The South’s cold weather is mild compared with more northern locations from where many Triangle residents have migrated. No snow tires are required to travel short distances here. Down jackets are needed only a week or two between December and February. Rarely used snow shovels rest in sheds. Sunshine regularly penetrates overcast skies to brighten the bareness of the dormant landscape.
Despite the Triangle’s more comfortable winters, local gardeners are sometimes kept idly inside by early morning’s freezing temperatures, frequent frosts, and occasional light snow or frozen rain. After the garden tools are cleaned, and all the seed catalogs are marked for purchases, a case of gardener’s winter boredom often strikes. Avoid this affliction by stoking your fire logs, wrapping a blanket around you, and reading books about gardening.
The Backyard Parables: Lesson on Gardening, and Life (Grand Central Publishing, 2013) by Margaret Roach is a testimony to the yearlong pleasures of gardening. In four seasonal sections entitled Water, Earth, Fire, and Wind, the author discusses her experiences with plants, animals and weather at her home and garden in upper New York state. Many pages contain advice on growing plants and other topics, varying from recipes to ways to deter destruction by deer. From her skills developed through twenty-five years of writing, including a stint as garden editor for Martha Stewart Living magazine, Roach has created a book that is a pleasant read with its mix of helpful facts and humorous personal experiences.
If you remember life without television, computers, and cell phones, Tell About Night Flowers: Eudora Welty’s Gardening Letters, 1940-1949 (University Press Of Mississippi, 2013) offers insight into that slower life style. The letters are written to two important men in Welty’s life: her agent, Diarmuid Russell, an avid gardener, residing in New York, and John Robinson, an aspiring writer and a gardener with whom she was in love. Included in the letters about literary issues, Welty frequently mentions seeds and bulbs ordered, describes hours of garden work, and questions the condition of plants sent by mail to her favorite gardeners. Her comments on plants, the war and other issues of that decade introduce the reader not only to a talented writer, but also an enthusiastic, knowledgeable gardener.
For fiction lovers, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, has written a volume of historical fiction about a frustrated, nineteenth-century female botanist. The Signature of All Things (Viking Press, 2013) follows the heroine’s fascination with moss and with eccentric characters in a life’s journey from Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam.
Spring returns on March 20, and frosts will cease approximately three weeks after that date. Before the earth awakes again, take time to enjoy watching the gray world slowly turn green with tiny sprouts and leaves. Your hands will soon enough trade the covers of books for handles of rakes, hoes and trowels.
Christine Thomson is a Raleigh gardener obsessed with plants. She is a volunteer at the Raulston Arboretum and fills her spare time reading books, especially volumes about vegetation.