Illuminating The Winter Garden

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Ice Blossoms & Snow Candles

The recent ice, wind, and snow left many gardens looking battered and worn. I spent several days removing large broken branches from my home garden and at the library gardens, which were both deeply littered with fallen limbs. The good news is that some of what blew down will make wonderful holiday wreaths and swags. Many of the evergreen branches were heavy with cones, which give holiday decor an appealingly natural look.

I also found lots of mossy twigs, some with several kinds of lichens woven in. On my birthday, a small piece fell just in front of my as I was walking in the woods, and it was so beautiful I had to bring it home. About two inches long, it has no fewer than six distinct kinds of lichen and moss, all in soft browns and silvery grey-greens. After a few days, it tarted to dry up, so I put it on my back porch and it bounced back into lushness. I’d love to make a fiber-arts version, and am sorting scraps of fabric and yarn to play with during winter break.

Winter In Willow

I’m also playing with ice flowers, since the cold just keeps on coming. A dear gardening friend who lives in Willow, Alaska is an incredible gardener and garden artist who revels in his plants. In deep winter, In winter, his garden lies under a deep blanket of snow that can reach six or eight or ten feet. Indoors, Les gets ready for spring by covering every available surface with seed trays of delphiniums and hollyhocks and dozens of vivid annuals. By February, he sometimes can’t even find the table top anymore and every meal becomes a picnic.

Outside, Les makes ice flowers. He carves and sculpts slabs of colored ice into floral shapes, some simple, some intricate. Many are tinted with food coloring in vivid or subtle colors. All are lit from within by candles and small flashlights, giving them a soft glow that lit up the dark Alaskan day like stars. The result is sheer magic. Now, Les opens the winter garden to tours to benefit the local library and several organizations that help kids in need. As the days grew darker and longer, more and more people come to see the lovely lights and revel in the transformational experience.

Smoke And Mirrors

It’s rarely cold enough for ice flowers around here, yet the idea of bringing light and reflections into the winter garden is an excellent one. One of my favorite holiday gifts was a set of Mexican red clay lanterns that hold fat, long burning candles. Set about the garden, these provide a soft, flickering illumination that glimmers off the glossy surfaces of glazed pots and containers.

Garden mirrors also bounce light into dark places beautifully. I like to use them in  unexpected places, where they surprise us with a glimpse of light that pierces the winter gloom. In a former garden, a battered old thrift shop mirror hung from a tree in a dim woodland part of the garden, where it shimmered like lost water amid the shadows. Another in a marvelously tacky gilded frame was tastefully tucked under the porch steps, where turned the deep recess into a grotto and illuminated a collection of weird rocks and glass baubles.

Water Of Life

Real water reflects light best of all and has the power of a natural force as well. Hollow stones full of water bring birds for daily bathing and capture the flow of clouds across the ragged sky when not in active use. Water jars do the same thing, of course, but because they are vulnerable to winter frosts, ceramic pots and containers are best saved for summer.

Every garden is livelier for the presence of water. The easiest way to bring water into the garden is to add a winter-proof birdbath. This also attracts the birds, of course, which can make for a lot of exciting action in a previously quiet corner of the yard. If the birds don’t find their new bath right away, try scattering a handful of apples around its base. Many birds love to eat apples and will flock to the food en route to the water. It’s especially important to give birds water in freezing weather, when I often change the water bowl several time a day.

Snow Balls And Glow Balls

My grandson is just learning about Christmas and loves for me to read holiday books. One family favorite is Christmas in Noisy Village, one of several Noisy Village books by Astrid Lindgren. The wonderful illustrations show children putting out fat sheaves of wheat for the birds, and heaping little pyramids of snowballs over candles to shine softly as they sing carols at night. Whenever it snows enough, I make a snowball pyramid on my garden bird table, with a little battery-powered “candle” tucked inside. It remains an enchanting sight to me and I hope Granny’s snowlights will be part of my grandson’s fondly recollections as well.

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