Archive for January, 2018

December: New spaces

4. December 2016
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

One of the things that I have found most difficult about living alone for the first time in my life, is how lonely it gets, and how boring it is to be lonely. It’s especially trying in mid-winter, when the days are short, because you really do feel cut off from the world when it’s dark out.

When I was first alone, I spent hours and hours walking. From February 2013 until summer of 2015, I walked.

3 miles, 5 miles, 10? I don’t know. I walked for hours. I walked places that aren’t actually walking distance. I walked in the rain, the heat, the dark, composing haiku in my head. Once I talked a friend into walking along the lakefront in a blizzard, until the stinging blowing sand drove us back inland.

Walking was a way to not be in the empty house, but it turns out that exercise spurs endorphin release, and can help stabilize your mood by raising the level of neurotransmitters in the brain. There are even therapists who use “Walk and Talk” therapy–literally taking the session onto the park path–instead of in an office, or passively on a couch.

But here, getting used to a new house after the clocks changed, it was too dark to walk, too early in the day.

12- (4) DecemberI spent a lot of time sitting in the window, looking at the snowy neighborhood, illuminated by the old-fashioned streetlight. And did what gardeners do: planned the garden for the spring.

Garden planning for new spaces requires an understanding of the space; for instance, I lost plants due to the weight of shoveled snow. I’d planted them right where the snow had to be piled. These are the things that you just don’t know about a new space. I propped one of them up, placing Christmas tree branches under my pile-vulnerable lavender, but the others were broken and didn’t survive.

I mapped out the plants I had brought with me, and staged in random corners. I planned what to buy of those plants I had to leave behind.

I didn’t bring the rosemary from my old garden. Everyone tries to overwinter rosemary indoors, but it never works. Rosemary needs humid air and dry soil, pretty much the exact opposite of a Chicago winter interior. Even the breezeway is likely too cold and dry. I’ve seen overwintered rosemary so I know it can happen, but it seems like asking to be depressed about killing a plant. So just let the winter kill it outside, and start with a baby in the spring, in honor of the god who dies in December and is reborn.

12- (4a) December

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December: Growing

3. December 2016
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

The deep midwinter, with its snow and bitter cold, came early this year. I fussed with the placement of the houseplants, moving furniture so that the Red Star, geranium and bay laurel could get more sun.

Heavy snow hit mid-month and stayed on the ground through Christmas, then disappeared for pretty much the rest of the winter. A couple of bushes planted too close to the driveway got crushed under its shoveled weight—you just don’t know a new garden well enough to judge where to put things. The plants will suffer for it. (A metaphor, forsooth!)

On the other hand, halfway into the winter, the houseplants were thriving.

Houseplants are generally tropical and semi-tropical understory plants (as well as cacti and succulents). They work indoors because they tolerate low light, dry air, overwatering, and poor soil. They’ll tolerate a certain level of neglect, but usually when people kill houseplants it’s less because of neglect than of inconsistent care. Thinking that, since they haven’t watered in two weeks (oops), the solution is to now give the plant constant water several times a day. People alternately starve and drown the poor things. (Protip—under watering is better than overwatering, and watering from the base—by filling from the undertray—is best, as the plant won’t take up water it doesn’t need.)

I used to attempt to bring huge swaths of the garden inside for the winter, potting up not just tender exotics, but even annuals and some of my perennials. I’m pretty sure I ended up on the houseplants’ Most Wanted List, as the vast bulk of them would die before spring. Now I just bring in a couple of proven favorites (proven by not dying), and accept that there are plant-free months in my life.

Most of the houseplants from the old place survived the move. My inchplants just took off in the old garden last year, and retained their lushness indoors, although one of them didn’t survive the move back out in the spring. These plants like low light, which helps, although they also like really wet feet, usually the kiss of death for houseplants.

I cut back my geranium and rooted the stems, creating three plants. If you read ahead a few chapters (once I write them anyway), you’ll see me pot them up together in one of the larger ceramic pots. Once outside in the summer, it bloomed continuously for months, which it hadn’t done in the past.

The 10-year old cordyline Red Star (which sadly ended up dying in the unseasonal early summer heat) put on new growth through the winter, which is unusual for this plant. It’s usually pretty dormant inside. The bay laurel started bright and healthy, but not growing, and eventually dried out. I pinched it way back and brought it back to life. I think it needs more light than it gets inside here, though.

I need a greenhouse window in the kitchen, like in the old place.

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December: Waiting

2. December 2016
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

December passes in frustrating boredom for northern tier gardeners. Even in the warmest years the sun will sink, the air will chill, and the ground will freeze solid. You have to come in from the cold. Not even climate change can fight planetary motion.

As the winter wears on, one’s gardening chops get itchy, and you start to think about things like winter sowing, a seductive waste of time that involves making tiny greenhouses out of old milk cartons or pop bottles. Supposedly a season-extender, I’ve found that seeds planted this way just sprout when they would have sprouted in the ground. I think northern Illinois winter and spring are just too variable for winter sowing.

Almost ten years ago, I learned of a tradition called “Solstice Sowing.” It’s a midwinter planting to honor different aspects of your life—seeds for Remembrance, Faith, Life, and a tree seed for longevity. In past years, for remembrance I’ve planted Columbine (Aquilegia) and Angelonia. Columbine, because of its whimsical, star-shaped bloom, is sometimes associated with innocence and jest, but also with faith and remembrance. Also known as “Mary’s Shoes” they supposedly sprung from the fallen shoes of the Virgin upon her visit to Elizabeth.

I’ve planted Angelonia, a flower related to lavender. It really has nothing to do with remembrance, but I like the flower, and I had the seeds.

For faith I’ve planted mustard, of course, and other greens. They have the advantage of being useful, as well, and are seedlings that can be put out as soon as the ground is friable.

I planted anemone one year on the death of my aunt-by-marriage. Anemones are the flowers that some say spring from the blood of the dead god, and others from the tears of the goddess who mourns him.

Seeds for Life have been Chinese Lanterns as well as sunflowers. The Chinese Lanterns never come up, not a very good omen. But sunflowers are a wonderful symbol of the life-giving sun that they are named for.

Some years I do plant tree seeds—I tried paw-paws one year, and a cutting from my Magnolia (which sadly didn’t make it—I wish I had that now). This first year in the new house instead of planting a tree, I put up a Christmas tree for the first time in years—the breezeway fairly screams for one, so I decided to honor the call. It stayed up only for the 12 Days, but I left lighted garlands on the windows all the way to the Equinox.

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December: On winter

December 2016
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

12- (1) December

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