The Early December Garden
by Carolyn Aita
The early December garden is quiet even before the first significant snowfall hushes blowing leaves for good. Perhaps this stillness is a state of mind, brought about by our weariness with the weather flip-flop of earlier autumn. Perhaps it comes from knowing there’s nothing more to do in the garden right now. The garden is asleep for the season. Now it’s time to relax and enjoy the luxurious quiet.
Just relax, really? That’s difficult for the engaged gardener. So to assuage the longing to fidget we begin plans for the next growing season. At this time of year, right after the growing season’s end, we get the first chance to see the garden’s architecture as a whole, not piecemeal with vistas obscured by the greenness of thriving plantings. We note what we love on this massive scale and what we wish to change. On a smaller scale, we are able to clearly discern the bare branch structure of individual deciduous trees and shrubs and plan adjustments. But tempting as it might be to prune those ornamentals and fruit-bearers right now on milder days, wait a bit until the weather stays cold. A long stretch of frigid temperature as winter progresses will kill the vector insects that carry disease organisms before they find an open pruning wound and infect a healthy tree.
The small birds of winter are flocking together for companionship and protection. Dark-eyed juncos (A) and other ground-feeders (B) hide from predators within the forest of dried native plant stems and feast on fallen seed. Juncos are my personal snow indicator birds. Year after year I’ve observed that their arrival from Canada in mid-autumn is a prelude to the first snow, albeit light, within ten days hence. These snow birds did not disappoint this year; although at the time of this writing we are still waiting for the big one. Chickadees are especially brazen. Look who has picked all of the black oil sunflower seeds from the bird seed mix in my extended hand (C). An American goldfinch in winter plumage sits on a nearby bare branch watching and waiting for a turn at the seed feeder (D). We are delighted to watch this avian activity which pokes at (but does not break through the quiet) of early December.
Right now as the days get shorter and shorter and night falls in late afternoon we might be tempted to be dispirited. Look ahead! Winter solstice is coming soon and the days will begin to lengthen. This month of December that starts in a hush will end in joyous celebration as we ring in the New Year.
Photos by Mike Aita