Nuts to Narcissus


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

November asters.

So, until the well-rested ballerinas return to the stage

in spring, just listen. Use the upcoming quiet months to

enjoy the music.