Learn to appreciate gray in winter

November 5, 2010

By Contributor

They, whoever they are, are telling us that the winter will be wetter and cooler than usual. Most of us feel we paid our dues when we skipped summer. If this is global warming or La Niña, I don’t like either one.

Every winter, the gray colors seem to cover us like a shroud. All the gardeners I know like flowers, the brighter the better, so winter hits us especially hard.

I noticed that no colors are bright in winter except for maybe school buses and some Volkswagens. Most colorful objects reflect the low light, creating glare as opposed to color. The next time you’re driving, notice how monochromatic all of the cars are. Even the red ones are mostly gray. The shinier they are, the grayer they appear, because they shine with the color of the road, the sky and the surroundings.

Also, wet surfaces shine, and boy do we have wet surfaces. Water can make the ground, streets, sidewalks, decks and patios turn gray like the sky. It’s my hope that we keep our gardeners here, and that they learn to see the beauty of the gray winter landscape.

Most of us enjoy the winter form of deciduous trees, the bark of the birch, Stewartia and red twig dogwood, the rugged structure of the Hawthorne and oak, and the delicate branching of the Japanese and vine maples. I don’t need to wax poetic about the winter beauty of deciduous plants, but I’d like to share an idea for suffering gardeners. Let’s appreciate shades of gray and reflections. Take a step from observing the obvious, brilliant colors of summer to grooving on the subtle colors of winter.

It’s easy to enjoy the lighter shades of gray on the foothills as they recede into the distance. But try noticing the shadows in your garden. All shadows are not the same color. Shadows in grass are varying shades of gray green. Shadows against a blue house are varying shades of blue gray. They are sharpest and opaque close to the object, but soft and transparent as they stretch away from it. The north sides of both deciduous trees and conifers appear almost black against a bright, southern sky, bringing extra drama to any scene.

If you do see a spot of color, check out its coverage. It’s probably not very big. If a child tries to draw the object, it would be all bright red or all yellow with no gray shadows. That may be how children survive the winter. If you are aware of the gray and intrigued by it, its devastating effect may go away for you, too. Don’t let it get you down.

And when you do get a glimpse of that bright little spot of color, it might look rather shocking like a school bus or a Volkswagen. Just repeat to yourself — gray is a good thing. It calms us and forces us to ponder the subtle things in life. It also makes us really appreciate summer.

Jane Garrison is a local master gardener and landscape architect who gardens in glacial till on the Sammamish Plateau.

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