Louis Raymond: Beat the Winter Blues – Visit a Garden!

Oh goody, another snowstorm. Getting outside in the winter can be such a hassle—so there had better be a good reason.

As a garden designer, a hard winter can be even more of a trial; much of my work disappears under a foot or two of the white stuff.  This year, instead of just grinding through the season, I’m embracing it—deep snow and knife-edged cold. The boots and layers. The getting cold and the warming up.

And I’m doing this (of course!) by visiting some of my favorite gardens. Yes, in the depth of winter. What ever could be worth seeing in such weather? Certainly not perennials (buried), water features or fabulous details of paving layout (ditto), roses and lilacs (ugly leafless sticks), rhododendrons (droopy rolled-up leaves), or generic evergreens (bent over by heavy snow).

But great gardens also celebrate things strong enough to stand tall no matter what, big enough that a couple of feet of snow is just so much fluff around their ankles—and whose vibe is, if anything, even livelier blizzard after blizzard. Whose message is “This weather’s great. No, really.  Thanks for stopping by.” 

What could be better? How about lunch at a kick-ass restaurant nearby?

The first clear day after the last blizzard, a friend and I got started in style, by visiting thirty-some acres of waterfront beauty in Bristol, Rhode Island. Blithewold Mansion, Gardens, & Arboretum is open year-round. In addition to the more expected features—the baronial house, the acres of lawn—the property has excellent gardens and spectacular specimen trees. When the snow is so deep that gardens are buried the trees are, if anything, even more remarkable.

The quarry? The largest true sequoia east of the Mississippi. Just over a century old (barely out of grade school for trees that can live several millennia), this Sequoiadendron giganteum is already about a hundred feet tall, with a trunk so huge that even my long arms can’t span it.

sequoia

louis raymond

sequoia

How many blizzards, hurricanes, and countless human follies has this tree ignored already? It takes the long view.

You can visit the Blithewold sequoia any day. (Actually, sequoias: They have many. Why not greet each one, for a full circuit workout?)  If you visit any day from Wednesday through Sunday, then celebrate your outing over lunch or brunch at Eli’s Kitchen, five minutes by car in the neighboring town of Warren, Rhode Island.

Eli Dunn is the son of the Phoebe, of the legendary Phoebe’s Fish & Chips in Seekonk. Now closed (sigh), Phoebe featured locavore cooking years before there even was such as thing. Eli was born, literally, to carry on the tradition. His menu thanks a dozen or more area farmers, fishers, cheesemakers, foragers, and ranchers.

eli's kitchen

eli's kitchen

Photos courtesy of Eli's Kitchen

I had crab and dill beignets, sweet chili cauliflower, and roasted butternut squash risotto. (The other plus about trudging through deep snow? Wow, do you build up an appetite.) Carnivores should put in a rush order for the citrus & oregano-braised pork or—and!— the Middle Eastern spiced-beef flatbread.

No matter how grizzly the weather gets, I’ll be visiting other gardens and nearby restaurants throughout the winter. Let me know your suggestions for “must trudge” destinations.

Louis Raymond is a Hopkinton, Rhode Island based landscape designer. His work has been featured in many publications, and he has appeared on a variety of television shows. Visit the Renaissance Gardening website to learn more about Louis' landscape design work and services.  Ready to be entertained? Visit his Louis The Plant Geek website to see lively videos, read Louis' garden journal, and learn about all things horticultural. 

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