Dear Problem Lady


I hear gardeners refer to something called “Winter Interest.” My garden looks like a wasteland. To what are they referring?
Ah, winter can do such ugly things to a garden! A good six inches of snow might help. True, some gardeners love the look of dead seed pods, bare mottled tree trunks — even desiccated hydrangea blossoms – from which they make indoor bouquets. For a winter garden to capture your heart you need first to get rid of dead things that strike you as ugly. If there is nothing left, make it tidy. Add mulch (see below). Then plan for next year. Here are some ideas: low green firs and broad-leaved evergreens help (Camellias, Pieris Japonica, Sarcococca etc.). 

Some perennials have gray or purple or crimson leaves, and others have seed heads that do look pretty, to say nothing of tall, ornamental grasses. Many books point the way – one is Continuous Bloom: A Month-by- Month Guide to Nonstop Color in the Perennial Garden, by Pam Duthie.


What if I really have no time for reading garden books?
You do not need to hire a gardener if you like walking for exercise. Plan to walk by the carefully landscaped public gardens at your fingertips – from the United States Botanic Garden and the Enid A. Haupt Garden (both on the Mall) to the U.S. National Arboretum in NE DC. All provide drought-tolerant ideas for all seasons, including now.


Is snow a worry for a garden in DC?
No, it is a blessing – unless the snow is accompanied by freezing heavy northwest winds; or unless the snow coats ice around the leaves of your evergreens; or unless the snow is heavy enough to break damaging tree branches. Keep careful watch.


What is the single most important thing I should do for my garden right now?
Your garden soil should be soft and crumble in your hand. Since we in D.C. are dealing with solid clay, we need constantly to lighten our soil – otherwise plant roots cannot access either water or nutrients, and worms can’t do their essential job either. A three-inch or so layer of cut-up dry leaves applied over the whole garden as a mulch both in autumn and again in spring will work wonders. Lacking your own (free) leaves, use purchased compost, or composted leaves. January is late, but not too late to do it.


Tell Us About YOUR Garden!

For its January 8, 2019 meeting, three Capitol Hill Garden Club members will describe the learning curve as they created their gardens. This annual program is one of our most popular. Meeting starts with refreshments at 6:45 pm at the NE Public Library, corner of Maryland Ave. & 7th St. NE. Meetings are free and open to all. Membership details: