Winterscape, Not Winter Garden

– Posted in: Book reviews, Design, Miscellaneous, Weather

If you are the kind of gardener who snorts at books like The Garden in Winter or A Flower for Everyday: A Practical and Inspirational Guide to Year-Round Color in the Garden, have I got a book for you.

Books on winter gardening aren’t written for regions where daily routines include clearing snow and chiseling ice from windshields. . . . These books show winter containers of pansies and parsley and suggest which plants to select for scent in January. Oh, please! . . . We say, forget those books. . . . Let’s accept that we have our own regional style of winter elegance and that there is beauty in the promise of rebirth and in the knowledge that winter is part of nature’s cycle.

The premise of Barbara Kam and Nora Bryan in Prairie Winterscape: Creative Gardening for the Forgotten Season is that “winter gardening is about setting scenes.” These scenes are readily visible from inside one’s home, or from the frequently traveled paths outside. They can consist of permanent plantings with winter interest, or may be a container relocated from its summer site and filled with evergreens and ornamental berries and seedpods. And keeping in mind that many northerners leave for work in the dark and come home in the dark, the authors suggest many ways to use artificial light to enhance the cold climate gardener’s appreciation of the views to outside. In other words, anything and everything is fair game when the goal is to create interest and beauty for the eye to rest on. I confess I’ve always been suspicious of the terms subtle beauty and spare elegance, but the photos throughout the book have convinced me that their ideas are a definite improvement over doing nothing.

Many practical winter maintenance issues are addressed as well, from how to care for a water garden to the realities of winter composting. Snow harvesting is one concept I hadn’t come across before. The snow that is removed from sidewalks and driveways is used as a mulch for marginally hardy plants and as a reservoir of moisture for dry areas such as under the eaves. Kam and Bryan also realistically assess the value of antidesiccants and recommend action for untimely thaws.

The last third of the book is a handbook of plants especially suited to bringing color, structure, texture, or motion to the winter landscape. And you can bet they’re hardy, being well suited to the Canadian prairie and the northern Great Plains. Although the colder prairies are targeted, anyone gardening where “the average continuous frost-free period is shorter than the period that can get frost” will benefit from the ideas in this book. It’s the only book I’ve come across that addresses the needs of the northern gardener in winter, and as such deserves a spot on every cold climate gardener’s bookshelf.

Thanks to tardis, fellow member of the Gardening group at LibraryThing, for bringing this book to my attention.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

When dealing with frost it is always best to be paranoid. In the spring never think it is too late for one more frost to come. And in the fall never think it too early.

~Rundy in Frost

Comments on this entry are closed.

Daryl December 6, 2007, 1:47 pm

I live in the region that this book was written for. It certainly helped change my perspective of gardening from something that was reserved for the warm weather to something that’s a year-long activity, even when things don’t grow. I intend to fill my garden with many of the plants suggested for their qualities in winter.

Gloria December 21, 2006, 2:54 pm

Sounds like an interesting take on winter in northern gardens.I will check it out. I am with Annie on this.Here in Chicago snow cover has been intermittent at best these last years.
A garden that is more than lawn probably already has many of these elements.Redtwig dogwood with evergreen boughs and berries is quickly becoming a cliche used every winter, everywhere. New ideas are WELCOME.

Annie in Austin December 20, 2006, 7:32 pm

Call me nuts, but this is exactly the stuff I did in Illinois – we put a low, dark brown wooden rail fence around the 50-foot square front garden, giving it a frame all year long; we used lots of smaller/dwarf evergreens [Birdsnest spruce, arborvitae, small pines, Chamaecyparus, etc., left ornamental grasses, seed heads and pods of prairie plants in place, and had some large sandstone rocks adorned with evergreen creeping phlox, thymes, etc.. and I even carried the snow around to bare spots. Because this was a front garden, I could walk on the sidewalk and not mess it up with footprints!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Kathy Purdy December 20, 2006, 7:22 pm

Unfortunately the book went back to the library today, so I can no longer quote directly. But, as I remember, it was in a chapter about things you could do when you had cabin fever. Not had to do, just could do. And it sounded more in the spirit of what tardis said up above: you put a shovelful here or there to pamper a favorite plant, not relocate all the snow off the driveway onto all your garden beds. I thought it was worth considering under certain circumstances, such as when you get a winter with very little snow. In that case, you might very well pile it up where it would do the most good, especially if you thought you might not get any more snow.

I just don’t want anyone getting the wrong impression about this book. The authors did not at all sound like make-work gardeners, but like they walked the walk and were qualified to talk the talk.

The County Clerk December 20, 2006, 4:33 pm

Snow harvesting?????????

What kind of INSANE idea is this? Move the snow from the driveway to the garden?

(I like the IDEA of the book though.)

Tracy December 20, 2006, 12:41 pm

Kathy – Thanks for your review of this book (and thanks to Tardis for bringing it to your attention). Living in Minnesota, I am definitely a scoffer at “the winter garden.” Around here, that’s always seemed to be an oxymoron. The closest we usually get is making sure to plant an evergreen within easy reach of an electrical outlet so that there’s something to hang the Christmas lights on. I’ll definitely have to take a look at The Prairie Winterscape.

tardis December 20, 2006, 11:15 am

Don – IMHO only crazy people cart snow any distance from the driveway to the garden. The rest of us just heave it as far as we can.

Besides, walking around the garden tracks up the pristine snow and ruins the elegant look 🙂

That said, I sometimes do move snow in the spring from the shade to garden beds or tree root zones where the snow has already melted.

tardis December 20, 2006, 11:02 am

You’re welcome 🙂


Don December 20, 2006, 10:58 am

I’ve always considered myself to be a fairly positive, perky person, but the thought of shovelling snow off the driveway in the middle of winter and carting it out to the garden just makes me tired.