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Winter Garden Planning – More Fun than it Sounds

We read everywhere that now is the perfect time to plan changes to our gardens for the coming season, and I’m doing plenty of that.  But it’s not just sorting through seed catalogs, ya know.  I use the time to indulge myself in inspiration, and or just daydreaming about the garden.  It’s the dreams that lead to concrete plans for changes.

Front-yard patio and seating

Inspiration Galore

In my first year as a serious (some would say obsessive) gardener, I took out ALL the gardening magazines the poor local library had and when they wasn’t enough, ordered all the back issues of Fine Gardening Magazine and pored over them (definitely obsessively).  Books got some attention too, though the library’s garden book selection was pretty old, so I raided the book shelves of my gardening friends.

Fine Gardening Garden Photo of the Day

Ah, but that was before the Internet.  Now new and experienced gardeners can find anything they want online.  There’s the wonderful Fine Gardening Garden Photo of the Day feature, which I’m told will soon include a search feature, so you could find “dry shade,” “patio,” whatever.  For inspiration that’s more local, try the Private Gardens and Public Gardens stories here on the Behnkes.com, or the Behnkes Pinterest photos.

Best of all are chances to see gardens in person, so keep an eye out for garden tours, which start in April.

Checklist of Possible Improvements

While you’re glued to those photos of gorgeous gardens, here are some things about your own garden to think about:

  • Are there more ways you could be using your yard?  Think big, like decks and gazebos, or small, like a play area – maybe a badminton set?  Anything that might get you and your family outdoors more.
  • Is there enough seating, and places like patios to put all the chairs and benches? Because winter is not just the best time to think about those questions, but to implement the changes – or hire someone else to, before they get super-busy in the spring.
  • How about more paths?  Gardens can usually use more of them –  to make the yard more usable and inviting. And patios don’t have to be created with expensive materials like flagstone; wood chips will suffice on flat surfaces and are often free.


  • Water features can be as simple as plug-in fountains, which I highly recommend for low-maintenance gardeners, or ponds, which I do envy for the frogs and fish they hold or attract.
  • Got enough shade?  Remember it can come from deciduous trees (Click here to see the array of popular shade trees and their gorgeous fall color) or even a market umbrella.
  • And privacy; got enough?  Not just to screen unsightly views or nosy neighbors, but to create the feeling of an outdoor room that you’ll enjoy far more than the experience of sitting in an open field, which so many yards are like.  Screening can come from privacy fences, tall-enough plants, even containers filled with fake plants.  (In an earlier blog story I showed off my combination of privacy screen, evergreen trees and shrubs, and cut stalks of bamboo.)
  • And could your yard or garden use more plants?  The easiest way to incorporate more plants that help local wildlife while filtering more storm water is to rip up some lawn and replace it with new or larger borders or islands that hold shrubs, perennials and ground covers.


Time for Not JUST Planning

Here in Maryland we’re lucky enough to have unfrozen ground through most of the winter, so there’s plenty of gardening we can get done now, before the spring rush.  Here’s my recent GardenRant story about winter gardening, where I agree with the Washington Post’s Adrian Higgins about how busy we can be this time of year.

Fine Gardening photo credit.  Post and all other photos by Susan Harris.

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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