Winter does, however, provide a gardener with one benefit in spades: clarity. Loss of foliage and flower exposes the skeleton of a garden, highlights her hidden secrets and lays bare the flaws of our efforts.
I noticed, today, how Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), a common weedy shrub on the prairie, has incorporated itself unnoticed into one of my 'Therese Bugnet' rose bushes, the red fruits of the wayward shrub blending cheerfully with the burgundy-red new twigs of the rose (photo at top). The season also throws back the curtains on my Harry Lauder's Walking Stick (Corylus avellana 'Contorta'), revealing just how badly the straight suckers of the grafted plant launch themselves skyward among the crooked branches I crave (photo at left). Every spring I remove an armload of these straight stems and they immediately resprout to spoil the symmetry.
Winter exposes the activities of insects unseen and nesting birds in clear detail. I found these bagworms on the top of a trellis, hanging from, of all things, a wisteria vine that provides the trellis shade in summer (right photo). How, oh how, did these bagworms know that the wisteria would be unprotected while their preferred perches, the junipers of my garden, are all sprayed each June?
This nest, in my 'Banshee' rose bush, is a repeat homesite for birds, although I forgot to look here this past summer to see if it was active. One locates nests in the summer by observing the birds, not the plants, for their feeding patterns, protective dances, and loud scolding of passersby. In the winter, a nest like this hints at a life unobserved, leaving a gardener to imagine all the possibilities it hid. Was there a successful fledge? Did a cowbird insert an imposter into this family? I'll never know.
The gardener resolves, each year to do better as we see the bones left behind from a summer's toil. This Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina) escaped my best efforts to root its invasive nature from my garden (right photo), persisting even now in the protective embrace of an enormous Russian sage. In summer, one sees the forest and not the trees. In winter, one is left with the details, the struggles of life laid bare, ground gained and lost, homes built and vacated. Clarity is what a gardener gains in winter; clarity of our highs and wins, and clarity of where we must improve.