The structure of a garden and the movements of a
ballet are not that all dissimilar. This thought comes
to my mind, I must admit, during our family’s annual
overdose of the Nutcracker Ballet. My daughter’s five
years of classes prepared her sufficiently to perform in
the Brandywine Ballet Company’s holiday performances.
We attended two live performances of hers and
watched many more on television.
Imagine Tchaikovsky’s score without the ballet; the
music can stand alone. Our gardens in winter, I argue, are like Tchaikovsky’s
music. Always present, the woody plant material,
hardscape and structural elements are the bones of the
garden. The ballet dancers will arrive in spring and dance
their way through the growing season.
Without the superfluous adornments of annuals and
perennials, more attention can be given to the exposed
site. My favorite winter-blooming shrub wintersweet,
Chimonanthus praecox, takes center stage early in winter.
Then there is a long list of wonderfully-colored stems,
bark and berries. Indoors, forced bulbs, starting with
the paperwhite narcissus, are a great treat. Outdoors,
containers are a simple way to augment your garden. Keep
in mind that terra-cotta pots should not be used because
they run the risk of cracking from the cold. There are
attractive resin, concrete or plastic containers perfectly
suitable for freezing temperatures. When choosing plants
for your winter container, they should be hardy to a full
zone colder, which would be zone 5b for us at Haverford.
Simply not clear-cutting all perennials to the ground
creates interest. Sedums, ornamental grasses, purple cone
flowers and the like provide food and shelter for birds.
They also gracefully hold light amounts of snow. Branches
of quince, cherry and forsythia can be brought indoors for
forcing. A good rule of thumb is to allow at least six weeks
of natural chilling before cutting.
A reliable old narcissus for the garden is ‘February Gold.’
It will brighten up things on the heels of your snowdrops.
Then annuals and perennials will pirouette their way in
and out of bloom from the early spring barrenwort to late
So, until the well-rested ballerinas return to the stage
in spring, just listen. Use the upcoming quiet months to
enjoy the music.