Friday, January 13, 2012

"Anyone can have a garden that looks good in May......

“……..but it takes skill to have one that looks good in February.” 
That simple statement is one of the best things I’ve learned over the years. 
The service driveway at the Big House in winter

Perhaps the only good thing about snow is that it frosts the barren winter garden with a beautiful white blanket, covering up a multitude of sins.  Here in the South, once the herbaceous things die back, the gardening mistakes we’ve all made stand out like beacons in a field of brown.  That bad pruning job, the spot of paint peeling off the fencepost,  the crack in the pavers in that one particular area, all scream for the gardeners attention.

In both of “my” gardens (the Big House where I work, and where there is a substantial budget, and the Stepchild Garden, where I live, and where there is definitely NOT a substantial budget), I find this is the perfect time of year to get out and really explore the property.  It is also the perfect time to come up with my list of tasks for the coming months, whether that is Shovel Pruning some things at work that have outlived their usefulness and attractiveness, or planting that hedgerow at home that I’ve been meaning to plant for the past few years. 

As I get older, I’m much less sentimental about things in my garden that I don’t like;  if a particular plant is no longer bringing me pleasure, it is time for it to find a new home (one can always find another garden looking to adopt).  Since the Stepchild Garden is less than one-half acre, I don’t keep things that I don’t love.  As I write this I am reminded of the outrage created by Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter when he had the audacity to remove his roses and replace them with tropicals.
Much like winter cleaning in the house, this is a great time of year to really look closely at some of the art in the garden for needed repair, repainting, or perhaps even removal.  As someone who works primarily with container plantings, I am always surprised with just how crazy people will get at the notion of moving a container in their gardens.     Maybe 2012 is the year for you to really “go wild” and rearrange a container or two in your garden.

Please consider this a personal invitation to take a walk alone through your garden and really look at it with a critical eye.  If you have a close gardening friend who isn’t afraid to be honest with you, ask his opinion of your garden, as well.  Remember that the real point of one’s garden is to bring pleasure; if your garden doesn’t bring your pleasure, make this the year to take action…..whether that’s with a shovel, an axe, or a martini in the perfect seating area you’ve created for yourself.   


  1. You can't even tell it is winter from that photo. It is very appealing.

  2. Such good advice, Tim and one we should all take.

    I have been busy completely rethinking my own garden and it has renewed my enthusiasm for it.

    So busy all week designing and working in other people's gardens that one forgets to take a long, hard and critical look at your own. I'd recommend it to everyone - it's great therapy!

    I was also once told that it only takes one bad plant to destroy the effect of a garden so it pays to be ruthless.

    Happy New Year!


  3. Love this post. Please do a post with more pics to show how a garden can look good in Jan/Feb. Some areas of my North Carolina garden look good 365 days a year - area with grasses, areas with cooler season bushes and shrubs. Some areas are eyesores - area with a big, brown hardy banana, flower bed that is almost totally bare. I'm a beginning gardener who is just learning. mary

  4. A great post, and I love the tag line, so true that only the best gardens look good in Feb!

  5. I sure could use a blanket of snow over my garden sins. But I've recently reached the pragmatic approach you're talking about, too. There was a time removing a plant meant I had failed. But it's amazing how eager other gardeners are to take them off your hands.

    I'd love to see more good looking February gardens, also, even if it puts me to shame.