Monday morning was one of the coldest days of the year and this weekend is also set to drop as low as 1F (-17C), and although we are only 14 days into the year that’s about as cold as Sorta Suburbia has been in a while. The temperatures only last about a night or two and the ground is still barely frozen, but only time will tell how these surprisingly normal lows will work with my new, optimistically mild, global warming planting plan full of autumn blooming snowdrops and zone 7 Crinum lilies.
A better gardener would put this cold-induced break to good use, planning seed orders and organizing planting plans, safe in the knowledge that borderline plantings are well protected, but all this gardener wants to do is eat. Not just hearty stews and roasted potatoes, but more so late night bags of chips and “one more” handful of m&ms followed by a big glass of milk. Then some ice cream. Then maybe another look in the fridge, just in case. Outside just a few witch hazels are fenced, and not a single snowdrop is bucketed, but inside there’s been a lot of attention to sitting around and… eating….
I can think of no better place to sit (while snacking) than the winter garden. When it’s dark out I can almost convince myself that this array of shoplights in the just-above-freezing back of the garage is actually a greenhouse or uber fancy conservatory. When the weather is cold it’s a room filled with green to hang out in, watering, puttering, pruning, plucking… doing all the stuff that the cold makes uncomfortable outdoors.
There have been a few watershed moments in this year’s slightly excessive winter garden adventure. Ooops. I admitted that the winter garden is a little “extravagant”, but I blame it on last winter when I killed off a shameful amount of potted cyclamen. Cyclamen have been the stars of my winter garden for a few years, but then suddenly a winter of lazy, careless watering did in a bunch of them. This fall I needed backup plants. A visit to an open garden and a cutting swap started me off. The Amish country and various nurseries added a few more. Friends helped. Cuttings for overwintering added to it all. It’s all reaching a quite pleasant crescendo in my opinion.
Recently on Facebook a friend shared an article about the “dark side” of plant collecting. The home time and isolation of the pandemic had set unprepared gardeners off on a vicious binge of buying and collecting, and people were amassing hoards that amounted to hundreds of plants. “amateurs” my friend commented, and we laughed. I read the article myself and to be honest it made me smile to read about these plant collections and see the smiling faces of such happy gardeners. I think I might have missed the dark in it all.
Just out of curiosity I counted pots in the winter garden. Normally anything under 6 inches doesn’t count, but this time I just went ahead and easily reached 150 pots back there. Hmmm. Then I took a few more cuttings and made it 152, just to slip a little further into the dark side.
At least taking cuttings keeps my hands busy and out of the chip bag. I joke about not having the garden prepared, but at least my hoarding skills have me ‘winter gardening’ prepared. You can never have too many saved pots, and emergency bags of potting soil on hand. It’s awkward sneaking out into the frigid outdoor lot of the box store to try and wrestle a frozen bag of potting soil into your cart, so have it on hand in August so that you don’t have to make up some lame lie about ‘I don’t know, my wife told me she needed potting soil tonight’ when the cashier asks you what in the heck you’re doing. At least I can plan ahead in one area.
Sometimes a rare ray of good fortune may shine upon you. A friend shocked me last year when she informed me they were officially downsizing and leaving their mature garden behind. “I think there will be a few things you’ll want” she said, and of course I agreed, but it was really all the accumulated trash like leftover pots and soil, bits of twine, scraps of fencing, pottery shards, opened bags of soil conditioners that I really wanted. Of course she knew that already. Only another gardener would want this stuff, and when I picked up a carload a few weeks ago I had to agree that I did want it.
She gave me a box of terracotta pots which she may have never used. They’re small and there are a bunch of them and they’re much more trouble to move than lightweight plastic but I’m far more scared of them than I am of hundreds of hoarded houseplants because I really love them. What the *heck* is wrong with me that I’m staring at a box of clay pots thinking they’re so nice. I could understand if they were antique cloches for protecting delicate snowdrops during an ice storm, intricate wire topiary forms, but they’re stupid clay pots. I’m worried about what might happen if I start cruising garage and estate sales. I think I might buy every one I come across.
At least clay pots don’t have any calories… that I know of…. and so that must make a few too many of them a harmless distraction. As of today I only use them for succulents and a few potted bulbs, so even these are too many, but I really need more. A birthday is coming up. I wonder if putting ‘old, dirty terracotta pots’ on the birthday list could replace the usual underwear and socks?
So as usual I don’t really know how this post ended up where it has with underwear and socks. Let me try and re-focus with African violets. My mother used to grow them and so did my aunt. My grandmother grew them. They used to be Saintpaulia, but now I see they’re Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia and I’m not sure how that changed anything but I also know that about a year or so ago I needed to grow them again. I know these urges, I resisted. I almost made it but then cracked last fall and bought one and then I asked a friend for cuttings. I found online sources but only looked. I found one marked down. I guilted a spouse into buying me one at the grocery store after a few ‘admit it, you’re never going to wear that, I can’t buy you anything’ Christmas returns. I now have three violets plus two cuttings and I think I’m ok but then realized this afternoon I volunteered to stop at the store just because I thought they might have more. Hmmmm.
African violets don’t have calories either. As far as I know adding another would be a victimless crime even if I’m lying to myself about picking up milk for the kids when I stumble across it. So what if I end up in a grocery store that’s 35 minutes away, it’s always good to shop around.
Have an excellent weekend, stay warm, and fuel that furnace responsibly… even if some of the fuel is chocolate, beer, and cheese 😉