As the winter solstice drew near, a sense of anticipation pervaded our household. According to the calendar, summer is six months away, but we gardeners know different. After the winter solstice the days begin to lengthen. So on Dec. 21, feeling a rebellious glee, we proclaim the onset of summer.
By minutes, the days begin to slowly lengthen. Nightfall by 5 p.m. soon becomes nightfall by 5:30. Long shadows from the Ponderosa pines mark streaks of snow across the garden. As these shadows shorten, the snow retreats. The ground begins absorbing more direct solar rays, soil warms up, and early blooming bulbs, like crocus or Iris reticulata, bloom in January. Herbs in the greenhouse begin flowering, seed catalogs emerge from forgotten piles and I begin reviewing last year's accomplishments and making goals for the new. I feel like a dormant seed coming to life as the Earth tilts back towards the sun.
A rosemary plant that I over-winter indoors came into bloom two weeks ago in the greenhouse. To enjoy the light blue flowers and fragrance of the leaves, I carried the plant up to the house where I brush by it each time I go outdoors. It sits on a table in a room that gets bright light all day and direct light in the late afternoon. Flowering signals its growth phase, and its need for more consistent moisture. In keeping with this herb's dry land origins, it should be grown in a clay pot to provide optimal oxygen to its roots and allowed to dry out between watering. Accustomed to growing in a lean soil, its fertilizer needs are few. An occasional drink of diluted fish emulsion is all it needs. The only problem I've encountered with growing rosemary indoors is its tendency to grow mildew in the winter. I don't bother with baking soda sprays (a natural fungicide). Instead, I'll move the plant outdoors on warm winter days, and vigorously stroke the leaves, giving it a brisk massage, inhaling its pungent aroma. For a brief moment I'm lost, locked in a sweet, mutually healing embrace.
Last November, seed catalogs began trickling in through the mail; now it's a torrent, with several arriving daily. For me, the process of thumbing through catalogs, exploring new plants, and starting plants from seed is an annual midwinter ritual deeply embedded in my gardening psyche.
Seed catalogs expose me to a wide selection of plants from all over the world. Tropical vines are especially fun to experiment with if you have a spot where they can romp once summer's heat kicks in. I especially like to watch Cobaea scandens (Cathedral Bells Vine) grip the trunk of a Ponderosa pine with its teeny tendrils and clamber 20 feet up into its branches. Ipomoea lobata (Exotic Love Vine), planted against a bamboo trellis last summer twined around the tall dahlias making staking unnecessary.
Every year I grow my tried and true favorites, flowers that have won my heart by their striking color or heady fragrance. I always grow Anagalis linifolia (Cerulean Pimpernel) for its deep blue flowers, and Zaluzianskya (Night Phlox) for its evening perfume. Because I can get the best selection of plants by starting them from seed, I feel the extra effort is really worth the reward.
Along with enjoying blooming herbs and ordering seeds from around the world, I celebrate the passing of the winter solstice with a look back over the year that has just passed, and a look forward at the new one just ahead. Looking out at the garden, I see shade trees that we planted in June, several ornamental shrubs, numerous evergreens, a gazebo that Tim built in the Sun Garden, new lattice fencing, several new birdbaths -- the list goes on.
No sooner is one project complete, than the next items on the list inch closer to the top. Like Sisyphus eternally pushing the stone back up the hill, it can feel endless sometimes. But I've found that the practice of naming the finished projects of the year inspires me and my husband to make goals for the next. As a youngster, I watched my father and mother transform a stripped suburban lot on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico into a wonderful jungle of diverse plants. They persisted and left a legacy of vibrant life in that place. We hope to do the same here in the Black Forest.
-- See Laura and Tim's garden, ForestEdge, on national television. The 30-minute show airs Jan. 27, 2:30 p.m., on HGTV, the Home and Garden channel (locally Channel 73).