Monday, January 26, 2009

Winter Gardening- It's all about Faith and Trust

After living in the south for almost two-thirds of my life, I’ve learned that you don’t have to completely abandon the flower beds after Halloween. In fact, I usually get pansy fever right after the trick-or-treaters go home.

This year, I don’t know what happened to the month of November. I seem to recall a cold/sinus infection that wouldn’t go away, but at any rate, I turned around, and my husband was ready for our day after Thanksgiving ritual of decorating the outside of the house for Christmas. I managed to trim back the huge clump of pampas grass that shields the electrical box right before the red-green-red-green lights made their way around the perimeter of our front yard. But, before that weekend was over, there was no room among the extension cords for kneeling to find the perfect spot for a delicate bloom.

It does take a lot of faith to plant anything on January 2. It was a sunny day, the temps were bearable, and the holiday decorations were safely back in the attic. Pansies were on sale at Lowe’s, so all seemed perfect. From past experience, I knew that these pretty little guys really do bounce back better than ever after ice. So, garden trowel in hand, I tackled the task. Immediately, I was confronted with a brand new problem. What is the proper depth for replanting a hibernating toad?

At first, I thought I’d disturbed a grave. But then, I saw his little chest rising and falling as I dropped him gently to the side of the hole I was digging. No time for internet research. I decided to try to put him back as quickly as possible so that he could continue his winter nap. After all, he was covered with dirt when I found him, right? Will you keep your fingers crossed with me?

In our back yard is another example of innocent trust in nature knowing what’s best. Last winter, when our house was full of Christmas cheer, my oldest grandson reserved some seeds from an apple he was eating, with the intention of growing an apple tree. Recognizing a chance for some quality time together, I suggested we put our coats on and go right out to the flower bed. I told him the story of Johnny Appleseed, and how apples spread across our country exactly this way, one seed at a time. Suitably impressed, he helped me cover 5 or 6 little pieces of potential amidst my resting iris bulbs. I fully believed the story would be the only memorable part of the day.

Oh for the faith of a six year old! That spring, I noticed some tiny sprouts in the very spot where we’d planted those seeds. Amazingly, three little trees were pushing their way out of the fertile soil. I really didn’t do anything special to nurture them through the spring other than an extra splash or two while filling the dog’s water dish. But, they grew and flourished. I took one to Texas for my grandson’s birthday in May. By fall, one particularly healthy specimen still survived, and the five or six leaves turned a very pretty brownish red before falling off. I have faith that after the harsh part of the winter is over, this very straight foot-and-a-half-tall stick will sprout new leaves. If, of course, that’s what God has planned.

Our grandparents had their own kind of trust when it came to planting. The “signs” as described in the Farmer’s almanac, illuminated the proper time for planting each different type of crop. There’s a measure of logic here, as weather patterns seem to come in cycles, much the same way constellations and planets travel across our sky. There is wisdom in following traditional markers that have produced past successes. I’ve heard since moving here that you should prune roses on Washington’s birthday and plant potatoes on St. Patrick’s day.

So, while waiting for those important days to arrive, we’ll watch for signs of green to pop out of the earth. I wish I’d had some sort of toad tracking device to fit around a tiny leg at the first of the year. How will I know if any of the friendly little hoppers in my yard are the one I tried to treat with respect that day? It will certainly take a lot of faith and trust.

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