Thinking Garden in Midwinter the Soil Is a Transforming Medium Expressing Color, Artistry - and Fresh Vegetables

Article excerpt

Bleak landscape. Frozen soil. Dreary weather. A writer once referred to February as the 3 a.m. of the calendar year. But some of the most creative gardening happens in midwinter, when the only things blooming in northern climates are found in the pages of garden books.

Winter provides some perks for gardeners. The basic chores - planting, weeding, raking, pruning - are put to rest along with the hedge-clippers. A gardener in winter quickly learns that there's never a shortage of literature. Often, reading about plants is the only thing he can do (besides making a pest of himself at indoor flower shows).

From the cozy confines of home, these individuals let their imaginations take over and reinvent yards and decks and vegetable plots without ever leaving their chairs. The charm of gardens is that they are many things to many people. For a suburban homeowner, the garden is an extension of the house - a space to be admired and to encourage family recreation and relaxation. For an inner-city apartment dweller, a plot of soil in a community garden provides fresh vegetables and a green oasis in an otherwise gray urban landscape. To a landscape designer, a garden represents artistry, texture, and color. Today, voices are emerging that speak of the soil as a medium to teach people about themselves and how to connect with a larger community. These voices also speak about the transforming power of gardens on people's lives and attitudes. Fortitude and resilience marked the career of Ellen Biddle Shipman (1869-1950), who has been called the dean of American women landscape architects. Judith B. Tankard's well-researched and finely written book, The Gardens of Ellen Biddle Shipman, sheds light on this neglected artist, while the introduction by Leslie Rose Close gives a helpful overview of women in the profession. Women in the early part of this century were tolerated in the field of garden design because gardens were considered an extension of home. Training programs for women landscape architects offered the same skills as for men. But women were also required to take stenography. Ellen Shipman arrived at her career through a backdoor. She had always loved gardens, and her talent in sketching garden- and house plans was recognized at an early age. When she embarked on her professional association with the architect Charles Platt in 1910, she was in her early 40s, with three children under age 12 and an absent husband whom she later divorced. …