The term ‘interest’ in relation to gardens has irritated me for years. Partly because the use of the word seems totally wrong and I’ve found it hard to say why. I think it’s actually because interest (apart from when applied to money) implies thinking, or curiosity – an active reaching out to know more. Which really has little to do with how it is commonly used in relation to the garden, when it usually becomes a noun which refers to something attractive or good to look at.
And anyway, it is one of the clichés we resort to in garden descriptions, along with ‘lovely’ and no doubt many more tiresome words and expressions which you needn’t trouble to remind me of.
When the term winter interest pops up it usually seems to mean a tiresome massing of the coloured stems of cornus such as ‘Midwinter Fire’, rubus with white stems and salix. All of these might be useful in the winter garden but it’s worth asking how.
There seems to be a tendency to group them with other items of (ahem) ‘interest’. And I suppose that in a large garden, especially one which needs to open and make money all year round, there is some point in being able to advertise a winter garden, and one with as much mind boggling colour as possible will bring the visitors in. Especially if you add lots of snowdrops and colourful bulbs. But is this what we want in our gardens? I’ll rephrase that – is it what I want in my garden?
I’ve realised it isn’t, (apart from the bulbs and I can wait for those) and not just because I’m not trying to attract winter visitors. For me, it’s a bit like woodland filled with colourful flowering plants – I don’t like the incongruity. I love British woodland in all its subtle diversity, at all times of year. And I have a tendency to take admiring pictures of ours – admiring the tree trunks, the play of light, the remnants of previous use and history. And the television…
Similarly, in the garden I enjoy the winter and various winter pleasures. Oh, especially the rare hoar frost on the hedges,
but also the sunlight on bare trees,
and the particular wintery colours. My eyes were opened to the joys of the colours in our landscape by Kaffe Fasset when I used to knit. He’s known for dramatic colour but he used and loves the subtle colours of the British landscape in winter. So I began to see them and love them too.
We perhaps think of our landscape as dull and winter as grey – but when you begin to really look the variety and beauty of the colour – especially, it has to be admitted, when the sun shines – is amazing.
And of course, when the snow or elusive hoar frost does come that is transforming and wonderful too. It was seeing Pat Webster’s post on winter interest (a really good garden and website there..) that drove me to this post. Partly because of her use of the term, but also for the subtlety and beauty of the images she chose to illustrate that theme. If you have permanent snow in winter hers is the eye to inspire you to see and appreciate winter beauty without garish, even in a white white landscape.
Perhaps all this comes with age. Time is moving faster for me – and spring is coming sooner (though that’s nothing to do with my age). I used to be desperate for the first spring bulbs, but not so now. My tastes have changed. And sitting reading by the fire is a joy now we have finished the years of going out in the wet, cold and mud to make the garden.