The Winter Garden

The Winter Garden

I love our home in the North, where each season has its own shining weeks - and months - upon which one anchors their year. Time itself is soaked in rituals, whose wisdom prevails year after year: the lengthening and shortening shadows which play across the landscape; the animal behaviors that ebb and flow, and whose behaviors reveal themselves atop the blanket of fresh snow. But most dramatic of all is the spring awakening, when trees and humans alike quite literally explode with growth in late April and rejoice in the arrival of Spring. The energy here when trees break bud and scantily-clad humans finally smell - for the first time in half a year - the decaying, rich soil with its aromatic muskiness is simply intoxicating.

My favorite timepiece of all is the garden, which will come as no surprise to you. The garden, draped in various depths of snow, with its dormant raspberry canes and sleeping trellises casting delicate geometric shadows every hour of the day. Even during the longest part of winter, the part where it feels like it will never end and the snow keeps coming and the holidays are over and everyone else seemingly has bare ground upon which they are gardening, even then do I still love our home in the North.

During a normal or average Minnesota winter, whose normalcy appears to be a shifting target amid human-caused climate change - one that is likely to be followed by a pretty typical summer, you realize just how much of our life here could be consumed by escaping the elements and chasing the seasons: from the bitter cold to the high winds and pelting deluges of spring to the predatory swarms of mosquitos, which are quickly followed by soaking, tropical dew points and temperatures occasionally reaching 100+. I will be the first to admit that I fall prey to future thinking for 75% of the year, longing for those hot, humid summer days where the garden is gloriously overgrown and the food is abundant. 

Just last week, I noticed our asphalt driveway revealed itself again for the first time since before the Holidays; it's finally letting go of its winter coat. I was grateful for this sign of late winter - not to be confused with early spring. Later in the week I could see the edge, the brown, mucky edge of the road: Earth! Our sacred and beautiful terra firma is slowly revealing itself on the southern exposures of roads, in the wells of trees, on driveways. It has been two months since we've seen the ground.


Other signs of hope and defrosting include the chickadees' intensifying love songs with each passing day, the long and determined cardinal trills whose song envelopes our breakfast table, and the playful chasing of the resident squirrel families. The days have been visibly longer since early February, the long shadows yielding ever so slightly to their memories of summer stature. I've even even spotted a ladybug clinging to our sliding glass door. Our starts are spending a little time outside on our deck when the temps hit 40. There will be more snow interspersed amid the melting days. Yet the best part is, we have weathered another winter of subzero temperatures and wind chills, graduates of arctic frosts until November. And that feels great to this Minnesotan. 


For my garden hands to feel present, replete with compost under my nails, that soul-filling time that lasts for only for a few months out of the year inspires me to seek more ways to be present year-round in and around our garden and property. Early in the season, as in March to May, my head is flirting with August heat waves and crop reaping daydreams because in order to reap what we sow, we must plan for the time those plants need to mature.

Come June, I am finally there: weeding whenever I find the time - and always after a rainstorm. Harvesting our early spring crops, I am finally here. I'm there. I'm in that moment of garden bliss. And in those moments I want to freeze time. I relish in the beauty of designing and planting a massing of asian greens, only to be faced with the time keeper who looks down on my symmetry and insists I harvest a pok choy or it will render it pollinator nectar. Those moments are as equally hard as a bitter cold January day when I'm terribly missing my garden time. In the end, we only have the present moment in which to play and harness life itself. 


So I'm left asking myself what can I do to be in the here and there. The only viable path is to carve out gardening habits, daily. Yesterday my focus shifted dramatically as I saw our garden space anew: as a snow garden. This changed everything for me. And now, my youngest and I are building a small snow sculpture along the main path, spending time inside the vegetable garden, together. This space has been sleeping since Thanksgiving, and it has been rejuvenating to winter garden with what's currently in season: the best building snow of the year. 

Succession Planting Part I: The Best Crops for the Job

Succession Planting Part I: The Best Crops for the Job