Home & Garden
From the Garden of Rachel McLeod

  The sun shining on the first snow of winter is one of the most beautiful sights in the garden. Every branch is delicately traced and all the untidiness and muddle of the decaying fall plants are magically wiped away and the garden lies under a spotless sheet. Not only is it beautiful but it is silent, all the ordinary noises are suspended or muffled briefly and there is only the chirping of hungry chickadees until the snow shovels and snow blowers start. It is an entirely different look to our gardens and one that perhaps we should study carefully so that we can plan future plantings to give us even more interest and beauty in our winter garden.

  Probably it will be the berried trees and bushes which will give the most pleasure for the longest time. A flowering crabapple with its scarlet fruits in winter is a great addition to any garden, not only does it have the fruits which are very popular with birds such as cardinals and they too will add colour to the winter garden but it also gives a wonderful show with its blossom in the spring. In my own garden it is the high bush cranberry which gives a brilliant red accent against dark cedars. Again the fruit is the end result of a wonderful display of flowers in early summer. The high bush cranberry fruits will be decorative for a long time because they are not popular with all birds. In fact it is difficult to know who it is who eats them. I have seen a ruffed grouse work her away along branch after branch cleaning off all the berries she can reach but they only come occasionally. Other birds and squirrels will take the odd berry and then suddenly one day all the berries will disappear. A flock of cedar waxwings has flown in and taken every one, the bush is bare. The high bush cranberry is successful in more shady conditions than the crabapple.

  It is not only berries that will give colour. A thick stand of red osier dogwood will add a deep red contrast in your garden. During most of the year this is a quiet unassuming shrub that will act as a filler or background. But in the winter and early spring it comes into its own. All winter the branches are red against the snow and when spring starts and the sap rises they get even more red until the small green leaves burst out.

  Colour isn't the only thing that will give interest to a winter garden, shapes and textures will too. The intricate curling of the contorted Hazel often known as Harry Lauder's walking stick is at its best in the winter landscape. So too is the tracery of branches against a wall formed by the climbing hydrangea punctuated by its brown flower heads. Other hydrangeas keep their mop flower heads and when each is crowned with a cap of snow they look very beautiful. A rail fence which has been supporting climbers and vines all summer will act as a focal point when it is outlined in snow. Statues and garden ornaments will all take on new personalities when decorated with the rime of frost or a light coating of snow. The moonlights which gleam all summer down the garden slope I find almost more beautiful when they shine through the snow and greet me with their soft light as I look out of the window on a cold winter morning.

However, perhaps the most important feature to bring your winter garden to life is to have bird feeders and heated birdbaths. A heated birdbath has to be carefully sited close enough to the house that an extension cord can reach easily and safely, and so that the water can be topped up, it evaporates surprisingly quickly. Above all the birds should feel safe from predators such as cats so it is probably better to be raised. Feeders are easier to place and a good variety will bring many birds. I have a suet feeder, a peanut feeder (without doubt this is the most popular) two covered seed feeders and a nyjer feeder.


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