Monday, November 2, 2009

Winter Survival Tips From Five Pros

The days are growing shorter. The temperatures are dropping. And old man winter will be here before we know it. Meanwhile, I can't help but wonder how gardeners in much colder climates survive the dark, dreary days of winter.

I'll be honest with you. In my USDA Hardiness Zone 6B garden, winters are relatively mild, especially compared to the rest of Idaho and the northern states. But what about those brave souls in the really cold places? What about those regions where snowstorms come as early as October and frosts can continue until June? Ever wonder how they do it?

Well, keep reading. Five popular gardening writers, bloggers and tweeters share their winter survival tips:

Jodi Torpey

Jodi Torpey is a Denver-based garden writer, master gardener and author of "The Colorado Gardener's Companion: An Insider's Guide to Gardening in the Centennial State." In her Zone 5 garden, she saw snow before Halloween this year.

"I'm convinced T.S. Eliot got it wrong," says Jodi. "April isn't the cruelest month, it surely must be January. I know those cold, dark days are coming when I do my planting in May. Then, in late August, I fill the freezer with containers of slow-roasted tomatoes, prepared chile peppers and home-made pesto. Every time I savor the garden-fresh aroma of a winter dinner bubbling on the stove, summer is within reach."

Learn more: or follow her on Twitter @WesternGardener.

Amanda Thomsen

Amanda Thomsen (aka Kiss My Aster) knows something about cold winters too. From her Zone 5 garden in the Chicago area, she manages her busy life as a "blogger for Horticulture magazine, garden Jedi, half of Good Enough Gardening podcasts, co-author of 'Grocery Gardening,' wearer of vintage clothing, Hello Kitty fan and thriftaholic."

How does she stay sane in the Windy City when those winds turn frigid?

"You know how I keep busy when the snow is knee deep?" she asked. "I search relentlessly for junk! It hardly matters what kind of junk; it sparks my creativity whether it's a dryer vent that can be repurposed or toys from the past that would look creepy in my garden come spring. I hit thrift stores, antique malls (the crapper the better), indoor flea markets and scour My winter revolves around junk. That and coffee."

Learn more: or follow her on Twitter @KissMyAster.

Kathy Purdy

Kathy Purdy saw snow in upstate New York by October this year too. This popular blogger and cold climate gardening expert says her area was definitely Zone 4 about 20 years ago, but it's been leaning towards Zone 5 in recent years.

Translation: That means temperatures haven't dropped down to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit in a while. But she can still see frost the first week in June. So, how does she survive those long winters in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains?

"The most important thing I do in the winter is train for strength and flexibility," explains Kathy. "It may not seem garden-related, but gardening in spring is much more pleasurable when your body is ready for physical labor, and it does keep your spirits up during the gloom. I also try to get out on milder days and stamp proposed paths or garden beds into the snow. Then I go upstairs to see how they look from above. I'm hoping this year to force more bulbs to have something fragrant and fresh in the house."

Learn more: or follow her on Twitter @KathyPurdy.

Helen and Sarah Battersby

Helen and Sarah Battersby admit Toronto, Canada can get depressing in the dead of winter, especially for gardeners. And they would know. Descending from a long line of English gardeners, the sisters and neighbors write a popular gardening blog about Toronto together.

Here's how Sarah says she tackles Toronto's Zone 5 (Canada Zone 6) winters:

"Winter in Toronto can be especially grueling," explains Sarah. "Any snow we get, if it stays around at all, quickly gets filthy. We don't have many perfect winter wonderland days here. This can send me screaming to Allan Gardens, a Victorian conservatory in downtown Toronto. As soon as you walk in the door you're hit with warm, moist tropical air. There are three greenhouses: one cool, one warm, and a cacti and succulent room. Victorian sculptures, ponds with waterfalls and goldfish, and even a miniature mill with a water wheel, make the place magical for all ages."

Learn more: or follow on Twitter @torontogardens.

Lynn Felici-Gallant

Lynn Felici-Gallant spends winters on New Hampshire's scenic coast; also Zone 5. The garden writer, marketer and garden/container designer survives the cold weather by taking a philosophical look at the changing seasons.

"Each autumn, I lament the inevitable winter to come," admits Lynn. "I find myself holding on to the vestiges of my gardens with a vengeance, as if I might somehow stop the cold. And then, without warning, I begin to embrace the change of seasons; I savor the fragrant wood smoke from my stove, and relish Sundays with a pot of soup. I head outdoors as often as I can -- to walk in the woods, to track evidence of an evening critter, or to count the winter birds at my feeders. Slowly I realize the bare beauty of nature, stripped of the often overwhelming cacophony of summer flowers and foliage, and I feel grateful for the quiet."

Learn more: or follow her on Twitter @IndigoGardens.

Tell us: How do you survive winter? Have any winter survival tips you'd like to share?


  1. Thank you so much for this creative and clever post, Teresa. I love your own philosophical approach to writing on line.

    I was flattered to be asked to participate, and feel even more so after reading the comments of such extraordinary women. Heck, I may even start shopping for vintage clothes, canning, or goodness-forbid, exercising this winter.

    It snowed two weeks ago in N.H. also, but this week we've witnessed temperatures as high as 75 degrees. I suspect one thing we northern gardeners have in common is the ability to appreciate these unexpected gifts, knowing full well what is in store.

    Thinking warm thoughts for each of my fellow interviewees, and for all other hardy, cold-climate gardeners. Spring will be here soon; spring will be here soon...

    Enjoy, Lynn

  2. How lovely to read the inspiring comments of those great garden writers and Twitter gals. I live in southern Ontario, not that far from Toronto (hello Helen and Sarah), so winter is big deal here too.

    But I love it. Maybe it's the fact that I so enjoy taking a break from my ridiculously big garden. November and February are among my favorite months, but I don't know many (any?) Canadians who would agree with me. Maybe that's because I live across the road from a golf course, which I can roam all winter with my camera and my snowshoes.

    Another plus living in the country is that clearing snow isn't a big deal when you have tractor and lots of space to put it. And, of course, unlike city snow, it stays nice and pristine.

    When I lived in Toronto many moon ago now, I wasn't a big fan of winter. I hated all that salt they pour onto every street and sidewalk. Living in the country created my change of heart. Bring on winter: I'm ready.

  3. Teresa (and all our co-freezies), Great thoughts on overcoming the W-word. Actually, I kind of like winter. A good snow storm can pretty up the city like nothing else; for a morning, at any rate. And it means we have the perfect dormancy period for great garden plants like peonies.

    Helen at Toronto Gardens

  4. I love this post - such a creative angle to it!! I don't know how all of you brave, brave souls endure. However, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? That's probably why you all are so incredibly creative both at writing and gardening! Out here, where the weather is pretty mild year round, it's easy to stay positive and easy to garden...throw in challenges like you have, and I think it would definitely weed out the weak (no pun intended)...Here's wishing you a gentle Winter!

  5. Lynn, Helen, Yvonne and Rebecca: Thanks a bunch for the nice comments. It's fascinating to me that most of you survive the winter with such grace.

    Meanwhile, Rebecca, I'm jealous of you living in the Santa Cruz area, of course. But we'll send you lots of snow pictures so you know what you're missing... ;) Teresa

  6. Interesting reading from another cold climate gardener! Winter is my down time. I use it to write, develop courses, and generally rest indoors from the short but gruelling farming and gardening season here in central MA! We usually do our spring housecleaning during winter too LOL

    Starting about February, I start getting antsy but that is when the seed catalogs have conveniently arrived, so I use the time to dream and plan my summer well as start some seeds indoors.

  7. Thanks again, Teresa, for including this Colorado gardener in your winter survival post. It was fun to learn how other gardeners cope with the cold, off season. But, I have to say, I love the changing of the seasons and relish a big snow storm.

    Stay warm!

  8. Ellen: Kudos to you for surviving winters in central MA. Thanks for sharing your tips here. Very interesting. Hope you'll visit again soon. Best, Teresa

  9. Jodi: Your comments added a lot to the story. Thanks for participating. And I agree with you -- there's something lovely about freshly fallen snow. Enjoy your start to winter. Teresa

  10. Everyone looks so cozy in their winter gear. I have to say, I was glad to be moving from Keen Valley, NY when we got snow on October 24th about four years ago. Blech. I like leaves on the trees more than five months at a time.

    But cold weather must breed warm souls. These are all such lovely, nice and talented ladies!

  11. Since I just started blogging this spring I haven't yet done a full season with my nationwide gardening friends. One of my fav things is learning about what the weather is like everywhere (not just numbers, but reactions to the real thing!) I find it strangely comforting...

  12. Laura: These women are troopers the way they survive winter with such grace. I really enjoyed learning their perspectives on how they cope with this quiet gardening season. Thanks for coming by. Teresa

  13. Katie: You're right. They really are the nicest group of women, even if they do have to survive very tough winters. No wimps among these five gardeners ...

    Thanks for your comments. Hope you'll come again. Teresa

  14. Very interesting to read all about these gardeners and their take on the coming of cold weather. I too live in upstate NY. Fall is always welcome as are the first few snowy days of winter until after Christmas time when all you can do is anticipate spring. I think it makes it all the sweeter. I like Helen's glass half full attitude that we couldn't have peonies with out the cold for a while. I will repeat it back to myself for all of January and February until the light at the end of the tunnel starts to appear and the joy of spring arrives again! This was a fun post to read!

  15. Lovely post! And an interesting perspective as well. Living in a mild zone (Netherlands, Europe) I always long for a cold winter, with lots of snow and low temperatures because that usually means dazzling sunshine as well. The alternative is dull, grey, humid weather that chills you to the bone.
    Hope you'll have a good winter!

  16. Hi Teresa: Really enjoyed learning about your winter experiences in upstate NY. I also believe we appreciate the warmer, sunnier months much more after experiencing the colder ones. Thanks for your comments. Hope to see you again. Teresa

  17. Hi Ellie: Thanks for dropping by from the Netherlands. Interestingly, when I lived in Boston, we often had grey overcast days with snow. But in mountainous Idaho, I've noticed the snow comes and then we'll get those lovely blue days you mentioned. The intensity of light is a big help when the days are so short. Keep warm in your home and all best, Teresa

  18. This was a great roundup with some of my favorite garden bloggers. Great idea, T!


  19. Robin, thanks a bunch for your comments. Hope you survive the winter well in your area, by the way. Keep warm! Teresa