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Marin IJ Articles

Embracing Winter as a Gardener

October 27, 2003
Carroll, Darla

Embracing Winter as a Gardener

by Darla Carroll

Dear Gardening Friend,

Gardening in winter is in some ways gardening at its very best. It is all about the dreaming, planning, and wondering. What will your garden look like next year? Do you want to try a new color scheme? Maybe an all-white garden bed? What new projects will you plan? An arbor with Clematis ‘Venosa Violacea’ and Rosa ‘Phyllis Bide’. What new plant or plants do you want to try to grow?

Perhaps I’ll give that Daphne odora another try. Maybe I won’t kill it this year, if I dig a hole as deep as the root ball (plant it high enough to have really great drainage) and at least twice as wide. Amend the soil with compost and cover with mulch and water it just right. It could happen!

This is also the very best time for drooling over garden books and catalogues, with their alluring descriptions and glossy photographs offering seductive images of what our gardens could look like. Thinking about where you can possibly fit the most wonderful, floriferous, hardy, fragrant, disease resistant, rare, new plant that no one else in your neighborhood is sure to have! I know I have room for one or maybe three!

A few of my favorite catalogues have just started coming in the mail. The one from White Flower Farm ( always tempts me with its lush photos and delicious verbiage especially about its many varieties of daffodils. One year I bought their daylily and daffodil mixture and it has given me years of easy care pleasure. The catalogue from Sheperd’s Garden Seeds ( always makes me want to plant a few seeds, even though I almost never get them planted at the right time. The catalogue from Digging Dog Nursery ( has no lush photographs, but it does have beautiful line drawings of the various plants and great information about each plant, as well as great ideas for planting companions.

This is the season when we don’t have to think about the sweat and the back aches, we are not preoccupied with weeding or other chores, and worry that we never have enough time to keep up with it all. Gardening in all its down-to-earth practicality can for now be a delightful dream. For now, in this dormant time, we can wander unhurried through our garden of the future, the garden of our mind, confident that everything will be much better this year.

Surely, this year will be the one where everything will grow and flower just like the glossy photographs in the catalogues.

During this time of dormancy we don’t directly experience the garden with its many smells, sounds, and feelings that directly connect us to nature. Instead we can be nourished by the storm of images flowing through our minds.

This wintertime garden dreaming provides an important opportunity, a necessary pause to recoup from our labors. Allowing a fallow time, in the world as well as in the garden, is a necessary part of cultivating individual creativity and personal expression in a world where opportunity for creativity and expression is increasingly limited.

In our 16-16-16 society (top growth is all), one is tempted to suppress or deny the need for 0-10-10 (strong roots). Sleep, dormancy, rest—these are ideas that are an often disregarded and disrespected part of a natural cycle that allows for strong roots to grow that will then allow new top growth to burst forth renewed and refreshed.

So this winter, give your self and your garden that time to relax, to go dormant, to dream of the coming year. Give your plants some 0-10-10 and be prepared to burst out into new growth in the spring.

This article appeared in the Marin Independent Journal on October 27, 2003.

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