Drunken birds steal the colour

Waterloo Region Record - - Arts & Life - DAVID HOB­SON David Hob­son gar­dens in Water­loo and is happy to an­swer gar­den ques­tions, prefer­ably by email: gar­[email protected] Reach him by mail c/o In the Gar­den, The Record, 160 King St. E., Kitch­ener, Ont. N2G 4E5

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?

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