Winter Interest

When I first began gardening,, I thought that Quebec’s winter landscape could offer nothing of interest. Now I realize that I only needed to train my eye to see things differently. Instead of looking to plants for interest, I needed to look for patterns and details.

Details like the sun-sparkled fuzz of snow that coated a clump of grass beside the driveway.

 

Ordinary grasses are transformed into tiny sculptures when first coated with snow and ice.
Ordinary grasses are transformed into tiny sculptures when first coated with snow and ice.

 

Patterns like the wavy black line drawn by the not-yet-frozen stream as it crossed the meadow.

 

The stream running through the meadow creates a wavy black line, a strong contrast to the white snow.
The stream running through the meadow creates a wavy black line, a strong contrast to the white snow.

 

Corn stubble that broke a farm field into rows and brought a touch of gold to the black and white world.

 

Corn rows provide interest of an unusual kind.
Corn rows provide interest of an unusual kind.

 

I needed to use my imagination to see beyond the obvious. Shadows on the frozen lake shaped like cathedral spires suggested a hidden country, just beyond the camera’s reach.

 

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Long blue shadows form on the snow-covered lake.

 

 

Ice on the pond became fish with perfectly frozen scales and eyes in just the right place.

 

 

Ripples in the frozen ice look like fish swimming downstream.
Ripples in the frozen ice look like fish swimming downstream.

 

By the house, Calamagrostis brachytricha became a feather duster, delicately gathering snow.

Ornamental grasses really do offer winter interest, even in areas like mine where the snow is deep by the end of winter.
I like the contrast between the delicacy of the inflorescence and the heaviness of the stone wall behind.

 

Ornamental grasses by the Skating Pond offered more conventional ‘winter interest,’ particularly early in the season before the snow beat them flat.

 

Miscanthus sinensis 'Malepartus' stands tall beside the Skating Pond.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’ stands tall beside the Skating Pond. They have grown much larger now and the clumps are no longer as easy to distinguish, one from the other.

 

All these views I came to look for, and to love. Without doubt, though, my favourite piece of ‘winter interest’ remains the grass snake.  The white coat the snake wears hides his red eyes and tongue, but the red apple remains visible. And as always, it is just out of reach. 

 

The grass snake wears a white coat in winter. The red apple remains just out of reach.
The grass we install every spring grows over the summer months to become a shaggy skin. That ‘skin’ will be shed in the spring when we install a new grass coat.

 

Dead grass  — or plants of any kind — aren’t the only things that provide winter interest in the garden. I’ll be writing more about this in the next week or so. And I’ll share an idea you may want to imitate: a wonderfully simple structure that can add colour, humour and intrigue to a garden of any size, in any season.