1. Winter vegetables. After this summer’s disappointment with the edible crops, I found tearing out the spent tomatoes, squash, tomatillos, and green beans cathartic. The cherry tomatoes had produced generously and deliciously, and I feel that they merited a dignified send off to the afterlife (compost heap). The other vegetables had disappointed me. Reared from lovely tear -shaped seed, the squashes produced one round of subtly flavored, honeydew colored fruit, then stubbornly refused to oblige further. The green beans had failed to thrive, their bamboo poles awaiting tendrils that never grasped. The tomatillos were full of promise, growing rapidly into giants and studded with surprisingly lovely flowers. But their fruit was slow to ripen, their location presumably too shady for their taste, and their progress toward edibility halted as summer wound to a close. The arugula and chard did well early in the spring, but bolted in the warmer weather. I allowed them to go to seed, as they had contributed to my table and I was sympathetic to their reproductive imperative. Anyway, I was fed up, my pride was bruised, I had had enough. But then, October, final sale at local nursery before winter’s long hiatus, and I found that I could not resist the flats of winter vegetable starts. They looked so hopeful and I admired their bravery. Looking at my beds now, I’m glad I didn’t retreat into fearful avoidance.
2. Wrapped up. I located an incredible nursery on the Coast, featuring a variety of unusual selections, with an emphasis on Australian plants. Now every trip to the Coast includes an obligatory pilgimage to this destination. Among my aquisitions was a Mexican marigold, which filled the whole car with its sharp scent. Come winter, I have wrapped both it and my Musa basjoos in horticultural insulation. My first foray into the arts of protecting tender plants from winter’s icy fingers. They look like unimaginatively constructed ghosts put up for Halloween and left up too long, and I suspect some of my neighbors, in their hearts, hold me guilty of spoiling the parade of holidays that defines their relationships to their yards. Those otherwise uninhabited lawns, dominated by an enormous inflated turkey, snowman, etc, who fills the space like an exotic form of livestock being kept under less than humane conditions.
3. Leaves. This year, following the admonitions of sundry of the wildlife friendly/ ecologically minded gardening books that I gravitate toward, I did very little fall clean up. Yes, the streets and sidewalks were duly raked into piles for the creation of leaf mould, but the leaves in the beds were let be. Of course, if they were found to be covering (potecting? smothering??) a plant, they were plucked off and relocated to barer ground, where they could provide nutrients and shelter for a variety of small creatures.
4. Street trees. Following a long period of hesitation/research/indecision, my small city’s tree planting program decided the question in favor of 2 trees, which were planted this week. Setting aside the savings involved, this program provided me wih the very great advantage of someone else digging through the horribly compacted, gravel-will-be-labor-saving product of neglect and abuse that is our aptly named hell strip. The trees are dormant, their remaining leaves brown and dry, but I am already very attached to them. Fiercely protective even. I imagine someone backing their truck into my trees, scraping the bark or knocking them at a sad angle, and I experience an anticipatory flush of rage. I also imagine them tall and straight, framing the house from the street, embracing passersby in cool shade, and shltering the garden from the world outside.
5. Fences. I have read on more than one occasion that American garden design underestimates the importance of enclosure. That Americans rarely build walled gardens and all too frequently ensure that front yards will never be enjoyed by the house’s inhabitants by exposing them to the street and the curiosity and judgment of passersby. And I concur wholeheartedly with this observation, despite my tendency to bristle at generalizations. J. and I built a new fence this spring, which is relatively low, but creates a separation and implies the possibility of privacy. Next on the project list is the long fence with the neighbors – a patchwork of wire, rotten leaning wood, white plastic slats, all of different heights. This fence is located behind a series of trees and shrubs, to which I have made numerous additions, in an effort to create a hedgerow dominated by natives (red flowering currant, ocean spray, ninebark, mahonia, blue elderberry) complemented by smoke tree, filbert, mulberry, whose shelter, berries, and seeds/nuts will attract birds. These newcomers are still quite small and provide little in the way of a visual screen.
6. Birds. The year I spent in Maryland as a child was when I discovered the joys of bird watching. There was a feeder behind the house and its visitors were a delight, particularly in the winter months when little else appeared to be alive. I have been working on transforming our yard into wildlife habitat. We are blessed to have a stream running through the middle of our lot, along which grow maples, oaks, and other established trees. As mentioned in (5) I have been planting a hedgerow along one boundary and I am thinking of extending it along the stream. The understory trees there are not the picture of health. I would like to remove them, along with the invasive vinca and ivy, and replace with native vine maples, native shrubs, and ferns. In the mean time, I enjoy looking out the bedroom window in the morning at all the birds that frequent my still imperfect garden. They don’t seem to mind.
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