The Disconnected Gardener

I have become disconnected from my garden. Yesterday I realized that I had no idea what was going on out there. During the active gardening season, I manage to take a walk around the place nearly every day, but since the period of short days and long nights began, it’s dark when I leave for work in the morning and dark when I return. That leaves weekends, but lately I have been preoccupied by other things, and of course there’s winter inertia…

October and even November were full of activity, mostly cleanup — cutting down withered perennial stalks and raking up a zillion leaves. The compost pile is overflowing, or was last time I looked at it. Once it sinks a bit I’ll have to get out there and poke it with a crowbar to introduce air so as to avoid anaerobic decomposition, which produces slimy, smelly results.

But this morning, the garden has an abandoned look to it, I think — slightly dishevelled, with leftover leaves here and there, the oriental hellebores flopping their foliage all over the ground, not much in the way of colour besides tired greens and muted browns.

Tired Garden

Of course, here on the west coast, gardens never really go dormant the way they do in places with real winter, where snow covers everything for months. In my south-facing front garden, snowdrops are already poking up and will be blooming in January. The Corsican hellebores have buds that will open in the next couple of months. The place is full of bird visitors, from sparrows to hummingbirds (Anna’s), and there are a couple (maybe more) raccoons hanging around. Life is definitely going on out there, but just now I am not a participant.

This brings up the idea of the link between garden and gardener. So often, the state of one mirrors that of the other, although if the gardener goes out of commission and becomes a couch-dwelling lump or computer-fixated zombie, the garden really doesn’t care. Plants can look after themselves, for the most part. The place just gets messy, slowly losing the characteristics that distinguish it as a garden — neatness, tidiness, edges and selectivity. If it remains untouched indefinitely, a garden reverts to whatever it was originally — a forest, a Garry oak meadow, a piece of prairie. Of course, all the non-native plants introduced since the area was settled prevent a true return to nature. Then there are municipal bylaws about maintaining one’s property. Long before this happens, I know I’ll be out there again, engaging with the plants, the shrubs, trees and pond, dealing with the depredations of hole-digging, rock-rolling raccoons, being a gardener again.

On another topic entirely, I went to a most entertaining concert last night, of the Winter Harp ensemble — three harps, flutes, a variety of medieval instruments and an amazing, one-woman percussion section. Clad in jewel-toned velvets and silks, they performed Christmas tunes with a medieval/celtic twist, along with brief narrations on seasonal themes. Percussionist Lauri Lyster wielded an array of drums, shakers, bells, chimes, metal bowls and a clay pot with flair and precision. It was truly a feast for the ear and the eye.