The garden in winter does not look dormant and dismal to the winter gardener. Nor is the gardener simply imagining the rebirth of April.
The winter gardener has a special vision needed to see the silhouettes of the naked trees in the low, winter light, the colorful bounty of winter berries and the birds they attract.
The winter gardener is unhurried and has the time to notice the texture and the color of bark and admire the moxie of the hellebores and winter camellias, which insist on blooming in spite of the season.
The winter gardener knows that gardens are not only about work. They are about pleasure, too.
Winter gardening is not about putting the garden to bed for the season in hopes of a miraculous April, though winter gardeners find something to do outside in even the most forbidding weather.
Winter gardening is something the gardener does in the spring, when he chooses the shrubs, trees and plants that will be there next winter.
"Gardening is a four-season affair," says David Culp, whose two-acre, Downingtown, Pa., garden is booked solid for tours -- even in winter. "The serious gardener gardens all 12 months of the year."
Culp, a horticulturist with Sunny Borders Nurseries in Connecticut who teaches at Pennsylvania's Longwood Gardens, is a widely traveled lecturer on the winter garden, and that calendar is booked, too, as gardeners realize that creating visual interest during the winter is a special challenge.
"Anyone can do a border in June,' said Culp, who was in Baltimore recently at the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show at the Convention Center.
"Winter gardening has made me a better gardener," said the man who went on to cultivate more than 70 varieties of hellebores as a result of his interest in winter gardening.
Though planning and planting for the winter garden should be done in the spring and summer, working in the winter garden has special appeal for Culp, who does not simply admire his handiwork from the warm side of the kitchen window.
"You don't have to weed or water and there are no insects," he says.
There is no urgency, either.
The garden is not in danger of getting away from you in winter. There is time to appreciate what is there instead of being overwhelmed by the work yet to do. And the plants and shrubs that bloom and produce fruit during the winter help to lift the heart.
"They are such treasures. It helps you to know that all is not lost.'
As is the case with so many things, the baby boom generation can take credit for this new enthusiasm for the winter garden. With the kids grown or gone, the gardener has more time to garden.
"We are maturing and our taste is maturing," says Culp. "We are learning that there is more to gardening than having some flowers on the porch by Memorial Day."
Now, Culp says, is the time to plan for next winter's garden by ordering plants and shrubs and planning for the hardscape elements, such as trellises, arbors, walls, fences or gazebos, that are so dramatic when piled with snow.
"The garden is not a static art form. You just don't do it once," said Culp.
Caught in his garden this winter by a neighbor who laughingly questioned his sanity, Culp replied that he thought it was spring.
"It is best if you think at least one season ahead," he explained.
And that is the added benefit for the winter gardener. For him, spring is already here.
Plant sources recommended by horticulturist and winter gardener expert David Culp:
11300 Baltimore Ave.
Beltsville, MD 20705
743 W. Central Ave.
Davidsonville, MD 21035
Easton, MD 21601
Plant Delights Nursery
9241 Sauls Road
Raleigh, NC 27603
Gossler Farms Nursery
1200 Weaver Road
Springfield, OR 97478
For more information
Books recommended by Jane Alling, public services librarian at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in Philadelphia:
* The Winter Garden: Plants That Offer Color and Beauty in Every Season of the Year, by Rita Buchanan (Taylor's Weekend Gardening Guides, Houghton- Mifflin, $12.95)
* Time-Tested Plants: 30 Years in a 4-Season Garden, by Pamela Harper (Timber Press, $39.95)
* The Year in Trees: Superb Woody Plants for Four-Season Gardens, by Kim Tripp and J.C. Raulston. (Timber Press, $24.95)