The Cabin Fever Bed: Part 1

– Posted in: Cabin Fever Bed, New House, New Gardens
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Looking out this window eases cabin fever.

When cabin fever strikes, I look out this window. What do I want to see?

Cabin fever is a colloquial expression that means different things to different people. Wikipedia defines it as

a claustrophobic reaction that takes place when a person or group is isolated and/or shut in a small space, with nothing to do for an extended period. Cabin fever describes the extreme irritability and restlessness a person may feel in these situations.

The Urban Dictionary describes it as

being stuck indoors for a prolonged period of time during the winter months and suffering from depression caused from a vitamin deficiency caused by a lack of sunlight and sick of being inside with the same people for months on end.

I’d say both definitions are pretty much on target. And for gardeners, being deprived of one’s garden–both viewing and tending it–only aggravates the condition. Therefore, extending the garden blooming season for as long as possible is critical to the gardener’s–especially the short-season gardener’s–mental health. After suffering with cabin fever for many years, I finally realized I could design a garden specifically to combat it.

I first came across the idea of a garden especially created to be viewed from indoors during inclement weather in Prairie Winterscape: Creative Gardening for the Forgotten Season (Read my review). I started working on such a bed at the old house, where it was easily viewed out the bathroom window–from the toilet seat!

But before we even moved into our new house, I knew where I was going to put my Cabin Fever Bed.

The original view of the cabin fever bed.

Before we moved in, this was the view out the dining room window.

It’s not clear from the photo, but the bottom of this window is a mere eight inches from the floor. And while it doesn’t quite reach the ceiling, the top of the window is more than six feet up. From this window you can see everything from the ground at your feet all the way to the road. Why waste this with a ground cover juniper and lawn grass? Yes, that juniper was doomed from the beginning.

Design Goals

Cabin fever is usually regarded as something endured during winter, but I think it is worst at the transitions–when you first concede that the weather is too unpleasant to linger outdoors, and when it seems like spring ought to be here by now–but it’s not. Right outside that window, I want to see the latest fall bloomers I can find and grow, and the earliest spring bloomers. The challenging part is that I want this Cabin Fever Bed to be incorporated inside a larger bed (the South Front Walk Bed) that goes from the dining room door to the kitchen door. A bed within a bed, if you will.

Map of Cabin Fever Bed within South Front Walk Bed

The Cabin Fever Bed is a smaller area within the South Front Walk Bed. It is the area directly beneath the dining room window marked in red.

The South Front Walk Bed should look pleasing from the road, but the earliest and latest blooming plants are–let’s face it–low-growing. That big window needs something with more oomph in front of it. After much pondering, this is what I came up with.
Two rose bushes function as a screen for the Cabin Fever Bed

Two rose bushes function as a screen for the Cabin Fever Bed.

I brought over my beloved mosaic bird bath from the old house and centered it in front of the window. Then I planted two Oso Happy Candy Oh! roses as a screen in front of the bird bath. From the road, the area reads as a bird bath with shrubs in front of it. You don’t really think about what’s behind the bird bath. When you are inside looking out, the rose bushes help to enclose the space, giving the effect of a private viewing courtyard.

Plants For November

The next step was to find plants that would bloom until snow covered them up, and plants that would bloom as soon as the snow was gone. My experience with my ‘Thanksgiving Bloom’ and ‘Josef Lemper’ hellebores caused me to seek out others with Helleborus niger genes in them, to see if they, too might bloom at either end of winter.

Josef Lemper hellebore

‘Josef Lemper’ blooming this past April in the cabin fever bed.

When Burpee gave me the opportunity to try anything from their website, I chose these hellebores:

When choosing them, I looked for the phrases “blooms in very early winter” or “blooms in late winter,” because I didn’t want hellebores that bloomed later in spring. I also looked for Helleborus niger parentage, because that is the hellebore species noted for blooming in early winter. I am still waiting for these hellebores to hit their stride and really start blooming, although ‘Winter Bells’ has been blooming since September. I also planted the ‘Joseph Lemper’ and ‘Thanksgiving Bloom’ here. Interspersed with the hellebores are several varieties of fall crocus. These true crocuses bloom after the colchicums in a brilliant blue. And this year I planted a single bulb of Leucojum autumnale ‘September Snow’ which has not shown up yet. Not sure if it is a dud or just recalcitrant. I will have to check with my supplier. Last year I also planted three ‘Winterglow’ bergenia up against the bird bath on the window side. They turn a brilliant red in the cold and are visible in shallow snow, so offer some color in addition to what the hellebores provide.

fall crocus and bergenia brighten up the early winter garden

Last year the crocus were still blooming in December. The bergenia provides a glowing accompaniment.

This post is part of a continuing series about my new house and gardens, especially about my thoughts when designing new garden areas and revamping existing ones in our new location. In Part 2, I’ll share what I planted to bloom in earliest spring and my middle-of-winter conundrum. In the meantime, you can be thinking about what you’d like to see out your window when it’s too cold to actually be out in your garden.

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.

. . . the difference between great daffodils and common ones is not so vast as one thinks in the first flush of excitement when one starts being serious about daffodils.

~Henry Mitchell in The Essential Earthman: Henry Mitchell on Gardening

16 Comments… add one

Donna@Gardens Eye View November 3, 2013, 10:42 am

I have a few spots where I have a cabin fever garden especially in early spring….great idea and I have been meaning to add the autumn blooming hellebores…now I have some options. Thanks.

Neil Moran November 3, 2013, 9:20 am

Nice ideas for a cabin fever garden, I can relate here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I still haven’t tried growing Helleborus in our zone 4 region, but I do know one other person locally who has, I’ll have to give a few a try. Your cabin fever garden gives me incentive to work on a cabin fever landscape. I recently installed a window on the east side of my writing room so I can see the sunrise but I have to work on the view some! Thanks, this gives me inspiration.

Kathy Purdy November 3, 2013, 10:27 am

Hi, Neil. Helleborus niger is supposed to be hardy to zone 4, and that is the one most likely to bloom before snowfall. It is also supposed to be a bit more temperamental than the later-blooming hellebore hybrids, but not extremely so.

AmyO November 1, 2013, 7:43 am

What a fantastic idea! I’m in Vermont and have the same wintry situation as you….lots of snow and loooong winters looking at brown & empty gardens for way too long! I have a large picture window off the livingroom and I could really use something pretty to look at from it. While I do live on a beautiful lake that I can see from that window, the gardens on that side of the house are more in the periphery, so I can see enlarging them to bring them more front and center! thanks for the inspiration!!

commonweeder October 30, 2013, 4:23 pm

I always love listening to your design thoughts and process. They are so helpful.

Cindy, MCOK October 30, 2013, 12:12 pm

That bed will be such a pleasure for you over the years. I’m laughing over Linda’s remark about the plants fainting. First they’d faint, then they’d fry!

Ellie October 30, 2013, 10:08 am

Love it! I’m considering finding Cyclamen coum. Has anyone had luck with that? (I’m in Zone 5.)

Kathy Purdy October 30, 2013, 10:44 am

Hi, Ellie. I just planted some Cyclamen coum this fall. You’ll hear about my success (or failure) next spring. But I do know other Zone 5 gardeners who grow it successfully, and that’s what inspired me to try it. Thanks for commenting.

AmyO November 1, 2013, 7:46 am

I’m in zone 4-5 in Vermont and have great success with C. coum…seeding in now! YAY! So I would highly recommend giving them a try. Part-shade and well drained soil are what they love.

Rodrica October 30, 2013, 9:43 am

Inspiring. I like to have a few small potted evergreens to move around where needed (dwarf Alberta Spruce, etc)., until I decide on the final plan. I love them in winter.

Amy Murphy October 30, 2013, 9:27 am

Might I suggest japanese anemones for your garden? Here in my zone 5 garden they are still in bloom. Also, I know they are not considered fashionable, but my knockout roses are still in bloom and are often in bloom til Thanksgiving.

Kathy Purdy October 30, 2013, 9:34 am

Amy, I do want to include Japanese anemones in my garden but perhaps not in the Cabin Fever bed. I have the Candy Oh! roses providing enclosure and they have a few blooms and some bright red hips right now. They weren’t especially visible in the photo. Many roses can take light frost and continue to put forth blooms, though not as freely as their first flush. During late fall, they will often blossom during a warm spell and then get trashed by a hard freeze, so I try to cut them right before that hard freeze and enjoy them in the house. Thank you for commenting.

Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern October 30, 2013, 8:26 am

What a beautiful site! Winter can be so long and this is a great approach! Last Winter I focused on what I could do to make my garden more Winter-friendly. Unwittingly, I planted a Blue Spruce when we moved here and put Cardinal Dogwood in front of it. That combination brings me so much interest Spring and Fall, and carries me through Winter so I added it to another part of the garden with lower evergreens and Yellow Twig Dogwood. I like to rely on a little “ornamentation,” too. I have a copper bird feeder for sparkle and this year I am adding a copper rain chain which I am very excited about. Your mosaic birdbath is beautiful! I also fill my garden containers with greens to add more well, green, to the garden. I have recently planted some Hellebores but they haven’t quite established yet. I must plant some Fall Crocus! Your collection is inspiring.

Kathy Purdy October 30, 2013, 9:28 am

Kathy, I have made some attempts at ornamentation, too. I’ll be discussing those in Part 2. I think it helps any colored-twig dogwood to have something contrasting behind it to make the the twigs stand out more, even if that’s just the snow-covered ground rising behind it.

Betsy October 29, 2013, 9:20 pm

Kathy, I love this idea. I find that I have something similar with a hellebore niger and a Lenten rose outside my dining room window and look at them all winter. But am going to definitely get some colchicims and autumn crocus. The Christmas rose blooms almost all winter. Don’t know it’s name as it was a division of a really old plant here in NE Ohio.

I look forward to your next installment.

Linda Lehmusvirta October 29, 2013, 8:10 pm

You’re so right about designing for cabin fever! For us in drought-ridden Texas, it’s designing that view for summer (when we might hang out in the AC) or absolute winter when things finally go down. I love your design, even though your plants would faint here. The concept endures!

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