Those of us from the Pacific NW seem to be obsessed with our weather. Furthermore, we are a fickle bunch. Perhaps it is similar where you live? Last year, after an unusually wet summer, we spent much of our winter complaining about the incessant grey drizzle. This year it was different. A playground chat actually contained the phrase (I could not believe it) “Our weather has been too nice.” As we watched our children run among the play equipment during an unseasonably warm afternoon the conversation wasn’t “Thank goodness for the sun.” It was “I hope it rains soon!” I think we took the sun a bit for granted.
The true concern lay in the higher elevations. Blue skies and sunny days meant that our nearby mountains had not received the required snowfall to satisfy our winter pleasures. Skiing, snowshoeing and tubing had been drastically curtailed. Through all of our winter break, ski resorts in Oregon, and all around the country, were devoid of the snow necessary to satisfy our thirst for outdoor winter adventures.
And then the big storm hit and our wish for rain was granted. In Portland, we watched Seattle get hit with ‘the storm of the decade.’ Friends posted video of skiers racing down city streets, photos of double-decker sledding and countless stories of igloo building, snowman making and general snow fun. Back in Portland, we longed for a snow day. Every morning the kids woke up eager for another exciting day… as long as they could swap their jammies for their snow-gear. Instead of snow, Portlanders received torrential rain and more rain and still more rain. We got our wish for our mountain. However, those of us at lower elevations became soggier and soggier. It was a heavy, grey, sog.
And then yesterday, the rain let up and the sun shone through. It was a brilliant day. One of my favorite things about living in the Pacific NW is that when the sun does peek through the grey clouds of winter, the residents take to the streets. I happily shunned my treadmill for my outdoor walking shoes and joined the others enjoying the splendor of a sunny winter day. It is invigorating to be outside when the air causes your breath to quicken, your nose to turn pink and your fingertips turn icy. The sun shining down lifts my mood and my spirits.
I grabbed my camera as I walked out the door on a lark. Just in case. Earlier in the week my children and I had abandoned the puddle stomping glee for a wish for dry. I was tired of being wet all the time. I was tired of waiting for my children as the incessant rain left me cranky and cold. It is a cold that buries deep into your bones. So, because of the grey and the cold and the sog and the bleh, I was not prepared for what I found when I ran outside to catch my rays of sun. What I found was new life starting to bud out all around me.
Hamamelis mollis – Witch Hazel
There is always hope that the darkness of winter will turn to the freshness of spring when a witch hazel is planted nearby. Native to China and thriving in the cooler climate zones of 5-8, the Witch Hazel’s delicate, colorful, fragrant flowers will make their appearance in January (as it did this year!) or February. The pompom-like scarlet/orange blooms are a welcome relief to the grey of winter. Some call it a tree and some call it a shrub, but I love it’s broad vase-shaped structure that creates a lovely, subtle screen.
Hydrangea paniculata – Panicle or Peegee Hydrangea
Ok, so perhaps this isn’t the best example of new life bursting forth, but check out those lovely, dried flower heads against the blue sky! I’ll have to wait until mid summer to find out if the fresh flowers are white, pink or lime green (a personal favorite!), but the arching structure of the tall branches (reaching 6-8 ft above my head!) and the lacy texture of the flower heads makes a nice feature in the winter garden. Panicle Hydrangea also likes the cold zones of 3-8 and thrives in anything from full sun to part shade.
Erica x darlyensis ‘Mediterranean White’ – Mediterranean White Heath
This evergreen groundcover is another favorite in the winter garden. It’s dark green, rather prickly texture takes a backseat during the more colorful spring and summer months. But come December and January, this 18” tall plant creates a bright spot in the garden. I have planted heath in some of my shadier garden spots, but it will tolerate sun as well. It won’t do well if the ground stays saturated or if the ground dries out… but it will attract and feed those bees that might make an early showing.