A Summer Gardener in the Winter

Today’s post is brought to you a day late by the Virginia Ice Storm. We were without power for two days, without internet for four. The latter was definitely worse. The good that came out of it is these pictures in todays post. What’s funny is that I wrote this post without knowing how awful this storm was going to be. Enjoy.

From ages 10 to 20 I did not experience a real winter. In central Florida we had a few months of cool weather in the 40’s, occasionally it would dip below freezing. I remember many Christmases being outside without a jacket, though that did happened once here in Virginia so maybe that isn’t the best example. By the time March rolled around in Florida we would be enjoying temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s for our “spring weather”. I had visited Virginia for Christmas a few times during those ten years and got to enjoy the quaintness of fresh snow on my grandparent’s farm and none of the ugliness of the grey, gravel filled snow piles melting in the grocery store parking lot two weeks later.

An inch of ice covered everything this weekend.

My first winter living in Virginia was, of course, bleak. I had never seen a sky so grey for so long. At first it was novel, like when I experienced my first hurricane. All the wind and lightening was exciting and even being without power for a week afterwards wasn’t that bad. (That was hurricane Charley and I was 13.) In Virginia those first days of feeling cold that went straight to my bones was a new and thrilling experience. (Pro tip: don’t step in snow barefoot.) But by January, as I think it does with most people, the novelty wore off and I was over it. I was tired of toting around layers and shivering from just walking to my car. The real shock came two different ways in March.

First of all, it wasn’t 70 degrees by March 2nd. What the crap. Second of all, I saw trees blooming for the first time. In Florida I lived in a heavily populated area that had little spits of undeveloped land between all the subdivisions and shopping centers. Even when we ventured out to somewhere like Blue Springs State Park we didn’t find flowers blooming everywhere. It was more like a jungle drenched in Spanish moss. Green, grey-green, brown, and blue water like blown glass – wavy and almost unnatural looking. But in Virginia, redbuds came alive, pink saucer magnolias bloomed, yellow daffodils popped up, red forsythia exploded, I was blown away. I remember calling my mother and saying “Omg mom, there are flowers in the trees!” She grew up here so she was not as impressed as I needed her to be right then.

That is ice covering the tree branches, not snow. I had to watch out that it didn’t fall on me during my walk.

It was still a while before I was able to break out my shorts and tank tops, but that taste of spring in Virginia was enough to keep me going. Over time my love for plants and gardening has grown. I hadn’t even heard of forsythia before moving to Virginia. Now I grow everything; house plants, fruit trees, vegetables, flowers, all the green things. But ten years in and I still find myself struggling through January and February. These are a few tricks I’ve learned to keep my summer heart from breaking during another winter storm.

#1 Go Outside

Now I can only speak for the South, but one consistency we have here is that our winters are weird. When I talked about being outside without a jacket on Christmas, I wasn’t kidding. In 2016 it was 78 degrees on Christmas Eve. I went to my in-laws house in a sleeveless dress. Two days ago it was in the 50’s. Tonight and for the rest of the weekend there will be snow and ice. That’s just how it goes. The joy in this is that if there is a nice day and I am going stir crazy with the winter blues I can get my butt outside and in the dirt. I spent the last two days putting down plastic and weed block fabric in various places in my garden, moving irises, and managing the grass around my fence line. (I hate grass.) Once I got moving I didn’t even notice the chilly breeze. It was great.

#2 Plan Your Garden/Have a Vision for the Summer

My camellia blooms, covered in ice. (Also my favorite picture.)

I haven’t sat down and done this yet because I have a TON of seeds, a new flower bed, and a much larger garden space this year, so it will be a large undertaking. I can’t wait to do it though. The few things I have thought about and nailed down have given me a vision to look forward to. I was chatting with a friend about the summer and this one thing I am looking forward to the most: I am planting white moonflower on my fence next to the play area in our back yard. Sometime towards the end of summer when the moonflower is at its peak I want to sit in the back yard on my beach lounge chair after a hard day’s work in the garden, let my girls play on their swing set, drink a beer, and smell those sweet flowers.

Okay, the beer on the folding beach chair makes it seem redneck but whatever. Trust me it is going to be glorious and I will take pictures to prove it.

#3 Do Something You Can Only Do in Winter

When summer finally does get here I am spending so much time outside that I don’t have time for things that would keep inside all day like baking, home projects, or crochet. (I’m slightly kidding, there’s always time for crochet.) So this is the time of year for me to make bread every other day, finish allllll those crochet projects I have going on, and maybe even break out my watercolors and paint very amateur paintings of bluebirds. Think of things you would do indoors that you might do if it were too rainy or hot in the summer to go out. A couple Sundays ago I read a book for nearly 6 hours. There is no way I could do that in the middle of June.

If you’re a gardener like me, and you just want to see something green that isn’t a pine tree, then you understand how the winter struggle is a little different for people like us. The good thing is that it doesn’t have to be all suffering. The hopeful longing is what makes the spring that much sweeter.

2 thoughts on “A Summer Gardener in the Winter

  1. A couple weeks ago I was telling friends how our winter hasn’t been all that bad and this week I am counting down to spring! I’ve had it! I need sun and warmth! I live in Toronto, Canada 🙂

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