Today marks mid-winter and our shortest day. From now on, the sun will rise slightly earlier every morning and I can stay outside slightly longer every evening.
I don’t have a favourite season in the garden, I love them all, but I have a special affection for the colder months. I fear the heat o’the sun more than winter’s furious rages.
It’s easier to rug up against a tempest than to stay cool in a heatwave, and gardening being a physical activity there’s plenty to do when an icy gale blasts off the Southern Alps or there’s a minus 5 degrees C frost.
These aren’t moments for fiddly jobs like preparing heel cuttings or potting seedlings. I stay warm by turning compost, raking leaves or even just having a good dig. There’s always something to plant in winter and the earth is damper and easier to cultivate when it's not losing water from evaporation.
Then, winter is a winning time to walk slowly round your garden and to stand and stare, partly because it’s easier to see mistakes and do something about them when summer’s leafy canopy isn’t obscuring the view: a gap where I least want one, or a wobbly curve edging a path or a border.
I also love the light at this time of the year, especially that astonishing moment at dawn, familiar to all farmers and garden photographers, when the sun comes up over the horizon and floods the landscape brilliant gold. One of the great bonuses of winter is not having to get up at a totally ungodly hour to see it.
Sunset has its own beauty as there’s no humidity in the air. This is followed by the most magical time of all, early evening. The wind drops, the stars appear and I scramble to finish weeding or planting or picking a bunch of heavenly smelling daphne, accompanied by a companionable little Golden Whistler, who follows me about chirping merrily.
Plenty of things happen in the winter garden even on the chilly Tablelands, yet somehow the pace is slower and there’s time to enjoy them. Bulbs push up from the ground - Dutch irises, daffodils, a few early tulips. At dusk I can smell the Winter Sweet (Chimonanthus), and stocks, wallflowers and pansies are all in flower, undeterred by frost.
A few autumn colours still cling to life, including purple and red leaves of Berberis thunbergii 'Purpurea', burgundy Viburnum carlesii and ochre coloured seed heads of ornamental grasses.
Trees that flower and fruit simultaneously are special treasures. If your winters are too cold for citrus, plant an Irish Strawberry Tree for its elegant shape and delicate, creamy bells hanging among the red and yellow, strawberry-like fruit from May to July. Mind you, having said all that, this weekend might test me. Sunday’s forecast is for 6 degrees C max.
Heads Up: Enjoy the wintry beauty of Mayfield Garden’s Winter Festival, July 7 to 22. Parts of the Private Garden opening include the Amphitheatre, Chinese Pagoda and The Sunken Garden. 530 Mayfield Rd, Oberon. www.mayfieldgarden.com.au/
Winter is a winning time to walk slowly round your garden and to stand and stare, partly because it’s easier to see mistakes and do something about them when summer’s leafy canopy isn’t obscuring the view...