Garden Musings

10 Ways to Help a Gardener Survive Winter

We are in the middle of one of the coldest weeks in many years in the Chicagoland suburbs. We physically survive by staying indoors when we can, wearing extra layers of warm clothing and stocking our cars with extra blankets when we do venture out. But how do we keep our spirits up when the snow and the temperatures won’t stop falling?

Escape into seed catalogs.

Seed catalogs have been arriving in my mailbox since last December and they sit in a pile on an end table. Pens, highlighters and post-it notes are positioned nearby. Pages are dog-eared and varieties are circled. Way more choices are considered than can possibly fit on an order form, but that is what winter dreaming is for, right?

Read through last year’s garden journal and look at last year’s photos.

It doesn’t matter how a gardener keeps a record of her garden – handwritten prose in a garden journal, text typed on a laptop or notes scribbled on scraps of paper and plant labels shoved in a paper bag – reading through them in winter is not only fun, it is also productive. Successes can be planned to be duplicated; mistakes can be remedied so they are not repeated.

Looking through the photos of the brilliantly-colored blooms that kept my garden in full color last year may not warm my toes, but they do warm my heart and remind me of what’s to come.

Read garden books and magazines.

If you have a favorite plant, like hostas or hydrangeas, find a book about them. If you are planning on designing a new garden space or renovating an old one, there are several helpful volumes available. I just finished Sunflowers by Joe Pappalardo. It was a fascinating read for this plant nerd as it took me by the hand on a historical journey of sunflowers from prehistoric times through world wars and even into space. (A blog post about this book is coming soon.)

Garden magazines are chockful of helpful hints and gorgeous photography. Learn the challenges faced by other gardeners across the country and how they overcame them. Discover new plants you might want grow. Delight in beautiful photos of gorgeous gardens. All are sure to melt a little snow from your green thumbs.

Plan next year’s containers.

Next spring, head to the garden center with some pre-planned designs. Draw circles to scale on graph paper to match the diameter of containers. Then ‘plant on paper’, trying out several different plant combinations. When you think you have a winner, find photos of the plants and affix them next to the corresponding circle. Do the colors work together? Is there a good mixture of foliage textures? Playing with colors and textures on paper is not only fun, it also saves time and money in spring.

Plan next year’s vegetable garden.

Decide which crops need to be rotated to decrease the incidence of diseases. Check last year’s notes to be sure to grow last year’s favorites again and avoid replanting a variety that didn’t perform up to your expectations.

Read about new vegetables you have never grown before and choose at least a couple to try. I am going to try a variety of kohlrabi called ‘Blaril’. It promises to grow huge bulbs – up to two pounds (WOW!) – and stay sweet and tender. They also reportedly store well which means I can enjoy my favorite vegetable all winter long.

I just attended this presentation yesterday at the iLandscape Show in Schaumburg.

Attend lectures and workshops.

Sometimes it is difficult to find the time to attend lectures and workshops during the growing season. Winter is the perfect time to learn something new. Chicagoland Gardening magazine has a directory in every issue that lists lectures and workshops all around the Chicago area. Local newspapers often publish activities of interest to gardeners, and the websites of arboretums or botanic gardens announce their educational offerings.

Join a local garden club.

What could be more fun than getting together with other gardeners to talk about gardening? They often have speakers, make-and-take workshops or garden-related outings. The Chicago Daily Herald lists suburban meetings and events in the Home & Garden section of the Sunday edition.

Visit public gardens to study winter interest.

If your garden lacks interest in the winter, take a walk at a public garden. Take notes of the plants that standout in the garden and the plant combinations that utilize texture and form. Notice how arbors, walls, gates, benches and other garden décor are situated to create delightful winter scenes. Even if their displays are grand, the principles can be downsized to fit in your own garden.

Visit botanical gardens with indoor displays of tropical plants.

Warm up in the glass houses of botanic gardens. How can you possibly feel cold when you are admiring flowering cactus and tropical blooms?

Purchase some blooming ‘eye candy’ plants or houseplants.

Blooms abound in garden centers and grocery stores. Pots of forced bulbs and blooming beauties are an inexpensive way to lift a gardener’s spirit. Some, like hyacinths, also fill the air with sweet perfume. Get some for your home and office.

Adding some houseplants to your home not only adds living décor, they also clean the air. Some of the best air-cleaning houseplants commonly found include Boston and Kimberly Queen ferns, Chinese evergreens, Dracaena, English ivy, mother-in-law tongue and peace lilies. 

Doing just one of these things is sure to raise your spirits, but the more you do the better you’ll feel. A word of warning: if you do all ten you may find yourself outside, in the snow, in a t-shirt and shorts donning gardening gloves. Proceed with caution until spring!

Garden with me!

2 thoughts on “10 Ways to Help a Gardener Survive Winter

  1. One can also “Winter Sow”. I did so last year and it was a success. I will be starting my winter sowing of perennials this week, a smidge late. In March I will winter sow my hardier annuals and vegetables and in April I will begin tender annuals and veggies. Last year I successfully grew Columbine, Echinacea, Liatris, perennial Salvia, Creeping Thyme, Alcea Hollyhock, Leucanthemum Shasta Daisy, Oriental Poppies and much more. I started late January. I am including a link that explains winter sowing:

    I currently have 247 seed packets and I have more to order. Take a peak. It is fun to garden in January. The seedlings were strong, not spindly, as when started indoors. The roots were beautiful. Happy gardening Miss Diana. Glad you’re back. I missed your blogs.

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