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Plenty to See in the Snow Garden

Rose campion is a plant full of angles: its tall stems, branching but straight, are dotted with small pretty flowers, but almost no leaves–so that the total effect is of a lattice of silver. Or that's how I'm used to thinking of it, from the summer garden. Until this year, I always used to cut it down when it went to seed and turned brown.

Rising above the snow, it has surprised me with an entirely different character. The spiky, straight effect is gone: have the stems softened with age? They droop and bend in arcs down to the snow–more curved than other dead perennial tops nearby. In addition, the little oval seed pods, each with its black eye opening inward, punctuate the composition in a totally new way. I'm enchanted.

Snow transforms the garden. Edges of beds disappear, the balance of elements changes. You could ignore the garden under its blanket, but I prefer to see the whole yard as garden.

Wild critters contribute to the new look. Who is taking apart the pine cones, to eat their nuts? I've never seen so many drifted piles of the discarded scales of cones, before this year. So dark they're almost black, striking against the white.

Much of the new look is sculpture. Snowblower paths, so crisp and startling, seem to beguile my feet into a new world, like the maze of the snow game "fox and geese." The plow banks at the street rise higher and higher; making our place more private than it is in summer. Snowmen and women–and all kinds of beings–of course hold pride of place in the winter sculpture garden. And snow angels made by sweeping your arms up and down: who could look at one of these intaglios without smiling?

For years I've been thinking about a copper snow gauge. Fat, curvy numerals climb a pole marking each inch up to twelve, and then start again for a second twelve. (I'll extend it with another two-footer.) But I'm not going to put it in the ground in the fall and take it out in the spring–too much bother. Where's a spot it will suit, both with snow and without?

I think of the hidden shape of the bed the rose campion's in. Without snow cover, it cries out for something tall and thin to punctuate its end: the perfect place. Pondering the campion showed me the answer.

© Copyright 2004 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 30 January 2004

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  • The photo of the snow gauge above is courtesy of Gardener's Supply Company. Here's the page on their site.