The Cabin Fever Bed: Part 2

– Posted in: Cabin Fever Bed, Mud Season, New House, New Gardens
23 comments

A red hellebore blooms in an early spring garden.

When I have cabin fever, I look out the window that’s in the background of this photo.

In my previous post, I described my idea of a cabin fever bed as a way to enjoy at least a part of the garden from indoors, when the weather is too miserable to be outside. One of the goals of such a bed is to grow plants that provide interest as far into winter as possible, and I discussed some of my choices. Now I am going to focus on the even-more-trying end of winter, also known as Mud Season. I am not alone in finding this a trying time of the year.

. . . after surviving each winter, I wanted a beacon during mud season. I hungered for at least one spot I could see from inside to buoy me if I were still marooned, perhaps no longer adrift in snow and ice but (the latest insult!) in sodden, sloppy soil, a sea of muck. I wanted–required–one visible bed that defied the last vengeance of winter and the tardiness and sloth of early spring, one realized dream in the mess beyond. ~Margaret Roach, The Backyard Parables

Cabin Fever Plants For Earliest Spring Mud Season

I don’t think I’d call the spring phase of my Cabin Fever Bed “one realized dream in the mess beyond”–at least, not yet. I did have winter aconites blooming there last year.

eranthis-winter aconite-small buttercup looking spring flower

I knew I wanted these very early blooming lemon-yellow flowers in the Cabin Fever Bed.

I am looking forward to more plentiful bloom from the hellebores that bloomed this past April, some of which were trial plants from Burpee, and some were moved from the old house.
This red hellebore blooms in April.

This hellebore blooms in April. I moved it over from the other house this year. It is an unnamed seedling.

And I just planted two spring-blooming colchicums–C. hungaricum ‘Valentine’ and C. h. ‘Velebit Star’. I also planted a Bulbocodium vernum. I have never grown any of these before, so I’m really looking forward to seeing them next spring–perhaps as early as March!

What About Mid-Winter?

It’s all very well to grow plants that extend the the period of bloom, but what about when there’s a foot (or more!) of snow on the ground? What will help us cope with cabin fever then? (Unfortunately, my mosaic birdbath is not frost-proof and must be brought inside.)

You often see recommendations to leave perennials standing to feed birds and catch snow, and these can look attractive with a light snowfall. But even many sturdy ornamental grasses will get flattened after repeated heavy snowfalls. Even if it remained upright and attractive, I didn’t think a large grass would work well within my design constraints. The authors of Prairie Winterscape: Creative Gardening for the Forgotten Season suggest many ways of using lighting to provide interest. If you are only home in the evenings, this can be a way for you to enjoy your garden. My family would rather see the stars at night; we don’t want to dilute the view with any more artificial light than necessary.

I’ll be frank with you: I haven’t solved this problem to my satisfaction. I have a heated birdbath for the winter, but it was designed to be attached to a railing. The first winter I had it, I attached it to the porch railing, but I don’t think I ever saw a bird visit it. So last year I set it up where the mosaic birdbath rests in the summer. Again, no birds visited it, but it did have a kind of stark beauty when surrounded by snow.

A heated birdbath

The heated birdbath provides a dramatic focal point between the dormant roses.

Better than nothing, I suppose, but a bit too austere to satisfy me. I am keeping my eye out for an ornamental object that will catch snow in an attractive manner, something at least as tall as the mosaic birdbath. Should it also include movement? Could it possibly serve a practical function as well? This trellis is the only thing I’ve seen so far that comes close to what I am thinking of. Update: I tracked the Pinterest image of the trellis back to its source and got permission to use it.
ornamental trellis

The tallest of the three of these is the type of thing I’d replace the bird bath with in winter. I would paint it a different color so it would show up against snow.

Ashli, the owner, said she got it at Homesense (which I think is the Canadian version of Home Goods) three or four years previous to when she wrote the post in 2011. So I doubt I’m going to find this exact thing in a store. It’s a good excuse to go browsing through craft fairs and garden shops, right?

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.

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.

Only I, who live in the tropic of fancy, could be under the apocalypse of snow and ice that is Iowa and not admit that winter really exists.

~Anne in Tender Dirt

22 Comments… add one

Jenny December 11, 2013, 2:16 pm

Heated birdbath? How come I have never heard of these? Thanks for the great post!

commonweeder November 7, 2013, 8:49 am

This whole concept is so inspiring. I often think of the views from my windows, and people w ho visit and sit at our dining table sigh as they gaze at the Lawn, Lawn Beds, the field and the mountains beyond, but is more an appreciation of the landscape we are incredibly fortunate to live in, than the garden. I have a mass planting of daffodils, but I cannot see them from the house. The plantings in front of the piazza are mostly herbs or pollinators, great in summer but not spring. I am going to have to get my imagination in gear.

Kathy Purdy November 7, 2013, 10:17 am

Pat, you might also be interested in this video about Margaret Roach’s garden, where she talks about planning your garden from the vantage point of the windows you look out of. Her point is, when a gardener is outside, said gardener is almost always working in the garden, not looking in it. A gardener looks at the garden from inside the house, when washing dishes, doing paperwork, etc.

Layanee November 5, 2013, 7:27 am

I do find that an attractive feeder right outside the window does provide much entertainment during the long winter. The view is ever changing as well.

Kathy Purdy November 5, 2013, 9:16 am

It does. We have feeders viewable from the kitchen, at the back of the house facing the creek, and we enjoy watching the birds very much. But they never seem to visit the front of the house where the big dining room window is.

Shenandoah Kepler November 4, 2013, 12:56 pm

Glad you have different varieties of hellebores that bloom at different times of the year. And their flowers last such a long time. We don’t get much snow in Maryland most years, so we have the opportunity here to see the groundcovers during most of the winter, and enjoy taller groundcovers when we do get a little snow covering the short stuff. It is a hoot to see your heated birdbath under the snow. Thanks for the great pics!

Frances November 4, 2013, 10:14 am

You are certainly going after the much longed for winter interest in your cabin fever bed, Kathy. I believe you will get it figured out soon and appreciate the effort put forth in finding the right elements. Happy hunting!

Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern November 4, 2013, 9:33 am

Love that hellebore (wow) and need to add winter aconite to my “tapestry” of spring blooms. Look very forward to your mud season display in this garden. I read Margaret’s Parables and enjoyed it tremendously. Like the trellis! I like copper in the winter – glowing and warm. I also like to make trellises out of branches. I have one I dub the “bird perch” because the birds have really taken to it. The rabbits keep eating any vines I’ve tried to start on it but you know, I kind of like it as is. My heated bath is on a low tree stump and I love when the snow “stacks up” around it. I just hooked it up yesterday. I hope you have fun shopping! I just found a fiberglass pine cone finale made to look like iron that I will add to my winter garden. Good luck!

Kathie November 4, 2013, 8:42 am

My heated bird bath is on a pedestal (like your mosaic birdbath) and it looks quite charming with the steam arising from it on cold days. Altho no birds visit mine either, it is great to look at. Ilex ‘red sprite’ are colorful in the winter, but small evergreens steal the show. There are tons of evergreens that grow at a slow rate and at full growth are very small. I have boxwood and a blue spruce that is about 3′ x 3′. They are fabulous in the winter. I also have a vintage 5′ tall snowman blowmold which looks great both day and at night. These are no longer made but available on ebay. If that is too much for you, how about those twig deer? Yes, sometimes i go out with a broom / shovel and brush off the snow, but that is fun on a sunny day. We don’t have to sit in the house and stare at endless snow all winter. I love your garden! Thanks for sharing.

Kathy Purdy November 4, 2013, 10:10 am

Thank you, Kathie, for all your ideas. Maybe I will add a small evergreen to the garden, or get a different heated bird bath on a pedestal. I didn’t even know what a snowman blowmold was. Had to look it up. I don’t think that’s my style.

Kathie November 4, 2013, 1:15 pm

I notice someone else puts their heated birdbath on a tree stump and this sounds attractive. If you do not like blowmolds, you would hate the other things I do in my winter garden here in Northern Vermont. Such as: stainless steel gazing ball coated in blue metalic paint on a stand; wooden bench festooned with evergreen garland and a large container of pine cones (weighted with hidden bricks); a tall wooden pole topped with a classy finial — painted blue in Oct., to which I attach a tasteful thermometer. (In the spring I paint this pole green and my clematis lives there.) and piece de resistance, inside against the window a low table covered with fabulous flowering plants (cyclamen, amarylis, violets, and much much more) — most of which I compost in the spring. Trips to plant shops to find these plants are wonderful diversions in November. The majority of this stuff (including the table and the bench) is put away before St. Patrick’s Day — because the snowdrops and the Cornelian cherries are about to begin another wonderful season in the garden.

Kathy Purdy November 4, 2013, 2:16 pm

I can’t say I’d find time to repaint the wooden pole, but the rest of your list doesn’t sound bad to me. And I do have flowering plants indoors. I’ve written about them here in other years. They are all good ideas for providing winter interest.

Kathie November 4, 2013, 3:59 pm

Painting the pole honestly takes less than 10 minutes. I use a foam brush and a sample sized can of paint. Valspar had a coupon in many publications for a free can of sample sized paint, so the paint didn’t even cost anything this year! It takes much more time dragging all the stuff out of storage (bench, table, thermometer, blowmold, gazing ball, garlands, container for pine cones, and more). I have just discovered your blog this year and I am enjoying reading about your plants. Your pictures are wonderful and I am learning from you all the time.

Kathy Purdy November 4, 2013, 4:53 pm

Why, thank you, that made my day! That’s why I started it: to help other gardeners in cold climates. I hope you’ve discovered the archives. And if you want to follow a particular topic, every tag and every category associated with a post is a link to all posts with that category or tag. I hear you about the storage. Putting away the bird bath and the tender plants in containers–and let’s not forget the garden hose!–is already a chore.

Lea November 3, 2013, 11:14 pm

Kathy, cabin fever bed is a great idea. After heavy snowfall I do feel slightly depressed that my wonderful garden looks dead lol.

PlantPostings November 3, 2013, 11:01 pm

When I saw the photo of the Hellebores I thought they were blooming in your garden now. But then I thought–no that can’t be, she’s in New York! Then I read further and saw that yours bloom in April (or March). That’s when mine bloom, too. I like the idea of a cabin fever bed–I need to work on putting early-blooming plants where I can see them out the window.

Kathy Purdy November 4, 2013, 10:16 am

PlantPostings, if you read the first Cabin Fever Bed post, I do have one hellebore blooming now and I expect ‘Josef Lemper’ and ‘Thanksgiving Bloom’ to start soon. In our climate, the pure Helleborus niger species and hybrids that have H. niger in them often bloom in very late autumn/early winter before snowfall.

Guest November 3, 2013, 8:04 pm

“Cabin Fever” so that’s that awful feeling near the end of winter. I normally try to get outside no matter how cold it is, so the feeling for me is more a lack of color and life. My efforts to get rid of this resulted in adding winter interest to my garden. How about winter-blooming plants? I have non-native witch hazel and ericas which bloom very early. There is also edgworthia and wintersweet, if you have the conditions for them in your garden. Plants with red stems may also work such as beni kawa japanese maple or redtwig dogwood. I do not have these plants, but I am considering adding them to my garden. There is also a native US witchhazel which blooms in winter: vernal witch hazel. Of course there are various evergreens which may suit the spot. I am in love the variegated cultivars now…but hollies seem to grow very slowly. Finally, I decided that plants were not enough, and as red is the most striking color to me in the drab light of winter, I decided to add lanterns and painted posts etc to liven up the barren landscape.

Kathy Purdy November 3, 2013, 8:19 pm

My dear Guest, wherever you live, if you can grow edgeworthia you are in a far warmer climate than I am. There are many ways to add winter interest, as you have aptly pointed out, but not all are suited to my Cabin Fever Bed. I have a red twig dogwood in a different part of the Front Walk South bed that is visible from the kitchen door. I would love to plant the vernal witch-hazels and the non-native early blooming ones, but further away from the house. (The autumn-blooming witch hazel is native here.) Only deciduous hollies are definitely hardy here and their berries add bright color. And I agree, paint is another way to add color to the winter landscape. I will keep that in mind while looking for the perfect winter art to view out my dining room window. Thanks for commenting. I hope next time you will not be so shy.

Donna@Gardens Eye View November 3, 2013, 10:45 am

Love the ideas and when I designed my gardens I tried to add the winter interest with red twig dogwood and not cleaning up the garden…the beauty of winter is displayed on every spent bloom.

Cathy November 3, 2013, 2:54 am

Hi Kathy! I love your ideas for a cabin fever garden. I have already decided to find some autumn bulbs for next year, and an earlier blooming hellebore. How about a feeding table for the birds in the centre of your bed? We don’t have a suitable spot, but my parents have one and it gives them so much pleasure all through the winter.

Kathy Purdy November 3, 2013, 10:24 am

A feeding table is a good idea, Cathy. Do your parents clear the snow off of theirs?

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