Winter in the garden

It's bucketing down here today. We were in desperate need for a good soaking rain, and over the past two days we have received it. The tanks are overflowing, there are puddles on the lawn, and my outdoorsy kids (and their mama) are going stir crazy.

So it's a stay-inside-and-daydream kind of day and I'm looking through books and pinterest for inspiration in the garden. But instead of looking at gorgeous photos of gardens at their most perfect - that mid-spring happy time - what about gardens in the middle of winter?

I am gardening just for myself and my family, and we look out the windows every single day at this garden. It isn't an open garden with one or two days a year that it needs to look perfect for. I want to be able to love it year round, even if (especially if) it is too wet to go out into it. I know that there will be times when parts of the garden look a bit drab (mid-summer is just as bad as mid-winter for that), so I'm thinking a lot about how can we make a garden that is still beautiful in winter.

Step one: plant winter-flowering plants.

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One of the first plants to go into our terraced garden beds were hellebores (winter roses). I thought they'd be perfect there because we also have several trees in the terrace beds and eventually they will be huge. Which means that these beds will be shade beds... one day. Right now they are full-sun, fully-exposed, and absolutely the worst spot to put in hellebores! I'm learning about plants and their habits as I go (total gardening rookie here), and this was my first experience with hellebores, so I made a pretty big mistake. But you know what? They are really happy in that spot! They flowered beautifully last winter, survived the long hot summer, and are already in bloom again this year. This autumn I bought a heap more hellebores from an online nursery - they are tiny and will take a while to establish and flower, but it meant that I was able to cover quite a large area in a much more suitable spot (less exposed, shadier).

Some hellebore ground cover inspiration/garden porn from around the internet gardens...

Millbourne ground cover featuring mass plantings of hellebores via The Garden Diaries:

And pretty hellebore colour in an otherwise very wintery bare garden via A Way to Garden:

Another winter flowering plant that we have embraced are camellias. We have a number of camellia sasanqua in the garden beds next to our front entrance pathway, and one or two camellia japonica in there too. They are slow growers, but whilst they are only small and straggly now they are still flowering beautifully. It's nice to have shrubs and trees that make your garden look pretty even when they are in their pimply adolescent years. This autumn we planted 14 more camellia sasanqua - 6 mature ones along the shed, with the goal of blocking out the view of the shed with a huge flowering green hedge one day; and 8 mature ones in the garden bed that acts as our driveway turning circle.

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Some camellia inspiration from around the web...

A gorgeous camellia hedge via Frolic! blog:

Camellia perfection via Frolic! blog:

Some other ideas for creating a garden that looks beautiful in the middle of the coldest months:

  • Lawn - I know lots of Aussies and others in hot dry climates, and particularly ones relying only tank water like us, have strong feelings against lawns (they use too much water, they waste valuable food-production space... they use too much water), but I am strongly in the lawns-are-great camp. I will probably write more about this in the future, but lawns serve many really valuable functions, including the (albeit entirely superficial) function of bringing beauty and green life into a winter garden.
  • Evergreen trees - mix them into the garden, so that when all the deciduous show-stoppers stop their show for the year, there is still breadth in the treescape. You can get various sized conifers, giant pines, the ubiquitous Australian gums... lots of things work to keep green foliage all year round.
  • Shrubs that fruit in the winter - I haven't explored this in our garden yet, but plants that produce berries or bright seed pods in the winter might be a good option. I'm not giving too much thought to it until my kids are old enough to not eat such things (poisonous varieties abound), but it might be an option down the track.
  • Plants with interesting foliage or woody bits - think grasses, strappy flaxes, huechera, or deciduous trees like a coral bark maple or red wooded dogwood. We've been incorporating all of these into the gardens (or, in the case of huecheras, I have plans to put some in soon), and it definitely helps keep things looking cheery on the gloomy days. 
  • Winter veges - it helps to be growing something edible to keep the spirits up in the garden. A few things do well at this time of year, even with the deep frosts and occasional snow, and actually, some things do better because they don't just bolt straight to seed like in summer. We have our garlic crop in the ground and looking happy (to harvest in spring), and also various lettuce varieties, snow peas and broccoli. Only three of our beds are in use, but it still feels like winter isn't a total loss in the Coopermarket. 

Any other thoughts on how to keep the beauty in the garden over the winter months?