Looking at the garden in winter

This weekend, I purchased a new digital camera. I’m not going to get into a big treatise on cameras, but suffice it to say it is an SLR digital with a well-known pedigree. A few weeks ago, I was expounding the usefulness of using the digital camera to help you design your garden, make intelligent choices about where to put plants, and to document your progress. Today, the discourse will be about the sheer joy of LOOKING.

In some ways, getting a new camera at this time of year, when the garden is a bit ragged with mushy hostas and denuded branches, with sticky mud and leaf strewn paths and brown flower beds, is a bit disheartening. I want to go out there and take thousands of pictures. I want to explore how the wider lens will give me new vistas, let me take in broader scenes. Oh, and the better close-up capabilities, the new expanded details of flowers: the veins, the pistils, the pollen-dusted anthers. Can’t wait. It’s all so exciting — until you consider that this is the end of November and the weather was foggy or rainy all weekend AND the manual is over 200 pages!

After the obligatory pictures of dogs sprawled on couches and images of the forbearing husband at his computer, after the oohs and aahs of the LONG view across the dining room taken after dark with just a few light bulbs on, it became obvious that I had to explore the great outdoors. Time to read the manual in bed and wet or not, slosh around in the morning. Out comes the rain hat (with a wide brim, more to protect the camera than me), I’m ready to brave the barren garden.

Mind, the garden isn’t ALL that barren. The hydrangeas have their unique muted colors as they age into the winter. The fuchsias are still holding on with nodding flowers. The Knock Out roses and Hot Cocoa roses are still staggering through a few more buds and blooms. But, these are just ghostly reminders of their summer glory. It is hard to get too ecstatic about the slightly ragged end-of-season flowers. I have wonderful images of these things. It would be faded beauty at best to capture them now. The excitement they hold is the mere fact that they are there at all, not that they are the best representatives of their kind.

To be sure, a few viburnums are opening their sweetly scented flowers and the Arbutus uneda are coming into their own as are the Schizostylis coccinea, but the last day of November is hardly the height of flashy floral display. I started out with a picture of the odd rhododendron blossom here, a Verbena bonariensis there, an early Hamamelis virginiana in bloom, a pretty leaf here, a little bark there….and I ended up on the crab apple lawn. We have over a dozen distinct flowering and fruiting crabs. Many are already stripped of their fruit by the migrating birds (The bigger ones are already pickled and served with Thanksgiving turkey.)….but looking closely, there were still loads of tiny crab apples dripping with foggy dew. Ah, here is my subject for the day, along with the nearby rosehips—at least the ones that haven’t ended up steeped in hot water. Laced with a little honey, rose hips make a lovely (AND good-for-you) tea on a cold, wet gardening day.

As I gazed through the lens of my new camera, it was miraculous. How had I failed to notice all of that variety? Some hips with little buttons, others with little depressions, varieties of scarlets, oranges, and yellows, all waiting to be investigated. Once I got started, I couldn’t help myself. LOOK, some Callicarpa japonica berries still left…and the wonderful marvel of viburnum and arbutus sporting flowers and berries simultaneously. Even the wrinkled hypericum berries are on glorious magenta stems. I was pretty wet by the time I was through glorying in those tiny facets. This is not to say that I have never NOTICED the berries, seeds, fruit and hips in the winter garden. After all, I did plant these very plants for their “winter interest.” But this was a completely different level of appreciation.

This is the time of year when you “drive by” the garden, so to speak. When chores beckon, you bundle up, get out there, get it done and get back inside. It’s more fun to look out the window than really explore. Not the time of garden tours and outings. Go out there with a mission, with your camera, and really LOOK at the details right now. Today, I think I’m going to explore BARK!

Winter-time berries


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