[caption id="attachment_178726" align="alignright" width="300"] Winter is Nancy Goodwin’s favorite season at Montrose, where snowdrops and irises brighten the woods during the coldest months.[/caption] A blanket of snow lies deep in
A blanket of snow lies deep in the winter woods at Montrose Gardens. Each year, Hillsborough gardener Nancy Goodwin waits patiently for it to appear. But this snow doesn’t fall — it blooms. “Most of the flowers in the winter are in the woods,” Goodwin says, gesturing toward a cluster of snowdrops, little white flowers that droop from bright green stems. Before the holidays, she says, the snowdrops, all clumped together, mimic a fresh dusting of snow on this part of the property.
Wandering through 15 acres of uninterrupted woods, fallen leaves crunching beneath her boots, Goodwin sees life in the pink and white cyclamen that peek up from the ground throughout the year. Her garden blooms in every season, but for Goodwin, none compares to winter. “My birthday is in January, and you just don’t see a lot of flowers then,” she says. But “I began to investigate and found a lot of flowers that are open by early January.” Pale yellow trumpet daffodils that bloom in time for Christmas. Primroses, some with yellow-orange centers, which usually open by winter. Star-shaped hellebores, purple crocuses, roselike camellias, yellow wintersweet.
The cold brings more than beauty to Goodwin’s garden: It’s also the time of year when she and her team of gardeners devote the most time to maintaining the property, removing unwanted saplings and fallen limbs. “We spend the whole winter in the woods,” she says, gazing around her greenhouse at the tops of her tall, leafless trees. “Sometimes we’re just cleaning up. But we’re never too hot. You can dress for the winter, but you can’t dress for the summer.”
Goodwin’s daily wintertime journey to the woods is familiar, beginning early in the morning at the back door of her circa-1900 Colonial-Revival home. She wanders beneath trees that have belonged to her since 1977, when she and her late husband, Craufurd, purchased the property. Near the first of several ornate wooden trellises, she passes the original smokehouse, now filled with pots and perlite. The property once belonged to Gov. William Alexander Graham and his wife, Susannah. “Much of this was started before I got here,” Goodwin says of the gardens, adding that preserving some of the original plantings was important to her. “It’s just my turn to take care of it.”
Beyond the trellis, purple Algerian irises wait to replace the vegetable gardens once planted there by the Graham family. The plots remind Goodwin of the vegetable garden that her father tended when she was a child. “He would come in at night with his hands or a basket full of whatever we were going to have for supper,” she says. “Gardening was just the thing you did.”
Until Montrose, gardening was more of a hobby for Goodwin. In 1958, she and Craufurd moved into a small apartment in Ontario, Canada, that didn’t have room for a garden. “I spent the year as a fine arts librarian but yearned for a plant,” Goodwin wrote in her 2005 book, Montrose: Life in a Garden. She and Craufurd returned to North Carolina in 1963, when they purchased their first home in Durham. Having more time and room to experiment — and with her enduring adoration for her birthday season — Goodwin’s fascination with winter gardening grew.
At the edge of the woods, Goodwin looks toward the section of land where her snowdrops grow. Before turning back toward the house, she smiles, content with the fact that even when snow doesn’t fall at Montrose, it blooms.
Montrose offers guided garden tours twice a week from September to May and a biannual open house in May and October.
Click here to learn more about winter gardens across our state.