Much of North America is still deep into the winter of its gardening discontent. Here in the Maritimes, we’ve been buried in so much snow, we can’t even claim to have a garden of winter interest, because pretty much everything interesting is under snow drifts and plowed banks and more snow and a little ice to keep it all challenging.
The snow is so deep in my garden I can’t reach the bird feeders, so I’ve been throwing seed out onto the drifts for the myriad hungry birds: dark-eyed juncos, chickadees, blue jays, nuthatches, creepers and goldfinches, their colours dulled like the dingy hues of a late winter snow bank; snow buntings, which come in flocks and are skittish but adorable; northern flickers, hairy woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers; and occasionally the flash of a red cardinal.
I watch the birds through the window with camera at the ready, and my cats, too, watch “bird television” and make speeches about what they’d do if only they could go outdoors. (They’re indoor cats for just that reason.) I glower at the snow, and worry about breakage in the shrubs and small trees, but take comfort in the fact that everything is well insulated. The marginally hardy plants and the hellebores should be safe again this spring.
What’s a gardener to do in winter? We distract ourselves with seed and plant catalogues, magazines and books, websites, thoughts of garden shows. We haunt nurseries that are open all winter, for the chance to walk through a greenhouse on a sunny late winter’s day, where the smell of green growing things and warm soil reminds us that spring will come again. (Maybe not until May, but still… .) We read longingly of our friends in warmers parts of Canada, the U.S. and beyond, who are bragging of cherry blossoms and magnolias and daffodils, while some of us still may not have all our bulbs planted.
We grow houseplants, from common tropical foliage plants to riotously coloured orchids, African violets, amaryllis and hibiscus. We attend talks (or give talks) where a group of like-minded souls can get together and talk eagerly about garden successes or challenges, drool over new plants and learn from each other. We plant seeds, and plan spring and summer activities with our friends.
We may garden for many different reasons, but one of the best reasons is the camaraderie that we gain from having a passion for planting. Not surprisingly, many of my friends are writers, but probably almost as many of them are gardeners. We are ever learning, swapping information and anecdotes as happily as we swap seeds, cuttings and divisions. We console each other over problems with deer, scarlet lily beetles or goutweed, and cheer on each other as we acquire a particular plant we’ve wanted, or manage to make a problem area shine, or harvest our first crop of haskaps or eggplants or basil. Gardening is about inspiring each other and ourselves to bloom where we are planted.
Regardless of age or health or where we live, may we all find joy in the approaching spring. It will come. It always does.