Published on March 14th, 2012 | by Glenn Meyers1
Architecture, Not Toil: Labor & Philosophy for Winter Gardeners
It is only half the way through March after a February of winter in Colorado. Forecasters still predict blizzards for the mountains. But in an enthusiastic burst, I turned over soil last weekend I’d neglected last autumn. All was uplifting work until I hit the area still shaded on the north side of the fence in the back yard – solid ICE.
Great Aunt Katherine used to tell me I’d meet people who succeeded at what they did only because of their contrary natures. The gardener’s the exception, called upon to bring to the table patience, tenacity, the daring of a scientist, and a very practical side that understands everything there is to know about the tincture of time.
So I quit at the icy end of my yard, avoiding a premature rash of blisters. Satisfied I’d stirred part of my garden from its slumber back to consciousness, giving it the rich look of fresh-turned soil, I took myself inside the house where I could dig in my imagination.
Sunk in my chair, I begin designing how my garden should appear in its first year of this new year. Now was a time for architecture, not for toil. Did I really care for all of those asters dominating the south flank of the garden, had I really picked the best place to give Ilise her rose garden, and now that my dog had dismembered the Boston Ivy I planted because he found the sticks they grew on interesting, what was my plan for an encore?
For those so disposed, now is the time to become chief architect and chef, to choreograph where the butterflies shall dance, plus where ants are and aren’t allowed. So I don’t become a complete slave to my imagination, now is also the time to ask how much do I really want to work at parenting my creations? Do I have one hour a week of hard work, assuming I don’t have Chauncey, the gardener? Or have I sentenced myself to 20 hours a week at hard labor, with never a spare moment to sit on the beautiful bench I bought for contemplation?
“A simple gallon-sized pickle jar affords the possibility of a superb mess. I put mud in the bottom, add water, and raise water lilies.”
Henry Mitchell, One Man’s Garden
The practical side of the garden life
It may be too early to plant, if you look a little you should find plenty to do. Aunt Katherine always did. Call it tinkering or whatever else you wish, the work feels uplifting and useful.
Making your beds. Where the ground is not frozen, turn the soil. Six to ten inches should do. Just stay always from the bulbs. Many daffodils and tulips might already be sending up shoots that will be damaged by a shovel or a rake.
Clean, but be prudent. If leaves are covering iris and daffodil areas, leave them alone for now. Remember, more cold weather will come. The leaf covering still protects from late or severe freezes. Don’t even think about removing most leaves until April. On the other hand, clean up your lawns and remove all those leaves.
Watering your wonderland. It needs it. It’s been a dry winter. Go out and check for damage. If you see brown tips on your evergreens, turn on the water and keep it running for a deep watering. Your deciduous trees will be particularly thirsty.
Invite your dirt to dinner. When the turning work is complete, feed your dirt. Add one inch of organic matter such as mulch or peat moss.
Remember the great indoors for now. If you’re the type that likes to plant indoors, break out the egg cartons. Get your planting containers ready with dirt. Beside them, place this year’s pick of annuals, vegetables and herbs. Enjoy experimenting. Don’t plant quite yet, but you’re getting close.
No barbering work quite yet. You may be thinking about pruning, but it’s still too early. Remember what those late freezes can do.
Wake up the tool shed. Get you gardening tools ready. Sharpen the blades and hone the edges of shovels and spades. In fact, clean everything. The sharper and cleaner a tool looks when I put it in my hands, the more inspiration I have to toil.
A carpenter needs a blueprint. It helps gardeners, too. We always want to try new things. If you haven’t planned for them, though, you’ll probably have a disappointment or two. Besides, the good weather won’t hold all the way until May. Plan for good days inside with pencils, a tape measure, graph paper, resource books, and a good eraser.