The lone voice of horticultural reason

The Importance Of Time Off

10-20-1999 — The gardening season ended for me at 3:51 p.m. on Sunday of this past weekend. Each year, sometime in the fall, a little fuse in my brain politely blows, piffft, my head jerks once, I look up and suddenly realize there’s nothing left to bloom, no experiments left to judge, no soil improvement or landscape construction projects pending that can’t wait until spring.

Gardening is all about what’s just around the corner. My realization on Sunday was that there are no more corners ahead. We are on the familiar, short, hard straightaway to winter. All that’s left for me as a gardener is to enjoy this year’s garden for a short while longer, keep watering moderately until several hard frosts, then cut it all down and cover it with marsh hay after the ground has frozen in November.

Some people find it odd when I tell them that, as a gardener, I love the winter months. The off-season is when I slowly soak the crick from my back, read the (non-gardening) books I’ve been meaning to read, revel in the warmth of friends and family, and surprise my business partners by showing up at hugely important meetings with clean fingernails. The end of the gardening season is to me like the end of a good concert, or play. You feel good, you turn away, and you think about it for a while.

Now is a good time to wash off all your gardening tools, especially your shovels, then dry them, rub any rust spots with steel wool dipped in kerosene, sharpen them, oil them thoroughly, and hang them in the garage for the winter. Every book and all the garden articles tell you this. I won’t get around to doing it to any of my tools again this year, even if I could locate them all, but once, about ten years ago, I actually did clean and store all my tools as I’ve just described, and the next spring, man, what a difference.

I do not busy myself with gardening-related activities for much of the winter. I don’t like houseplants, and certainly don’t grow any. Taking care of houseplants for the next five months strikes me the same as finishing up a long season with the Twins, then flying to Mexico and playing winter ball. What I want is a break. The last thing I want to do next weekend is ensure something’s growth, especially something as confrontational, on a daily basis, as a houseplant.

Instead I will slowly forget about gardening from now until early April, at which time the little switch in my head will go piffft the other way, and once again I will be more excited about the upcoming gardening season than any season preceding it.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener