Monthly Archives: March 2015

Cold Temperatures, Your Garden Companion

Officially, we have entered the spring season. In reality, it feels like we’re trapped in some overly long, painfully extended, forced office party for old man Winter that everyone wants to leave already. Unless you can afford the time and money to go somewhere warmer, you’re stuck. Because of this mindset, I find myself wavering between dark moods of grumpiness and impatience, and becoming disturbingly gleeful when the temps rise above freezing. It’s a disorder that affects most of us who want Spring to just GET here already, gardeners or not.

But Spring shows us signs of arrival, for those who can take the time to look for them. I’ve already spotted the valiant eruption of early spring crocuses and daffodils in front of my place, chiseling their brave little delicate stems through the half frozen ground with an incredibly gentle, undeniable pressure. The crocusestrees are full of swelling buds. Birds are chirping and flying all over the place and making nests in the bushes already. The life force required to do this is remarkable to me. Every spring I see it repeat, and every year I marvel at it. Please take the time to appreciate it, it’s quite a show being put on for your enjoyment, and you are missing it. Even the air itself smells sweeter and feels gentler on exposed skin. Not like winter’s blast of wind that tried its best to sandpaper your face off. The other day, I gently removed last fall’s leaves, used to mulch overwintering flowerbeds, and discovered a golden treasure of tender yellow daffodil stems. They will change to a strong vibrant green, in days. If you don’t look for it, you’ll miss the transformation. That rich green is a rare color now, surrounded by a sea of dull browns, and I relish looking at it the way a drowning person looks at a life preserver. White snowdrops are already out and looking good, they are the same color as the remaining snow that still lies next to them. Tiny yellow and purple Crocuses peep out at the sky. Another optimistic thought is that the overlong visit by cold temperatures gives us the gift of time to plan a garden for spring. Make yourself a cup of something warm, throw on a sweater, and dig out those garden books and catalogues that have been piling up in your mail since January. This is the perfect time to exercise those mental muscles before you give your physical ones a workout.

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Garden homework for this blog’s readers…think about certain meals you like to eat. I bet we can grow a lot of those ingredients around here. Got something in mind already? Congratulations, you just decided what you want to grow in your garden!

Next Blog- Why We Garden

Why We Garden

My initial burst of caffeinated energy culminates in a vigorous excavation of my behemoth of a gardening library, and all its related bits of non-bookish ephemera. These are good words to use when you’re talking about libraries, and gardens. On the negative side, my collection of knowledge may very well cave in my floor one day. On the plus side, it’s a really, really good way to insulate the place.

bookshelfThe cold weather still hasn’t left yet. With too much planning time on my hands, my garden plans get grander, and trickier, and more expensive. In reality, when setting up a garden plan, the simpler is better, and with better odds for success. This year I’m looking for a mix of both traditional flat gardening, and some vertical gardening as well. Working in rural, suburban and urban gardening environments, these are a good way to grow. Its also important to have a specific goal when putting in gardens, as each one has its own requirements for success and happiness.. It’s like dating, or having a spouse or kids. You’ve got to be COMMITTED to its success. Only when you learn more, does it seemingly become predictable, and easier. The constant relationship of gardener to garden, through effort and thought and touch will bring success.

After this particularly cold winter, I enjoyed this interruption from hibernation with greater enthusiasm then I had expected. I shouldn’t be surprised, I am already an obsessive garden junkie experiencing withdrawal from what I love, for months now. I’ve been denied contact, with healthy green growing life forms and piles of indiscernible, funkily perfumed compost and sharp edged metal implements designed to pierce and rend and obliterate. Don’t judge me too harshly, a gal’s gotta have a hobby. Some ladies get their nails or hair done. Some go shopping for lacy dainties. Some buy expensive cars, or dream of shopping for expensive cars. For me, getting covered in dirt and coaxing teeny tiny green life forms to poke their heads out of a previously rock hard environment, intolerant of obvious forms of life, gives me purpose, and makes me feel like a full on, kick-butt York County Pennsylvanian. William Penn used to garden. Native American Indians did too. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Ben Franklin, all got fed up with Winter’s cold wrath and said to themselves, every single overly cold spring of their lives, ‘Screw this, dude, I’m planting a garden.” It seems a very impulsive act of bravery to williamPenneven fathom this irrational behavior in the face of an insurmountable, oppressive season designed to kill everything it touches. I’m sure at times Betsy Ross used to put down her sewing kit and say to herself, “This flag can wait, my peas and spinach need planting. After that, the maters go in.” Gardening is an American past time, and everyone used to do it. Especially Pennsylvanians.

I have good roots backing up my obsession in gardening. Despite my base, dirty fingernails, I have an affinity with these same enlightened gentleman farmers who founded our nation. I don’t understand exactly why I love growing things. It goes beyond the obviousness of planting a crop for food. It’s rising to the challenge, I suppose, a struggle against unproductive spaces and wasted time spent on meaningless activities, and a purposeless existence that produces nothing of merit. Gardens have a purpose. It’s a noble effort, its a glorious, filthy, patient, mindless, compassionate, mental and physically challenging yet soothing therapeutic act all at the same time. Gardens save lives and money and improve both mind and body and spirit and teaches the beauty of labor and the purity of science and the morality of things in a world that increasingly seems to make little sense. A really impressive garden gives you bragging rights. You can always point to it and say to your neighbor “That’s right, I grew that 19 foot tall behemoth sunflower with the head the size of a Buick that threatens to collapse your roof if it falls on your house and smashes all your ephemera. Isn’t it awesome?” Or maybe you coax along a huge pumpkin rivaling the size of Mount Rushmore in your field or yard or fire escape that legally should qualify for a tax deduction since it took up so much of your attention and finances to grow. Water bills are pesky things, aren’t they? We will talk about making marvelous rain barrels later in the season and how much money you can save on your bills and you’ll discover how awesome a gardener you can be. Trust me, your greatness will shine forth in everything you grow. You will walk down your street and everyone will bow before you because of the magnificence of your lettuce and tomatoes that they saw growing in your yard, or patio bucket or window box. Don’t laugh, it could happen. Happens to me all the time. That’s why they gave me this blog to write. Ha!

Gardens need a caregiver and structure and risk-taking and imagination, and above all, bravery. Especially new gardens full of untamed soil and decades of debris. And even a seasoned gardener who thinks they know it all is in need of recharging and guidance once in awhile. So every early Spring I return to my trusted old friends, books. What I possess isn’t actually just a library, its more like an avalanche of voices and experiences, from gardeners who came before me, who grew despite of, and because of, droughts and floods and poverty. It’s fellow Gardener wisdom captured in books and torn out magazinesmallbookshelf articles and seed catalogues, advising on vaguely similar yet widely ranging subject matter, on all things relating to the practical and sensible, to magnificent fantasies concocted from chlorophyll and color and scent and soil. Buried among the books are my tiny time capsules of seeds, paper envelopes and plastic ziplocked relics of gardens past, hastily scribbled upon listing the year, or years ago, when harvested. These seeds, randomly collected from excursions to other gardens, or along nature walks, snatched off plants or scooped out of last years edibles, are gold to me. Random hand tools, visually flavored with a coating of honest soil, (hey, a gal cant clean ALL the time) shoved in among the books and garden bric-a-brac, that form my brain trust, share space with unearthed arrow heads, old marbles, occasional fossils, and barn yard ephemera. Old horseshoes, I discovered, are supposed to bring luck. In my next posting, Ill write about how much luck is needed to coax old seeds to sprout into life.

Next Blog: Discovering which old seeds are still good to sprout, planting what you love to eat, and growing something weird.