FEBRUARY USUALLY FINDS ME in “winter fatigue.” It’s not the cold and snow but their troubling consequences I find daunting. Will the car start up, then stay on the road, will the furnace keep working, will I break my bottom falling on the ice? Our now familiar nemesis, the pandemic, has made solutions like socializing or ambling out to a museum off-limits. Luckily, we gardeners have another option—garden daydreams.
Consider color. The snow finally melts, leaving the brown, garbage-strewn earth; then one day in April buds on soft maples start to show the faintest red. Hillsides become clothed in the pale greens, yellow-greens and maroons of expanding foliage and the pure white of shadbush blossoms. Pussy willow buds explode to reveal fuzzy gray catkins, making honeybees buzz joyfully. Soon spring comes on like a freight train, with chrome-yellow forsythia, Pepto-Bismol pink cherry blossoms, vibrant red tulips. My favorite colors appear at the height of summer. Screaming orange Mexican sunflower, bottle-blue gentian sage and pale, pale yellow Abelmoschus manihot all bloom in the dog days, each blossom as deep and rich as a July sky. Nature makes every color imaginable, but unlike home décor, they never clash or look out of place.
How does gardening feel? In spring my back creaks as I dig and spread compost before planting peas, then the warm air cools quickly after sunset. In summer I don my favorite gardening outfit—faded turquoise bathing suit, work boots, raggedy cutoff t-shirt from a 1999 trip to Maine—slather on sunscreen, and go out to weed. And perspire. Dripping sweat proves that gardening is no sissy activity. I like the dirt and salt on my hands and knees, and sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy. I remember the tactile-ness of vegetables, like the cool curvaceous smoothness of an eggplant, the fragile delicacy of a very ripe, very large Brandywine tomato, or the heft of a melon popped off the vine. Rounding up dumpy, lumpy Hubbard squashes in October measures the bounty of the season, and the mind feels good putting up food for winter.
Plants are largely silent, but recall the sound of summer rain pounding a tin roof, the hard splat of black walnuts hitting the driveway, the whoosh of wind in a white pine. The dawn chorus of newly-arrived birds in early May is a thrill. It doesn’t seem as loud as it used to: I hope it is my imagination, and not their numbers declining.
Garden smells are iconic but words fail to adequately describe. The earthy scent of the first warm spring days brings hope, as does the tang of damp compost. Consider the dusky sexiness of Chinese chestnut blossoms, the floral extravagance of pink ‘Queen Elizabeth’ roses, the green odor of a cornfield. My active, healthy hive of bees storing pollen, making honey and wax and brood, smells like nothing else. Imagine fresh cut grass, barbeque grills, smoky campfires. Garden daydreams restore sanity and are safer than walking on ice.
To contact David Chinery, horticulture educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County, email