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The glossy garden catalogs have begun to arrive in the mail. Perusing these publications can be a bright note on a cheerless winter day.

When my garden is not in bloom, the winter months will find me browsing through the current catalogs and reading old gardening books. 

Carol Mccray

I find these worn and often out-of-print books are favorite companions and can serve as excellent references. Old gardening books discovered on dusty shelves in used bookstores or antique shops make for amusing and informative reading. They often have lovely woodcut illustrations or soft watercolors and are full of gardening words of wisdom. Some of my favorite finds have been books by Adelma G. Simmons—Herb Gardens of Delight and Gardening in Five Seasons; other winter reads are The Gardener’s Bed Book and A Small House and Large Garden by Richardson Wright and The Overlook Guide to Winter Gardens by Sonia Kinahan. Both current and old material can stir my imagination for future gardening projects. That’s when a garden journal is handy for putting my ideas on paper. 

Gardening on paper can mean drawing up a detailed plan with precise measurements for relocating plants or for planning a new garden. It can include what most northeastern gardeners do at this time—leafing through a garden catalog and jotting names of new plants to add to your “wish list.”  

A gardening friend in the eastern part of Pennsylvania wrote me this week to tell me she has already placed three orders. One she was excited about was an order for a beautiful red clematis from a seed catalogue. It has been one she has been seeking for several years, ‘Gravetye Beauty’, Texensis.  

If you decide to plant a garden in more detail, use a sheet of paper with half-inch squares large enough to represent your bed at a scale of a half-inch on the paper to one-foot in the garden. Transfer the dimensions of the garden to the paper. If there are permanent elements such as rocks, trees and shrubbery, include them on the paper.  

THE THREE R’S—Rethink, Revise and Redesign 

Rethinking the Garden

You might want to take time to ponder what plants, trees or shrubs did well in your garden. Making a list of those you decide to replace or relocate will be one less decision when you are ready to garden. Write your notations in a garden journal, or place your written list in a favorite gardening book to which you often refer.

If some of your plants did not receive adequate sun, think about moving them to a spot in full sun. Sometimes just cutting a few tree branches could allow more sun in the garden. I discovered this was the answer to having healthy and exuberant plants in our window boxes. You may consider having more shade loving plants where your garden receives partial sun. If an area is too wet, you need to move plants to a spot where there is good drainage.

Revising the Garden 

Because plants grow and mature at different rates, the garden is never stagnant; it is constantly changing. Plants have a limited longevity, and this means replacing them.

You are the architect of your garden, so it is only natural to alter it by adding new plants, having another garden in the works or discarding plants to a more desirable spot. You may find that some plants do not have a place in your garden any longer if certain colors or growing habits displease you. Passing plants along to gardening friends who might find a place for them in exchange for some plants from their garden is a nice idea.

Redesigning the Garden

The best way to achieve a design pleasing to your eye and to the style and proportions of your home is to study gardens with good designs. With the bones of your garden in view during the winter months, you are able to visualize how you could redesign your garden.

For design ideas, study photographs in gardening magazines and books. Once spring arrives, visit public gardens, and take advantage of private gardens on tour. Local garden centers and nurseries can be helpful, and if you still are not satisfied, you can always hire a landscape architect.

I found the following new books at my local library and hope they will inspire you to dream while waiting to dig in the dirt again. One thing is certain—gardening on paper means no weeding.  

 Designing and Planting Small Gardens, by Peter McHoy

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 Gardens Private & Personal: A Garden Club of America Book, by Nancy D’Oench, Bonny Martin and Mick Hales

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 1,000 Garden Ideas, by Stafford Cliff Step-by-Step Ultimate Yard and Garden, by Better Homes and Gardens

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 The Garden Primer, by Barbara Damrosch  

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Carole McCray is an award-winning garden and lifestyle writer and artist who lives, writes gardens and paints in the scenic Laurel Highlands in southwestern Pennsylvania. She won the 2003 Garden Writers Award of Achievement for her article on Native Seeds published in The Christian Science Monitor Newspaper.


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