Sparkling Texture & Dramatic Structure: Creating A Beautiful Winter Garden …

December 18th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

The Entry Garden at First Light in Early December, After a Dusting of Snow

I often wonder why I bother to mourn the end of autumn when there’s so much magic and beauty to be found in the garden during this quiet time of the year. As we near the winter solstice, I find myself every bit as enchanted by the garden as I am during the spring and summer months. My morning walks are cold —no doubt— and my finger tips burn a bit as I run them over the frosty stone walls. But the rich, visual rewards of those nippy strolls at first light make every shiver worthwhile.

Frosted Viburnum setigerum (Tea Viburnum) Fruits

Some gardeners prefer to cut back the perennials in their beds and borders in late autumn and early winter. And there is an argument to made for this approach. Certainly, there are places within the garden where I fuss over tender plants; protecting them from cold with mounds of compost or blankets of evergreen boughs. But by and large, I prefer to leave perennials standing throughout winter; that I might enjoy both the bold and delicate textures and how they sparkle with snow and ice after storms. Vertical lines, relief and pattern, both in the garden’s hardscape as well as in the more ephemeral plantings, are key to creating structure and beauty in a winter garden.

Seed Pods Provide Food for Birds and Beauty for Human Eyes: Rudbeckia hirta and Solidago with Sparkling Frost and Snow

Textural Grass Catches Light, Snow and Ice in the Quiet Season. Switch Grass (Panicum virginicum ‘Heavy Metal’) with A Light Morning Glaze…

Climbing Hydrangea (H. petiolaris) Adds Texture and Color to A Grouping of Boulders, and Provides Nooks and Crannies for a Dusting of Fresh Snow…

I often talk about the “bones” of a garden when I discuss design with my clients. This framework, or skeleton, is what gives the landscape shape throughout the year. Walls, fences and arbors, trellises and obelisks, benches and chairs, sculpture and boulders are all examples of objects that add to a garden’s hardscape and structure. Living plants, particularly dramatically shaped trees and shrubs are also helpful in creating a season-spanning garden design. In terms of defining outdoor space, hedges —both formal and informal— alles, espalier fences, and other features are useful in building permanent trans-seasonal walls.

Sculpture and Lichen-Covered Stone Catch Snow: Here, the Guardian Stands Sentry at the Edge of the Forest

The Rusty Color and Grid-Patterned Seat Make this Bench a Valuable Winter-Garden Object

Perennials May Fade at Autumn’s End, but Dan Snow’s Stone Seat and Evergreen Conifers Remain (Young hemlock: Tsuga canadensis)

Here in New England, field stone has long been a popular material for dividing garden spaces, and it will always be my personal favorite. From retaining walls and steps, to formal and free-form sculpture, I am most fond of this natural and versatile material. Throughout the seasons —but especially during the quiet season of winter— Dan Snow’s stonework is the central architectural feature and design element in my garden. Because Dan’s walls are comprised of subtly colored and textured rock —often softened by blueish lichen and emerald moss— they seem quite alive, even though they are technically inorganic. Whats more, the arrangement of the stonework itself —whether stacked horizontally, vertically, or arranged in dramatic and shifting pattern— adds artistry to the garden’s bare architecture in winter.

Steps and stairs —though they can be constructed from a wide variety of materials— must safely function and enhance a garden throughout the seasons. What we call “hallways” in our homes are the “pathways” in our gardens. These frequently-traveled spaces are as important outdoors as they are inside the house. Stepping stones, pea stones and gravel all add texture to the garden throughout the year. And in winter, walls, pathways, steps and other architectural features become highly exposed design elements. As crazy as I am about plants (and we all know that’s pretty crazy) my primary focus when designing a garden is always on the underlying structure. Build your garden before you decorate it with plants –and build it well, for it will hold, protect and exhibit your botanical treasures as your house contains, shelters and displays all of your worldly possessions! In winter, outdoor rooms are as stark as an empty house. And usually, the more attractive the garden’s architecture, the more beautiful the winter garden…

Stone Wall and Juniper Line the Winter Garden Walkway. Dan Snow Added both Candle Niches and Seats within the Wall, Creating Opportunities for Rest and Display Throughout the Seasons…

Stone Steps by Dan Snow Look Beautiful with a Dusting of Snow, and the Varied Height of the Sloped Setting Makes a Lovely Display for Frost-Proof Pots and Evergreen Plants…

Winter is a Fine Time to Enjoy Works of Art —Both Large and Small— in the Garden. Dan Snow’s Fire Sculpture Looks Particularly Beautiful in the Snow…

Structural elements and textural interest provide nature with a three-dimensional canvas for wintery works of art. And although it’s possible to spend a fortune on architectural details and plants, keep in mind that even the humblest cast-aways —flea market benches, unwanted boulders, simple fences and wire cables, twig teepees and homemade works of art— are just as effective when it comes to creating spaces and adding tactile elements in the garden. The rusty surfaces and cracked edges of second hand and found objects often enhance a snowy landscape. Set things out in the garden and move them around until you find a spot that feels right. Begin by using what you have on hand and playfully experiment with the beauty of the winter garden…

The honey-colored remnants of Golden Hops Vine (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’) add beautiful texture to a simple cable rail along a deck in winter. Be on the look-out for perennials and vines with persistent papery, dried flowers and seed heads -these textural elements are key to winter garden detail…

A Mass Planting of  Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’ ) Forms a Season-Spanning ‘Screen’; Adding Texture and Color to the Garden Throughout the Seasons, in Addition to Providing Enclosure and  Natural Transition to the Meadow and Mountain Tops Beyond

Old wire chairs, even if they are no longer functional, provide endless interest in the garden throughout the seasons. In winter, this ivy-patterend chair casts a gorgeous shadow in the snow…

At the Garden Entryway, the Texture of Juniperus horizontalis and the Natural Stone Ledge Both Stand Out with a Dusting of Snow and Create a Backdrop for Other Plantings Throughout the Seasons…

Boulders —Remnants from Site Excavation— Make a Pretty Vine-Covered Grouping at Garden’s Edge (Hydrangea petiolaris)

Dan Snow’s Stone Steps Dusted in Snow

This design article was adapted from a previously published post which appeared on The Gardener’s Eden 12/2010

All Stonework Featured Here is by Vermont Artist Dan Snow

Garden Design by Michaela Medina

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Renovate! How the Garden Next Door Went from Just Grass to Just Gorgeous …

August 23rd, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

A Prim & Proper Arbor Goes Drop-Dead Gorgeous in a Sexy New Shade of Sangria

It’s been awhile since I last featured one of my residential garden design projects on The Gardener’s Eden. And to be completely honest, I’ve been too busy planning and installing gardens to do much writing these days. But over the next couple of weeks, I hope to showcase more real, residential gardens which I designed or redesigned and helped to revamp this summer; all located in everyday, suburban neighborhoods. I love planning and planting all kinds of gardens, but my most rewarding projects usually involve collaborations with do-it-yourself homeowners —regular people with average gardening skills— ready and eager to roll up their sleeves and get to work. I get a great deal of pleasure from helping others by designing beautiful, low-maintenance gardens which make outdoor living more enjoyable …

Durable and Beautiful Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’) Catches the Late Afternoon Light at the Edge of the Driveway

A Garden of Mostly-Native, Lower Maintenance Plants, This Section Features a Screen of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summerwine’, Liatris ‘Floristan Violet’, Asclepias tuberosa, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’ and Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’

Ornamental Grasses are Great Problem-Solvers for Hot, Dry, Sunny Locations. Fountain Grass Softens Hard Edges and Works with the Riverside Setting of the Property

The front entry garden featured in this post —home of Geri and Stan Johnson in Western Massachusetts— was a particularly fun project this summer.  The couple recently renovated the interior of their sweet, riverside ranch home, and this year they decided it was time to take action on the outside. When I first met with them to discuss revamping their front landscape, I asked them about project scope, goals, style and budget. Geri is a successful real estate professional and she clearly understands the value of a well designed landscape, but a home is more than just an investment; it’s a place for family, friends and relaxation. Geri and Stan took the time to think about what they wanted from this landscape renovation before calling me for a consultation, making my job much easier! But even more important, working with open-minded clients like the Johnsons —who were willing trust my design recommendations and guidance, and take imaginative leaps at every turn— makes designing gardens fun and rewarding …

Front Entry Before, and After …

After coming up with  a master plan, I broke this front yard landscape renovation into three distinct areas for ease of installation: the entry garden, main walkway/foundation border (I’ll talk about this section in a future post) and retaining wall/arbor garden. Geri and Stan wanted several things from their new landscape. Because both homeowners are busy people, low-maintenance design was right at the top of their list. Creating a buffer from the road, and adding a bit of privacy was also important to them, but they wanted the first impression to be welcoming and attractive as well. Thoughtful neighbors, they requested that the new plantings not block the view of the river from the rest of the community. An existing, mature hedge of hemlock directly in front of Geri and Stan’s house provides protection from radiant road heat and the sound of passing cars, as well as a safe-haven and nesting space for local birds. I’m quite fond of our native hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) —a great choice for creating a soft, feathery garden backdrop and living privacy fence (click here for more info about my favorite conifer)— and used it as a jump-off point for a new garden design featuring mostly native plants. The backbone of the new entry garden is formed by a relaxed grouping of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’, which extends the line of the existing hedge with a soft curve. To this anchor, a low-maintenance grouping of pollinator-friendly, long-flowering perennials and ornamental grass was added …

Welcoming but Protected: The New Garden Provides a Pretty and Durable Screen from the Road without Blocking the View to the River Beyond (Natives like Rudbeckia, Veronica and Sedum combine with Perovskia atriplicifolia and ornamental grasses to support local bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators and seed-seekers throughout the seasons)

With a Meadow of Wild Bluestem Grass and Oaks Across the Street, It Seemed Right to Use Mostly Native Plants When Designing this Welcoming Garden

Viewed from Inside, this Garden of Mostly-Native Plants is Soft, Cool and Colorful (Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’, Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ and Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ provide food for pollinators at different times of the year)

Once the Plantings Fill-In (most designs take about three years before they begin to hit their stride) This Garden Will Provide a Soothing Drift of Low-Maintenance, Season-Long Color

Stan (who, among other things, owns and operates Songline Emu Farm with his wife Geri and her sister, Dee Dee Mares) was such an enthusiastic and hard worker (with the muscle and speed of three twenty year olds and far more attention to detail), I wish I could take him along on every landscaping project! Work began about one week after I marked out new beds with spray paint, cut English-style edges, and applied two doses of Nature’s Avenger (a non-toxic, organic herbicide used to kill crab and turf grass). Once the soon-to-be replace lawn turned orangey-brown, Stanley, his brother and nephew spread 6″ of loam/compost mix on top of the dead turf to build up raised planting beds; feathering the borders to meet the edges I’d pre-cut. I find this method of creating new garden beds to be both easier and less disruptive than manually removing sod and tilling soil.

While I went about the work of selecting and shopping for new, low-maintenance, native plants and installing the first garden, Stanley and his nephew removed an undesirable grouping of scraggly Spirea from the retaining wall garden and prepared the other beds for planting by moving existing plants, weeding and spreading fresh loam/compost. Once planted, the guys came back through and spread a 2″ thick layer of natural (un-dyed) hemlock bark mulch. The end result was a complete transformation of the front yard. But perhaps the most dramatic change in the garden happened near the very end, when Stanley brought up the refinished garden arbor from his garage. Although the original white color of the arch was perfect for niece Meagan’s wedding, this romantic landscape feature went bold and sophisticated in a fresh, vibrant shade of deep maroon; a much better match for this colorful, contemporary new garden. Amazing what a difference a few cans of spray paint can make!

Left-Over from Their Niece’s Wedding, This Garden Arbor Makes a Great Argument for Spray Paint Makeovers in This Dramatic Before (above) and After (below) …

Without Hesitating at My Suggestion, Stan Painted the Garden Arch a Deep Maroon (Which Seems to Change Hue with the Light) to Better Blend with the House and Enhance the Colors of Their New Garden. It’s a Real Knock-Out …

Plantings Surrounding the Maroon Arbor Flatter in Similar Hues and bold Pops of Color (Including this Liatris ‘Floristan Violet’and  Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’)

Fine textured maiden grass shimmers in the afternoon sunlight, accenting either side of the arbor and leading the eye down the garden path (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’). Nice work on that paint job, Stanley!

A Bold, Mass Planting of Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’) Glows on the Opposite Side of the Richly-Colored Arch

Between the two mirroring sides of this long, road-side screen is a sunny to semi-shady walkway garden running the length of the house. I filled this last section of the garden —which I will cover in an upcoming post— with bold new perennials and a few colorful, season-spanning shrubs. I’ve many more projects to share, but in meantime, if you have any questions about the how-to end of this project, please feel free to post them in comments!

By working with a garden designer —who can help you create a site plan and shop for and perhaps place or even install plants— but doing the bulk of the physical labor/hardscaping yourself, you can save a tremendous amount of money on landscaping projects. Before you call in a professional, take the time to think about a few things; including your goals (how you hope to use your outdoor space, and your project time frame/deadline), your personal as well as your home’s style (formal, informal or somewhere between), your budget (remember that professional landscaping can add 10-20% to your home’s value, and immeasurable curb-appeal), and how much of the work you are willing and able to do yourself (experience and muscle matter here, so be brutally honest with yourself). Many landscape designers and garden coaches enjoy working with do-yourselfers. Need help finding a garden designer? Word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to find a landscaping professional (if see a garden you love, send or leave a note for the owner asking the designer’s name), but local garden centers/greenhouses, building contractors, stoneworkers, realtors and garden clubs are great sources of information as well.

A Big Thank You to Geri and Stan Johnson for All of Your Enthusiasm, Support and Hard Work! I Hope You are Enjoying Your New Garden!

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Al Fresco Dining in the Garden: Fireworks Restaurant’s Lush New Courtyard & Bold Container Design …

June 25th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

My Tiered Container Garden Design and Installation at Fireworks Restaurant in Brattleboro, Vermont

Wrapped up a busy work week in the pouring rain yesterday with finishing touches on my garden design and installation for Fireworks Restaurant in Brattleboro, Vermont. This lush, outdoor dining space will soon feature a stone water bowl created by a local artisan. But all good things take time. So, while waiting for completion of the handmade water feature, I placed a shallow bowl of brightly-colored annuals from local Walker Farm (bold orange Cherry Lantana & curly New Zealand Hair Sedge) atop the pedestal to hold its place.

Fireworks Restaurant is my favorite, local place to enjoy a delicious cocktail and relaxed dinner with friends, leisurely weekend brunch or romantic evening with my beau. So when über-talented chef/owner Matthew Blau asked me to design a courtyard garden for his wonderful eatery, I immediately began sketching as we spoke. Much to my dismay, my initial design idea for a corner fire bowl was nixed by local safety codes. However, I quickly decided that a water feature would be equally romantic and inviting in this lovely outdoor space. The project involved a second re-design when it was determined that the pre-existing flag stone patio had to be replaced with cedar decking. Last autumn, I drew up plans for a deep, tiered corner planter (constructed of cedar with an interior base liner) and narrow, matching boxes to screen the alley way and accent an existing mural. This spring, Matthew commissioned a local artisan to create a handmade, stone water bowl (currently being carved in his studio). Over the past couple of weeks —between numerous thundershowers— I set to work filling the planters with potting soil and a combination of boldly colored shrubs, sensual grasses and bright annuals. It’s been so much fun working on this project. If you find yourself in the tri-state region (VT/NH/VT), please stop in for fabulous dining in the new garden! As for me, well, I can hardly wait for a clear evening, to enjoy my first dinner at Fireworks Restaurant beneath the stars …

Just installed this week, the plantings will fill out and form a lush backdrop for the planned water bowl (Permanent plantings include Hydrangea vine {Hydrangea petiolaris}, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Coppertinia’, Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’. Annual plantings include Cherry Lantana {Lantana camara}, New Zealand Hair Sedge {Carex camans ‘Frosted Curls’} and Orange/Red Butterfly Weed {Aesclepia curassavica ‘Silky Deep Red’} All annual and tender perennial plants are from Walker Farm.

Although the centerpiece of annuals will eventually be replaced by an artisan-made stone water bowl, the design would also work with a variety of focal points. At one point, we hoped for a fire bowl, but local fire codes ruled that out early on in my planning.

The double alley-side planter boxes were designed to screen the view and provide enclosure on the backside, and to both soften the fence and add style to the inside of the courtyard garden. Plantings in front planter include Dwarf Zebra Grass, Butterfly Weed.

I designed an extra planter for the backside of the fence, and filled it with three Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’. Eventually these shrubs will reach the top of the fence and screen the courtyard dining space from the back alley/parking space. With a bit of pruning, they will form a dense, dark, living wall; highlighting the boldly striped grasses and annuals on the interior side.

Original Design Sketch for Alleyway (Modified to Slightly Longer Planter Box)

Soon, the central, tiered-corner planter will feature a handmade stone water bowl, created by a local artisan

The original design sketch for an interior planter (now raised and modified to suit cedar decking)

Details & Notes…

All annual and tender perennial plants are from Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont

Fireworks Garden Design & Installation: Michaela Medina. For design inquiries, see my professional services page at left.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Designing an Enchanting Edible Garden And a Workshop for Vegetable Lovers…

May 10th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

My Backyard Potager – An Edible Oasis in Mid-July

Like a butterfly flitting about the garden before deciding where to settle, I found myself drifting in and out of greenhouses and garden centers last weekend, ogling possible additions to my backyard potager. I couldn’t help but notice that the aisles of my favorite farm stand and local nurseries are filling up with annuals, perennial herbs, vegetable starts, berry bushes and fruit trees. Ah yes, it’s that time of year again. Time to plant the vegetable garden!

There are so many things I love about growing my own produce, but my favorite summertime pleasure has to be settling into a comfy garden chair at the end of the day —glass of chilled white wine in hand and dinner fixings in a basket at my feet— as I watch the golden rays of late afternoon sun illuminate the beautiful flowers, fruit and vegetables in my potager. Of course the best part of edible gardening is doing just that —eating it! And by mid-June, I needn’t make a special trip to the grocery store to create a gourmet meal. Everything I need for a great breakfast, lunch or dinner is growing in my own backyard. On sunny days, I often enjoy alfresco meals in the garden itself, overlooking the beautiful vine-covered fence and swaying sunflowers…

Heavenly Blue Morning Glories are Attractive to People and Pollinators Alike!

An Alfresco Lunch – Last Summer in my Sun-Drenched Garden

Calendula Blossoms Not Only Add Beauty to a Garden, But Also Attract Beneficial Insects and Deter Undesirable Pests…

Heirloom Tomatoes Begin to Produce in July and Continue through October

Working in a Beautifully Designed Vegetable Garden is a Treat for All Senses

I Plant Sunflowers Partly for Decorative Reasons, But Also Because They Provide Food for Birds, Bees and Other Beneficial Garden Guests

Pathways Edged with Herbs are Beautiful and Fragrant Additions to the Potager. Why Not Make the Walk to the Vegetable Garden as Lovely as the Destination?

I’ll be presenting a free seminar on the art and science of vegetable gardening this Saturday, May 14th at Walker Farm, together with owner and organic farmer Jack Manix. We’ll both be discussing a wide range of edible gardening topics. The seminar will begin at 10am with Jack covering the basics of organic vegetable gardening. Jack will review the practical side of growing your own produce; with topics ranging from soil chemistry and compost, to pest management, specialty crops and succession planting. There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions and have a look around the farm. Then after a brief tour of the fields, I will pick up where Jack leaves off; discussing ways in which you can make your vegetable garden a beautiful, welcoming multi-use space for your family, friends and other garden guests; like birds and beneficial insects. We’ll talk about edible, living walls and other fences, raised beds and borders, vertical structures and vines, bird, bat and toad houses, companion flowers and herbs, plus all the little details that will make your time in the garden less work and more pleasure.

To find out more about Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping or purchase a copy, click here

I hope you’ll join us this Saturday, May 14th at beautiful Walker Farm (click here for details and to save your seat) but until then —or if you live too far away to make it— I have a few beautiful and inspirational books on edible gardening to recommend. Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping (pictured above) is a great book, just chock full of gorgeous garden design photos and practical, inspirational ideas. I mentioned it in this post (here) earlier this year and I still highly recommend it. And landscape designer Jennifer Bartley —who will be speaking on Contemporary Kitchen Garden Design in Wilmington, Vermont on June 24th at the Sixteenth Annual North Hill Symposium —- author of one of my favorite potager design books Designing the New Kitchen Garden, has just released another beautiful and informative title, The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook, from Timber Press.

Jennifer Bartley’s The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook

I’ll be writing much more about creating enchanting edible gardens in the coming weeks. And, if beautiful and productive vegetable gardens appeal to your senses, you may want to revisit my potager page at the left (click here) and past-posts; including The Art of French Vegetable Gardening (click here) and Dreaming of Springtime’s Sweet Veggies: Planning a Lush, Welcoming Potager.

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Gardening Seminars at Walker Farm are Free and Open to the Public. The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation, of any kind, for editorial mention of businesses or products in this post.

Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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The Early Bird Catches the Arugula… And the Chard, Spinach & Lettuce too!

February 19th, 2011 § 10 comments § permalink

Arugula in the Hoophouse, January

Let’s start out with a bit of honesty, shall we? The four season harvest isn’t for wimps. Winter gardening  —growing plants in temperatures below freezing to sub-zero, beneath plastic sheeting— isn’t a natural act. And although I enjoy a good game of woman vs. wild, sometimes winter gets to be a bit much around here. Shoveling decks, terraces, walkways and woodpiles is a lot of work. And now that I’ve added potager path-clearing and hoophouse roof-raking to the list, I’ve created quite a snow-removal burden. So why do it? Because the taste of fresh arugula and the smell of damp earth on a cold February day is —as the people at Mastercard say— priceless. And I think a jump-start to the short, northern growing season is worth a little extra work (OK, so it’s a lot of extra work).

Look at that delicious earth! Would you believe this photo was taken just yesterday…

Inside this unheated hoophouse the smell of sweet, springtime soil fills the moist air!

Raking out hoophouse soil to prepare for late winter crop sowing

Over the past three years —cooking more at home and experimenting in my kitchen— I’ve become more and more interested in four-season vegetable gardening. And although I haven’t made the leap to a heated greenhouse yet, I’ve found that with proper timing, I can keep some crops going in my hoophouses year round. Greens sown in late fall will germinate and then continue to grow (albeit much more slowly) throughout the short, cold days of winter. Tender crops are out of the question of course, but tasty root vegetables sown in early autumn can be harvested from cold houses straight into the new year. Seedlings require light to grow —10-12 hours of daylight is a good rule of thumb— so the sowing of seed is suspended during the weeks leading up to —and about a month and a half after– the winter solstice. But come late January, February and March —when the days are getting longer, and sunlight is getting stronger — I can begin sowing cold-hardy, late winter crops in my unheated hoophouses, for early spring harvest. Yesterday I planted a variety of greens in house #3 (arugula, chard, spinach, lettuce and mesclun mix), and I pulled spent crops and turned soil in house #1 to prepare for more planting (carrots, radishes and other crops) on my next free afternoon. If you are interested in learning more about the four-season harvest and winter vegetable gardening, I highly recommend Eliot Coleman’s books. And if you’d like to build a hoophouse of your own this spring (I now have four, with three currently in use) click here for basic plans. I’m hoping to upgrade to a larger, walk-in cold house this year.

Hoophouses protecting early fall-sown crops in late December, just before the snow (automatic back vents help moderate temperatures)

Sowing crops in hoophouse #3: Mid-February

Gardening in winter is all about science, but it sure feels like magic when you can reach your hand into sweet, sun-warmed earth on a cold and windy day. And it’s even more spectacular when you’re enjoying your own salad greens and root vegetables —harvested from an icy, snow-covered garden— at dinner in January and February. Winter pasta with fresh arugula, root-cellared onions and olive-oil preserved, sun-dried tomatoes —all from the garden— now that is priceless…

Arugula harvested from the hoophouse

Pasta with freshly harvested arugula — plus caramelized onions, braided & stored in the root cellar and sun-dried tomatoes, preserved in olive oil— all from the garden…

Here’s the potager, with house #1 and #2 buried by nearly 3′ of snow and ice. I still can’t believe they didn’t collapse. And yes, I shoveled them out all by myself. Sadly, Alfred hasn’t left Batman for me yet. I can’t figure out why…

Mountains of shoveling…

Followed by more shoveling…

And bringing in wood…

But who wouldn’t appreciate the beauty that makes it all worthwhile…

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Article and photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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