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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in Winter (3)


Gardens White as Snow

What is it about white flowerbeds that upset me so? Many years ago, while reading a book about English gardens, I came upon the white garden room at Sissinghurst. Immediately, I turned the page. The image was too painful to contemplate. In later years, I read glowing reports from fellow garden bloggers who had visited there and I could never appreciate what they experienced.

Some years ago, while surfing the net, I discovered an image of a white cottage, landscaped with stark, white flowerbeds and offset with green foliage. It was a striking photograph; but I would not want to visit such a home. I found it cold. My gardens need color.

Recently, I noticed that a prominent Detroit-based garden designer graced the entryways of her clients’ grey stone front homes with flowerpots filled mostly with white flowers and lush green foliage. Her compositions were elegant, neat, and serene. The height of sophistication, they were a brilliant addition to the clients majestic houses. However, I wouldn’t want them at my front door. They made me sad because they lacked color.

Whenever a client asks for a white and green flowerbed, I cringe. The topic came up again this season, as it invariably does every year, and my knee-jerk reply was that it wasn’t suitable. And then it happened. Out of my mouth came the words: - Your tenants won’t like it because it will remind them of snow.  As I heard myself speak, I gained instant self-understanding and, after so many years, finally realised why I had forever objected to white gardens.

fymusic.caHere in USDA Zone 4b, winters are brutal and the sky is interminably overcast. More snow falls on the City of Montreal than on any point in the Canadian Arctic.

Most winters, drifts of snow will reach our chests to impede us, while a disagreeable, cold, dampness that freezes our extremities will settle into our bones to chill our bodies. Waiting for aboveground public trans-portation is akin to physical abuse, walking to work challenges our immune system, and driving a car can be treacherous. Many suffer from influenza, and others cough and itch from the dry, indoor air that heats our homes. Boots, scarves, gloves, and hats are not fashion accessories here; they are essential tools of survival.  It’s easy to understand why no one, especially I, would want a summer garden that is a reminder of winter.


What a Difference Snow Makes in the Garden!

Photo of Galanthus [or Snowdrops] posted by Espirit to - Click on the image to visit that site.Why are Snowdrops so exciting? Never having seen them before today, I have not been able to appreciate the fuss about their anticipated emergence. Here in Montreal, they do not grow easily because their upward paths are blocked by a thick layer of hard packed snow. Very few gardeners bother planting them.

Furthermore, any plant that might flower now will not survive the night ground frost. I suppose that, if I lived in New Jersey or Toronto, where the earth is bare and brown by March, I might enjoy seeing pristine white flower buds transform mucky earth into a beautiful sight. However, I live on the Island of Montreal, where a lot of snow falls during the winter and then lingers too long. White flowers blooming in late winter would not be a treat when there is still white snow on the ground.

Historically, some of our gardens remain buried in snow even as late as mid April or early May. That is due, in part, to our municipal Public Works department, whose trucks blow snow onto our front lawns because there is no other place to dump it. In some shady locations, that snow will still be melting while some perennials are growing. These conditions are also the reason why I have stopped planting crocus bulbs, as they are ready to bloom when parts of the garden are still covered with hard packed snow. Few are able to bore through that snow and, in those few spots where they do bloom on time, the night frost destroys the petals.

I can only grow Crocus bulbs up against the foundation of my house where it faces west. The afternoon sun and the warmth radiating from the house allows the snow to melt faster and helps warm up the earth. A wise gardener, here in Montreal, tried to grow Snowdrops [Galanthus] in spite of the meteorological obstacles, and he succeeded. He too planted next to a warm foundation facing west. I walked past his house today, and saw a growing Snowdrop, for the first time. However, I did not feel that rush of excitement. Bells were not pealing in my head. The fuss about emerging Snowdrops was lost on me because their whiteness reminds me of winter.

Like most gardeners, I would be happy to see almost any flower growing at this time. However, that flower will need to be full of color in order to excite me. Unlike most gardeners, who anticipate snowdrops and then followed their emergence with joy, I remain unmoved, only because they are white. What a difference the snow makes in our lives.


Snow Days Are Sad Days

Photo courtesy of Copywrite Free Photos. Click on image to visit their site.Over the past few weeks, I have been saddened to read a story that repeats itself in the texts of many garden blogs. In some postings, it has percolated in doses too tiny to notice. In other blogs, it is blatant and upsetting. It is about the frustrations that winter visits upon gardeners whose main passion in life has been temporarily stifled. Lamentations about not gardening, cleverly cloaked as impatience or wistfulness, start to occur just after the holiday season ends.

Dark days and damp weather begin to overshadow us in early November when many are too busy planning festivities to pay attention. It is mostly after the holiday season that winter delivers a severe blow to our spirits. This year, several factors exacerbated that situation: the unusually cold weather that crept south along the North American continent and the unexpected amount of snowfall. It is heartbreaking to read the chronicles of those that are experiencing genuine suffering and to remain unable to offer comfort.

Winter has never been kind to me, either. As soon as the days get shorter, I am compelled to unpack my full - spectrum light box and soak in its sun-mimicking rays for at least 20 minutes a day. For that brief period, I can pretend to be basking in my garden. Not being able to spend time in the garden is difficult to endure. Instead, I immerse myself in researching garden-related subjects that will make me a better gardener. Also, I devote hours to developing topics for blogs. Planning and writing a gardening blog is a pleasurable, creative experience. It is not as satisfying as gardening, but, at this time of year, it is the next best thing.

It is fortunate that I live in a city that spends over 10 million dollars annually to keep its roads snow-free so that citizens can remain mobile. It also helps that Montreal is a vibrant place. With a large cosmopolitan population, there are many distracting remedies for those experiencing winter cabin fever. I feel badly for those that live in isolated, rural areas that are desolate at this time of year, even though such locations are gardening paradises in summer.

Another antidote for the winter blues is the “greenhouse factor”. I learned about the powerful effect that a greenhouse can have on mood and behavior when I studied Introductory Botany at University. An essential segment of that course required students to visit the Faculty greenhouse frequently in order to learn how to identify plants by their Latin names. During the depths of winter, each visit there became an invigorating and energizing experience. The daylight streaming through glass walls, the tropical humidity and the intense colors of the pelargonium in bloom all combined to generate a heightened sense of happiness and well-being.

Yesterday, while visiting a big box hardware store, I suddenly remembered the greenhouse factor and spun the shopping cart in the direction of Indoor Plants. That department is located in a greenhouse setting. The floor-to-ceiling windows that bring lots of daylight combine with the humidity and aroma of plants to create an enjoyable and stimulating environment. When I got to the plant department, I saw a staff member unpacking forced spring-flowering bulbs, some on the verge of blooming, and some already opened. Tulips, Daffodils and Hyacinths were on display in abundance, as were the usual inventory of intensely colored Gerberas, Cyclamen and Kalanchoe. As I stood there absorbing the odors and colors of spring, I kept reminding myself that, in 90 days, I will be outdoors and gardening once again.