In Northern California, just being a famously-sunny state does not necessarily guarantee ideal growing conditions in the midst of winter, especially during a drought.
Normally I let the main beds go fallow for the colder season, just keeping alive my greenhouse shelf of arugula and herbs (cilantro, oregano, thyme & scallions) and also turning and watering my compost pile. This apparent inactivity ‘rests’ the soil for spring and gives my compost a chance to really break down.
Now, I have gardened through the winter before–on advice from pros, who state that they get great results by switching to certain plants, ones that tolerate cold and less sun… but this year I am set on my normal less-is-more plan. The drought is on and I want to save my more aggressive planting schematics for when I can get the most out of my garden.
And yet, as most of my fellow halfway-serious gardeners can attest to, the urge to garden is merely dormant; it lays under the surface as sewing projects and writing projects dominate one’s time, but all the while said urge keeps one eye slightly open. The moment a gardening show comes on whilst one is knitting, this sleeping inkling surges to life with a vibrancy that rivals the most inspired plot epiphany in a writer’s memory. I stumbled across a show titled The Great British Garden Revival the other day. Soon gardening plans were swirling in my head as I watched, my knitting nearly forgotten (and harboring a few dropped stitches) as ideas flew from the screen and plastered themselves on my psyche.
While ripping up our front lawn and planting a wildflower meadow in its place has merit, it may not be feasible for re-sale, let alone comply with the neighborhood CC&Rs. I was, however, inspired to make more of a concerted effort in the container garden area, especially in front where suburban traffic seems to zip by in a ceaseless fashion. I have a half-cement patio in my backyard, and cemented areas in front, both of which soaks up even the most meager amount of sun and radiate said warmth back into the air. As most small-space gardeners can tell you, such a scenario is ideal for germinating a container garden. Container gardens also use less water, if properly looked after.
With this ambition in mind, I researched what plants grow well in my zone and ordered Scarlet Runner Beans from a seller on Amazon and within 3 weeks they germinated and began to grow, even amid lackluster sunshine and mild damp. I just transplanted the seedlings to a large bed and two in front of the white alder trunk; hopefully I can convince them to climb up the white-gray surface of the tree, which might just set off the striking blossoms, when they come out in six weeks or so.
In addition to said beans, I also ordered two live plants: Golden Oregano and Golden Sage. Never before have I attempted mail-order plants, but I was charmed by the healthy potted beauties that I received in the mail. Hardy and lovely, these two herbs will add more color and texture to my tiny cheap greenhouse shelf, sitting on the south-facing side of my house, soaking in most of the rays of the weakened winter sun under its veil of thin plastic.
My last purchase was a package of Numex Twilight Chili seeds, a plant that supposedly gives out three different colors of chili on one plant and is partial to containers. Two such seeds have been planted, germinated and we just harvested the first eggplant-purple chili yesterday. Its flavor was mildly zingy, as fresh as cilantro and perfect for chopping onto our homemade carne asada.
As I pull up the expended broccoli plants and gather their seeds, I am dreaming of a warm springtime, of portioned aerated beds, greens and color to once again grace the garden, to decorate the spindly dormant branches of the fig tree and array the crepe myrtle and pomegranate. These are the happy thoughts that circle my brain as I weed, turn soil and tramp back inside cold, dirt-caked and glowing with exercise.
Though the sun be hidden and the water be scarce, once one be bitten by the gardening bug, there is little hope for recovery.
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L. R. Styles is an author of Epic Fantasy and Literary Fiction at Belator Books