In Appreciation of Winter

By Alida Aldrich   |   January 21, 2021
Agave layered in snow is a sign that winter is officially upon us

Ahhhh… winter has arrived (December 21). More time for bundling up, hot soups, warm fires, and lit candles. Winter in Santa Barbara brings on crystal clear days and nights. It’s as if you could touch Santa Cruz Island. And the stargazing in winter is outstanding – look for Orion’s Belt in the S/W sky.

Last fall I talked about some of the natural virtues of living in Santa Barbara. There are more noteworthy factoids to appreciate in our unique locale: Santa Barbara is in one of only five Mediterranean climate zones on the planet (along with the Mediterranean Basin, Southwestern Australia, Central Chile, and the Western Cape of South Africa). I’ve visited Cape Town, and you’d think you were in Santa Barbara. There are jacaranda trees and bougainvillea vines blooming everywhere! Stellenbosch (their wine country outside Cape Town) looks just like our Santa Ynez Valley. There’s actually a Mediterranean plant palette specifically suited for these five zones.

Another bonus: Because of the proximity of our mountains to the ocean, we’re considered to be in perfect Feng Shui harmony. Lucky us. Everything that happens in a garden takes place in slow time. Flowers, shrubs, and trees simply get on with growing at their own pace. A number of plants and trees including roses, stone fruit trees, and hydrangeas go deciduous in winter – they require this down time. There’s still plenty to enjoy now though. Study the bare, architectural structure of our Japanese maple, birch, liquidambar, and sycamore trees. They’re every bit as impressive now as when they leaf out.

Winter is the season to quietly take stock of your garden’s strengths and weaknesses – design-wise. I view the discipline of landscape design just as culturally valuable as literature, the performing arts, and the visual arts. If you’d begin to see yourself as an artist and your garden as an opportunity to create, you’ll come to understand that not only is the concept of “form follows function” essential, but you’ll learn to appreciate that the artistic value of color, texture, light, form, movement, contrast, perspective, scent, and touch – all have a distinct place in a thoughtfully designed garden.  

You might consider the areas in your garden as rooms with ceilings, floors, walls, doorways, and focal points. You have a distinct style of your own – trust your intuition on this, as it’s simply decorating for heaven’s sake.

I found 2020 to have been a long, hard slog – for all of us. We deserve to spoil ourselves now. Think about your garden in terms of wants and needs. When you get bored with the needs part, go for it! Have you always wanted a – rose garden – water feature – pergola with an outdoor kitchen – garden sculpture – hammock – sundial – hot tub – fire pit – vegetable and herb garden? My sister has one of those tower herb/veggie gardens, and swears by it. She’s a marvelous cook to begin with, but she says the freshness of her handpicked bounty makes a big difference to her dishes. There’s no harm in daydreaming about this stuff. Also, it’s planning for future – something positive to look forward to in 2021. 

As a special gift, Cymbidium orchids (and other orchid varieties) are in bloom now. There are a few excellent greenhouses in Carpinteria. At the very least, treat yourself to a bunch of fresh cut flowers now and again. 

Some Winter Garden Tips

Check your irrigation system for clogged lines, heads, or emitters. Be sure gutters are clear – and drainage systems are working properly before more winter/spring rain. Now is the time to fertilize your citrus trees. Last chance to buy and plant bare root roses (my new favorite rose is Sugar Moon, a luscious white rose, with an incredible scent). La Sumida Nursery, in Goleta, has a vast selection of roses. Don’t forget, your existing roses will benefit from a deep pruning now.

In the spring column, we’ll need to talk about the “elephant in the garden.”


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