Garden Design For Weathering Winter

Attempting to recapture that satisfaction I once found in my perennials, this winter I’ve been assessing and making plans to renovate the entire garden. Looking back at photographs since 2006, the historic record documents many beautiful instances in my garden during spring and summer. Few photographs even exist of this garden in winter.

So this morning I read with interest a New York Times interview with Piet Oudolf on four-season gardening and was charmed and reassured by Mr. Oudolf’s insights and advice.

A goal of my own redesigned outdoor space is to rely more on structure and texture, particularly from trees and shrubs. Flowers will remain a central purpose, but currently the garden all but disappears in winter. Though I already leave many perennials to die back naturally to keep the birds happy and provide winter interest, the present garden configuration does not sustain itself adequately until spring.

When Mr. Oudolf was asked, “What’s important about a garden in winter?” he responded with a lovely summary:

You want a moment in the garden to be quiet. There’s so much to do in the summer, with cutting and keeping up with plants and just enjoying and looking at the garden. Sometimes it’s too much. In the winter you need less to get satisfaction from the garden. If you have only a few plants in the garden in winter, it’s enough to keep it interesting.

I will refer to his statement as I attempt to bring in winter interest to my own garden. Remembering his words will help me find a winter focus.

It has already become clear my garden’s makeover will evolve over multiple years. Although when I started this project I consciously used the term, “renovation” to emphasize big changes were necessary and serious “plans” would be drawn up, now practicality is taking root.  Time and budget restraints are facts.  But one of the best lessons of this assessment and design process has been to engage me, the gardener, with my garden once again.  My interest in the garden has been regained and I will take the time to develop the garden and take the time to observe and enjoy the garden.

In the interview Mr. Oudolf was asked for “final advice for the beginner.” His words were the balm I have been seeking:

Experience starts the moment you start to like gardening. You can’t do it right the first time. You can’t even do it right in a few years. You always see the next step you have to do. Start simply, putting good combinations of plants together, and work from there. You have to go through all the steps. You cannot skip any lessons. That is honest. It’s hard work. But you get something back, that’s the good thing. It’s like raising children. You try to do your best.

I see the next step I have to do.

To read the entire interview see: The New York Times, HOME & GARDEN, Q&A: Piet Oudolf on Designing a Winter Garden, By SARA BARRETT, Published: February 9, 2011. The Dutch designer shares advice on getting the most out of your garden all year round.

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