Beginning the Gardening Year
Contributed by Edna Colcord, Master Gardener
Janus, the Roman God who looks forward and backward, gives us the name of the month that gardeners use best when they think back to the past summer’s successes and failures and forward to the coming efforts. This is the month that catalogues wait to be scanned, tools are dragged to the cellar for sharpening and the winter landscape shows the bare bone structure of the garden. Imagine the patterns of sun, water and wind that the summer garden will experience. There is no time to see this better than in January. The sun will start to rise earlier and arc higher as the month progresses. The thaws will show where water tends to pool. Effects of wind are seen. Reasons for failure are seen at this season. “The right plant for the right place” is implied as at no other time of the year.
So where to start the gardening year? A simple inspiration is to collect branches from forsythia, quince and other shrubs and to stick them in water. Even lilac, which will not bloom, will have its buds swell and show sticky green leaves, which instill hope and are incredibly beautiful. Daffodils and other narcissi begin to appear in the supermarket but they do not make good companions in flower arrangements as they release a toxin that makes other flowers wilt. Branches don’t require a trip to the florist and some pruning is accomplished at the same time. They also complement a pretty container, perhaps the cookie jar that is not being used with the beginning of a New Year diet. Change the water daily and leave in a bright spot.
January means a new calendar. The UMass Garden Calendar is a personal favorite as its brief daily entries direct thinking to the coming season. “Resolve to keep a garden notebook this year” is the direction for January 1, 2009. This is easier said than done but all gardeners know that memory simply doesn’t serve. Records do. A suggestion is to use a photograph album where tags and file cards can be inserted into the photograph sleeves. This also reminds me that last summer a local gardener showed me markers of stout wood stakes that he had dipped in white paint and reuses year after year. He writes on them with pencil. I resolve to make some of them for the coming summer vegetable garden. Another marking idea seen last summer was a smooth stone with silver pen recording a flower planted. It was neat but probably not as lasting as the stakes. They were attractive and good for a season.
A quick look at the seed catalogs show that vegetable varieties continue to increase and overwhelm you with choices. One can never plant too many onions but just how many summer squash will be enough? Is it necessary to try everything that appeals even though the bill could buy a lot of fresh produce? If you have garden friends, ordering can be a cooperative effort and seeds shared. Not only can this help with expanding vegetable options for trial, it will save on postage and handling. It is fun to try some new vegetable, and abundance can be shared. Still if space is a consideration, less is more. The economy is likely to have more people ordering vegetable seed for gardens so a January order might guarantee getting what you want. It is tempting to buy seed as the rotating racks appear in stores but the inspiration of the moment could translate into multiple packets of peas if no checklist is kept. Keep a list on an index card in your wallet.
This is the time of year where reading about gardening is especially satisfying. Interest can take one from “how to” to history, garden lore, botany, food, medicine and beautifully photographed gardens. The sense of new beginnings might start a quest to learn everything you can about roses, Japanese gardens, or compost (as if that might be possible!). Just visiting the 635 and 712 sections of the library can pique interest. Garden magazines are also available for loan and a copy machine can be used to save some special point. Some of the best gardening experiences come in an armchair and January is the time to indulge. Gardening: past, present, future are tied into the suggested bundle of twigs in a sunny window in January. Under the snow the crocuses wait