It’s hard to imagine, but these bleak mid-winter days are the source of hopes
and dreams among local gardeners.
This is when the seed catalogues arrive in the mail and articles ranking
the best-bet plants sprout up in home décor magazines and newspapers. Our public
spaces may be more muddy than green, but the minds of gardeners are filled with
Then there are the rest of us. With no gardening hopes heating our
hearts, we’re more likely to glance out at our depressing, leafless balconies
and shut the blinds.
From November to March, there’s no long-term way to perk up that patio
with seasonal greenery in these watery parts. Ornamental kale turns to mush.
Sporadic frosts flatten “cold weather” primulas and pansies.
And just in case you’re tempted to jump-start spring by filling those
bare pots with already-blooming forced bulbs, you might want to heed the words
of a sign I saw recently at a garden store: “We feel it is WAY too early to
start planting outdoors.”
In the meantime, there are a few tricks to perking up that dead-winter
view — and your point of view. It begins with a little elbow grease. (I can hear
the groans already.)
On the next available sunny day, commit an hour or so to removing the
layer of brackish slime that builds up over the winter on all outdoor
Turn on the music and get ready to get down — on your hands and knees.
Throw on some outdoor clothing and rubber gloves and move any furniture to one
corner of the space.
Dunk a bristle brush into a bucket of soapy, bleachy warm water, or
better: water sprinkled with TSP, available at your local hardware store. (I
haven’t tried diluted white vinegar, but that promises to be an
Rinse with a hose or bucket of clear water if your balcony has an
enclosed downspout, otherwise mop up the excess using a sponge-mop and rinse
bucket of fresh water.
Next, move any weather-proof furniture into a pleasing arrangement. I
depend on the painted cast-aluminum café set to defy anything Mother Nature
flings our way.
Finally, establish a weather-proof focal point on a table, or create a
grouping to foil a barren corner. Light-reflective, water-proof elements to
consider are a mirrored Victorian gazing ball, metal plant pots or trays filled
with polished pebbles, concrete columns or small metal sculptural items.