A gardener's winter

·2 min read
A photo of Maria Agria's succulents.
A photo of Maria Agria's succulents.

As we watch the wax-encased amaryllis one of our daughter’s gave us for Christmas, I can’t help but meditate on Bette Midler’s wonderful song, “The Rose."

In the seed there is a flower. That simple phrase captures not just the process of human life and love evolving but the breathless anticipation every gardener feels waiting for a plant to grow.

Winter in the Upper Midwest is a difficult time for a gardener. But even in sunny Arizona, where the winter months produce an amazing flowering of bougainvillea and other perennials, the cooler temperatures make it much more practical to do our salad gardening indoors. While the desert air chills overnight, our mixed greens are thriving in their hydroponic matrix and with the LED grow light shining overhead.

Tired of wilt-y greens? Using a tiny fan on the countertop, my husband is happily creating the conditions indoors that nature does on its own out of doors. The leaves need that touch of adversity to bring out their distinctive crunch and character.

Outdoors, succulents in the desert love this time of year. And so I am trying yet again to root a half dozen slips from my California cousin’s amazing succulent pot garden. So far so good.

Sadly, I have managed to kill yet another Christmas cactus in 2021. A native of the southern Brazilian mountains, these supposedly indestructible schlumbergera have always been my nemesis. My paternal grandmother in Wisconsin had a gigantic Christmas cactus growing in an unused vat in the family cheese factory. It always blooms spectacularly in my memory this time of year.

The instinct to keep something, anything green growing is all but irresistible. So, from its unpromising looking beginnings in its wax shell, our amaryllis is now putting forth green spikes destined to become the plant’s long and graceful leaves. No watering required, just sun. With proper care a potted amaryllis can come back year after year. Unfortunately though waxed bulbs are guaranteed to grow, they bloom themselves out in a season and are not salvageable.

Poinsettias are the most abused holiday plants, often shallow-rooted and unlikely to last very long. Based on the myth that the plant is poisonous to pets, I would display them in hard to access places, not the best for keeping the poor plant happy. But one season some decades back, I actually was able to keep one alive to the next holiday season. A miracle.

In a gardener’s winter, green things growing promote mental health and happiness. It is that need that partly inspired my recent "Itinerant Gardener's Book of Days" — a year-long saga of my gardening life, including the dark days until the spring solstice. To friends who gifted the book to gardening buddies and relatives this holiday season: you get it — gardening even vicariously is better than not gardening at all.

This article originally appeared on The Petoskey News-Review: A gardener's winter