The Winter Gardener

Lipstick PlantIn January I watch my garden from the porch, balcony and driveway, and through every window in the house; I study the dead, dormant and living from afar. I check the rosemary and lavender to see how they’re faring. From the bay window they always appear to be surviving.

In winter the frenetic wind chimes and scraping of patio furniture skidding across the deck taunt me. I count the number of cloudy days in a row—twenty-seven—and wish it would snow. I need clean white to cover dead brown and nourish future green. I need snow to entice me outside and crunch underfoot. In winter gardens and some gardeners rest; I’m restless.

Ten years ago I vowed to have a plant in bloom year round, forcing me to garden inside in the winter and startling my houseplants due to the unusual amount of attention they began receiving in the fall. My Christmas cactus blooms for months each year. I set a record in 2013; I mean the cactus set a record—blooming non-stop from mid-November to Easter.

The green and purple shamrocks, Oxalis oregano and Oxalis triangularis, bloom intermittently depending on how often I fertilize them, whack them back when they get leggy, and keep them in bright indirect sunlight. The lipstick plant, Aeschynanthus lobbianus, blooms for several weeks in the fall to early December. The Hawaiian hibiscus, which was a five-inch twig when it arrived in a bubble wrap envelope my mom sent from Hawaii, blooms on tropical time i.e. whenever it feels like it.

There are times I failed; I mean the plants failed and I had to purchase a new plant to avoid a bloom-gap. I divided my fifteen year-old peace lily and it hasn’t bloomed since. The dendrobium orchids produced splendid leaves year after year, same with the amaryllis. I finally transplanted the amaryllis; now it produces two stunning leaves a year outside.

Years ago I purchased an emergency, bloom-gap Kalanchoe. The nursery owner told me the plant was sterile and I may as well throw it in the trash when it finished flowering. I took cuttings from the Kalanchoe and rooted them in water before planting them next to the original plant. Both bloomed six months later. I’ve taken cuttings from the original plant for eight years and used them in dish gardens, window boxes and in the ABC Garden at the Kimberling Area Library Children’s Garden.  (It’s not easy to find a plant that will survive a Missouri summer with a genus that starts with k.)

Winter is Gardener Reading Season. Thirty magazines from 2014 are stacked on my end tables—unread issues of Horticulture, Garden Design, Fine Gardening, HGTV Magazine and Better Homes and Gardens. I usually catch up by February and donate most of the magazines to gardening workshops and the library.

Two periodicals I savor are Baker Creek’s Heirloom Seeds and Rare Seeds Catalogs. Filled with enlightening information, enticing descriptions and page after page of colorful photos with a full spread in the middle, they’re porn for gardeners. Who can resist Fantome Du Laos with its glowing, creamy-white fruit and sweet flavor? How could you say no to Love-In-A-Mist’s wispy, feathery foliage surrounding beautiful blue, white, pink and purplish-blue blooms that date back to English gardens of the 1570’s?

This gardener can’t go on without Japanese Black Trifeles—“Attractive tomatoes the shape and size of a Bartlett pear, with a beautiful purplish-brick color. The fruit are perfect and smooth with no cracks. The flavor is absolutely sublime, having all the flavor of fine chocolate.” Ooh, la, la? Yes.

When I see daffodil shoots push through the soil from the living room windows in early February, the houseplants start to lose their allure and the magazines and catalogs return to being inanimate objects. I drop my restlessness at the front door and I’m in the garden to uncover the first bit of green emerging from every plant in the new season.



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Jules Jacob

julie ginkgoJulie "Jules" Jacob is a contemporary poet who often writes about dichotomous conditions and relationships among humans and the natural world. Her poems are recently featured or forthcoming in Plume Poetry, The Tishman Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Rust + Moth, Yes Poetry and elsewhere. She is the author of The Glass Sponge chapbook with select poems featured at the Colorado Gallery of the Arts and Le Moulin à Nef where she was a resident of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Poetry Workshop.

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