Winter is the season I enjoy my garden best. It slows into an undemanding, peaceful space where I can relax and step off the treadmill. It’s a time to absorb and observe. And marvel. For there is so much beauty in the winter garden for a quiet observer.
I love the pared back beauty of a garden in winter. Without frills and distractions. But it’s the transient changes wrought by the elements that draw me outside, leaving me in awe of nature’s beauty in this stark season.
Winter Garden Magic
My own garden becomes a tawny landscape in winter. Transfigured into sublime beauty when illuminated by the low winter sun. Transformed into a fairy land with a dusting of frost. Turned into an ethereal space as morning sunshine casts dull mist to glowing haze or sparkles like magic off dewdrops.
There’s Life In This Desiccated Landscape
The garden seems dead yet is so alive. I enjoy watching the wind stirring desiccated grasses in our prairie borders, delicate stems shimmering in the golden light. And once beautiful flowers keep on giving in the form of dark seed heads, punctuating the bleached backdrop in tonal contrast. The garden is brought to life as tiny finches flit to and fro thankful for this valuable feed source.
Then there’s the winter flowers and blossom, so delicate and intense and even more appreciated for being so few in numbers. Finding a single tiny iris flowering in February thrills me as much as a garden full in June.
Gardens Are A Lifeline
And in an extraordinary year like 2020 our gardens and outdoor spaces have been a lifeline for many of us. A place to escape, relax, feel safe, enjoy a socially distanced gathering with family and friends. Gardens are even becoming the new home-work stations for many of us.
Our gardens are hard-working, multifunctioning spaces and I think if anything positive has come out of this pandemic it is perhaps we have learnt to enjoy and value our outside spaces and look to nature for nurture through tough times.
And judging by the demand for plants, vegetables, turf, trees, bulbs, gravel, paving, railway sleepers, cobbles and pond liner- it appears the nation has got the bug and taken up DIY gardening in a big way!
So, if you are one to hide indoors in winter and peep out at your garden through the windows, here are a few seasonal activities to entice you back out there, put a glow in your cheeks, give you a dose of vitamin D and leave you feeling good, whatever the weather.
Ten Ways to Enjoy your Garden in Winter
1. Cook Outdoors.
Fire up the BBQ, light the fire pit, set out some lanterns, string up fairy lights, dress up warm, crack open a beer and get grilling outdoors.
Every weekend in winter we cook outside, whatever the weather, huddled around a smoking fire looking out at the stars, under a lean-to with a tin roof that is our log store.
It feels good to take a few steps outside, escape the domestic world, relax and watch the flames flickering in the dark.
And it’s funny how food seems to taste even better cooked outdoors in winter.
Serious winter grillers should check out www.biggreenegg.co.uk
2. Plant A Tree.
According to the Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
Winter is the best time to plant a tree. Do it. Plant a tree with your family. Plant a tree on your own, with your partner, with your dog, plant it for a loved one. Plant a tree for the planet. It feels good. And you will be doing a great thing for the environment and your heirs.
More information at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk
Buy mail order trees from www.frankpmatthews.com/tree-shop
3. Weave A Wigloo.
Are you looking for a hideaway in your garden? A green retreat? A playhouse for your children? Try weaving your own green and leafy bower using living willow.
Now is the best time to plant living willow rods weaving them into domes, arbours, arches, tunnels, children’s wigloos and fedges (a living fence). You don’t need Bear Grylls’ den building skills, it is super easy to do, and great fun with children. Simply push the living willow rods about a foot deep into the ground to shape the base, then weave and twist the stems together into whatever structure you are building.
Wigloos will need pruning back hard each winter and they prefer a sunny position.
Have fun weaving coloured willow stems into the structure.
Buy mail order living willow kits from www.musgrovewillows.co.uk
4. Plant An Eatery.
Build your own raised beds, available to purchase as kits with minimal DIY skills needed.
Sow winter greens and peas now and enjoy tasty salads in the depths of winter.
Plant soft fruit and enjoy delicious superfood berries picked from the bush in summer.
Order blueberries, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries and other unusual edibles now.
Mail order fruit from www.frankpmatthews.com/tree-shop
Raised beds kits available from www.harrodhorticultural.com
5. Build A Pergola.
Our gardens have to work hard these days, and pergolas are multi-tasking structures adding height and creating an intimate living space within our gardens.
Our pergola is built from UK larch and green oak. During #Lockdown1 it became an outdoor gym, strung with weights and lifts. It provides a shaded dining area in summer, doubles as a frame for a relaxing swing seat and hammock, grows grapes for summer eating and is a nesting destination of choice for many of our garden birds.
Add a roof and you have the perfect year-round setting for a hot tub, fire pit, to socially distance and entertain whatever the weather.
Pergola kits are readily available online, you will need some joinery skills and tools to build one yourself. Or leave it to the professionals and commission a bespoke pergola to suit your garden and lifestyle.
6. Set Up A Bird Feeding Station.
January and February are lean months for garden birds and putting up a bird feeding station will bring them to your garden giving you hours of pleasure watching them feed and interact. We have a bird table, several feeding stations and multiple feeders filled with complex seed mixes and straights to cater for our tits, finches, robins, wrens, blackbirds, woodpeckers and more. The station is close to the house and we even have window mounted bird feeders to enjoy watching the birds at close quarters.
Include a bird bath or shallow tray of water and change the water frequently.
Mail order seed, feeders and great advice available at Vine House Farms www.vinehousefarm.co.uk
7. Plant A Mini Meadow.
Fill your life with flowers, bumblebees and butterflies.
It’s a great time to plant a meadow now. Make life easy and put down meadow turf. Clear a space in your borders, or strip off some grass, cultivate and simply lay down meadow turf on the soil’s surface. It is that easy.
Choose perennial meadow turf for its long flowering season with thousands of flowers per m2. Add a bench, sit back amongst the flowers and enjoy watching butterflies and bumblebees flock to your garden in droves.
8. Dig A Pond.
One of the best things you can do for wildlife is put a pond in your garden.
A small wildlife pond or even a tiny frog pond will quickly increase biodiversity and help support struggling species like amphibians, wild birds and pond life. Even hedgehogs will welcome a drink from the shallow sides.
Ponds are best planted in spring, and frogs and toads are looking for spawning holes as early as February, so start digging now and your pond will be ready in perfect time.
Visit local aquatic specialists Wayside Watergardens
www.waysidewatergardens.co.uk for aquatic plants and pond liner.
For tips and advice on making a wildlife pond see www.froglife.org
9. Put Up Nest Boxes.
There’s a range of nest boxes available to purchase on-line and in garden centres to suit your style and garden. I think the wild birds are less fussy about style, so if you enjoy a bit of DIY build your own nest boxes, a great activity with your children.
There are plans to follow for different species, sparrows like to nest together so consider a sparrow hotel, whereas wrens and robins are solitary and require different sized hole openings.
If you want to go a step further and really connect with the birds treat yourself to a nest box with a webcam and watch the brood hatch and grow up.
For tips and information about building a nest box visit www.bto.org/how-you-can-help/providing-birds/putting-nest-boxes-birds/make-nest-box
10. Get A Garden Bench.
Find a sunny spot for it, go outside and sit on it whenever you can. Buy some woolly gloves, put on a hat, dress up warm, get a blanket. Take your coffee or hot chocolate out in a thermal cup, read a book, have a cup of tea, even eat your breakfast sat out in your garden. Just a few minutes now and then, soaking up the sunshine, to pause, switch off and recharge your batteries outside does wonders for the soul.
So please don’t forget about your gardens in winter. Enjoy them like I enjoy mine. Get out there and celebrate the elements. Reconnect with nature. Gardens are good for us whatever the season.
Visit Ellicar Gardens in winter and enjoy the winter garden specials 19th Feb, 24th Feb, 26th Feb, 3rd Mar
11am-3pm for more visitor information see: