This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
Here we are deep into the fall season and for many of us it might seem like winter is here. We go to work in the dark and come home in the dark. (How depressing is that?) Our typical week is a mix of rain and mist or fog with occasional scattered sun breaks.
It feels like we should be able to put the hoses in the shed but I am going to tell you one last time this year that if you have containers with established shrubs in them you will need to water them occasionally throughout the winter. And don’t forget under the eaves and under large evergreens.
I mowed my lawn yesterday for what may be the last time this year and I finished raking the leaves under most of my trees. The summer gardening season is certainly winding down but the winter season is just beginning.
I hesitate to even talk about winter this early in the year. While winter officially begins December 21st and usually lasts maybe two months I am sure that people from the Midwest and Northeast would scoff at what we call winter. For them it is a distinct season and you need to prepare for it. The ground will be covered with snow and the nights are going to be below freezing. While those are givens for them they are maybes for us and that is what can make life difficult for gardeners in the northwest.
We never know what kind of winter we will have. The seasons seem to slowly morph from one to the next with an unpredictable week or two of either heat in the summer or arctic cold in the winter (most of the time it is pleasant and mild although some would insist that we have a sun deficiency).
I hate to admit it but after 25 years I have grown to love our climate and that is after growing up in what some would call the idyllic weather of southern California.
The problem with talking about winter is that for many of us it signals the end of the gardening season. But in reality, winter in the northwest is just another gardening season that has its own sets of joys. We get to step away from the weekly chores of mowing and watering and take time to really look at the details of our gardens. All the different branching patterns and bud shapes of our deciduous plants come into focus and when we do get a frosty morning they are even more enchanting.
Winter blooming shrubs like Viburnum Dawn and Oregon Grape Lionel Fortescue become beacons of promise of a spring yet to come and if we are lucky we might even spot a hummer drawing their nectar. Winters colors of evergreens are the equivalent of summer flowers and the white bark of my birch or the patchy bark of the wife’s Stewartia are all features that are lost in the other seasons.
The winter gardening season has much to offer the northwest gardener and all it requires is a few more layers of clothing and the fortitude to venture out to the garden center and find out what treasures are waiting to be taken home and incorporated into the garden.
Winter is not a time to hunker down like they have to do in the rest of the country. We can garden year around and when we elect to do so we are richly rewarded with a garden that delights the senses 12 months a year.
The summer season may be over but it’s time to discover the joy of the winter gardening season.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org.