Drunken birds steal the colour
As the tattered remnants of three seasons are calmed by the first snowfall, stillness comes to the garden. No shocks of colour craving attention, no heroic blossoms competing for glory. The battle is over. The veil of green is now a shroud of white as shrubs and trees are gently sculpted into ghostly memories. Peace falls silently as the garden rests.
Hah, enough of that. Without a blanket of snow, my garden in December is little more than a plant cemetery, all drab and soggy for the past month. It wouldn’t be that way if I had more shrubs with winter colour, but in my small plot I can only focus on three seasons of delight.
I am being a little harsh. It’s not without colour. Without snow the grass is greener than it was any time during summer, the Scottish moss is as bright as ever, and the evergreens are, well, also green, except for a blue spruce. This is the time when I appreciate the value of evergreens in the winter garden. They quickly shed the burden of snow and stand proudly defiant of winter — so Canadian. There are many coniferous trees and shrubs available in a surprising range of colours, so I should try to squeeze in a couple more small ones.
Creating a garden that is attractive yearround, however, means selecting plants that stand out in winter, in addition to fulfilling a summer role. I had more winter colour in the early years, but seem to have transitioned to shades of brown and grey. My holly that was always covered in red berries succumbed, and the Kerria japonica with pale green branches is long gone. It took up too much space and began to look unkempt.
I loved the red jade crabapple that fed countless birds with its bright red fruit until it was overwhelmed by a variety of untreatable ailments. It was an eyesore most of the summer and had to go. Even when it was filled with cherrylike apples, they didn’t always last past November. I’d be standing at the window, admiring the winter colours when the sky would suddenly darken, a lot of rattling on the eavestrough, then whoosh, a swarm, yes, a swarm of starlings would swoop in and strip the tree bare.
Sometimes, the apples would have fermented and have a little alcohol content, so if you ever see a few starlings that can’t stick to the murmuration plan, you’ll know why. If starlings didn’t get the fruit, the robins soon found them. A couple of those apple liquors and they could be belligerent.
I still have a reliable red twig dogwood that adds a blush to the cedar behind it. Despite the lack of obvious colour, I do have a couple of shrubs that almost make up for it.
After the corkscrew hazel has shed its leaves it’s a real standout, a jigsaw puzzle of gnarled and twisted branches.
My beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) is brilliant when it blooms in spring. In summer it’s just another leafy mass, but after it’s shed its leaves in fall it reveals a unique parchment like flaking bark that curls and twists away from the branches and twigs.
Deciduous shrubs trees are occasional actors in this seasonal play. They provide grace and beauty, and with full moon and skeletal branches, the scene is set for a vivid imagination.
After a good snowfall I won’t regret the lack of colour. It transforms the garden and overnight it becomes a scene worthy of a Christmas card.
Pergolas, arbours, gazebos, and even old compost barrels can become dramatic forms when snow-covered, while mounded shrubs undulate around the yard under that blanket of snow.
What, it snowed again?