Gardening begins in January

Anyone who thinks that gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year. For gardening begins in January with the dream. – Josephine Nuese. This quote, which I first saw on a Hudson Valley Seed Library Facebook post, speaks to me. Like other gardeners in northern regions, gardening in my Zone 6b south-central Connecticut region begins in January.

Actually, for me, gardening never ends. Though I let my gardening brain rest a bit through the end-of-year holidays, ideas and designs for the upcoming year are never buried so deeply that they are suspended until spring. Serious review of the frozen landscape commences when dawn breaks on the New Year.

As I peruse the views from inside our home, I note which outdoor features become highlights in the winter landscape. The less favorable go onto a needs attention list, later prioritized as higher- and lower-level projects for the upcoming months. Views of neighboring property always become a high priority on this list; I continuously plan plantings to increase our winter privacy.

As viewed from the front windows, the house nearest to ours is somewhat blocked by existing native shrubs and trees plus those we’ve added over the years. Two existing mountain laurels are fenced to prevent deer browsing. Both beech trees – the forward one plus the one partially blocking the nearest house – are existing native plantings we’ve encouraged to grow. The use of existing native trees and shrubs makes sense for environmental, design, and budgetary reasons in that native plantings suite native insects, birds and soils, native trees and shrubs help match the gardens and property to surrounding woodlands, and existing natives are free – they are perfect ‘right plant, right place’ plantings.

To compliment the existing natives we’ve added a pink dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Rubra’), a juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Blue Point’) hidden by the larger laurel in this photo, and two very small American holly (Ilex opaca) transplants (position noted by blue arrows but not view-able in the photo) that I hope will eventually grow into stately evergreen trees.

Mountain laurel circled in green, American holly locations noted by blue arrows, dogwood by red arrow, globe picea circled in blue, leucothoe circled in yellow, leatherleaf circled in orange, pieris circled in white, picea 'Sanders Blue' circled in pink

Mountain laurel circled in green, American holly locations noted by blue arrows, dogwood by red arrow, globe picea circled in blue, leucothoe circled in yellow, leatherleaf circled in orange, pieris circled in white, picea ‘Sanders Blue’ circled in pink

To bring more greenery into this winter view I’ve added a globe spruce (Picea pungens glauca globosa, circled in blue) that is still not sure it likes this setting, a leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum circled in orange), Leucothoe axillaris (circled in yellow), a Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’ (circled in white) and, most recently, two slow-growing pyramidal spruce (Picea glauca ‘Sanders Blue’ circled in pink) to the mix.

A closer-up view from a slightly different angle better shows  the still small evergreens. Though leatherleaf viburnum and leucothoe carry deer-resistant claims, the deer browsing our yard browse both during winter months. But both plants bounce back pretty easily each spring, so I tend to leave them unprotected. Also, since the taller ornamental grasses have outlived their usefulness in this location, crowding many of the deciduous shrubs and trees, I plan to move them to a different location this spring.

One view of the front yard from inside.

One view of the front yard from inside.

As the native and new plantings continue to grow, this portion of the front will be amply ‘greened’ for winter viewing.

By contrast, the opposite side of the front yard view still lacks winter greenery. Because of the upward slope there is no need to block views of distant neighbors, but a few low-growing conifers or other evergreen foliage would compliment the existing beech trees and ground-level moss.

The view of the opposite side of the front yard from inside.

The view of the opposite side of the front yard from inside.

The main issue in this area is ledge running very close to the surface, which makes digging adequate planting holes difficult. Still, how and where to incorporate winter greenery to this side of the front yard is worth some winter pondering, and this is one of the best aspects of winter gardening.

…For gardening begins in January with the dream …







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7 comments for “Gardening begins in January

  1. January 24, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    You do exactly what I do — garden in January using photos and markers! Such fun, and all is clear and unencumbered and so easy to see and plan for at this time of year. I like the mix of interest you will have in that walled bed (love the curved wall, and am getting some ideas from it). I wish I could see your little American hollies in there. The naturally growing beeches are an asset. Dream on, you’ve got some nice ideas going. . . .

    • January 25, 2015 at 2:38 pm

      Thanks, Laurrie. The American holly transplants are still very small – 12-18″ – and still deciding if they like the location, which may be too sunny. I expect to transplant one of these to a spot with afternoon shade, but still in a position to provide future privacy and winter greenery. A third American holly transplant is much happier in a similar, shadier spot. It’s actually growing and has reached a whopping 24″ height. I hope to see all three of them grow to large shrub/small tree size in my lifetime.

      I built the curved wall shortly after we moved in 17 years ago. The lichen covered boulder, natural slope of the land, and an existing low-bush blueberry inspired the shape and height. The rock remaining after blasting for our house foundation provided much of the wall materials, while most of the top stones were sticking out of the ground here and there on the property – pre-aged with moss and lichen. I’m still finding and harvesting these rocks. They’re one of my favorite features of our property.

  2. January 25, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    I am giving a talk in February about creating a cabin fever bed that will make many of the same points, so I have been thinking about this a lot myself. Have you ever read the book Prairie Winterscape? It’s directed at gardeners in the Prairie States and provinces but applies to anyone with a cold, snowy climate.

    • January 26, 2015 at 9:59 am

      Kathy, I’ve not read that book … thanks for the recommendation. I think most serious gardeners and garden designers spend a fair amount of cold-weather time mentally gardening. Love your take: creating a cabin fever bed.

  3. January 25, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    Love this post. I just spent a good portion of my day indoors with pencils and paper, marking out plants to buy, planning a hedgerow and looking at seed catalogues. This is the planning time and I enjoy it just as much as getting outside and doing the work.

    • January 26, 2015 at 10:01 am

      Marguerite, cold weather months are definitely for planning. I particularly enjoy looking back at previous garden photos. It helps remind me of what was and gives me ideas of what could be.

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