Shorter days. Colder nights. Wet soil.
These are times of rest, for gardeners and their plants.
As our plants pull inward, shriveling their tops, harboring resources in roots, and producing little or nothing, it is easy to believe there isn't anything happening. But that wouldn’t be true.
Just as hens stop laying in winter, our plants are recovering from the demands of summer production. Our plants are collecting chill hours, orchestrating hormones, and ridding themselves of unwanted, outgrown bits. And they are resting.
Rest is just as valid as labor. Without rest, hens die, tempers flare, and plants falter. Taking cues from our garden, we are reminded that winter is a good time to curl up with a book, a seed catalog, or a pad of paper and a pencil. To think, rather than to do. By resting and thinking about what worked and what didn’t in the previous year, we can learn from our mistakes. We can do better next time.
Sometimes it is difficult to get rid of things we do not love or use. We have been conditioned by a multi-billion dollar marketing machine to buy and have as much as we can afford and more. But we don’t have to do that. We can look to our plants to see the ease with which deciduous trees drop last summer’s leaves. After putting every ounce of energy into producing fruit and nuts, our trees let the fruits of that labor fall to the ground (or our harvest baskets) without a second thought. Maybe we could learn something from that.
Last night, my husband and I watched AlphaGo, a documentary about a computer playing Go against world champions. Mostly, the computer won, which was a big deal. What we found most interesting was that the computer didn’t try to demolish its opponents. It simply strove to win by enough. Our plants live much the same way. They are greedy for sunlight and water and nutrients, but they rarely take more than they need. (There are exceptions.) How much stuff do we really need?
Winter is a good time to shed our own excesses. And there are plenty of people in need, who could really use what we have just laying around. Pull inward and reevaluate your own resources, rather than trying to force plants into unseasonable contortions.
Winter is a good time to note what you like about your garden or landscape, too. Is there a nice balance of colors or textures or shapes? Which crops or flowers seem to always do well in your yard? By noticing what you like, what does well, you will be more likely to build on those attributes come spring.
Our winter landscapes are good reminders that we need respite and quiet, too.
Stay on your path, give yourself time, and savor the season.
Kate Russell, writer, gardener, and so much more.