DENVER, Colorado—These are the “fat and blue” days for many people. The holidays are over, and there’s still not a crocus in sight. My skin has that lovely Dracula-like pallor to it. I’m cranky. No amount of chocolate can cheer me. It’s too early to start seeds under lights in the basement. I could stretch the truth and babble about the tawny colors and fascinating textures of the winter garden—all those pods and rose hips caressed by silver frost—but I’m not going to risk frostbite just to exclaim over the pale sun shimmering on winter’s mantle. I just want it to melt the damn snow.
My friend Tom calls from his winter home in Texas. He’s smugly picking fresh lettuce and spinach and watching his salvia cuttings grow. I secretly wish him an infestation of ravenous slugs.
My only solace is a big, messy pile in my office. Stacks of catalogs, clippings, photocopies of orders I’ve sent, seed packets, and scribbled notes cover my desk and spill over to the bookcase. A couple of legal pads hold the key to my entire garden. They are extremely organized—in their own way.
I scribble in my pads throughout the year. Each one is for a part of the garden—the vegetable bed, the white border, the autumn border, the woodland garden, and so on. It lists the things “to do” in that area, and they get crossed off periodically. There’s a sketch (but not a good one) of each garden with lots of little arrows where things are planted. Big red arrows point to where things are to be moved when the garden thaws. I don’t remember when I made a big circle and wrote the words “need tall shady things”. Did I mean trees, perhaps, and just couldn’t come up with the right word? Another entry says, “Make sure magenta cranesbill is w/veronica.” I’m pretty sure I did. Then there’s my helpful note “edge with ?” Maybe I meant to plant some tall shady things there. Close by is the cryptic “something in woolly thyme”. Does that mean I should plant something in with the thyme, or is something already in there? Slugs? My good trowel? Jimmy Hoffa? What was I thinking?
Under the heading “Additions”, I wrote, “That beautiful white-flowerd (sic) silverleaf thing from PK.” Will PK please tell me what that plant is, did I get it, and, while you’re at it, who you are? Another puzzling entry says, “Clear out far east.” Should I pass that on to the State Department? Is it conceivable that I have multiple personalities who have been writing on my legal pads? Could I unwittingly be channeling Gertrude Jekyll? Or Douglas MacArthur?
Sorting these things out can be maddening. I’ve never kept proper records. I rely on my memory. I leave the label on a new plant long enough to memorize its name. Then it goes in a cardboard box in the basement in case I need to find it again (fat chance). No wonder I’m so cranky.
My friend Lauren shares my dislike for labels. She’s much more organized than I am and sorts hers into “alive” and “dead” piles. Some gardeners actually have extensive diaries that note when and where they bought a plant, a daily weather report, and what birds visited their garden that day. I’ve thought about starting a garden journal for at least a decade. I admit it’s a good idea, but I’m not sure I want to be reminded of suspicious sightings in the woolly thyme.