Turning Towards Spring

Photo by Gayla Trail

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.
Photo by Davin Risk

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.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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24 thoughts on “Turning Towards Spring

  1. just to let you know…there are two typos in your post (i do this only because i hope others will do this to me as well).
    If success is measured by achieving an intentional purpose then(from than) this has been…second sent.
    Someday (will) spring will come and those little plants…last para

    sorry…to pick…just wanted to let you know

  2. Thanks. I write these posts in the actual editor which I’ve got to stop doing… Word is much better. I can’t SEE anything and always have to make changes after posting.

  3. Gayla,

    That is all great survive-the-final-months-of-winter advice!

    Fearing that winter may crush my spirit permanently one of these years, I was proactive this summer and built myself a greenhouse. Now I am surrounded by seedlings and flowers in a greenhouse surounded by snow and wind. I win, winter loses.

    Armed with this newfound power over winter’s might, I go out in subzero nights and stomp huge haikus in the snowy hills at the side of the highway… to share the promise of Spring… Last night I wrote/stomped (okay, so it isn’t a book) a “hiwaiku” (hi-way haiku) beside one of the busiest highways in Toronto. Each letter was about 12 feet (3-4 metres high) and the entire hiwaiku was about as big as a basketball court or larger. If you’re not hopping a fence, the police won’t bother you. I know, because last night a cop stopped and told me so. Here t’is…

    icy snow soon melts
    finally a sunny spring
    practice smiling now

    Now imagine even the grumpiest driver trying to frown after reading that. Ha. See http://www.snoetry.org for the basic concept. My website is only a temp main page right now. Send me pics or send me a link to a page of pics if you chose to create your own “snoetry”.


    P.S. Also, get out to visit friends, but be sure to bring them a small spring-flowering plant… or two… or three. How many? You should be able to tell when you talk to them on the phone exactly how many they will need.

  4. Gayla, I’m not a very experienced gardener and I was wondering if you could answer I question of mine. When you plant in pots, do you have to replace the soil from year to year? Or can you add compost and manure to it each year like you would if planting in the ground?

  5. brilliant re-use of the clementines box! it’s much cuter-looking than the take-out containers i have mine in, and the high sides are sturdier.

    watching seeds grow has been my favorite pasttime for the latter half of this month. it’s really amazing!

  6. Gayla,
    You have put to words, how I have been feeling. I am tired of winter also, therefore have bought a bag of potting soil and planted four cans of herbs and two tomato cans with yellow and red tomatoes, I patiently wait until the afternoon and then peek at the little bits of green that are starting to poke through. My kitchen window is south east facing, so all morning I get sun so by afternoon, it’s a pretty cozy place to stand and look at seedlings.

    I still have another month before I can start my seeds for my garden, but to play in dirt and watch things grow is my cure for the February Blues……….

  7. I forget how lucy i am with australian winters- the growing season never really stops- it just slows. During the midst of winter we can have sweet peas growing and lettuces in tubs still alive. You make me feel so lucky :)

  8. A friend gave me a Martha Stewart-Spring Gardening DVD for my birthday recently, and I made the mistake of watching it during our ice storm Friday. It was a mistake, I was stir-crazy by the time I was halfway through it, wanting to go out and PLANT PEAS!! MUST PLANT PEAS NOW!! Too funny. But I do have some kale and romaine lettuce seedlings coming up and just planted some Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomatoes. I can’t wait…

  9. I got a suntan working in the garden yesterday in Vancouver:o) It is supposed to rain for the next couple of days, but 13 degrees yesterday was great!

  10. thanks for the seed starting chart! Love your blog BTW. I’m in Montreal and so relate to your blog today! We’re expecting 20 cm more in the next 24 hours.

  11. Hi Gayla,
    Got your book today (finally!) and can’t wait to go through it all. I’ve got seedlings in the brain!…trying patiently until the small “cold snaps” are over over here in Philadelphia!

  12. Hi Gayla! My sentiments exactly! Even here in Austin we are still about a month away from our last frost date and I am chomping at the bit to get stuff out and into the veggie patches. I have all my seeds planted in flats, waiting patiently in a sunny room. I have to get out this weekend and plant the peas since it’s now warm enough…The anticipation is just too much this time of year, especially when you look back at the photos from last year and just want it all back right now! Have fun with your seeds…which variety of bean are you holding in the photo? Thanks!!! :)

  13. Oh, thank you for this.

    Just today, I started daydreaming about planting seeds and what a hopeful act it is and how it might be the thing that saves from from awful Midwestern March.

    I have just a small back porch (6×7-ish?) that doesn’t get much sun (2-4 hrs in summer). I’ve tried tomatoes in the past, and I felt so much pity for them.

    What seeds could I plant with the hope of transferring them to my non-sunny urban porch?

  14. Oh yes, I’ve been feeling the itch the past few weeks as well. I’ve decided that today (okay, maybe tomorrow) is the day to start my seeds.

    You’re definitely right about one thing – these indoor plants could definitely use a repotting.

  15. I started seeds almost a month ago here in northern Georgia and just got the horrible news that there will be no community garden this year because of the drought! Now I have happy little pea, tomato, kale, and broccoli seedlings on my windowsill and am trying to figure out a plan B with pots outside the front door…

  16. Megan: Greens (aka lettuces, arugula, mizuna, etc) will work. Mint (there are tons of varieties and flavours), sorrel, lemon balm, garlic chives, coriander, parsley, pansy and viola. You can try leaf greens like swiss chard and kale although they will likely stay smaller due to lack of light.

    kelly j: You could do all of those in containers. The tomatoes will need larger containers depending on the variety and regardless of size should be limited to one plant per container.

  17. I live in California (zone 9) so I feel so fortunate that we basically can garden year round. But this year I’m so excited, we’re moving to the wine country (longtime dream) and I have a new huge garden with lots of compost from the horses :) I can’t wait. I’ve already over ordered on seeds.

    I do sort of a modified square foot gardening method but this year I’m going all out, veggies, cutting garden, heirlooms, etc. We’re going to be “in the country” (far from town) so I really want to be able to produce most of our veggies and some fruits.

    We’ll be on the central coast so I’m also planning on an avocado tree, yum! :)

  18. I love your website and like everyone else, can’t wait for spring. I keep telling myself, every day that goes by is one day closer to spring.

    Sorry to pick, but dull drums is actually doldrums.

  19. Oh man, I can’t stand winter. We’ve had a few warm days here, and now I’m really excited about planting everything I can get my hands on. It’s gotten warm here (in Philadelphia) a little too early, we usually get a couple of cold days in April, and it might get cold again, but I just can’t wait. I’ve been trying everything to resist jumping the gun. I started tomatoes and herbs inside, a couple of flowers too, and I have some leafy greens planted on the roof, but I’m scared that it’s still too early. It’s getting so warm right now, but everything could freeze in a week again. Still, I’m so glad that the worst of winter finally broke.

  20. Another thing I find that really keeps me going in the winter is making excessive amounts of cat grass for my two cats. It’s simple, fast, and my cats can never get enough. I’ve also heard that this stuff is really good for their digestive systems. And the satisfaction of seeing the little green tops pop through the soil is the best part!

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