Winter can be an anxious time for gardeners as they contemplate the bad weather out of doors and wonder how well their precious plants will fare.  I have always tried to stick to plants that will cope with the conditions they are presented with but that doesn’t mean they will automatically live.  So it was reassuring to read about some of the benefits of winter online:

“winter does bring a few benefits to your garden if managed correctly.

 Snow has two major benefits for your garden. It is an excellent insulator against very cold weather – plants can sit snug under a layer of snow and emerge healthy, whereas a chill wind in higher air temperatures can do permanent damage. It also slowly releases moisture into the soil when it melts, without the run-off that the same volume of rain would inevitably entail.

 This slow release of moisture into your soil is extremely nourishing for plants and grass, as it slowly releases minerals and nourishment into the soil. Most notable is the amount of nitrogen released into the soil, which is great for plant growth when the weather warms up.

 When it comes to frost, there are also benefits from the garden reaching such low temperatures. Cultivated soil left in clods will break down and become lovely tilth, simply through being frosted. All the fungal problems that accompany warm, wet summers, such as black spot and canker, are blitzed by sustained cold weather. Overwintering aphids, slugs and snails die off, too.”

As well as being potentially a time for worrying winter is often a time for gardeners to plan, to hope and to dream, to order new seeds and plants, to assess what has gone before and even to harvest some early crops.  I have done all of these in the past and if I needed to I would be doing them this winter.

Out of doors winter is an enforced break from activity.  There is very little happening above ground and apart from planting dormant, bare root trees there is not much that can usefully be done.  So is that it?  Is that what the season and the garden are saying – ‘there’s nothing to usefully do – so don’t bother’.  Actually I don’t think so.

My primary focus at present is on my forest garden as an ecosystem and on learning what to do in it, when and why.  There is no pre ordained template for this – no annual tick list of jobs to do.  In the forest garden decision making is much more sensitive and subjective than that.  That is why this year I have set out to ‘listen’ to what winter is saying and to then take that to heart.

I think that winter is here to show us that in every cycle there is a time to pause, a time when most living things are either taking a break or going much slower than at other times and that winter invites the forest gardener to share in that pause.  This is different from just doing nothing.  It is entering into a caring and expectant hush, a recognition of the vulnerability of nature, a vulnerability that deserves respect and attention.  And, in time, it will be the season and the garden that will lead the forest gardener out of this extended pause and show them what it is that they can (usefully) do once more.

robin was starting to sing out on this particular cold February day in 2012

Principle: Watch and wait.








About Anni Kelsey

I love forest gardens and forest gardening, nature, reading and everything good about being alive. I have written two books - the garden of equal delights (2020) - about the principles and practice of forest gardening; and Edible Perennial Gardening (2014) - about growing perennial vegetables in polycultures, which is basically forest gardening concentrating on the lower layers.
This entry was posted in ecosystem, Forest Gardening, Principles of forest gardening, Relationship with nature and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to winter

  1. skyeent says:

    I echo your thoughts on contemplation in the winter garden. This year seems to be the first that I haven’t already known what I want to do over the next few months, as I now have no major planting of trees to do! I can appreciate the areas of bare soil, think about the spaces, the way the trees have grown over the past year or more and marvel at the contrast with the summer lushness!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Who grow fruits at winter?


  3. tonytomeo says:

    Where winters are brief, we are more concerned about how to finish all the winter pruning before time runs out! It is not a particular busy time of year if there is not much to prune, but if there is, the pruning season is limited.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Helen says:

    Thanks for information about how winter is good for the garden. I have read about the positive effects of frost and snow but I couldn’t remember them clearly.


  5. Carole says:

    And of course we need the cold for certain seeds to stratify before they will germinate. This rest is programmed into the way that plants have evolved. Your post is a good reminder of the ‘task’ of observation and contemplation – not being busy busy all the time 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Anni for your post !

    Liked by 1 person

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