My favourite type of grape hyacinth is currently blooming.
This is what it’s looking like around here these days. Although, in all honesty, I took this photo in April 2004 so technically this is what it was looking like at this time four years ago. Which looks very much like right now.
I’m writing this post today for all of you out there, who like me, have hit the cold, hard wall of Winter head-first. If success is measured by achieving an intentional purpose then this has been one of the most successful winters in years. There has been snow, and lots of it. It has been cold. Very cold. The winter dull drums started to creep in under my skin about a week ago and now I’m at that can’t-take-another-minute phase. So I’ve been thinking, What can gardeners like myself do to lift ourselves out of a Winter funk and turn our eyes towards a Spring that is still so far out of reach and buried under a dirty, blackened with exhaust and dog feces snow pile?
- Reflections – The first thing I did was turn to my own book. I wrote about this very topic once. Of course, it was during the summer months when I was blissed out on sunshine and fresh produce. What did I know about winter hardship then? Huh? The first suggestion I gave was to enjoy the time away from the garden to reflect on last year’s experiences and dream about what is to come. Great idea except I’ve been riding that horse for a couple of months now. I like quiet time in a comfy chair with a warm beverage but to be honest I’m kind of over it right already. Take the snow away! Give me green!
- Visit a Greenhouse – The urge to get inside a greenhouse comes on me like clockwork at this time every year. Go on the first sunny day that comes up (if you get one). Bring a camera, or in my case four. I find that taking pictures helps me to focus on the smaller details, get wrapped up in the plants, and forget about winter. A couple of hours with living things in even the lousiest greenhouse and you’ll be a little bit more prepared to face it. Most largish cities have a public greenhouse. I’d lived in Toronto for many years before I discovered that Allan Gardens Conservatory is open to the public and free. When in doubt ask around.
- Force Winter Blooms – You need colour! Forcing colourful blooms indoors is literally as simple as cutting a few branches and sticking them in water. If you don’t have trees you can always ask around or try your local floral shop. Some stores have caught on and sell locally-supplied branches at this time of year. You can also try forcing bulbs like hyacinth and paperwhites if branches aren’t an option.
- Get Fussy with Your House Plants – Most of us probably have a house plant or two or fifty brightening up our living spaces. I’ll admit that at this time of year the general day-to-day maintenance of my indoor garden becomes a robotic routine. My time with these plants just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. This is the perfect time to spend a couple of hours doing a big overhaul. Your indoor plants have probably been to hell and back over the course of the winter. With spring on the horizon it’s the perfect time to do a little repotting, pruning, and showering. The extra attention does wonders for the plants but always seems to give my own spirits a huge boost too.
- Focus on Seeds – To begin, look through catalogues, look online, make lists, talk to others about what they are growing this year. Wait, you’ve already done that? Yeah, me too. The next step is to get some seeds. We are fortunate in this day and age to have so many options available whether we’re seeking to purchase or trade. You can buy some online, buy some from a local garden shop, trade with friends, trade online, trade through a local community group. Find out if there is a Seedy Saturday in your area. Join a larger seed exchange organization like Seeds of Diversity, Seed Savers, or Kokopelli.
Perhaps you’ve already acquired your seeds for this year’s crop. Pull them out. Look at them. Take some out of the package — I like the beauty and variety of beans for this best. Just looking at seeds makes for a minute or two of happy thoughts.
Now grow some. Tending to tiny seedlings as they emerge from the soil is a hopeful and optimistic activity that looks to the future. Someday spring will come and those little plants will turn into bigger plants and then they will go outside and suddenly it will be spring. We’re just on the cusp of seed-starting season in my area. However, it is not too early to get started with hot peppers, especially the habaneros which require a longer season than most. If you’re in a warmer region than your choices are likely greater than mine. Filling out a seed starting chart will put your options into perspective. You can also try growing a window box of greens. I like the Micro Greens ‘Spicy Mix’ from Botanical Interests because you can start harvesting them when they are not much more than sprouts.
Sitting down to write this, my first thoughts are to apologize for the slow down in updates recently. I consider writing to assure you that the slow down is merely a glitch in workload and I will not stop writing here during the winter season because gardening is a daily thing for me that does not stop it merely shifts with the seasons. While I’m at it I want to apologize for the header that still says “early Fall” when we all know it is proper Fall now. As I sit here a list of assorted lagging details run through my mind and I entertain the idea of apologizing for each one like something in the room that needs to be acknowledged before our relationship can move on. Or a clearing of my throat. “Ahem. Hi. Is this thing on?”
I wonder what it is about internet writing that brings that out? Is it the feeling of an informal and personable context? Is it the assumption that I am sitting down to speak directly to you and you back to me? When I sit down to write an article for a printed magazine I don’t think to begin with apologies and casual shout-outs. “So… Uh, sorry this is my first time writing for this magazine but you know how it goes, I had other stuff going on and insert excuse here. Before I kick this off I just want to say hey what’s up to so and so whom I met last week at such and such event.”
Okay, enough banter. Let’s talk about garlic.
I should preface these instructions by stating that I am not a garlic eater however I love to grow the plant. I think it is a beautiful plant worth growing regardless of personal taste, requires little effort to produce a good crop, is self-perpetuating (you can use this year’s harvest to produce next year’s crop) and it is especially useful as a pest repellent crop warding off insects like aphids and Japanese beetles. You can also crush garlic cloves in water and make an organic pest spray. Because garlic is easy to grow it also makes a good crop for trading with other food gardeners and friends.
I spotted bags of Colchicums, a fall-blooming bulb plant that looks a lot like crocus, while perusing the bulb section of my local garden shop a few weeks back. I’ve long admired the delicate alien beauty of ‘Naked Ladies’, aptly named for their stark, bare petals poking up through the soil. But what caught my eye on that day was that the text on bags of individually packaged bulbs advertised setting the bulb on a bare windowsill (no water tray, no spritzing, no nothing) rather than planting in-ground as a unique, but temporary houseplant. I’m always up for an experiment so I bought one large corm to keep out of the ground, at least temporarily, to see what would happen.