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The Wonders of Winter

WitchhazelI used to say that I hated winter. An outdoor-playing, nature-lover at heart, there were no insects – those beloved objects of my fascination – to play with. The garden, to my naïve eyes, seemed dead and dull. And, of course, winter is cold. I am not a cold-weather person… although it gives one a great excuse to revel in fuzzy fleece. Now that I am a bit wiser to the ways of things, I do have to say I appreciate winter for what it is – a season that makes you focus on the details, the forgotten, the overlooked – and value what it has to show you, when you take the time to look.

Insects and some plants may indeed be “asleep” or, yes, downright dead (especially those annual weeds…yipee!), but berries, bark and evergreens are the gems of the winter landscape. The distractions of surrounding greenery gone and enhanced further by a blank canvas of snow, many woody plants really stand out with beauty. I love admiring the textural richness evergreens offer, the delicious bounty of berries and seedheads, and the quilted tapestry of multicolored bark. When I can find the time, I run around the nursery taking pictures. I am always intrigued by the color changes of the evergreens – purplish blue, bronze-orange, purplish red, chocolate brown and caramel.

Around the nursery, one of our planted witchhazels has just begun to pop open a few flower buds, and the potted daphne won’t be far behind. A couple eager spring-blooming camellias in the greenhouse are flirting with flowering. I noticed the other day that our hawthorn berries disappeared…I guess a flock of birds polished them off. So far they’ve missed the mature trees on the other side of the nursery, still loaded with fruit…or maybe they just don’t taste right yet. I haven’t seen the resident mocking birds snacking on the pyracantha berries or juniper cones yet, but I suppose it won’t be long now.

At least winter offers the promise of spring and the anticipation of renewed life. Sullen-looking gardens will burst forth with leaf and bloom. My moths, aquired as caterpillars or cocoons over the fall from chance spottings (one of an insect-lover’s benefits of working at a nursery!) will emerge in just a few short months. Then it’ll be back to the hectic pace of tending my garden, repotting my houseplants, and stocking new arrivals at the nursery. In the meantime, winter gives all a breath of rest…slowing us down enough to take a look around and take in winter’s subtle beauty.

Soon enough it will be a cacauphany of green and flashy flowers, and subtlety will take a back seat to lush productivity; a gardener’s bliss, to be sure, although teetering on the verge of overwhelming. We even have the tendency to overdress the start of winter, with Christmas lights and decorations filling gardens and city trees as if to hang on to those last vestiges of abundance. But as those veils are lifted and the last of the fall leaves blow into obscurity, what remains can be truly magnificent. As for myself, while I still can’t say winter is my favorite season, I can say…“winter wonderland” indeed.

By Miri Talabac, Woody Plant Department Manager

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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