Some of us are out in our gardens already. This is a time for observations, reminisces and even some forward planning. I have a question for you, Gentle Reader. Are you sitting down or standing out there like a hip-shot horse? [Younger folk can ask an older acquaintances for an explanation.]
This is a marvelous time of the year to just sit and think. By now we've all remembered how to dress for the out-of-doors. Unless you have a touch of the flu, there's no reason for you to be sitting at your window, gazing wistfully into next spring. Grab a chair and get outside. If you do this often enough, several nice things will happen.
The first is that you'll be in that wonderful, clear air that can only be savoured in a Canadian winter. Second, you will be outside when the wind shifts to the southwest for the first time. There is a feel, even a taste, that lets you know the season is changing. Maybe one more snowfall but those bone-chilling temperatures are gone for another year. When we were working in the orchards, that little swing of the wind really perked us up. Third, with a bare expanse around you, you will be more free to experiment with new garden designs.
Bring some paper and a pencil with you. Here's an interesting thing to do. Leave yesterday's sketchings in the house. Start fresh each day and be daring; after all it's only a design on paper. For now, don't think about what plants go where. This is the time to work on the structure, the bones as it were. After you've been out there picking up your winter tan for a while, you'll get a feel for the best guess placement of the hard landscape items.
Where do you need paths? Where would you like a path? Just remember that a path really does need to lead somewhere. If you think a nice stroll along the axis of your plot would be nice, then place something at the end. A bench, an arbour, a water feature or a bit of statuary are worthwhile destinations. Be generous with the width of your path; think about being accompanied by a friend walking by your side.
Once you've done this a few times, compare all of your drawings. Certain elements will be repeating themselves. Is there a similar point of view for your sketches? That's a spot for a bench or some such item. Do your drawings place you in different spots but looking at the same feature? If so, you've just find your focal point, something around which your garden should compliment. [To my dear friend Lenore: I pummeled that sentence a long time and I'm still not happy. If you could show me how to fix it up, that would be nice. Gentle Reader, this is the lady of the Rathbun Common who is also one of those superannuated teaching folk.]
You are also seeing the structures of the trees, fences, and buildings that lend such a dramatic impact to the feel of your garden. Even in the height of summer, when an abundance of leaves soften the outlines and bright blossoms beguile, they have a subliminal impact. Study them when they are bare to your eyes and to your senses. Later, when you begin to select plantings and structural items, you will have a good idea how it will all come together.
Back to my first question about sitting. If the weather and snow cover cooperate, you can take a look at your footprints. Not only will they show you a path they can point out where your bottom should be. In fact, that chair you picked up on the first day is probably in that very spot.