In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2008
Regional Report

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There are always chores to keep you occupied in the winter months.

Winter Gardening

As I sit shivering at my desk, I'm thinking about all those wonderful winter days I spent outside as a gardener for hire. Gardens are lonely places in February, although there are many chores to be done. Pulling the ever-present weeds, cultivating the soil around annual plantings, raking leaves from under the shrubs, and all of the dormant-season pruning is enough to keep anybody busy until spring.

There aren't many people who visit public gardens on rainy or overcast days. Most of the time my only companions were noisy blue jays, sparrows that hopped in and out of the shrubbery, the occasional cheeky robin listening for worms on the lawn, and the ever-present squirrels who are always on the lookout for whatever tasty treat they can steal. For some reason, squirrels seem to love the new buds on Primula polyanthus. It's a tiny bit disappointing to come out and find the entire bed has been deadheaded before the plants ever had a chance to bloom.

Distractions at Hand
At least here in my office I have seed catalogs to keep me entertained. They seem to roll in like the tide at this time of year. I love looking at the illustrations and reading the descriptions of each particular plant. For example, here's how the Territorial Seed Company catalog describes their 'Red Currant' tomato: "Big, bold, indeterminate plants produce masses of teeny, tiny fruit; but what flavor!"

It's the end of January, for goodness sake. The days are freezing and the nights are even worse. I haven't tasted a real tomato in months! Reading this particular catalog description is almost like culinary pornography. How about this description of 'Pineapple' tomato: "'Pineapple' will remind you of visits to Grandpa's garden when you were a kid. Huge meaty tomatoes are safer held in two hands rather than one." Now that's just plain cruel! Imagine what the poor gardeners on the East Coast must be going through. They can't even go outside and work compost into the beds in anticipation! Oh yes, my friends, seed catalogs are torture to a winter-weary gardener.

Get Out There!
So rather than shivering and dreaming about a tomato that I can't have until next July, I decided to spend time cleaning up my little garden. Just carrying the tools downstairs warms the old body and gets the blood flowing. It's amazing how quickly things revert to chaos, even under a watchful eye. Leaves blow in and build up under a canopy of neglect, the barflies from next door contribute to the disarray, and the Ficus benjamina is always in need of something or other. Especially since my landlord went crazy with hedge shears and cut the poor ficus down to about 4 feet. He said it was obstructing the address numbers on the building. A flat-top haircut is not really the best look for a ficus. I didn't think it would recover this time, but it's thicker than ever and growing like gangbusters. Perhaps harsh treatment is the secret to growing these fussy indoor trees.

My advice to you is to go outside and enjoy your winter garden. There is always some little chore that needs attention. And even if your garden is in perfect shape, you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done!


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