Grit Blogs > A Lakeside View

Winter Gardening

By Cindy Murphy

Tags: Gardening, Master Gardeners, Monarch butterflies, cannas, Cindy Murphy,

 CindyMurphyBlog.jpgMy work at the nursery is over mid-November, and my own gardens cleaned out later that month; I don’t do much garden planning until spring, don’t have a greenhouse, and have a charcoal-colored thumb when it comes to indoor plants. But despite winter’s duration, there’s still plenty of gardening to do!  It’s just “gardening” of a different sort.   

I read articles about gardening, in GRIT, of course, and in garden books; the book I’m currently reading, “The Shape of a Year” by Jean Hersey, is filled with eloquent prose about nature and gardens that is to be savored; this is not a book I’ll be breezing through. I keep up my nurseryman’s certification by attending classes and seminars; there’s a good one coming up next week presented by Michigan State University’s Horticultural Department. Titled “Confronting the Old Wives Tales of Plant Health Care,” it’s a discussion about insect and disease problems; I’ll fill you in on any juicy details in a later blog. Sometimes I write about gardening.    

One of the garden articles I wrote this winter was for our county’s Master Gardener newsletter. The topic was cannas, how they grow (from swollen rhizomes many people mistakenly call “bulbs” or “tubers”), what do they do other than growing there, looking pretty, (the rhizomes are edible, rich in starch, and are grown as an agricultural crop in some countries), and what you do with them in fall, (the rhizomes must be dug – it’s like digging potatoes - and properly stored; they’re a zone 7-10 plant and won’t survive our Michigan winters if left in the ground). When I dug mine this fall, the dozen or so I planted in late May, by early October turned into nearly three 20-gallon bins of rhizomes – way more cannas than I need. I decided to have a drawing and give a couple bags full of them away.   

 Cannas and Good Reading   

I’ve been a Master Gardener for over 10 years, but my work schedule and family commitments don’t often allow me the opportunity to attend the organized events. From time to time I’ll recognize a Master Gardener shopping at the nursery where I work, and there’s the year-end banquet each fall. For the most part, though, I have little chance to talk at length with my fellow Master Gardeners, and was looking forward to visiting with the cannas drawing winners, Janice and Jill, at the coffee shop in town where we’d meet for them to pick up the cannas.   

The morning I was to meet Janice, she called to let me know she’d be about 15 minutes late. Perfect, I thought, I was running late too. She got caught behind a slow driver; my reason for being late was typical – I had to shuffle my morning schedule because my teenage daughter was late. When I rushed into the coffee shop to find Janice already waiting, she assured me it doesn’t end after the teenage years; not even after you pack them up and ship them off to college. (Thanks, Janice! I thought I’d be in the clear after next year!) 

Janice has been a Master Gardener since 2004. I met her probably five years ago, when she came to the nursery to pick up some donated hydrangeas for the Wine and Harvest Festival, where the Master Gardeners have a booth selling plants to raise money for upcoming projects. It’s become a yearly visit, usually with her husband sitting patiently in his truck after he’s loaded the plants, while Janice and I yik-yak on for, what must seem to him, hours.     

Our conversation soon turned to Monarch butterflies; you cannot talk to Janice without asking her how the Monarchs are doing. Playing an instrumental role in the county’s Monarch Waystation, Janice has tireless commitment, boundless energy, and is always willing to share her knowledge and concern for these beautiful creatures. We’re both excited that she and volunteers are taking their show on the road and will be giving a presentation at the nursery late this summer.   

We discussed the effects this mild winter is having on the Monarchs across the country, the local farmers here, and on our own gardens; of our opposition to the unnecessary and overuse of pesticides; about hydrangea varieties; and of the benefits of dandelions. The time flew, and before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye.     

It was just a few days later I was back at the coffee shop with Jill, a Master Gardener since 2006, and her lovely daughter, who’d recently graduated college with an Art History degree. Mentions of the cost of raising children and seeing them off to college, about the huge amounts of food they consume, the cost of Laundromats vs. doing laundry at Mom’s, and how difficult it is to start a career after college when employers are all looking for someone with experience, all reaffirmed Janice’s assertion that with children, it never ends. (Thanks, ladies!) 

We talked about the challenges of vegetable gardening in sandy soil; while I just deal with it by adding compost and limiting myself to growing things that are adaptable to sandy soil, Jill has moved to raised beds and loves them. She’s got black walnuts to cope with too, and gardening in raised beds eliminated the juglone poisoned soil problem. The raised beds do nothing to eliminate the issue of squirrels and the nuisance created by their habit of leaving the walnuts and husks everywhere - we’ve both got that problem. Surrounded by woods, Jill also has to deal with rabbits, chipmunks, deer, and plenty of mosquitoes. 

Gardening can be quite a challenge at times – even when you’re not the gardener. Jill works at a garden center about 45 minutes inland, and we commiserated over those black-thumbed customers who commit planticide on a regular basis because they don’t quite understand that plants need water. As it did with Janice, the time passed quickly. They left with a bag of cannas; I left with the pleasure of meeting them. 

So while a blanket of snow (thin as it is) covers the ground, I still get an enjoyable healthy dose of gardening in winter. What kind of “winter gardening” have you been up to?