Falling back

The beginning of Standard Time was marked this year in my garden with a biting rain that changed into a sideways fat-flaked snow. For most of the day bitter weather forced me to rest on the couch with a dog on my feet, a good book in my lap, and my hands wrapped around a cup of tea. Not the worst thing but I fretted a little about plants I should have moved inside already and that all the fall color and last flowers would be blown away. I shouldn’t have worried. The snow didn’t stick and didn’t destroy the nicotianas, and the wind didn’t separate the wine-red sourwood foliage from its branches. The salvias took it all on the chin too and when it comes right down to it, I don’t mind waiting to dig one or two of those plus the dahlias some nicer day.

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)Salvia guaranitica and Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah'Red velvet sage (Salvia confertiflora)Nicotiana 'Perfume Deep Purple' turned a bilious shade

And even though I shivered and complained I’m grateful for the fall back to winter and a snowy teaser. I want to enjoy the down season or at least take it as it comes. Says Louise Dickinson Rich in We Took to the Woods,

“In civilization we try to combat winter. We try to modify it so that we can continue to live the same sort of life that we live in summer. We plow the sidewalks so we can wear low shoes, and the roads so we can use cars. We heat every enclosed space and then, inadequately clad, dash quickly from one little pocket of hot air through a no-man’s land of cold to another. We fool around with sunlamps, trying to convince our skins it is really August, and we eat travel-worn spinach in an attempt to sell the same idea to our stomachs. Naturally, it doesn’t work very well. You can neither remodel nor ignore a thing as big as winter.”

Guess I’ll quit trying.

How did you spend the fall-back? Are you looking forward to winter? Do you usually bundle up and enjoy it or wish it were summer again?

Down to earth – It’s dream time

Originally published on January 23, 2013 in East Bay/South Coast Life

Insulted stipa
Insulted stipa

I know it’s too soon to be wishing for spring but when our first snowfall parked on my garden like a Mack truck and flattened everything standing, I suddenly lost patience with winter. Most of the seedheads that might have poked prettily out of the snow topped with hungry birds, crashed to the ground. Others are leaning like drunks. Now that the icy snow has melted off the golden tresses of the Miscanthus and Stipa grasses that I grow mainly for their winter looks, they remind me of a bad hair day after a really rough night. I guess I understand now why some people cut everything back in the fall. Why not if it isn’t going to be interesting over the winter after all?

I don’t really mean that. I’m just a little bitter. My garden, disheveled though it is, is still a bird magnet with plenty for them to eat. And if I squint, it’s winter-interesting enough. Certainly as much as a garden with naturalistic pretenses should be. It might look like it’s molting, but the light still stretches all the way across it to cast abstract-painting shadows. Frost still glitters like the holidays on stems, twigs and sideways seedheads. And it still pulls me outside when the weather isn’t awful [to smell the witch hazel if nothing else], which is a good thing because I need reminding that I have some serious dreaming to do before spring.

This is truly the only chance all year that we gardeners get to think long and hard about what we want to do differently in the garden without the danger of rashly trying to tackle those projects. And to do the kind of hard-core imagining that’s necessary, we need a great quantity of quality time to sit staring out of windows at a mind’s eye ideal vision of the garden, with books and magazines on our laps and a notebook by our sides. And we need to let loose. This is the time to dream big, as if money, labor and time weren’t obstacles. Reality comes later.

Every year I dream again about growing my own vegetables. This year feels a little different, though, because my chef is giving me cooking lessons and I have finally and fully embraced the awesomeness of kale. (The trick is to squeeze a tasty oily dressing into the raw leaves like wringing out a dishrag — no cooking involved. If it’s “massaging,” it’s the Swedish kind.) So I’m picturing a raised bed, slightly out of reach of the groundhog (who has previously killed my enthusiasm by eating my brassicas to nubs), planted with all my favorite veggies: leafy greens, Swiss chard, carrots and beets. I can picture a hoop frame over it covered in chicken wire to thwart the critters, and then what the British call “fleece” (we call it remay, which sounds less cozy) to keep mid-winter harvests from freezing.

One of my dream gardens on the cover of the August issue

I have gleaned other ideas (besides a more romantic vocabulary) from the pages of Gardens Illustrated. It’s a monthly British publication and by far the prettiest magazine in my lap stack. According to their wide-angle shots, wildly loose and thickly planted gardens like mine, which are not so rare in Europe, seem to benefit from a little crispness for contrast. And since I’m unlikely to faithfully maintain clipped topiary (a dream for another winter), I see my garden beds tidily edged against the lawn in flat stone wide enough (a good 18 to 24 inches would do) so that the plants can flop without getting under the wheels of the lawn mower. As luck would have it I’ve been allowed to lay claim to otherwise unwanted patio slates, which can potentially keep my garden from bleeding onto whatever’s left of the lawn — if I don’t use them up creating a gracious entry landing instead.

For the time being, while my garden is at its unloveliest, I’ll allow myself the luxury of imagining both and the raised vegetable bed, too. As long as the weather is too muddy, frigid, or foul for work, we gardeners should use the time wisely to ponder over our wish list instead and enjoy the thought that at least one of our garden dreams might rise to reality come spring.

Picture this January

black and white and flamingoI used to enter art competitions occasionally. I never had any particular ambition when it came to my paintings but got a little thrill out of showing them – whenever the work was accepted. (More often than not, it got the big R – but when you paint tiny, quiet things you get used to them not catching the juror’s eye.) I think I must have a little more ambition when it comes to writing – or for whatever reason, I’d rather write if I think someone somewhere might read it. (Thanks, you guys!) But I’ve resisted entering the various interweb and garden blogger competitions because 1. I don’t think it’s appropriate to compete from my work blog (in a very sideways way I get paid for doing that blog) and 2. here at home, I generally just don’t care enough.

Until now. I’m entering my ‘black and white and flamingo’ picture (already shown in my last post) in Gardening Gone Wild’s Picture This photo contest. Not because I care about winning but because I think it fits their winter-y criteria so perfectly I’d be a stupid-head not to try. And secretly, I get a little thrill out of showing it off again.

— This is not my garden. I took it on a dog walk at Juniper Hill Cemetery. Just to the right of the shot were graves incongruously decorated with flags (else they would have been included).

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…

Snow master

pulled to Juniper HillI like to think that, as a gardener, I get my workouts by actually working out.  This time of year though, I’m not out so much as in on the couch and I’ve only gotten my heart rate up occasionally by walking the dog.  Today I even worked up a sweat.  And it gave me an idea for …

The Trudge Mill™ – a Full Body Core Strengthening Exercise machine.  Step into knee high weighted boots one size (at least) too large.  The weight of the boots is adjustable to represent the depth and density of snow anywhere from a 4′ drift of fine powder to a 6″ deep wet slush.   A tension knob controls slip and slide offering a core balance workout with an option for unassisted, hands-free trudge or, for added challenge, an adjustable weight loop with random tug feature.  To achieve a full workout, wearing no less than 4 extra layers including balaclava is recommended.