Months ago the garden was lush and tangled. By now, many of those leaves have fallen and left their branches standing bare in the cold. Light touches ground once hidden by shade, if only for a passing moment.
While some plants sleep underground, the yard still asks for attention.
Rewilding the garden
Searching for a fresh place to set down roots last summer, I was also searching for a place to grow a garden. Even though I arrived too late in the growing season to make huge changes, I have been investigating all the shapes and layers of history buried around Mallow Rose Cottage.
Beneath the hibiscus hedge, a jungle of vines and day lilies had taken over the understory. Slugs tucked themselves snug under the brick border as songbirds poked around for seeds and grubs.
Summer weeds have died back now as winter weeds make their debut. I often find it difficult to chose what stays and what goes. Tracing back the genealogy of every plant shows direct connections to the human history of this site, a century of gardening in a mountain forest. Not all weeds or so-called invasive species came from abroad; some thrive in the garden because they originated from there.
Reclaiming a neglected habitat often requires human intervention to repair the damage and maintain a healthy balance. Indigenous people like the Cherokee and Muscogee tended the gardens of Appalachia long before settlers like myself, and their wisdom remains critical to restoring these ecosystems.
With less heat, less bugs, and less foliage, winter presents an ideal time for trimming and pruning. Cut sticks and branches become mulch or even material for making trellises to support vines and other plants in the upcoming months. Another way to give back to the land and fertilize the soil is to set aside a compost pile of organic material.
Leaves are important for recycling nutrients back into the ecosystem, so they all find a use as mulch in hedges and around the trunks of their trees. Allowing them to decompose back into the ground helps to bring the garden closer with the surrounding landscape.
During the winter months, buried and forgotten parts of history can resurrect from underground. One day I stepped out of my front door to discover a rather disturbing yet mesmerizing doll, adorned with moss and blackened like a bog body, presumably dug up by some animal in the garden.
Preparing for Spring
In anticipation of adding more plants to the yard in upcoming months, the next steps are ordering seeds and expanding beds as necessary. As long as they receive enough hours of sunlight, seeds can germinate early inside while snow accumulates outside.
Replacing grass with a variety of flowering plants, especially those native to the region, will encourage more pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds as well as increase the biodiversity of this urban habitat.
Eventually I hope to transform the lawn back into a forest in a way that produces nourishment for myself and the community. Cottage gardens have the potential to invite wilderness back into the domestic realm, blurring the hedges between worlds.
Not all plants struggle in the frost. Evergreens soak up the sunlight all year, of course, but even deciduous plants remain alive and green behind their bark. Ivy still climbs up the shed while moss and thyme spread over the barren ground.
Some vegetables like carrots thrive in the cold, as long as they grow in loose dirt. Even trees without leaves can set roots to further establish themselves in the ground before their next season of growth. Planting more trees in the city will improve air quality and reduce heat, while providing sanctuaries for wildlife.
Plants in hibernation still need water even when dormant underground. Appalachia receives plentiful rainfall throughout much of the year, but other places might experience long dry spells in winter.
As the seasons change, I hope to share more of this experience rewilding Mallow Rose Garden. Stop by for a visit in early spring to see the cherry blossoms, daffodils, irises, and more.