Winter perennial gardens are woefully misunderstood. Messy, drab,cluttered with dead stalks and leaves, they seem to be the opposite of what one expects of a garden. But wait! Before judging that messy garden too harshly, think about what those hard-working plants do for much of the year: they bloom for months, yielding joy to humans and survival resources to insects, birds, and other small animals; they also absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and create oxygen as a byproduct. They deserve a break, by golly, and that’s exactly what they do during the winter: the plants rest.
Even so, garden life continues to hustle, just in a different way. St. John’s Native Plant teaching garden demonstrates the seasonal shift well. For example, those tall, dry clumps of switchgrass create a warm winter haven for birds and small animals. The New England asters whose purple blooms create a visual feast in October now provide additional seed and shelter too; very likely, their dense, dry stalks host praying mantis egg casings as well. And those surprisingly bright red deciduous holly berries still hanging like tiny ornaments on the bare branches? Absolutely adored by a wide range of birds such as thrushes, thrashers, blue birds, catbirds, cedar wax wings, and many others.
Even the majestic white oak tree alongside our sanctuary, clearly beloved for its shade in the summer but perhaps mildly cursed for its multitude of fallen leaves and acorns in the fall, continues to work for creation: the leaf undersides provide winter incubation for insect eggs, the acorns yield food for animals, and the massive root system maintains an underground world of its own, teeming with invaluable microbes and bacteria. Nature, God’s original recycling master, wastes nothing.
So, contrary to the winter garden’s dead appearance now, an undercurrent of life continues all winter long. Knowing this helps us remember that every bit of God’s creation has a purpose, is valued, and should be loved, just as each of us is valued and loved by our benevolent Creator. When late February or early March arrives, St. John’s gardeners will return to grooming the garden, getting it ready for spring. We welcome newcomers to join us in this meaningful and satisfying ministry! If interested, please contact Garden coordinator Cathy Brittingham at email@example.com, Julie Arthur at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Helen Holt at email@example.com.