Privilege Blog

The Complex Peace Of (Northern California) Winter Gardens


I guess a lot of places have one season shorter than the rest. When I lived in New Jersey, spring passed in a bright flash. One minute we were cold, then, “Wait, wait, I can show my legs, where’s my skirt no where’s my cardigan, oh drat! Hello summer. Everybody sweat now.”


Autumn is Northern California’s short season. Summer, of course, is long, and beautiful.  Fall shows up in late October, maybe. Even in mid-November we’re outside in just sweatshirts,not even a windbreaker. But come one December morning, frost covers the neighbor’s roof. Bing bang boom it’s wintertime.


The garden gets very quiet. The light thins. A few things turn red, and fall down. The funny part is that most plants are still green, and some leaves are still yellow and winter superimposes on summer like a palimpset.


The nandina gives us red berries, but no cardinals to roost therein, no snow.


We feel the seasons, nonetheless, intensely. Winter shows itself in the fading of a maple leaf, to us as vivid as red birds and white snow for a New Englander.


The thing about gardens, while they tell us all about the universal circle of life and so forth, they are also the most particular signifier of a place. My maples aren’t Vermont maples, but they’re my little green and purple critters and I love them. You might visit Materfamilias and Hostess of the Humble Bungalow in Canada, and Faux Fuchsia in Australia, for autumn up north, and a little bit of summer way down south.

19 Responses

    1. @lauren, I would be honored. I wonder, what would happen if cardinals were released in Northern California? Would they survive? I know you don’t mean it literally, but, I can’t help but wonder.

    2. there ARE cardinals in northern california, actually; northern cardinals turn up all over the united states at this point. i saw several in arizona and they make it through the winter just fine here in new york, so i imagine they’d be alright in your garden. especially if you’re careless about dropping peanuts.

  1. I wouldn’t mind if we skip winter! But everything changed,there is summee and there is winter and than something between. We used to have beautiful springs and autumns (ok,this year autumn is long and sunny,maybe somebody forgot to turn the winter button. Please,please,let it be so!)
    It is interesting,I never thought about weather changes, except in general, and now can’t wait to see what’s new in your gardens
    Beautiful Nandina!

  2. Thanks for the mention! Our Eastern compatriots here in Canada tend to sneer that we don’t get real seasons, but having grown up on the temperate West Coast of Canada, I find them clearly discernible — and I would have to say that a sign of our climate’s temperateness might be that our seasons are, in fact, all quite similar in length. Gorgeous photo and thoughtful reflections here, and I’m very envious of your nandina’s berries. Mine hasn’t yet, despite being many years old and flowering every year. I suspect that’s because the mates I planted elsewhere in the yard get chomped down by deer each and every spring so that pollination isn’t happening. . . .Oh well… #deergottaeattoo

    1. @Frances/Materfamilias, I didn’t realize that sometimes nandinas don’t berry! Nor did I realize that in a truly temperate climate the seasons are all equal length. Both, of course, make total sense if one isn’t dizzying around in home territory raptures:).

  3. Your photographs are fabulous!
    Gardens are a great place to capture beauty and yours is looking in fine form. Love those Nandina berries…and to think that you have Cardinals perching on those limbs…I can just imagine how lovely they would be together.

    Thank you for the shout out.
    We have had a wind storm and the leaves are spread all over the garden denuding most of the trees…winter is just around the corner here too.

  4. Such a pretty garden! One of the things I enjoy about living Idaho is the experience of four distinct seasons. Growing up on the Peninsula was a very different experience, as you so beautifully post. Right now it is cold and windy, with most of the leaves on the ground. Just a little snow left. Not so pretty at the moment.

  5. I’m really noticing the season’s changes with my vegetable garden. The growth slows down so dramatically. All the trees around our house are deciduous which is another seasonal signal.

    Beautiful photos of your garden.

  6. I moved to Northern California 25 years ago and remember missing what I considered “true seasons” for the first couple of years. And I still get impatient some time in October when I’m done with summer…

    I love your description of the seasons here and your beautiful photos!

  7. Oddly enough after the most wonderful fall, here in the Ottawa Valley, I wish it would snow… right now. Temperatures on the plus side in December feels wrong. Where’s our snow? I want to swap my sneakers for skis. Still, it’s pretty awesome to watch (and listen) to the hordes (and I do mean hordes) of geese land every evening on the river in front of our house.

  8. The most beautiful thing to me is a garden blowing off its summer excess and going into decline like a fading movie star. A large pouf of mophead hydrangea turning deepest russet brown and the anemones starting to brown at the tips, but stubbornly perky despite the frost rimes. I love Northern California and would gladly retire there but for my family hunkered down on the opposite coast. Enjoy the beauty you so gloriously depict.

  9. Love your winter photos. I was just noticing the way the frost looks on the ground this morning, both the crystalline sparkle of frost on the brown of dying grass, which always strikes me as beautiful, but also the marvelous mint green of frost on new grass was seeded in a field nearby, a bit late. I love the way the frost gives the illusion of softness and fluffiness to the bright green. Winter will have its way.

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