An Alameda Garden: Welcome, December!

Monday, December 01, 2014

Welcome, December!

To celebrate the release of my new book, California Month-by-Month Gardening, and the long-awaited rains we're experiencing this week, I thought I'd post something from the book. Here's the introductory essay for the month of December:

 Close the year, but not the garden.

The advice you will most often hear at this time of year is about how to close the garden, implying that it's out of business or at least on hiatus. It's important, of course, to ready a garden for winter, cleaning and clearing out the dead or faded plants, covering furniture, turning off irrigation systems as the rains take over the job of watering.

But in much of California, winter never gets harsh enough to really shut down a garden. Instead the garden downshifts into neutral in December, like an engine that never turns off but idles quietly through the short days and long nights. Manzanitas and other natives burst into bloom, evergreens maintain their composure, and succulents soldier on, all cheered on by cool-season annuals in hot shades. Even in areas blanketed by snow, while the outdoor garden rests, the indoor garden moves to the fore as bulbs are forced into bloom and tender plants take up their winter residence indoors.

Gardens are not meant to be merely blue-sky endeavors. Enjoying the garden year-round should be our goal. To do that, we have to keep the gate open and the path clear so that the garden can beckon us in at every moment. Even on days that are too cold to linger outside, the garden can comfort and delight us from a window, reminding us that even on the shortest of days the rewards of a garden stretch out long before us.

So tear the last page off the calendar and make your final entries in your garden journal. Remember the sweetest-smelling blossoms, the most successful harvests, the most eye-catching plants. Note the new bed you planted that now flourishes below your window and the bare-root tree you planted last winter, now taller than you and bare of leaves once again. Take a picture to mark your progress. Then close the book on the year and take up your daydreams for next year's garden. But leave the garden open, always waiting for your footstep and the next plunge of your fingers into the soil.

 --from California Month-by-Month Gardening by Claire Splan

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