Friday, January 7, 2011

seed catalogs and the promise of spring

Winter is beautiful...but is it time to start gardening yet?
At this time of year, it is common for those of us who live in the snowy north to start dreaming about sandy beaches, crystal blue water, flip flops and tiki bars. We sign up for email updates on airfares to warm places, to remind ourselves warm places do indeed exist, and that we might just hop on a plane for a long weekend if the price is right. We try to remember that someday soon, this frozen land will be alive again with sun and leaves and flowers and sweet smells. And though it seems impossible right now, we will once again be able to sit outside dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, pick fresh tomatoes from the garden, eat dinner on the patio…only go indoors to sleep. Ahh, I feel a little better just thinking about it.

But then again, winter isn’t really so bad if you just embrace it. Some days I feel bold and hearty, so I pull on my big boots and down parka, leave my car to rest, and go for long walks in the “muffling silence of the eternal snows”. When I breathe in the crisp-cold air I feel refreshed, and not so afraid of the long winter. I realize I am proud to live in the north, where the people don’t let frigid temperatures keep them from enjoying outdoor fun – take for example ice fishing, pond hockey, the Holidazzle parade, the St. Paul Winter Carnival. (For those of you who do not live in the Twin Cities, you’re missing out on some true winter fun!) Ok, so maybe I do like winter. But not quite as much as I like summer. You see, when I’m on those long, brisk walks, as my eyelashes are just slightly starting to freeze together, I dream not of islands and palm trees, but of next year’s garden. I imagine how moist the soil will be after it drinks up the water from all this snow. I can almost smell the cool, wet earth…the fragrance of lavender and marigolds. I picture the faint shimmer of morning dew on leathery kale leaves. Hmmmm…is it spring yet?

No? Well....ok, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk gardens, right?

Just today the seed catalogs began arriving. In fact three of them were stuffed in my mailbox. What timing! The perfect antidote to my far-too-early-in-the-season cabin fever. They do this on purpose, of course. To get us to buy far more seeds than we could ever use, they send us these gorgeous, colorful catalogs right after the holidays, when all the sparkle and magic is starting to fade, and we’re faced with the reality of 3 (at least) more months of winter. Perfect! Hide my credit card! But truly…it is perfect timing. These enticing pages inspire us to make grand plans for our gardens. We need this time to decide how many varieties of colorful lettuces we can squeeze in. To narrow down our choice of tomato varieties to 6, no more….okay, maybe 8. To determine if there’s a spot we can devote to asparagus, even though it’ll be a year or two before it really produces much of anything. To accept, once and for all, the challenge of growing artichokes - with their spikey, menacing foliage and their finicky nature in this northern clime.

All these things and more are spinning through my mind this cold, January day. The time is here to start planning. So join me as I delight in these myriad, vibrant images of gardening promises…and dream of warmer days ahead.