For the gardener, winter is a lovely time. And before you readers think I’ve lost my mind, let me explain: January is the month when the new garden catalogues arrive, allowing us to daydream over pictures of luscious plants, whose perfection we hope to obtain. It is also the ideal time to map out the future of our gardens.
When the catalogues first arrive I follow a ritual: I first highlight any plant that holds my interest regardless of price or space requirements. Then I put the catalogues aside, as I have to ask myself a basic question.
The primary question I ask is: why do I garden? Because my responses have changed over the years, this question can be surprisingly difficult to answer. I first began to garden because I had spaces to fill. I then continued to garden because I was curious how certain plants would look in my garden in an allotted space—a discovery that in some cases took several years until fruition.
Along my gardening road to success—something I hasten to assure you that I haven’t reached yet—I discovered that I yearn to have something in bloom twelve months of the year, that I am definitely a four-season gardener. With this knowledge in hand I then return to the highlighted portions of the garden catalogues, mentally noting whether the marked plants will contribute in sum to the four seasons of my garden.
Only then do I start removing some of the highlighted suggestions. It is so easy to go overboard on spring bloomers, thereby ignoring three-quarters of the gardening year. Plant an iris in the spring and soon you’ll see it in bloom; plant a chrysanthemum or a rose and you might have to wait six to twelve months before you are rewarded with flowers. Do you like your daisies in the fall? If so the Montauk Daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) might satisfy you but should you prefer your daisies during the height of the summer, by all means choose Leucanthemum ‘Becky’ instead.
It is only after I have whittled down my list to a manageable number of plants that I begin to consider price and my budget. Somewhere along the line I have to consider space because I’m running out of it, so I cut my list some more.
I also remove some plants that are new to the market. Several years ago several new echinaceas took one look at my garden and croaked. I took their demise personally until I realized that growers had rushed these underperformers to the market without undergoing adequate field trials. If a new plant is truly as good as its description, it will be around for a while.
Last, I have one rule: I always choose an unfamiliar plant that whets my curiosity. Two years ago I chose the Korean Sweetheart Tree (Euscaphis japonica), which is still alive although it has produced only a few heart-shaped seedpods as yet. This past spring I picked up two Philodendron ‘Hope’, which theoretically will die back before magically reappearing in the late spring. I have high hopes that ‘Hope’ will return but only time will tell.
This is my advice to winter gardeners: daydream, discern the reasons why you garden, choose your plants wisely—and enjoy them in your garden.
A serious gardener for the past twenty years, Kit Flynn resides in Chapel Hill. She is also a Durham Master Gardener.