Common Ground – February


“In winter’s tedious nights sit by the fire…”


Looking at my garden notes from last spring I see that the tops of the bulbs on the warm west side of the house were showing on February 25. That cheered me up somewhat. A lot of fireside sitting has been going on here as well as trying to calculate how far away spring is exactly.

Having a forest of indoor plants helps a bit.

A trailing rosemary is in full bloom with masses of tiny purple flowers. I have never had much success with keeping the upright forms of rosemary over the winter. But the trailing form seems very happy flowering away on my kitchen table.

A tiny echeveria that was a cash register impulse buy last summer is about to bloom. I picked it up since I like any and all succulents and its otherworldly pale blue colour appealed to me. Its companion, a bigger example of the same species, bloomed for weeks last summer on the front porch. I saw hummingbirds visit it every day.

The winter garden of our imagination is of course perfect. That’s one of the advantages of our long Canadian winter. The real thing when we finally get there won’t live up to the gardens we have built up in our minds.

So with dreaming in mind, many seed catalogues are spread about the place along with many lists to go along with them. Eventually the much too long wish lists will get trimmed down to something more practical and sensible.

But this is still the depths of winter and I don’t have to be sensible quite yet. So we will leave some of my more outrageous possibilities unchallenged for the time being.

As well as many hours spent poring over seed catalogues, rereading some favourite books helps me survive the winter. I recently reread We Took To The Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich. This is a classic in the back to the land genre and describes the author’s life in an isolated cabin in the backwoods of Maine. It first came out in 1942 and was hugely popular. Possibly people needed a positive story during the war. I have several copies including one that belonged to my mother.

Parts of this book read like they were written yesterday. She complains about how commercial Christmas had become… My favourite part of this book, though, is her assertion that a person should only be afraid of two things when living in the bush. The first is fire and the second is the possibility of doing something stupid. Good timeless advice I think.

Also recently read and enjoyed is Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013). This one was new to me and I really enjoyed it and even learned a few things. She writes about a natural phenomenon I have noticed surrounding my gardens in the fall: the complementary colours of the asters and goldenrod. I have always noticed this and thought that nature provided it to keep gardeners humble. She also gives a clear explanation of nitrogen fixing by the roots of plants. And she provides an interesting indigenous perspective on the study of botany, science and the natural environment.

I have never had much use for those books that want us to build all sorts of architectural features so that the garden supposedly looks better in winter. I don’t think any of these features help when one has cabin fever and is tired of snow and cold. What does help a little is counting the days until spring. And I for one have started my countdown.

By Jill Williams

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