Do you have a sleeping garden? I love winter! I get excited to break out the warm coats (I may have too many in the closet) and put on a pot of hot tea. These gray months of cold and snow are a welcome respite. I don’t even mind shoveling- it’s good cardio. I’m tired. My garden is tired. The Winter Solstice is almost here and it is time for us both to take a nap- me under my fleece blanket with a purring cat, the yard under a blanket of snow. Time to make large batches of spicy chili and hearty, cheesy casseroles. Time to light candles with fragrances of cinnamon and pine. Time to binge watch all the seasons of Top Chef on Hulu and page through my cookbooks for inspiration. Time is no longer a luxury, but a beautiful 4 month stretch of activity (or inactivity) with my family.
But I understand that many of you out there don’t share my positive winter vibes. If, to you, winter is a depressing slog that must be endured until spring arrives, here are some ideas to make the most of the season while you have a sleeping garden.
Visit Monarch Watch Shop and get a Monarch tagging kit. Tagging monarchs helps collect data on their migration pathways, how weather affects their travels, and survival rates. Until the Monarchs return, get your Lepidoptera fix by visiting the Puelicher Butterfly Wing at the Milwaukee Public Museum.
One of the best things you can do while you have a sleeping garden is to bring some green indoors. Studies have shown that houseplants purify air and lift spirits. But if you are like me and have an omnivorous cat that thinks potted plants are his personal salad bar, protect them in a bird cage or under glass. You can even decorate the Christmas tree with miniature terrariums. Or visit the largest terrarium in Southeast Wisconsin, the Mitchell Park Conservatory (The Domes).
The Domes also hosts the Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market, free and open to the public on Saturdays, Nov 5-April 8.
Did you know that most outdoor public gardens are open year round. While you have a sleeping garden, you can visit a public garden. Many public gardens offer cross country skiing and snow shoeing. If you like a lower impact sport, paths are shoveled to allow for easy walking and provide inspiration. Look at how the natural forms of trees, shrubs, and perennials look when absent of foliage or decorated with frost and snow. During the holiday season, many public gardens also host outdoor lighting displays.
Just because you have a sleeping garden, your fluttering friends are still active. Winter is a good time to feed birds and bring them closer to the house for observation. The book Birds of Wisconsin Field Guide by Stan Tekiela will help you identify your new friends. Then when the days start getting longer and warmer, you can keep track of when the migrating birds begin returning from their winter vacations. Birdscaping in the Midwest by Mariette Nowak is a great resource to help you build a bird habitat in your yard.
Speaking of books, start a Winter Garden Book Club with your friends who also like to garden. Some of my favorites:
Forget New Year’s Resolutions, start planning now what you want to accomplish when spring arrives. Maybe you want to grow your own fruit trees and shrubs? These plants tend to sell out quickly in spring, so it is a good idea to pre-order them. Certain apple varieties like Haralson Apple, Honeycrisp Apple, Ida Red, and McIntosh Apple are best for winter storage.
Browse through those colorful seed catalogs that will be arriving soon and layout your vegetable garden. Building a cold frame will allow you to start enjoying cool-season crops like spinach and other greens in early spring. If you plan correctly, you could also have potatoes and carrots through the next winter. Plan for next year now, while you have a sleeping garden.
If you want to make changes to the yard, renovate the beds around the house, build a new patio, install a privacy screen, etc. don’t wait until April to contact your landscape designer. We love it when clients contact us now, giving us the luxury of lots of time to put into a project. And if you want it professionally installed, you are given priority over those procrastinating folks that will contact us when the frost is gone!
If you still need more ideas on what to do while your garden is sleeping, watch a presentation I gave to the Master Gardeners in January 2016 on Sleeping Gardens.