The calendar says that winter has not yet begun, but the garden has weathered a good month of early-winter rollercoaster. I have only lived here for 7 years now, but that's long enough to realize that there is no such thing as "typical" seasonal weather here in Northeast Ohio. I awoke to an entirely unexpected 4 inches of snow on the driveway two weeks ago, for example, but now we're back to wearing sweatshirts!
Since today dawned sunny and bright, I decided to go out in the afternoon and take a few pictures to evaluate the level of winter interest in my fleldgling garden. Let's start with a picture of the front beds, most of which were created late in 2005 and planted this year:
As you can see, nothing has attained much height yet. Even the ornamental grasses are quite small. What does jump out are the purple and red plants: purple culinary sage in the near right corner, three unnamed heucheras in front of the sidewalk, 'Bressingham Ruby' bergenia next to tan-colored rocks just in front of the porch.
There are two major failings that I see in the bed in front of the sidewalk. One is the lack of a definite edge between the bed and the grass. I admit that I've been lazy about that, mostly because I have long planned to expand the bed to change that curve--I already purchased a 'Sykes' Dwarf' oakleaf hydrangea to use as part of that expansion.
The other downfall is the large patch of bare earth where three crambe maritima, aka sea kale, will be emerging in the spring. (You can see them during the growing season here. The crambe are the glaucous foliage that you see behind the orangey spires of digitalis parviflora, to the right of the first purple heuchera.)
The crambes tend to sprout late and I have a few groupings of early tulips planted in between them, but that doesn't help much at this time of the year. So I am making a note to add some of the groundcover sedums that you see near the sidewalk on the left side of this second picture.
'Chubby Fingers' is the name of this cultivar, and I brought fistfuls of it with me when I moved to my new house. Both in the old clay soil and in the new sandy soil, I have found it to be a vigorous but polite spreader. It stays mostly evergreen, and sports taller shoots with white flowers in the early summer. It should provide a nice carpet of green in the crambe area during both winter and tulip-time, without bothering those sea kales during their growing season.
Besides the bed expansion, there are already a few other improvements planned that will change the winter look of the front garden. For one, I plan to paint those three pieces of siding--and the weird darker beige trim piece--that are below the level of the porch floor. They have irritated me since I moved in, because their light color makes them appear too important. Painting them a darker color should help them fade into the background.
A climbing rose, 'Dortmund,' will be going in next to the porch. The lavender will move to its new home, replaced by the 'Hameln' pennisetum that is currently biding its time in the backyard. Small plants will grow. Some plants will be divided or propagated and used as fillers. Other plants will be subjected to the gardener's fickleness and be moved elsewhere.
Sometimes I get frustrated because the garden in the photos does not match the garden in my mind's eye... but then I remind myself that I've only lived here since October 2004 and some things just take time. And that I'm learning more about gardening and garden design all the time, so it can only keep getting better as I stop making so many newbie mistakes.
All in all, though, I have to say that I'm fairly pleased with the way things are looking so far. I know that I'm lucky to have some more experienced gardeners visit my page, though, so I would love to hear some feedback from all of you. Any plants that you never expected to interest you in winter but find yourself watching from the kitchen window? Any interesting ways to fill spaces in the winter garden? I'm all ears...