An easy way to deal with a dreary winter

I’m getting pretty tired of these cold temperatures.

I’m also tired of browsing through gardening magazines, books and other publications that show beautifully landscaped gardens with winding walkways and vine-covered arbors. I can barely stand looking at well-manicured vegetable gardens, geometric raised beds with mulched walkways and rustic potager gardens with wooden bean tepees and woven grapevine fences.

In the meantime, my own gardens are muddy and gray with beaten-down, wilted leaves and vines, brown and dry ornamental grasses that need cutting back and I don’t even want to discuss the broken tree limbs all over the ground that need gathered and added to the brush pile.

I want to plant something, but this is not the time of year to encourage growth when sunlight is minimal, if at all. Winter is a time to rest, especially for plants. To get me out of this plant depression, I began to search for something, anything that I could do now that would help with these winter doldrums. The answer came quickly; a table top garden. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.

The garden centers have taken down their Christmas trees and holiday decor that usually replace lush, green plants from Halloween through mid-January. Now that the holiday season has ended, growers are preparing for spring displays and the rush that comes from mid-March to Memorial Day.

As gardeners, we might be waiting patiently for those empty tables in the main section of the garden center to be filled with plants, but instead, I like to wander to the other side of the building, where the heated greenhouse smells like a damp forest and there is a multitude of plants that would love to come live with me. This is the houseplant section, generally filled with tropical and desert plants that can’t survive our winter conditions.

The fun part of browsing this side of the garden center is the unusual things I find. In my search for tabletop plants, I pass the tree ficus, dwarf banana trees, Norfolk Island Pine and elephant ear philodendron. I move beyond the fancy-leaf begonia, tall sansiveria and always-demanding-attention peace lilies. Instead I head for the table where strange things are living in small pots, particularly succulents.

In this case, I don’t want terrarium plants that require high humid conditions and glass containers with lids. While these are nice and fun to plant and decorate with tiny benches, stones and fairy houses, I want something simple and low maintenance. I don’t want cactus with their sharp spines that force me to wear gloves just to transplant from their two inch pots to my tabletop container. I work and I’m busy. I don’t have time to fuss with plants that need regular pruning to keep them small enough for their container.

Instead I go for the small succulents, such as stonecrop, sempervivum and sedum.

Tabletop or dish garden containers can be any shape or size, from the largest soup tureen to a teacup. The plants as well can be found in all shapes and sizes. Sempervivums, commonly known as hens and chicks, are available in hundreds of species of all sizes and colors. With their thick leaves and rosette shape, they make attractive little plants that seemingly ”live forever,” which also is one of their nicknames. These hardy little plants grow just about everywhere.

Sedum, also called stonecrop, generally are smaller with tiny stems and leaves. Some varieties can cascade over the side of the container for a waterfall effect, such as a variety I remember from years ago was called “burro’s tail,” (Sedum morganianum).

In summer when the nights have warmed to 55 degrees or more, I like to move my table top gardens to the patio. The plants are easily propagated by divisions or from the runners they send out. They can be shared with friends or used to make even more table top gardens.

I can’t think of a better way to help get through a long, dreary winter.