Having grown up in Florida where gardens thrive throughout the year, I had a difficult time adjusting to the depths of winter when I shifted latitude northward. Climate change has provided us with stretches of time here and there when I can head out for some maintenance tasks, bagging up spent tomato plants for the city composting facility and whatnot, but there are still plenty of days when it’s awfully cold. Colder than I care to experience for several hours while getting inevitably dirty and damp. I try to plan during those times, and it’s fun to put together ideas from installations or gardens that inspired me in the previous season.
We visited Glenstone museum in Potomac, Maryland for the first time last year, and the artists there have put together some amazing landscapes. In one area the meadows run right up against the walls of some of the buildings, creating a stark contrast between the chaos of nature and the sleek, almost monolithic architecture. It’s a bit 2001 A Space Odyssey. The juxtaposition really made me think about how we tend to create flowerbeds around houses in carefully drawn shapes with evenly spaced shrubs, and how maybe “taming nature” is less interesting than letting it run a bit rampant. Granted, most of the carefully-bred cultivars I grow aren’t really “nature” per se, but I do have a bed that is dedicated to native flowers for the wildlife, and I will try to expand that area this year.
Also at Glenstone, I noticed how they are preventing the deer from taking out their young trees with these devices. It is a simple cylinder of plastic hardware cloth fastened with zip ties. No more pounding stakes into the ground or digging postholes then stringing out that flexible fencing, attaching it with staples or nails. Plastic hardware cloth can be cut quite easily in comparison to its metal counterpart, and when the trees outgrow the encirclements, a quick snip of the ties with some scissors, a larger piece of mesh goes in, and you are off to the deer-free races once again. Genius.
If you are lucky enough to be related to or acquainted with farmers or gardeners, you can also look there for inspiration. This is the Meyer lemon tree in my parents’ Florida backyard, and it has been growing in the same spot for as long as I can remember. If you are thinking that the lemons look different from the Meyers you see in the store, that’s because they are. This is the thin-skinned Meyer from the 1950s that makes fragile lemons in shapes too dissimilar for easy shipping, so the citrus entrepreneurs have recently bred out some of that diversity. Unfortunately, but predictably, they took a fair amount of the complexity and flavor with it. You can still find the older trees producing wonderful, fragrant fruit in backyards in citrus growing states, so, if you needed a reason to make new friends, well, there it is.
I zested the lemons and made an infused vodka that is hanging out in the fridge until we have guests who might enjoy a lemon drop or two, then put the juice into some large ice cube trays in the freezer. One cube gets dropped into each batch of iced tea, adding a little more flavor and a bit of vitamin C. I also brought home a few Satsuma mandarins, seen here on the tree after being sampled by an itinerant flock of orioles. They got eaten out of hand within a few days.
Wherever you may find yourself this winter, I hope you are finding inspiration for your garden.