A Garden for the Winter Solstice

by Lois Scott, Peterborough Master Gardener

The winter solstice, which this year happens December 21 at 4:47pm, marks the northern hemisphere’s furthest tilt from the sun and results in the shortest day and longest night of the year.  Many ancient cultures celebrated at this time to welcome the return of longer days and the promise of spring with plants playing a large symbolic role.  I certainly welcome the return of longer days and the pleasure in watching my garden wake up but for right now I enjoy the garden as it stands in winter.

I won’t be burning a yule log, which was traditionally Oak as it represented strength and endurance, but I enjoy the knowledge that the Oak trees in my environment are valuable contributors to supporting life in the garden.  Oaks (Quercus spp.) support over 500 species of lepidoptera (butterfly and moths) caterpillars which is more than any other native tree or plant. Read more

I don’t have the shiny, English holly (Ilex aquifolium which is invasive in the Pacific Northwest) in my garden. I do have a native holly, Ilex verticillata or Common Winterberry.  I have a male and female plant as you need both for pollination and the resulting flowers and red berries.  Although it is found naturally in swampy, acidic areas it is growing in my average garden soil.  It doesn’t have evergreen leaves but the persistent red berries are loved by over 40 species of birds!  Beautiful red berries and birds in the winter?  That is a win-win for me! 

A winter garden is certainly enhanced by including coniferous (evergreen) trees.  Coniferous trees such as pines, spruce and cedar are considered by many cultures to be a symbol of resilience and renewal.  For many of us we enjoy using the greenery to brighten our winter pots and interiors at this time of year.  In our winter gardens native evergreens provide not only beautiful contrast with the snow but provide important sources of shelter and food for local wildlife. Well placed coniferous trees can also provide windbreaks for our homes. Read more.

I hope that this winter solstice finds you happily enjoying your winter garden and appreciating its benefit to our environment.

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