Round Robin: Easing Into Hibernation

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LANSING, New York—It’s funny how many of us who devote ourselves body and soul to gardening like October better than any other month. Dare we ad­mit it? People will suspect that all our horticultural enthusiasm is a fraud. Actually, I think that our enthusiasm has carried us away and now we’re just plain tired out. People have asked me if I shouldn’t like to have a greenhouse or to move south where I could garden all year, and the answer is no. Possibly I’m part grizzly bear, for I feel that winter is for hibernating and restoring the tissues, for reading, writing, and listening to music. I do try to get out and walk almost every day, though, to keep in condition for the onslaught of spring.

Last spring was not as strenuous as most, however, since I had the help of one of my daughters. She has become a serious gardener, and we made a good team, lifting, dividing, and moving plants around. She’s strong and swift, a great hand at turning compost and hauling manure. At her house nearby, she made herself compact, tidy little gardens where she intensively grew Oriental vegetables, watercress, all kinds of herbs, parsnips and peas, spinach, tomatoes, marigolds, perennials, and potatoes. No weeds in sight—they wouldn’t dare. I used to envy the women who came to my nursery with their grown daughters who were also avid gardeners. (“No, Mother, why don’t you get the Geranium magnificum and share it with me when it gets bigger? I’ll buy the Japanese iris and do the same for you. . . .”) Now I don’t have to envy them anymore.

Plants grew especially tall this past season; I’m not sure why. Galium aristatum, instead of blossoming at about 3 feet—just right for its position under New Dawn roses—grew to at least 5 feet. Because the roses had to be cut back severely after the hard winter, it turned out that they were blooming under the galium instead of the other way around. Some helianthus I grew from seed rose to tower over me—not what I had in mind at all for my new small enclosed garden. And such an awkward growth habit: all leg and very few leaves, except at the top where I didn’t want them because there they partly obscured the beautiful dark red and russet sunflowers that finally appeared in mid-July. Unless it’s just the weather that brought about this bizarre construction, someone might want to go back to the drawing board for Helianthus ‘Velvet Queen.’

Last summer, the perennials grew so tall that I had to stake individuals that had never required it before—Veronicastrum virginicum and eryngium, for example. But, come to think of it, isn’t there something strange going on every season in every garden?