In the garden with Felder: Winterizing in the garden


Winter offers a chance to plant cold-hardy purple kale, violas, pansies, snapdragons and dusty miller.

Winter offers a chance to plant cold-hardy purple kale, violas, pansies, snapdragons and dusty miller.
Photo by: Felder Rushing/Courtesy photo



Felder Rushing



Is everything in order in your garden? Wait -- my real question is, does your garden look any different this month than last? 


After this year's early freeze, my garden went down pretty hard; my once-lush garden is suddenly half-naked.  


But I celebrate the changes. Gives me a restful break from the kaleidoscope of summer and opens up new vistas. Unlike my friends in the suburbs whose gardens look pretty much the same year-round except for how the grass goes from green to brown, I embrace the big wows that help me mark the passing of seasons.  


Not that a static, mow-and-blow, pruned meatball type landscape is boring. It's actually a good thing for some personality types, especially folks who either need things to be orderly and static, and those who feel a need to "fit in" with neighbors.  


With a little work (even if outsourced to professional groundskeepers), it's an uncomplicated approach, much easier to control than, say, teenagers, pets or the workplace. Plants don't talk back, few go astray, and none yell or sulk over a lack of instant fulfillment.  


What got me going on this was the aftermath of the pre-Thanksgiving freeze. My garden was ravaged by the suddenness which turned a third of it brown and lifeless. Summer annuals, including tomatoes, peppers, basil, cleome, zinnias and ornamental sweet potatoes browned out, and some hanging baskets I forgot to bring in, along with couple of overlooked potted tropical plants, turned to mush, and most of the remaining autumn leaves on the Japanese maple and ginkgo dropped in one fell swoop. Even a few cold-hardy flowers I planted in the back of my pickup truck were caught small and unprepared and died. 


There's no good way to describe how mid-20s temperatures melts some plants into drippy, greenish-black slime. Many years ago, while talking about words with my linguistics professor housemate Clayton Allen, I bemoaned the lack of a suitable one for how some plants go from turgid green to gloppy gray. "Freezing" doesn't do the smelly process justice.  


Clayton stated that we could just coin a new word like "booglify" which immediately stuck with me. Once it appears in print it's real, so now it's official: Last week some of my elephant ears booglified. Works for me.  


The ferns, lantana, daylilies and four o'clocks will be back next spring, but for now they leave visual holes. Luckily, I had planned ahead and strategically positioned "hard" features and garden art including planters, a big urn, small sculptures, large boulders, a couple of bottle trees and Granny's concrete chicken to take up the pictorial slack.  


I spent part of Thanksgiving Day recycling the frosted stuff into my leaf pile from where it'll be resurrected next spring as fresh ingredients for my garden soil. And I have a large variety of evergreen and winter-flowering shrubs keeping my garden's bones intact.  


Unlike our friends up North who have only undulating mounds in the snow to watch out the window all winter, we have midwinter flowers of camellias, mahonia, flowering quince, fragrant paperwhites, hellebores, plus nandina and holly berries, glossy dark green magnolia and paler matte iris foliage.  


And, in one of the few proactive efforts of my year, I have already planted cold-hardy pansies, violas, ornamental cabbages, purple kale, snapdragons and dusty miller.  


So, in spite of dramatic seasonal changes and gaps, my cottage garden continues to hold my attention, giving me something to look forward to rather than the comforting lull of the same-old, same-old of some neighbors.  


Best of all? Nothing to mow or prune. Winter gardening is good. 


Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the "Gestalt Gardener" on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to [email protected]



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