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.