The Absentee Gardeners

By Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn
Birdhouse in winter. - Photo courtesy of Lise Jenkins

Last October I wrote an article called, “I Hate My Garden” — and I did. I was tired to all its tiresome demands, its unquenchable thirst, the endless tulip poplar seedlings. You get the idea: I needed a respite from the garden.

Now, perversely, I can hardly wait to get my hands on the plants. I want to prune all the roses. I want to see what has survived and what has died. In short, I want to get grubby, I want to dig, and I’m ready to sniff spring.

I’ve forgotten the heat of the summer, as we’ve been battling sub-normal cold temperatures this winter. Snow blankets the garden, which is good, as it acts as an insulator but I’m ready for a good thaw.

During this period of enforced indoor captivity, I have managed to place all my plant orders, probably ordering way too many plants. I ran out of room several years ago but that has not managed to control my plant ordering. One problem is that I forget what’s under this massive layer of snow. Another problem is that right now it looks as though I have lots and lots of room.

There’s a certain loveliness to winter. When the sun is out, there’s a sparkle that cannot be matched during any other season. I love observing the backbone of the garden. The irregular shape of the Japanese maples contrasts beautifully with the evergreen of the camellias.

However the heavy snow has misshapen my chestnut rose, which is distressing, as eventually I envision it as a small tree. The lower branches of my crape-myrtle “Tonto” are dragging due to the heavy snow and will need pruning so the remaining branches can lift up, retaining its beautiful shape.

I’m not much of a vegetable grower but I miss my jalapeño peppers, which are blessedly hot, unlike many of the mealy-mouth jalapeños sold in markets. I cannot grow tomatoes, which always claim viral or bacterial infections along the way but jalapeño plants mixed in with the perennial border pleases me. The plants don’t get unbearably large and remain relatively attractive throughout the growing season, while remaining free of disease.

Last summer I got the clematis bug and planted five along the fence. Like many roses, clematises take it easy during the first growing season, putting out a bloom here and there but otherwise remaining inconspicuous. Two disappeared, only to surface during the fall temperatures. Will they again bounce back this spring? My dream is to have flashy clematises lining the fence so I hold out high hopes for ‘Princess Diana’ and the ‘Duchess of Albany’.

Most of all, I miss the smell of spring. Spring has a fragrance that is simply lacking in the other three months. Spring is an awakening—and I am ready to wake up. The roses never go completely dormant and I want to see the new red growth. I want to see the hostas peaking a leaf outside the soil. I love the noticeable stirring and the waking up of spring.

All the seasons have their gardening uses. Spring is for emergence and experimenting with plants, along with welcoming old friends back. Summer is for maintenance and caring: On the hot days there’s a feeling that we’re all in this together. Fall is filled with amazing color and preparing the plants for their yearly nap. And winter is naptime. Yes, some plants manage to bloom during winter if it’s a mild winter. When it’s cold as it has been, all we can ask for is survival.

February is a long month to get through, as it’s too early to see life but the air is clear and the sky is blue. The time is approaching when I can cheer that I’m happy to be in the garden.

Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn are contributing columnists. Absent from their gardens, they enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of innovation and horticulture. More on Twitter @AbsenteGardener or email:

Birdhouse in winter. in winter. Photo courtesy of Lise Jenkins
I’m so ready to garden

By Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn