Advice for the new year from the gardener's crystal
Here are some predictions and suggestions for the upcoming
growing season. May you have a great, green new year!
The weather will change unexpectedly.
The weather will change unexpectedly in late winter and early
spring. Freezing rain will follow unusual warmth, or drying winds
will come behind early, warm rain that coaxed delicate shoots from
the earth. Learn to garden right through these atmospheric mood
swings, which are probably here to stay as one consequence of
global warming and the heat island effect of big cities. Applaud
plants that bounce back. Move those that can't take it into more
"Plant whispering" will occur.
When the weather changes for the worse, you will find yourself
carrying on conversations with your landscape. It will involve such
things as reassuring a magnolia that it will survive despite losing
all its flower buds to frost, or asking a favorite flower to ignore
the early warmth, slow down and save some blossoms for the party
you're hosting in a few weeks. Be sure to face away from buildings
as you speak, so that neighbors will not see you "talking to
You will buy or grow too many plants.
You will buy or grow too many plants. You will unpack mail order
purchases and place them with treasures carted home from local
garden centers, all to grow on in their pots and flats until
planting time. If you start from seed, you will be so awed by the
miracle of growth that you will prick out and pot up every single
seedling. Only on planting day will you realize you have too
People may shun the gardener bearing
Your relatives and friends will begin to find sudden indoor
interests when you approach them with plants in hand. They don't
have room for your excess plants, either.
You will apologize to new plantings.
As you clean up the yard in early spring you will discover
strange species growing in the garden, and decide they are weeds.
However, once you pull them you will see the roots have a core of
potting soil. Only then will you recognize them as plants you
bought and placed there. Replant them. They'll forgive you.
Another year, another weed.
You are right to suspect those unidentified plants, however.
Chances are good that a new weed will appear in your garden, one
you have never dealt with before. It came in as seed on your shoes
or in mulch, was blown in by the wind, dropped in by a bird, or
sneaked in within the roots of a new plant.
You'll learn to curse effectively.
Keep in mind when you find a new weed that it is always more
powerful to curse a thing by its proper name. To learn that name,
begin by digging out the weed, root and all, and pressing it flat
between sections of newspaper. Take it to a garden center's
information desk, or keep it in your car trunk so you can ask about
it at plant swaps and other gatherings of gardeners.
New tools are in your future.
The favorite pruners that went missing last year will turn up
right after you buy a replacement pair. The lost clippers are out
under a shrub, half covered in mulch. Don't go looking for them,
though. You will not find them until you give them up and buy new.
A bit of cleaning with fine sand paper, sharpening and oiling will
make them good as new.
Gloves will not travel in pairs.
Some of your gloves that pulled disappearing acts last year will
reappear. At first you will be very happy to see them, until you
find that they create a collection of right-hand gloves but no
lefts, or vice versa.
It will be leap year for 2003's plants.
A tree, shrub or vine that you planted in 2003 which has been
disappointing up until now, will come into its own this year. You
will be stunned by its beautiful bloom or great vigor. This is
according to the rule that says new plants sleep their first year,
creep the second and leap in the third.
Growing Concerns will add a new weekly feature for
During my years of gardening and writing these columns, I've
come across a number of insoluble situations. I call these
"stumpers." Although there are no good answers to stumpers, there
is solace in knowing such situations exist and that we're not alone
when we come up against them. So this year, I present a stumper per
week for your edification.
I enjoy answering the questions you mail to me, or post on my
school's website. However, some problems have no solution or
explanation. Don't expect much or any help from me if you pose a
"stumper" such as:
Why is it that when I choose a place to plant a big, beautiful
understory shrub or perennial in my shady garden, my digging will
reveal that the biggest tree root in the whole area already
occupies that exact spot?
Green thumbs up
to perennials left standing over winter, so we can enjoy the
sparkle of hoarfrost or freezing rain on stems and pods that cannot
be hurt by the cold or weight of ice.
Green thumbs down
to taking yourself, or me, too seriously!
Originally published 1/1/05