Common Ground


The spring comes slowly up this way,

       Slowly, slowly!

A little nearer every day.

– Katherine Tynan Hinkson –


Maybe a poem referring to spring is a bit optimistic considering that all outside is a blanket of ice and snow. A friend said to me recently that winter is the only time that the garden is perfection.

I’m not sure about perfection but I’m glad I fixed the wonky fence around the vegetable garden just before everything froze solid. It stands out now in stark relief against the snow.

At this time of year most of us are looking back on the year that was and ahead to the new year in front of us. January, after all, is named for the Roman god Janus who is usually shown with two faces looking to the past and to the future.

Looking back to the drought summer of 2016, I’m very glad that it’s behind us. So much heat and dryness made for impossible conditions in the garden. A lot of last summer was about garden triage; deciding what to save and what to let go.

This year, of course, will be better. I’m counting on it. I’m looking forward to seeing if the chipmunks have left me any tulips. If the tulips have been decimated as I fear, I have lots of November planted Crocus Fuscotinus to look forward to. These are small species crocus which bloom very early in the spring. They’re quite happy to be planted in the lawn where they will bloom year after year. As for the chipmunks, they don’t seem to like crocus. So far, anyway.

I also planted a miscellany of daffodils in late November. Faced with a large grass free area after moving a wood pile, I of course thought that a large grouping of Wordsworthian daffodils would look much better there. I was fortunate enough to come across a garden centre that still had masses of bulbs so late in the season. If all goes well, where once was a wood pile there will be a blast of orange and yellow in the spring.

Looking at this year’s seed catalogues one plant in particular jumped out at me. From the same family as edible rhubarb comes the ornamental Tanguticum Palmatum. This plant has giant red flowers and looks like rhubarb on steroids.

I have always resented the fact that we can’t grow Gunnera here as those lucky English and BC gardeners can. Gunnera is simply one of the most impressive plants in the go big or go home category. So I’m hoping that possibly this ornamental rhubarb will ease that resentment somewhat. Also in the same category for those of you who want to impress the neighbours is Crambe cordifolia. This plant has giant white flowers and huge glossy green leaves. If it’s happy it will grow five feet tall and as much across.

It is obvious to anyone who looks outside that we are having a real Canadian winter this year.

When I’ve had enough of the seed catalogues and there’s a Wuthering Heights blizzard outside I return to favourite gardening books. Everything by Anne Scott James, an English gardener and writer, amuses and informs me.

From her I learned that we can blame the Romans for all that dreadful topiary. In her book, The Pleasure Garden, she describes many different garden styles from ancient times to the present day. I also return to her books Down to Earth and The Cottage Garden for inspiration year after year.

I only ever want enough snow to protect my garlic crop. But I’m aware that we badly need lots of snow after last year’s drought. Never mind the moaning and groaning about winter; all that snow will help us in the long run.

2017 is a brand new year with infinite potential.

Looking at my temporarily perfect snow covered garden I’m imagining lots of rain, drifts of spring snowdrops and crocus and clear sunny days. Here’s to the New Year.

By Jill Williams


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