This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
An American garden is not particularly attractive in Winter time, but there is no reason why it should not be so; and when the time comes, which we look forward to, when there shall be a distinctively American style of gardening, much more attention will be given to it than there is now. In our text books of landscape gardening the great anxiety is to bring out the lights and shadows as cast by the umbrageous foliage of masses of trees or of fine specimens. The contrasts of brown and grey of the ground with sunny leaves of the trees, the due proportion of earth, or sky, or water, the periods of blooming of trees and flowers, or the tints of color in which Nature clothes herself all about us - these are the chief concern of the landscape gardener of the books. To him there is no Winter garden except such as he makes under glass. Winter in the open air is a dies non in the calender of his art. Give us, he says, "earth, and air, and water, and sky," and he will give you the perfect garden. The fact is, that in those parts of the world where our great lights in landscape gardening flourished, the Winter is no time for open air enjoyment.
The days are dark, the nights are long, and the chief pleasures must necessarily be in the light of the hearth, and in the social festivities of drawing-room life. Our clear, bright skies and long Winter days, cold though they be. are still favorable to the enjoyment of beautiful landscape scenery. Indeed, there are few things more pleasant than a beautiful landscape as seen from an American window on a Winter's day. It may be but a mass of oaks with their sturdy branches braving the fury of a north-west storm; or it may be the waving of the hemlock in the breeze, as wave the ripples over a summer sea. At times there are the icicles swinging to and fro with the branches, reflecting the sun-light, or even the moon-light, and seeming, from our cosy observatories, as if nymphs and dryads, the elfs and the faries were about to get up an entertainment peculiarly their own, but of which we are favored with a private view. It is indeed almost impossible to look on an American winter scene at any time of the season, without seeing something to excite our admiration, or to lead us to an increased love of nature.
Nothing of this is in our text books; but why cannot we see it without them, and improve it withal? Let every one as he reads this look out from his window and see how much there is to enjoy, and with a little study he will be able to plant or to arrange things that will give beauty where there are now none, or give new beauties to those which already exist.
In the matter of what he already has, he will want some practical hints as to something to do, for it is not thought that there is much to think about in a garden in January in our country. But this is all a mistake; there is plenty to do.
Pruning should be completed as soon as possible. Some judgment is required in pruning flowering shrubs, roses, etc, although it is usual to act as if it were one of the most common-place operations. One of the most clumsy of the hands is commonly set with a shears, and he "goes through" the whole place, clipping off everything indiscriminately. Distinction should be made between those flowering shrubs that make a vigorous growth, and those which grow weakly; and between those which flower on the old wood of last year, and those which flower on the new growth of next season, as the effect of pruning is to force a strong and vigorous growth. Those specimens that already grow too strong to flower well, should be only lightly primed; and, in the same individual, the weakest shoots should be cut-in more severely than the stronger ones. Some things, like the Mock Oranges, Lilacs and others, flower on the wood of last year. To prune these much. now, therefore, destroys the flowering; while such as Altheas, which flower on the young wood, cannot be too severely cut-in, looking to that operation alone.
In pruning Roses, the fall-blooming kinds, which flower on the new growth, may be pruned as severely as we wish; in fact, the"harder" they are cut-in the better. In this class are the Noisette, Bourbon, Tea, China and Hybrid Perpetual and Perpetual Moss. Without considerable experience, it is difficult for the amateur to distinguish these classes. The best way to get over the difficulty is to obtain the catalogues of the principal rose-growers, in which each kind is usually classified. Amateurs should pay more attention to the scientific - if we may so term it study of the Rose, and its classification and general management. No class of flowers is more easily understood, and no one affords so rich a fund of perpetual interest.
Hyacinths, or other hardy bulbous roots that may not have yet been planted, may still be put in where the ground continues open. The beds of all such bulbs should be slightly protected with manure or litter, and be carefully watched for mice and vermin, which are likely to avail themselves of the shelter and feed on the roots.
Lawns that are impoverished by several seasons' mowing, will be improved by a good top-dressing. This may be applied any time after the leaves are gathered up, and before the snow falls. Soot, wood-ashes, guano, or any prepared manure, is best for this purpose. Barnyard manure is objectionable, as generally containing many seeds of weeds.
Evergreens set out last Fall in windy or exposed situations, will be benefited by a shelter of cedar branches, corn stalks, or mats, set against them. Whether hardy or tender, all will be benefited thereby.
Hedges that have not had their winter dressing, should be attended to. If the remarks we have before made on hedges have been attended to through the Summer, there will be very little now to do. We have said that pruning in Summer weakens a plant, while pruning in Winter strengthens it; and so, as hedges naturally get spoiled by growing vigorously at the top, and weakly at the sides, they should be severely Summer-pruned at the apex, and Winter-pruned near the base. Now will be the time to see to the latter, taking care not to make it too narrow. A good hedge should be nearly four feet wide at the base, and be cut into a point at the top.
Manure for flower-beds, borders, etc., may be hauled convenient to where it is likely to be wanted in Spring; many spread it on at once; but if the soil is frozen very thick, it prevents the early thawing of the soil in the Spring, and so no time is gained.
Very small plants in borders or on the lawn, or larger plants that may have been set out the past season, should be mulched with anything that will prevent the ground thawing, and so, the plant"drawing out." Most readers have done this in the Fall, but there is good to be done by it yet by those who have neglected it till now. Keep a sharp look-out for mice under the litter, however, where it is wise from the value of the specimen to run no risk; brown paper, afterwards tarred, may be wrapped around the stems as far as the litter covers them.
A great deal of trenching and sub-soiling can be done through the Winter if manure be thrown over the surface before it is frozen too deep; a little snow even, dug in, will not injure the operation, as we find in our own experience.