Sunday, January 17, 2016

Recharging in the cold

Like most gardeners, I get a break in the month of January and February to rest and recharge just as my garden does (although this year is going to be a little peculiar, what with my tulips pushing up and my rhubarb sprouting flower stalks in January.) And during this time I gorge on gardening books, magazines and catalogs and attend gardening lectures and symposiums. This satieties my soul the way pea soup and cornbread carries you through a wet and cold January afternoon.

As I work constantly through the gardening year, I rarely have a chance to go on all the garden tours and open houses other plantaholics flock to, so my visiting of other people gardens happens in a darkened room on a stiff seat facing a screen. I have been to Europe with Charlotte Moss, watched Arne Maynard demonstrate his thoughts on various sites’ vernacular and seen Jinny Blom, Sarah Price and Penelope Hobhouse discuss how frustrating it is to be a woman in the garden design field and have it assumed that men helped create their designs.  

Last week I drooled over Debra Nivens plant palette in California and exulted in the way she planted new plane trees all askew and leaning to match the existing ones on the site she was redesigning. Over the next month I will be making the drive to the New York Botanic Garden three times to hear three different Chelsea Garden Show winners talk about the idiosyncrasies of their personal design processes. And I’ll also be dropping in at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in a few weeks to join Thomas Rainer and Claudia West as they speak about their new book, Planting in a Post-Wild World.This is one of my favorite parts of the winter. The learning. I set up Pinterest pages on plants I must have and voraciously consume blogs as if just struck with the gardening bug.  I fold over the pages of various catalogues and write next to entries phrases such as “Need 30.” “Yes!!!” “Finally.” And, “for under the magnolia grove.” When I feed my brain by finally chewing my way through the enormous piles of gardening books and magazines that have sprung up (more hoarder like then fairy ring I’m afraid) around the house I get excited about the possibilities and promise of the back 40 -- one of the Pinterest pages is actually called “the Back 40’ – and think about how I can reinvent the garden.

Sometimes this kind of thing is dangerous. Last year’s massive perennial plug purchase came about because I read too many books on the new perennial planting style and went to a lecture by North Wind Perennial Farm founder Roy Diblik. Another year I found myself buried in an avalanche of flower seed packages (with no greenhouse or even a sunny windowsill to start them in) after discovering various flower farmer blogs. Occasionally it’s depressing when I compare my failure of a vegetable garden (weeds hidden by self-seeded verbena bonariensis that have swallowed up the cucumbers and shaded out the haricot vert) to the ones up there on those screens in those darkened rooms.

I have twice had to delete a tab on Safari so that I don’t go through with yet another order for dahlias. And I have a basket of leftover seeds in the basement that are calling my name desperately and begging me not to order any others before trying them first. But that’s the whole fun, really. This time of being inspired, of dreaming about possibilities and change or total unfettered learning, it’s how I restore myself.

I do yoga everyday, eat only healthy, wholesome food and mainline horticultural information.  I have learned all about Crimson Crush blight resistant tomatoes that for the moment are available only in the UK. I will be growing the Madame Butterfly snapdragons as soon as I have a way to start them in a sheltered area eight weeks before the late frost as their double flowers are not only gorgeous, but supposedly harder for insects to pollinate so longer lasting as a flower. That martagon lilies need lime and need to be ordered in June at the latest if you want to be able to get any to plant in the fall and that you can find the best deals in Canada (I have put a note in my calendar for this years’ purchase. ) I have absorbed the plant names for an easy maintenance garden and reengaged with Sissinghurst through Vita’s brilliant words once again. I have IV drip lines hooked up to  both Margaret Roach’s and Nancy Ondra’ blogs.  I’m reading every book Carol Klein has ever written and winter is flying by.

The other day it was 12 degrees when I woke up so I dragged the waiting pine needle bales over to mulch the artichokes which hadn’t truly died down yet and so couldn’t be mulched.  The ground was frozen so I covered them up but there were still some silvery grey green foliage that looked unfrozen. I know that if I cover them too soon, they push up under the mulch and rot, but this weeks looks like it’s going to be cold enough, finely for them to get some rest. Me, I loathe the cold. Just  dragging the pine needle bags to the garden and spreading them challenged the tips of my fingers and my ears. As we all know, I detest winter,  and still wonder why I didn’t stay put in Seattle when I had the chance, but I am learning to be grateful for this pause. And although I miss my garden and the comfort it gives me to walk through it at all hours and poke in the soil, pulling a weed or two or breaking off a handful of flowers, I am filled with excitement and anticipation about what my upcoming darkened room learning will inspire.

Paige Patterson will confess to having made some of her fantasy purchases this winter, she just won’t admit to which ones.