Winter Gardens

Need a quick getaway to a warm, leafy refuge?

Well, come along …

I just dug up a fun bit of history about winter gardens.

Ever heard of such?

I’m not referring to those lucky gals in southern locales whose pretty plots are all gussied up in green as we speak (like, say, the folks in Winter Garden, Florida).

I can hardly even imagine.

Nor am I talking roots ‘n tubers (even though you know I adore them).

Historically speaking, winter gardens were large and wondrous conservatories that originated in Europe somewhere around the 17th century. It seems that the noblest of the noble would construct grandiose greenhouses, often attached to their palaces, like supernatural sunrooms, which housed tropical plants—even towering trees!

This, for example, is the little ol’ People’s Palace and Winter Gardens in Glasgow, Scotland:


Photo by Finlay McWalter via Wikimedia Commons

The earliest winter gardens were constructed of masonry and glass, but toward the 19th century, it became all-the-rage to utilize wrought iron and curvilinear glass. A breathtaking example of this type of architecture is the Curvilinear Range Botanic Gardens, built between 1843 and 1869, in Dublin, Ireland.

Take a gander:

Gorgeous … can’t you just feel that humid mist?

Here in Idaho, all sweatered and snowbound, it looks heavenly.

If you’re reluctant to return from this mini-vacation, visit this website to stroll through more winter gardens.

  1. My late garden mentor, Eva, used to make up in late fall , what she called ” winter gardens” . They were actually little terrariums filled with live local moss and small pine trees and such. She would always put some sort of berries in for color like holly. And always a tiny deer or fox statue or similar woodsy animal,. she’d add a pretty stone like shiny quartz or some bark. Historically it is a local Pennsylvania ” Dutch” (German) custom to make these and give them for Christmas gifts. They last for years if properly sealed up and kept in filtered sunlight in a window sill.

  2. Winnie Nielsen says:

    Lisa, I love the Pennsylvania Dutch gifting of little terrariums at Christmas. A friend and I once made them in the dead of Virginia January Winter and they were so beautiful and fun to watch little plants emerge and bloom.

    Here in Florida, winter gardens are a way of life. Currently, there are December azaleas in bloom, poinsettias, and camellias all gracing landscapes. In addition, pansies and petunias love our “cold” weather and perform better than when the heat and humidity hit in late April. There is always something blooming and growing down here which makes it a garden lover’s dream come true!

  3. Karlyne says:

    I have a memory of MJ talking about making terrariums during her college days? Is that a true memory, I wonder…

    I have always wanted a winter garden, by the way, but these are stupendous and strike me (almost) dumb!

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  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    I keep looking at this and trying to figure out what I am looking at and where it would be located. Is it iced over spider’s web? Or frost?

    • MaryJane says:

      Good morning Winnie. It’s frost on a spider’s web on the back of the chair on my porch.

      • Winnie Nielsen says:

        Thanks Mary Jane! I was close. And top of the morning to you as I write in the early afternoon here where we got thunder and pouring buckets of rain this morning! You are freezing cold and we are damp and cool. It is so weird to have warm damp weather while trying to feel all cozy and snuggly at Christmas time. Never mind just staring at those sweaters patiently hanging in the closet for a cold enough day!

  2. Nancy Coughlin says:

    Ah the beauty of nature. Brought back a memory of other beautiful spider webs discovered in the early morning while camping in both Indiana and in Idaho. The dew looked almost magical on those webs. Am so glad I learned how to slow down and take time “to smell the roses” so to speak. Would have missed so many tiny beautiful sightings.

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Snow Horses

Horses in the snow …


Photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives via Wikimedia Commons

A picturesque image this time of year, no?

But on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, a unique breed gives “horses in the snow” an entirely new meaning.

I was introduced to the Dosanko breed when a friend recommended the children’s book Wild Horse Winter for my grandgirls.


Written and beautifully illustrated by Tetsuya Honda, this quiet story takes place in—and under—the snow as a small herd of wild Dosanko ponies faces a tremendous blizzard. From the perspective of a colt who has never weathered such a storm, we follow the ponies to a place in the forest where they lie down for the night, allowing themselves to be completely submerged in the falling snow.

Come morning, all we see are puffs of steamy breath erupting from the drifts!

This behavior, which has been observed during particularly harsh winters on Hokkaido, actually helps the horses survive by insulating them from bitter temperatures and ferocious winds. That’s right—these clever creatures stay warm beneath a “blanket” of snow.

I searched the Internet for photos of this phenomenon, but found none. Thankfully, Honda’s elegant watercolor scenes portray it perfectly. You can sneak a peek at a few of the pages by clicking the cover of the book on Amazon, where it says “Look Inside.”

Here is a snowy woodland in Hokkaido … Yoo-hoo! Any horses hiding in there?


Photo by Kinori via Wikimedia Commons

It is said that the ancestors of the Dosanko, called Nambu horses, were brought to Hokkaido by merchants and fishermen over 300 years ago. Left to fend for themselves on the island, the horses that survived developed into a new breed that was shorter and stockier with longer hair and tougher hooves. These ponies have also adapted to a diet of bamboo grass, tree bark, and kelp that washes up along the island’s shores.


Photo by Kinori via Wikimedia Commons

Today, there are about 2,000 Dosanko horses on Hokkaido. A few are still wild, living on natural land preserves. Others are used for farming, transportation into remote mountainous areas, and trail rides on tourist ranches.


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    Amazing!! Totally amazing!! It does make sense to bury in the snow but it seems so harsh and incompatible with living. Mother Nature has such stories to share on survival around the world!

  2. Terry Steinmetz says:

    Guess you know what new book I’ve got to find!

  3. These wild horses remind me so much of the ones that live on the islands of Chincoteague and Assateague in Virginia on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. The classic children’s book ” Misty of Chincoteague” by Marguerite Henry was written in 1947 tells all about these wild ponies. And it is a true story. They don’t usually have snow there but the horses eat a similar seashore diet as the Dosanko horses . There are charming black and white drawings and a lovely tale is told. I would go there as often when I lived in Maryland and Virginia . I highly recommend this book for any horse loving child.

  4. HI again,
    Please read more about the Assateague ponies and compare the photos of these wild horses with the Japanese ones:

    Its kind of amazing as the Spanish and Portuguese Galleons sailed to both places.So who knows , could they be related?

  5. Kay (Old Cowgirl) Montoya says:

    Yes, and in the Steens Mountain range in Eastern Oregon they are a breed of horses that are from the Spanish that came to the Texas region and some how made it to the Steens Mountains. There is a pass in the range called (sp) Keiger pass, this was named after the Spanish horses that run there. How many are still there is a good guess as they are systamaticly being rounded up and sent to slauter houses like the one in New Mexico that is making human meat and animal food out of them. They are a beautiful horse, slightly smaller than ranch horses but not ponies. There are probably so many stories from here and all over of the different types of horses and ponies that have made places there homes. Some day most will be gone. Some might be protected now but the next generation may not see it that way as we ever expand our property lines.

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  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    I know this sounds crazy, but I would love to experience living in a wall tent like this for a year in all of the challenging seasons. I am not sure why it strikes me as so tempting since this girl lives in Florida! Perhaps I am suffering from a bit of delusional farm girl romance!! Hehehe!

  2. Karlyne says:

    Where do I make my reservation?!? Gorgeous romance, and only slightly delusional, as Winnie said!

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  1. Christina D #5572 says:

    That looks like it was taken from my back yard, last night the moon was so bright, it was beautiful, crisp and very cold. I love this time of year, I knit and sew and read and drink tea. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, until Spring when my work starts all over again.

  2. Terry Steinmetz says:

    How peaceful!

  3. Winnie Nielsen says:

    Wow! What a view!

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