Monday, December 14, 2009

Wintertime survival list: no chemical stimulants required

A patch on the hubby's Scout uniform.

Perhaps you are unaware of the Boy Scout motto.  And you are wondering just what it has to do with a wintertime survival list for gardeners.  Having lived with an Eagle Scout for nigh on eleven years, I have picked up this much: "Be prepared."  Now, I don't know how to tie any of those fancy-shmancy knots, I don't have a pocket knife, and my firestarting tends to involve a lighter of some kind, but I have found that when I am prepared, I am not (as) afraid, so I am going to apply the Boy Scout motto to that trial of trials (at least for northern gardeners), winter.

Perhaps you are wondering just why it is sometimes termed "old man" winter.  Me, too.  I have been thinking about the wonderful qualities of some elderly men I know and I don't think those qualities apply to the term.  No, probably more like "stubborn old cuss" or "hornery, mean, son of a gun", you get the idea.  Or just picture Clint Eastwood in any of his movies.  "Do [you] feel lucky punk?  Well, do ya?"  A really cold winter, with a furious north wind that (skip ahead, squeamish ones) freezes your boogers when you inhale through your nose and dries the moisturizer right off your face, that's old man winter.  I should add, he sucks the hope right out of a despondant gardener waiting for spring and the first green, growing thing.  To aid my sanity and arm myself against such an entrenched and ancient foe, I have devised a short list of survival techniques that get me through the really tough months.  For me here in Alaska, those challenging months are January and Febuary.   

Part of my home garden library: bliss!

1.  garden books and magazines: Sometimes I will find myself staring at the same picture for a few minutes, daydreaming I am actually there.

My skis making an appearance with one of the "moose-repelling" pinwheels I've written about in other posts.

2. outdoor activities: I don't actually hate winter, so I am learning to do things like ice skate and cross-country ski.  I've also set a goal to be outside twice a week doing something with the family.  We'll see how it goes....

Working on a post for the blog.

3. blog: A fun, new (for me) way of chronicling my garden adventures.  I also enjoy reading/checking out pictures on other blogs, and learning about other gardens/gardeners, too.

My smelly soccer bag.

4. pursuing new interests: Over various winters, I have taken up indoor soccer, sewing, and singing in a choir (I'm an alto).

5. refining my "gotta-have-it" plant list: I could do this for hours, and I often do.  Much to my own annoyance, I tend to use scraps of paper and sticky notes and once, in Seattle at a flower show, I used a napkin.  Very classy and organized, no?

Beautiful, yes.  Bleak, yes.

I prepare myself for the bleak months by trying to fill time spent not gardening, with other productive, edifying, and enjoyable activities.  I fully realize every gardener and climate is a bit different, so I ask: What are the tough months where you garden?  And how do you cope?


Jim Groble said...

Our son is an Eagle Scout. He still has his "eagle" stuff and Philmont map hanging in his room.


RainGardener said...

I just need to keep coming here to make myself feel better about winter. I don't think I could take the cold in Alaska anymore - although when I think of it I always said once ya hit below freezing it all felt about the same after ya got numb. And sometimes I swear I'm colder here because it's so wet. Ah who knows? I'm gonna complain no matter what.
For me it's October through March. It's so ugly outside. Sometimes we get some beautiful days in January and I get spring fever for a short time. Kind of like Fairbanks (on a milder scale) pretty in January but don't dare go outside cause you'll freeze to death!

Christine B. said...

@Jim Groble
Our resident eagle scout has a little blue duffel bag full of merit badges and patches he earned. I think they must have badges for any and everything, some unexpected ones are dentistry, stamp collecting, and traffic safety. As a kid, he used to have to wear the uniform with shorts and socks pulled up to the knee: stylin'!

Christine B. said...

Rain Gardener,

Yes, you will most likely feel better about your winter when you visit, we've been having a cold snap lately. It was finally "warm" enough to snow today. Uh, yipee, I guess.... Even if you do have Oct. through March as yucky months, I'll always be jealous because you have so many great gardens, garden centers, and a great garden show nearby!


The Garden Ms. S said...

I think it is January and February here as well. Last winter we spent it planning the removal of the gravel that was the backyard and where we would put in beds. This year we are going to work on a hardscaping design and pick out patio doors to open the back of our house to the garden... and finalize a tree plan...I hope! (If I get all that done then next winter is pure plant dreaming ;-) )

debsgarden said...

Thanks for this enjoyable post. I fantasize about Alaska from afar. I'm afraid my blood is too thin to deal with frozen boogers! The closest I have come to Alaska is Oregon in the summer, which was wonderful. My tough months are July and August, when the temp hits 90 to 100 and above with about 90% humidity. The good garden plants retreat, and the kudzu takes over the world while we watch it grow from within our air conditioned homes. Winter lasts about two months. It tends to be dreary, wet, with enough frozen days thrown in to confuse the plants. By the way, My son became an Eagle Scout in 2004.

Christine B. said...

@The Garden Ms. S
Great minds think alike! The first thing I did when I moved into my house about 10 years ago was to remove the white gravel ringing the mailbox. Still working on getting some nice patio doors....


Christine B. said...

Oregon in the summer: love it! My dad was from Portland, they have some great gardens there. You are tough if you can stand all that heat and humidity. My wilting point is about 75, I can't imagine 90 with humidity for months on end.... Congrats on your son, you must be proud!


Deborah at Kilbourne Grove said...

Hi Christine, for me as well January and February are the WORST months. In March, you will get those little teaser days that spring is on the way. Our weather is not nearly as cold as Alaska, but we do get a lot of snow in Owen Sound. Great for skiing at nearby Blue Mountain, a good blanket for the garden, but (in my mind) not good for anything else. When we started shovelling the first year, all our neighbours would drift over to say hi, and advise us to buy a snowblower. Not sure what they meant, until we arrived one Friday night and had to wade through thigh high snow to the back door.

joene said...

I have a mental survival list that also includes reading gardening books, magazines, and catalogs, but I also use our much less severe CT winters to clean out closets, paint, and otherwise organize my indoor life so it doesn't bug me during outdoor season. Used to play indoor soccer and loved it.

jeansgarden said...

I really enjoyed this post. My winter gardening activities include garden books, planning new garden projects, and (new this year)blogging. I like winter and outdoor activities like x-country skiing, so for me the difficult months are March and April. In March, the snow often gets too slushy for skiing and April is knee-deep mud. Too soon in either month to get out and do anything in the garden. I usually try to get away for a week or two in April, to go someplace that has real spring. -Jean

leavesnbloom said...

We're due snow this weekend in the north of the UK - my husband would love to have snow like yours - yes bleak but so beautiful and picturesque. Could you give me the link about your moose repelling pinwheel please I would love to read about that ......... wonder if that would work with deer? Winter is a great time to look at all those books - I did the same thing a few days ago and opened the cupboard and looked at them all and realised that some of them needed re read again.

Christine B. said...

@Deborah at Kilbourne Grove

Had to laugh about the snowblower bit. My hubby would dearly love one, but alas, we have absolutely nowhere to store it, so shoveling it is. Luckily our driveway is pretty short!


Christine B. said...

Hello joene,

I forgot about that one. Organizing the house is a big one for me, too. Right now, we are working on tiling the fireplace (it's been about 6 months undone now). It's been hard to get up the motivation for my hubby, when he comes home from work, it's dark and he said it feels like bedtime. I'm not letting him get away with that excuse much longer!


Christine B. said...

Fellow newbie blogger Jean, hello! I am totally with you on the "get-away" for awhile in the difficult to cope months. Hawaii is my dream, but I'll probably do Seattle for the garden show instead.


Christine B. said...

I wonder if FedEx would overnight a giant box of our snow to your husband? I'm sure there is some easy way to put a link in here for the pinwheel posts, I just don't know what it is (sorry), so here are the longhand addresses. Or search the topic labels under "moose."

Elephant's Eye said...

January February here too! But for me that means getting out there, either before or after it is too hot, to water the roses. Lots of flowers, but I need to pick them, or the midday sun roasts them. And we are planning what to plant in March when it rains again.

Christine B. said...

@Elephant's Eye
Oh, you are killing me here! Roses in January, I'm trying to imagine that and I keep picturing the grocery store, my winter rose source. I don't envy you the heat though. I'm a certified heat wimp.


LeSan said...

Same months as you get us in Seattle. Not so much snow but the dim wet grey gets on your nerves right about then. You'd think it would be a good time for water gardening but no. It's too darn wet and then cold enough to cause misery if not definite discomfort. Most often it's just a lousy mood.
I try to paint during these down months. I also lie to myself and pretend that I am going to do all those indoor jobs that I put off over the summer because I was too busy outside. I'm just lying though, and I both know it. LOL

Christine B. said...

My arthritis is flaring up just thinking about those wet winters you Seattle folk have down there. I should do some painting, too. My sister finally moved out of the spare room. My easel has been a coat hanger for seven months but now that she's gone I have no excuse. Oh, wait...I am a pro at making excuses!

janie said...

I am married to an Eagle Scout also, and I can attest to the facts as you have put them down. My Eagle Scout is ALWAYS prepared! For anything! LOL I would rather it be too hot, than a little cold. I am a cold weather sissy.

FlowerLady said...

What a great post! I could just hear Clint Eastwood's voice. I can relate to getting lost staring at garden pictures. I also sing alto, but it's been many, many years since I sang in a choir. I do sing along with music still though.

This time of year is the best time for our gardens. We rarely get freezing temps. Our worst months are probably August and September, with heat and humidity, that feels like it will never end. Then there's the threat of hurricanes for 6 months.

Enjoy your time indoors and it's great that you are prepared with different activities to enjoy.

Thank you for visiting my blog.


Christine B. said...

There should be a support group for Eagle Scouts' wives....


Christine B. said...

I can't imagine having to live with the threat of a hurricane for half the year. I guess every climate has its dreaded events: for us up here, in winter it's cold temps without snow cover. That tends to kill a lot of plants or at least put them at risk for frost heaving.


Carol said...

I can relate to your beautiful of "Beautiful Yes Bleak Yes". It is hard to be outdoors in temps so cold... but we must make the most of it. I love snowshoeing and feel more liberated from when I skied more. Yes Be Prepared... for tip of toes and fingers hurt when too cold. Enjoy. Carol

Christine B. said...

I'm hoping Santa will bring me some snowshoes this year! Amen about the cold hands and feet...just running in and out of Costco warehouse was painful today (at about 3 degrees F).


Catherine@AGardenerinProgress said...

January and February are the long months here, but I know nowhere near your weather. I start collecting garden books and magazines to look at when I start feeling like Spring will never arrive. It sounds like you are prepared. I look forward to seeing your garden in Spring. I've never been to Alaska and really hope that we can make it up there one day.

Christine B. said...

Hello Catherine,

I only sound prepared, I don't much feel prepared. There have been some great garden books that have recently come out so I am sorely tempted to do a little book shopping. I've also been surfing the net looking for groundcovers and grasses. Hope you make it up to visit some day (I suggest a late June-early July visit).


Hank Moorlag said...

A great post, and I enjoyed reading the responses in all the comments. It's such a long winter here in the Yukon that you really do need to find some other outlets for your gardening interests. I like to browse through my library and see if there is something I can learn about our garden plants I didn't know before. Or come up with a new idea for a part of the garden that's in need of a lift.

But, the big thing I find is to get outside and enjoy the winter. Go skiing, snowshoeing, skating. It goes by so much more quickly then, and before you know it the snow is melting and we can turn our minds more directly to the garden.

So, get out there! Through a few snowballs, build a snowman. Have some fun.


Christine B. said...

@Hank Moorlag
Great advice, thanks! Snowshoeing is definitely on my list of things to try again. Our snow wasn't the proper consistency to build a snowman so we built a "snow mountain" and decorated it with leaves and sticks to make people and animals on the mountain. Not quite as satisfying, but what can you do?


Barbara said...

Hi Christine, I enjoyed your post! My survival list is very much like yours, and for me it's December and January that need to be gotten through. I've taken up skiing and our week or two in the Alps is one of the highlights that helps get through those months until glorious spring. And I keep telling myself that it's the bleak winter after all that makes spring so indescribably sublime. Happy New Year!

Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

Hi Christine! Thank you for this interesting post! And pictures too. One of them reminded me of a cross country skiing that I miss so much! It's wet and green here, in the Pacific NW. I try to be happy anyway. Blogging helps a lot! Sometimes, it competes with the REAL life. I want snow badly, since I used to have four distinctive seasons in my previous life. I should have a cold and snow to appreciate warmth and greenery. Thank you so much for your comments on my blog. Yes, that picture with a fireweed was taken in Alaska last summer! What a fish I caught there, 42 lb!
Happy New Year to you!

Bangchik said...

Tough months here must be the monsoon months. Too wet not only for our feet but for the roots and shoots too! I suppose nature is imposing a period of rest...... ~bangchik

Christine B. said...

I like your attitude! Spring is definitely the most anticipated season around this house!


Christine B. said...

Thanks, the compliment means alot coming from someone with such a fantastic garden blog. Glad you caught a fish up here, I always feel bad when visitors get "skunked."


Christine B. said...

We are rarely too wet here (we get only 16 inches of precipitation annually in my city) but I guess we are "too cold" instead. I'm glad nature gives us a rest even if I do gripe about the length of it;)


Lucy said...

Oh, I remember those beautiful but bleak days in Kodiak! Glad to be living in Hawaii now! Neat blog, Christine!

Christine B. said...

Bleak is the word, Lucy! Hawaii sounds really nice about now....



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