Winter and gardening are two words that do not naturally go together. Yet, in the southeast, a number of interesting plants and gardening tasks can be enjoyed in winter.

Over this past weekend, I spent time in my garden enjoying unnaturally warm temperatures and ‘glistening’ – Southern ladies do not sweat – in the sunshine.

My home and garden is in the country at 3,000 feet elevation and has a mixture of open land (hay pasture), cultivated garden spaces (ornamental and vegetable) and woodland edge landscapes. Dry Red Twig Dogwoodleaves continually gather in the garden around shrubs and perennials. I raked and removed leaves from many ornamental plantings, but I left the leaves gathered at the base of the hydrangeas in an effort to provide a cozy winter mulch layer at what is called the ‘crown’ of the plant – the area where stems meet the soil line. I even planted a new hydrangea and watered well. I removed leaves from the base of boxwoods, red and yellow twig dogwoods, hellebores and ferns as they do not appreciate, nor need, the extra protection. I hauled the leaves on a tarp to the vegetable garden where they are corralled in a large holding pen for composting. They will be turned into the soil once planting time arrives this spring.

I noticed that the hellebores (Helleborus orientalis and H. foetidus) were pushing up the first flowers of the new year alongside the winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) that is loaded in yellow buds and showing just a few sweet yellow blooms. Winter jasmine is one of the best groundcovers, in my estimation, for large bank areas, as the stems and leaves are green year-round. One plant covers at least 16 square feet and easily roots where stems touch the ground. The plants can outgrow areas so be sure that you have the space to let this jasmine spread to its full potential, otherwise you will be pruning it back to keep the growth in bounds. Pruning of dead branches and limbs can be done in wintertime but no major pruning for shaping or corrective pruning should be done in mid winter. Save that pruning for early spring.

Arboretum gardeners are working now to add a light layer of mulch to garden beds, and I’ll follow their example on an upcoming warmer-than-normal winter day.

During the day, I let my mind wander and relax as my body worked. I let my eyes discover colors and textures of winter foliage, bark and flowers. I listened to bird song and smelled the earthy goodness of raked and upturned soil.

HelleboreBefore I ended the day in the garden, I cut a small bouquet of cheery winter leaves and flowers including winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), leucothoe or dog-hobble (Leucothoe spp.) with its rainbow colored foliage, hellebore flowers (Helleborus spp.), sprigs of pussy willow (Salix discolor) and yellow twig dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’), burgundy galax leaves(Galax urceolata), a berried branch of cotoneaster (Cotoneaster salicifolius ‘Scarlet Leader’), a lacy sprig of evergreen chamaecyparis foliage (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’) and a fragrant pinch of daphne (Daphne odora).

When winter days weary, there is always the garden.