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Gardening in winter

In winter, when gardening is at a low boil, I enjoy reading British garden writers, among them Mary Keen. In the Pacific Northwest, I can apply her advice about beautiful, scented winter plants. Whether gardeners in the colder Midwest or East Coast can, I don’t know. I like to think of Mary in her winter garden in England, greeted by the fragrant scent of flowering Christmas box and surrounded by pink Cyclamen, “five sorts of snowdrop. . .and showers of winter jasmine” with hellebores in bud.

When I want to smile while I read about gardens, I read Beverley Nichols who managed to garden intensively (he did everything intensively) and write sixty books – children’s books, political books, mysteries, three autobiographies (three – you see what I mean about intensively), and even two books about cats.

His first garden book, Down the Garden Path, was illustrated — as were many of his books — by Rex Whistler (1905-1944), and has been in print almost continuously since 1932. Garden Open Today (1963) tells me what I want to know about gardening through two feet of snow, and begins with his customary tone of amused outrage,

A psychiatrist once hinted that my special love of winter flowers was a complex – a sort of regrettable Peter Panism, which caused its victims subconsciously to reject the inevitable natural sequence of growth, decay and death.

If, by this, he meant that I refused to admit that there was ever a time of the year when the garden need cease to bloom, that there was not a single day, even in the snow, when it must be shrouded in dust sheets, then he was perfectly right. . .

To read about how you can grow blue irises flecked with gold and pick them in a blizzard and watch them bloom indoors, or how you can have South Seas perfume “drifting up through the sharp crisp air, mingling with the wood-smoke from the bonfire over the way,” pull Garden Open Today from your bookshelf, or ask Amazon to send you a copy.

Like Mary Keen, Nichols recommends planting winter cherry, Prunus subhirtella autumnalis, which will blossom from November to the end of February, and makes winter “much easier to put up with when one’s friends send one postcards from Jamaica.”

More about English gardens here.