As I look out my kitchen window into the backyard, I gain a new appreciation for my recently acquired trellis, just installed this autumn. The stark black of the scrollwork and leaves provides a lovely contrast to the brilliant, sparkling white, and giving the eye a nice break from the low, smooth surface of the yard beyond. If only I'd had my camera in hand, ready to snap the unspoiled beauty before the dog and kids charged forth in the morning!
Nearby, the heavy crossbars of the now-defunct laundry poles, currently supporting only white trellises, sweet peas, and clematis, wear a heavy mantle of white across their shoulders. Runners of white velvet span the picnic table, as well.
The only pops of color in my backyard are the brilliant, iridescent red of the blown glass hummingbird feeders and gazing globes, and the last few neglected tomatoes, hanging forlornly on the drooping brown branches of my tomato plants. Autumn left too abruptly this year, before I had time to complete my fall clean-up and put the tomato cages away for the winter. I grimace at the thought of the volunteer tomatoes that will surely emerge in spring, especially where the 5 cherry and grape tomato plants resided last summer. The tomato cages will have to wait for a warmer day, however. Even the little brown wrens, hiding so effectively in the cover of the peony branches, look cold today!Outside my front door, my 7-year-old son pauses on the way to the ice-encrusted van to ask why I didn't cut down all the standing stems on the butterfly garden plants. He has been a frequent witness to my seed-gathering and saving, and has even been known to pocket interesting seed heads himself. He touches the brittle heads of the coneflowers gingerly, as if they bore spines. I explain my twofold reasoning: food is scarce for birds in the winter, and coneflowers hold their seeds well above the snow, where the birds can find them. Likewise for the sunflowers and some of the other seed-bearing plants. Secondly, whatever seeds the birds spare may self-sow, filling in gaps in my still-developing perennial garden and providing seedlings to transplant to other areas of the yard or to give away to gardening friends.
The little maple tree we pass on the way down the sidewalk surprises me this year. This sapling, only 3 years old, has given me such pleasure! It is one of the last to turn color in the fall, but also is the last to lose its leaves. When all the neighborhood maples are stark and bare, ours is a brilliant crimson. Today, though, it stands bare but for a rudimentary bird's nest and a powdering of snow. I’ve never noticed before today that the younger branches are a deep burgundy red!
How many other hidden beauties do I miss in the garden, assuming that all is dead and brown, in my hurry from warm car to warm house? I silently promise myself to take time to really see my garden, even in the winter season, and remember the art of silent contemplation, even if it means clenching my teeth to still the chattering!
[I'd like to offer my thanks to Ron Reed (IowaRon) for allowing me to use his picture, Purple Snow Cones, above. All other pictures used are my own.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 7, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)