It’s January and here in the Northeast, we recently had a “bomb cyclone” blow through, bringing with it frigid wind and snow that first blanketed, then froze on the ground. Winter is the time when I love to hibernate and envision what my garden will look like come Spring. Flipping through gardening magazines and seed catalogs by the fire, thinking about what worked last year (and what didn’t) and planning which vegetables, flowers and herbs will be planted into which bed are all part of my mid-winter gardening vision! As gardeners, we can look at a piece of snow covered ground, appreciating the beauty of the moment, but at the same time picturing it’s future blossoming.
It may look like this for now (above)….but I’m picturing this (below)!
This coming Spring will be the start of my sixth year of backyard gardening. We started the garden the summer after we moved into our first house on ½ acre of land in a rural country town in New Jersey. Did you know that New Jersey has “country”? It’s beautiful, scenic and full of rolling hills and small farms! With the help of my husband and children, the garden has grown from a small bed of vegetables to 4 in-ground beds of a kitchen garden filled with vegetables as well as annual and perennial flowers. Among the perennials are irises gifted from my aunt, and a rose-of-sharon which came from land that was once my great-grandmother’s farm in Kentucky. We dotted our yard with peach, cherry and apple trees, and planted an herb garden which grows next to the patio off of my kitchen. At the garden entrance sit a pair of decades-old concord grapevines, which came from my father. You can read more about them in "Family Heirlooms."
It’s a joy to treasure and care for these family heirlooms! However, it’s January, and the garden currently looks like this:
The only “flower” in our garden right now is Sunflower, our golden retriever!
In the grey of winter is when we start to contemplate. Should I add calendula to the herb garden? Expand the wildflower patch? Enlarge the fence so the dog won’t trample the flowers like she did last year? Start milkweed seeds? Build a greenhouse? As hobby gardeners, we have the privilege of being able to experiment with our gardens, and to change it year to year based on what has proven to work and our personal preferences. Each year, I try to improve on the garden in some way. For example, a cover crop of oats was planted for the first-time last fall in an attempt to enhance the soil and cut down on weeds (a never-ending battle!).
The oats are in there somewhere!
These past couple of years, my goal has been to discontinue the use of sprays, even organic ones in order to avoid harming the beneficial insects, birds and pollinators that visit the garden. Companion plants have been slowly added season by season, like marigolds, nasturtium, lavender, roses, carnations, lilies and coneflower. Butterfly and mason bee habitats were hung. Bluebird houses were put up. I started noticing monarch butterflies fluttering on the deep magenta blooms of coneflower, and decided that native milkweed should be planted this year for their caterpillars to feed on.
These little guys need all the help they can get!
As time moves farther from the winter solstice, that last sliver of pink as the sun reaches below the horizon comes a little later each evening. The days get longer and we wait patiently for the ground to unthaw to get those first Spring greens planted. A new season of gardening along with it’s trials and errors will begin. I’m not an expert and my garden is far from perfect, but I am gardening and learning as I go! I hope you’ll enjoy learning along with me!