Down to earth – hope springs

Originally published in East Bay/South Coast Life on March 13, 2013, a good week and a half after my first day back in the garden. Not that I have gotten much done yet. If only it would stop snowing. Another freaking “wintery mix” is forecast for this week. I’ve done all the damage (i.e. spent all the money) I can possibly do inside. 

I am desperate to get back out in the garden. This time last year I lamented about not getting a proper winter break. This year, the opposite. Maybe gardeners are never content. But I’m pretty sure that nothing would make me happier right now than to spend one non-rainy, non-snowy, calm-wind weekend day outside. I can’t wait for the pleasure of composting fallen stems, digging out more lawn, laying flagstone paths, whacking the butterfly bush back down (almost) to the ground, and worrying over exactly how much to prune from my gangly Black Lace elderberry. If I can’t get out to do that stuff soon, I might go mad. Or to the mall, which in my book is a little bit the same thing.

I have tried very hard over the last few weeks to use my gotta-garden energy productively indoors. Reorganizing the kitchen cupboards felt something like weeding. Browsing pillows and picture frames was not unlike plant shopping (though less gratifying because once they’re planted on couches and walls they don’t grow anything but dusty.) And a drab room repainted a vivid shade of raspberry fills my eyes like a hot August dahlia up close.

So I’m very glad that it’s finally March because regardless of the vagaries of weekend weather, a New Year has (re)turned and I’m confident that it won’t be long now before I’ll be losing track of time in the garden again. Hope springs and everything starts this month. The birds at my feeder are already singing love songs. Are the redwing blackbirds back yet? If not, they will be soon, along with osprey, killdeer, and the robins (who have been here all along). And sometime, usually towards the end of the month, the spring peepers, tiny frogs about the size of a quarter, will come out of hibernation from under logs and behind loose tree bark along marshes and ponds to trill their little throats out from evening into night. Noting these signs of spring in a perpetual calendar or notebook—and competing with friends and family for first sighting/hearing every year—will keep you vigilant, if not patient.

arugula seedlings germinated in 4 days.And this month, whenever the weather forces us back inside, there is some actual indoor gardening to do. Usually I’m delighted enough by the thousands of seeds sown by some of my favorite volunteers in the Blithewold greenhouse that I don’t feel compelled to fill my own windowsills with starts. But this year I’m looking forward to watching my own plants, destined for my own garden, spring like hope itself from tiny packages of dormant DNA.

I’m determined to grow more vegetables, so the first seeds I’ll sow will be artichokes. Some gardeners are surprised to see them producing outside of California, but the only requirement that sets these tender perennials apart from other veg is two or more weeks of chill temperatures (40s-50s) after germination to trick them into thinking they’ve overwintered. (Like biennials, they usually wait to bloom until their second year. And of course, the bloom—in bud—is the delicacy.)  But check the seed package: some promise to flower the first year without cold-temperature trickery.

Along with artichokes I intend to sow packs of lettuces, arugula, beets, kale, and radishes because they’re cool season crops and delicious as seedlings. The name “microgreens” doesn’t do them justice… By the time they germinate and I pluck them for a dinner salad, it will be high time (mid-April-ish) to sow seeds for plants that will actually make it into the ground. But of course by then we should all be spending whole glorious, soft, and sunshiny days outside in the garden. Hope springs. Happy New Year!

New Year’s Day reflection

I don’t like to do the whole New Year’s resolution thing. Every time I’ve resolved to learn French or go back to yoga regularly I’ve failed to follow through. So I resolve to remain unresolved this year in order to avoid inevitable disappointment and self-loathing. But I do feel the need to mark the passage of time somehow. A look back at the accomplishments (and disappointments) of the past year on a lazy winter day seems like just what to do.

I spent so much time at my desk this past year and comparatively little time keeping the garden coifed that it rarely looked up to snuff photo-op-wise. But it had some moments. A few vignettes now and then that I kind of liked. And some plants that held their own in a sea of disarray, weeds, and seldom-mown lawn.

Tetrapanax paperifer combo with a pigeon planterVariegated stachytarpheta (porterweed) on our deckAnemone tomentosa 'Robustissima'sideyard plume poppies, hydrangea, ninebark, and flowering raspberrygarlic chives and Z's bughouseKniphofia 'Green Jade' maybe?

I have higher hopes for my garden this year. I should have plenty of time to devote to it again and I have a truckload or two of free patio slates to play with so at the very least there should be less lawn to mow eventually. But we’re also considering residing the house (which will have to be completed in stages as time and finances allow) and it looks like a sizable chunk of the front garden might get smashed, trampled and dug up to repair an underground water leak. So who knows. Maybe I’ll keep the backyard extra tidy and let my neighbors wonder what the heck is up in front.

What’s in the works for your garden this year? Do you think you’ll get to spend more time in it or less?

A whole ‘nother year

the sideyard with shed. It always looks extra cool in the snow. I’ve been wondering lately about the blog and my apparent abandonment of it. I like having it, at least in theory, as a sort of record of (a)musings about the garden. I just looked back at last year’s new years post and can say now with some certainty that my resolutions. as per usual, came to a fair amount of naught. But I like being able to look back on my intentions. It’s good to remember that I had intentions.

I have intentions this year too. Some of them are the very same. I still haven’t painted the shed. And I will. Probably. Sometime. I should. (I shed, even.) But I feel a shift this year to the front of the house. I don’t like what I see in front. Part of that is, when I walk or drive up to it, I see the house itself and it’s a “mid-century” ranch (I love that that’s the description given in the NY Times for ugly things built in the 50’s-60’s. “Mid-century” makes it seem so vintage-cool.), sheathed in white vinyl with red plastic shutters. So some of what’s got to change is a little beyond my ken. But we discovered a leak in the ol’ roof and since Z will have to take a week off in spring to re-roof, he agreed to also think about re-siding, starting with the front, around the same time. And I will think about paint colors if weathered shingles, à la Nantucket, are beyond our means. I’m leaning towards dark black-ish, but can anyone steer me in a more colorful direction?

As far as the front-yard garden goes, I intend to open it back up after having closed it with ginormous plants (remember the crazy-ass grass?). The Mimosa tree (which is, in fact, dead) will come down (hopefully soon) and I’ll make more garden in front that might include a sort of open area somewhere around the (tree) stump. I’m letting go of my front-porch desire. We just can’t do that yet. And I’m thinking of jumping on the veg bandwagon after all. The more I think about food, the more I want to grow it myself and if I do that – order seeds and everything (beets!) – the food will have to live cheek-by-jowl with the ornamentals, front and back.

It's not all black and whiteAs far as the blog goes, I’d like to keep doing it too. Part of my hang up is pictures. I love the pictures I take at work. I don’t always love the ones I take away from work and so I don’t post them. And then don’t post anything. Will it it be possible to have a garden blog without any pictures? Should I even attempt such a creature? I’m not sure yet. But it’s another whole year, I have a gin martini in my paw, and anything goes right now, so we’ll see. (And meanwhile we had snow, so I have some pictures.)

Are you giving everything an annual new year’s re-think too? Happy Happy, by the way! And thanks for keeping this little link on check list…

A small hope for the new year

Zeke and Nino in the snow gardenI’ve taken a lot of photos at work that I’m inordinately proud of but I’ve taken very few of my own garden that I like at all.  The only reason I’ve saved any of them is to, optimistically, use as “before”s.  There’s always some flaw in a wide angle shot that makes me cringe – things that can be overlooked except through a lens – a giant invasive weed, a plant in the wrong place, an expanse of lawn.  But during the snow storm on New Year’s eve, I took some pictures of Zeke and Nino cavorting in a corner of the garden, and not only do I love the pictures for the subject (pure joy), but I think they’re the best pictures I’ve ever taken of the garden itself.  (I admit to adjusting the exposure and levels slightly – ok, a lot.)

we all love snowI like that the bright whiteness of the shed doesn’t make it stick out like a thumb.  I like that the caryopteris is a graceful sculpture that doesn’t appear to be sitting on top of the lavenders or anything else in that bed.  There’s a hint that I like of permanence, structure and summer shade in the tree branches.  And I love that the lumpy, thistleful crab-grass lawn doesn’t exist at all.

My hope is – and I guess it’s a bit of a new year’s resolution (I had previously resolved to not be resolute) – that I will take another picture of that corner of the garden – or any other corner for that matter – that I like as well when it’s not obliterated by snow.  I’m saying it out loud and that means I’ve got to get busy.  To turn the garden from a cringe inducing embarrassment into something I’m proud to photograph will take paint (before the dogwood and lilac bloom and leaf out), planting – a lot of planting, editing and time.  But the snow has shown me the potential for proud and I resolve to do it.

full speed ahead

Have you made any new year’s resolutions – inadvertantly or otherwise?