By Valerie Rogotzke, Master Gardener
January is a month of fresh starts, a time to renew and begin again. This might not seem to be the best time to be thinking about the garden for Minnesotans, but the frozen ground outside gives gardeners a reprieve from weeding and a chance to imagine possibilities for the future.
Perhaps your dream garden evokes a specific place. Imagine an English cottage garden with meandering borders bursting with colorful perennials and a bench under an arbor of hardy wisteria, like one of Gertrude Jekyll’s horticultural masterpieces at Hestercombe House or Lindisfarne Castle. Picture a formal French garden with manicured hedges and a water fountain, like the grounds of Vaux-le-Vicomte or the Tuileries in Paris. Envision a Japanese garden such as Kenroku-en or Koraku-en with winding stone paths through mossy undergrowth, evergreens in abundance, and a pool of still water. Which small elements from these styles could be transplanted to Dakota County?
Perhaps your dream garden serves a particular function, providing you with flowers for cuttings, bees for pollinating, or vegetables for eating. To have flowers for bouquets all through the growing season, gardeners must plant with an eye to the calendar, making sure there are options peaking in each month. In addition, it is helpful to have flowers of different scales when assembling arrangements, with larger blooms like dahlias and roses balanced by smaller blooms or ornamental grasses to fill the vase.
To encourage bee populations, begin to dig around in the UMN Extension program’s resources on choosing the best pollinator-friendly plants for our area and creating habitat and nesting sites for pollinators. To maximize your success with vegetables and fruits in your garden, take some time now, in winter, to take stock of what has been growing in your garden and what you would like to cultivate this year. Perhaps you have always wanted a small plot of asparagus or a pizza garden with basil and tomatoes. Maybe it’s just time to try something new: sorrel, maybe, or endives? Browse the U’s vegetable guides for ideas and tips for healthy vegetables. A vegetable garden need not be a grand ornamental potager like the kitchen gardens of Villandry – just consider what things you want to eat.
Perhaps your dream garden includes time-intensive projects that will not be ready in a year or two, like espaliered apple trees. Perhaps you’d like to rewild an area of your land to encourage native prairie growth, build an Elizabethan knot garden out of interlocking hedges, or develop a natural dye garden with madder and indigo and coreopsis in order to dye fabrics.
Whatever your dreams are for your garden, do your dreaming now and dream big! There will be time to prune these dreams back later when practical concerns are considered but January belongs to the imagination.