I know, I know. Who has time to garden right now? And is it really worth it? Or possible? The answers are: You. Yes. And probably.
Since nothing is really growing in winter, you can spend as little time as you'd like on whatever you'd like to spend it on. Nothing is really pressing. Since winter is often the most challenging season for beauty in a garden, any improvement tends to be a good one.
As long as the ground isn't frozen or the soil so soggy it clumps up on your spade, it's fine to plant. And even if it is too wet or cold to actually plant, there are many ways to improve the outdoor atmosphere without lifting a shovel. So gardeners can still be gardeners, even in winter.
The nurseries will probably have plenty of evergreens to choose from even now. One of my all-time favorites for sun is Parney cotoneaster, with its two-toned foliage and plethora of bright red berries. It's really something when thinned to expose its gracefully bowing branches. Saracococcoa, or sweetbox, is another personal favorite for shade. Place it near a well-used winter walkway to appreciate its uplifting fragrance in February.
While evergreens add a lot to winter, branches can be beautiful, too. From brightly colored bark of the likes of coral bark maple or dogwood shrubs, to quirky or curly shapes of the likes of contorted filbert, branches can hold their own.
Then there are, of course, berries. Various broadleaved evergreens will hold bright berries throughout winter. But the stunning appearance of berries on bare branches is a great addition, too. Beauty berry, of which you need more than one to get a good berry set, and snowberry are examples.
Winter gardening doesn't have to include digging holes, though. Why not pick up a paintbrush instead? When the beans are gone and the vines bare, their trellises are still standing. A little paint, white or a light bright color, can provide a lot of cheer.
Statuary, birdbaths, benches, gazing globes, even empty pottery can brighten a dreary day. Try bringing them together and building a nice winter display.
If you just can't take yourself outside for gardening now, consider an indoor project. Try making some stepping stones or a nice little mosaic. Check out a craft book, go to an art show, find something you can make that is nice and bright for your beds.
And why not consider lights? I have mixed feelings about using Christmas lights beyond the holiday, but darn if those little white lights don't cheer me up every time I see them. You can't get more light than lights. So why not add them to tall deciduous shrubs or trees, maybe an arbor or deck railing, for winter?
There are always ways to improve your garden, even this time of year. Consider adding a few evergreens or other winter-interest shrubs. Consider redistributing hardware and pottery. Consider buying or crafting garden art. But whatever you do, definitely consider gardening.
Melissa Volk is a writer and horticulture specialist with Sunnyside Nursery, a retail garden center celebrating its 60th anniversary. Visit www.sunnysidenursery.net.