‘Libby’

    • bittster says:

      Hi Derek,
      I wish I had better news on the ‘Little Gem’ but it never did recover from the cold damage. But… I did nothing to protect it and it had only been in the ground for a few months. I’m sure that planting a little earlier and possibly some burlap or other covering would have been helpful. I think that year our lows went to about zero.
      I’m not familiar with ‘Libby’, I hope it does well for you. I’m pretty sure there are southern magnolias hardy enough for us, it’s just a matter of finding the right one and getting it established! If you want a seedling to experiment with let me know, I really don’t have room for one let alone three, so if all three make it I’ll need homes for them!

      • Derek says:

        Well that doesn’t give me much hope since I also planted mine a about two months before winter set in. I do know however that from the research I’ve done Little Gem is one of the least hardy of the species so I’m not surprised to hear of your news. I also do know you are right. It is only a matter of finding the right one, because I know of a person who has had sucess with Southern Magnolia in Davenport, IA who has had one for 8 years now. ‘Libby’ is a new Southern Magnolia release which has Edith Bouge heritage. Your really offering me one?!? I would love one! Please send me an email so I can ask you some questions and we can work out arrangements!

      • bittster says:

        It will be nice to have a good home for one of the seedlings! Coincidentally the three I have came to me as open pollinated seeds off an ‘Edith Bouge’ and will be cousins to your ‘Libby’. I’m sending an email, let me know if it doesn’t make it.

  12. Having magnolia seedlings is quite a feat. overall, we are again having a fairly mild winter, but no snowdrop shoots here. The main elements of winter interest I have are: red twig dogwood, yellow twig dogwood, red winterberries, golden winterberries and an enormous Norway spruce.

    • bittster says:

      Hi Pat, I guess we will enjoy the mild winter while it lasts, and hopefully it will carry us right through to a gentle, early spring free from late freezes and wild ups and downs. We can hope, right?
      Your garden has a great selection of winter interest considering how young it is. I really need to add more dogwoods!
      Love your blog and really enjoy your writing, thanks for the comment!

  13. Chloris says:

    That is a lovely winter view. Your Acer griseum is wonderful. A long time until spring for you but in the meantime I am looking forward to seeing your snowdrops.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Chloris.
      I am awaiting many winter post on your blog to carry me through the snow and ice. Also I need to warn you I am finally admitting to being a galanthaholic. I’d stick to the more common terms but galanthomania sounds a bit too socially acceptable and galanthophile a bit too tame, so be prepared for many posts… assuming this season is better than last. So far it looks promising!

  14. Bob says:

    (This is for Kathy.) Deno’s advice often involves too much work. If it’s in the pea family, like redbuds are, nick the seeds opposite the hilum, and soak them in warm water overnight. (The water will start out warm, anyway.) Then put the seeds in a damp, or even wet, coffee filter, put that in a freezer bag. The bag can go in a box somewhere. You should see germination within twenty-four hours. The germinated seeds can go into a peat pot; one per pot. And off they go.
    Same is true for most seeds with impermeable seed coats.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Bob, I’m always confused by the ‘nick’ part. do you just nick the coating or do you go until you see the lighter colored embryo? I always feel like they need the protection of the coat and that you shouldn’t go too far.
      Also -do you just nick with a knife?

  15. Lisa says:

    I love your little hedge, too! 🙂 Where did you get your treehouse from? (Sorry, was drawn to the paperbark maple, boxwood, blue spruce, and the treehouse) 😀

    • bittster says:

      Hi Lisa, You’re giving the ‘treehouse’ too much credit! It’s actually just a raised playhouse for the kids, there’ a swingset attached to the one side and a slide comes off the other. It was a kit we bought from one of the big box stores, perfect for a few years but showing its age now… I think there were similar sets at quite a few stores, we just picked the one we thought the kids would like best!

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