Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Getting through the cruelest month…

Everyone has their least favorite time of the year. For me this is it…January, the longest, darkest, cruelest month of all.

When I lived in Seattle (always in an apartment, never with more than window-sills to garden on) winter didn't hit me quite as bad. After all everything was so green, the reverse of what I’d known for the first 21 years of my life in Spokane, Washington.

In Spokane the lawns were green in the summer (lots of cheap water) and then would go dormant in the frozen wintertime, when the entire city turns an ugly brown. Of course Spokane is filled with conifers which should green things up, but they’re so dark they end-up sucking most of light from the sky, and broad-leaf evergreens are practically non-existent in eastern Washington. In Seattle lawns were allowed to go dormant in the summer, but as soon as the rain returned in the fall…POW! It was the emerald city all over again. And of course the lawns were just the carpet; the entire city seemed to be one big green garden, there were happy plants everywhere, all winter long! Surrounded by all that green, winter was not the depressing event I’d known it to be.

But then I moved back to Spokane (it’s a long story).

It was no accident that I moved in May, after all spring, summer and fall are all lovely in Spokane. I had a good 7+ months to get acclimated to my new life before I had to hunker down for wintertime. I also had a secret weapon, a quote I’d read months before when still in Seattle and tucked away, knowing I’d need it. Come January I pulled out that piece of paper and put it where I could see it every day. When the darkness of it all became too much I’d read that quote and somehow get through the day. I was reminded soon I would smell that glorious smell of warming earth and begin to see bits of green appear.

Time passed, there were moves, and I lost the quote. It was okay, I didn't need it. It had served its purpose.

Now I’m living in Portland, and just like Seattle the lawns go golden in the summer and turn bright green when the rains return in the fall. There is green all around me. But my gardener’s heart wants more. I've gotten greedy; I want summer year round, the cold wet darkness that is January dulls my soul. However I recently came across that quote again; I’ll be reading it a lot over the next few weeks. Of course I’m taking the words far more literally than the author intended, but I doubt he would mind. Maybe you can use it to, we've all got the power inside of us, we just need to remember to feel it...

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer"
- Albert Camus

42 comments:

  1. I have three main weapons in the fight against winter doldrums:

    1) Visit local greenhouses. Could be at botanical gardens, could be a "butterfly house", or even a garden center that stays open year-round with a greenhouse. The warmth and surrounding greenery will help you recharge.

    2) Grow seedlings under lights indoors. Even if you have no need for the plants you grow, do it anyway. This is amazingly effective.

    3) Every summer set up a video camera (or even an audio recorder) in your yard and just capture 10 minutes (or as long as you want) of "nothing". Watch and listen to this in the winter to remind you what it's like out there.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your weapons Alan. I rely heavily on your #1, in fact I was just working on a post about one of my recent visits.

      I hadn't thought about #2 but I actually had done that the last couple of winters, perhaps it's time to do it again. And wow...#3, that sounds like fun. Hopefully I will remember to do that this summer, for next year.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this, danger. It sums up so many things for me too. I hope for both our sakes that is January is kind. And its soo right, no one can ever take summer from us!!! I love the quote. We shall live like its summertime!

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    1. Naturally I thought of you while I was typing that quote. It really is nice to know there is someone else up here in the PNW just as summer crazy as I am.

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  3. I do get restless in the winter when there isn't much to do. Now's the time to think of projects for the year and plants to buy. That helps a little. Fortunately, our nurseries are well stocked even now so an occasional nursery hop helps, too.

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    1. It's an interesting mix up here, some nurseries are wonderfully loaded, others not so much. I've got a list going of places I need to visit in the coming weeks.

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  4. Hi Loree,
    I garden up in Victoria,B.C and I find reading excellent Blogs like yours (and your friends) really helps me through the bleak midwinter.. so thanks and keep them coming! By the way your quote startled me, not for its content, but rather who wrote it as I have a quote stuck to my fridge by Msr.Camus that has helped me through some rough times: "If there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life". It seems we both owe a debt of gratitude to Big Al :-) Thanks again for the 'invincible Summer' of your Blog!
    Cheers,Neil

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    1. Neil, thank you so much for commenting and sharing your quote, it's equally good and I'll keep it near. I'll do my best to bring a little summer to your eyes over the next few weeks!

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  5. lovely, higly enjoyable post!!! loved reading it. Even if I live in very mild Barcelona (Spain), January is still quite boring... not much to do, most work has been done and for winter pruning it's too early since in the mild weather plants would start thriving again! uff, still a month and a half to wait ...
    We can only consolate ourselves with good garden literature and as Alan said, visit greenhouses.
    Karl Capek's "A Gardener's Yearbook" has really funny and wise pages about gardening in winter.
    Wish you a Happy New Year

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    1. Hi Rosa, that book looks like a good one! Thank you. Funny you mention pruning as I was looking at the big mass of hydrangea today and thinking how wonderful it would be to attack it. But yes, of course I should wait. Perhaps I just need to get a hold of Mr. Capek's book and curl up on the couch.

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  6. January is the cruelest month. I count the days and focus on my sunrise/sunset calendar that I print out just for this month. We will gain nearly an hour of light by the end of the month and that is my positive reinforcement for the next 30 days. But my go-to quote for January (taped to the wall in my office) that sums it up for me is not as positive as yours (I will send it to your email).

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    1. I haven't gone to the length of printing that calendar but I do have it in my favorites and look at it every couple of days. Today with the sky cloudless I noticed it was still light well after 4:30...yay for that. And I loved your quote, boredom indeed.

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  7. Reading garden blogs sure helps me! Also, In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay the same old grump that's been there all year. It helps to remember that I'm a curmudgeon regardless of the season.

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    1. Of all the words I might use to describe you I don't think that "curmudgeon" is one of them...

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  8. I am not sure which winter month I dislike the most.

    Following winter 09/10 and 10/11 I have grown to dislike December the most as that was when we had the killer freezes. However, prior to that January was probably my least favourite month as well. It feels like it goes on and on and never really seems to get any lighter.

    I have tried various coping mechanisms to deal with the winter darkness and cold and what seems to be working for me now is almost like a Yin and Yang approach. What I do is when it is really dark I project myself 6 months forward, think about the wonderful amounts of daylight I receive then and remember all of the good things I enjoy at that time - spending time with my family, gardening and mountain biking :)

    So, as I write this it is now January 2nd at 9.48pm and it is very dark outside, but in my mind's eye it is July 2nd at 9.48pm and it is still light and I am outside in the garden enjoying a cool beer and having fun with my children :)

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    1. I completely understand about December and have experienced the same weather nightmares. The thing that keeps me busy and happy in December are the holidays. I love them and they keep me smiling.

      I'm going to try your projection technique. It would be easier if I'd taken Alan's approach last summer and had a video to immerse myself in. I guess instead I'll go find some photos to look at!

      Here's hoping you get an early spring and a summer that makes it all worthwhile.

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  9. It is in cycles that makes the heart grow fonder...

    Everyone has their own tried and tested coping mechanism to get through the winter black hole (my personal reference to the months of January and February - when the mania of Christmas is over yet spring is still quite a distance away). Keeping that quote in mind certainly helps. I've been meaning to blog about this 'black hole' for quite some time now, and thanks to your post I might just do that soon.

    And that's one of my coping mechanisms: reading other blogs to give me ideas on what to blog about myself :) keep smiling, the first plant even is only a few weeks away!

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    1. "the black hole"...that's perfect! I look forward to your post. And you're right of course...I just signed up for a Hardy Plant Society event on Feb 2nd and bought my tickets to the NW Flower and Garden show towards the end of the month...

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  10. Back when Macy's was Meier & Frank, no shopping trip was complete without a sundae they made called "Summer Girl". It came in a tall, frosty glass with a long spoon to scoop up every last bit of the raspberry sherbet, vanilla ice cream and crushed pineapple, poured over with just enough soda to render it all frothy and crystalline. I vote for bringing back the "Summer Girl" and dedicating it to you.

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    1. OMG...I am not a huge ice cream fan but that sounds so wonderful. I just might have to make one, thank you Ricki.

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  11. Here under the Death Star many of us find August or September to be the cruelest month, when the blazing hot summer just lingers and lingers. So I understand SAD, even though it's the opposite season from when I get it. I hope January proves to be short and mild in Portland this year. The beginning of spring is right around the corner for us in Austin, only a month and a half away. May it be so for you as well.

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    1. Over Christmas my brother who lives in Phoenix was talking about other places he would consider living and Austin was mentioned. I tried to warn him about the Death Star but he seemed to think I was exaggerating.

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  12. What a wonderful quote, I love the idea of an invincible summer inside us. I was just thinking earlier today that I am sick of January already. Ever since the solstice I've been kind of keeping an eye on the dawn and the quality of the early morning light, to see if I can tell when it starts getting light earlier. No tangible sign of it yet, but soon.

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    1. Wow Alison..sick of January on January 2nd. Are you sure we're not related?

      Both I and the dog have noticed the moving sunlight (now that we've actually seen it for a couple of days). It's at an angle where at about 11 am the bedroom is light up bright. She's taken to hanging out there everyday for an hour or so. Maybe I need to do like-wise.

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  13. Good one. January doesn't bother me so much as February. By then I'm really tired of winter and starting to see minuscule signs of spring but noting is official. It's still cold, dark and rainy.

    One way I keep the invincible summer alive is to keep my eyes trained to see red berries. Pyrancanthas, Cotoneaster, Ilex and a few mystery plants are my go-to's for cheer right now. They're "blooming" everywhere and they're gorgeous. I stop and take photos if I can.

    The other thing is, although it's cliche, I remember that time just just speeds by anymore. Somehow this helps me live in the moment. Spring will be here soon enough. But I hope it hurries!

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    1. I enjoyed your recent red berry photos Grace, even if I don't comment I always read your posts. I saw hyacinth's coming out of the ground today. That shocked me. And you're right of course...time is crazy fast these days!

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    2. I concur with Grace--I have the hardest time with February. The only upshot is that it is shorter than the other months.

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  14. Great quote. I too, struggle with the winter season. So, I print off my favorite garden pictures from the previous summer and hang them on an IKEA toy rack. And when I get really desperate, I visit Portland Nursery on Division and sit in the Adirondack chair in their greenhouse beside the banana trees. If only they served Mai Tais and played Hawaiian music…

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    1. Guess where I was just last week! Perhaps we need to make a date to meet there with our own Mai Tai's and boom box?!

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  15. I used to think that I had a least favourite season, but over the years I have discovered that I actually look forward to all four seasons in the garden. Our weather patterns have been shifting over the past three decades - where we were once buried beneath snow from the end of November right through into March, I am now crossing fingers that we get enough snow to act as a protective blanket. Winter is definitely not what it used to be! I still look forward to it - for me it is the 'vacation' from work at the nursery, and I entrench myself in searching out new, rare and unusual plant materials, and of course, staying caught up with creating blog posts and reading the ever increasing number of garden blogs! I do miss the sunlight and burn as many full spectrum light bulbs as possible

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    1. Hmm..."full spectrum light bulbs"...you remind me I could spend a couple of hours in the basement tidying up and tending to the poor plants under the grow lights. I could turn the heat way up and almost pretend it's summer!

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  16. But if we didn't have January when would we go for long walks in the snow with thermoses of Gluhwein?!

    Gluhwein aside I used to beat the winter blues by putting my palm tree and a beach chair under one of my higher powered grow lights, turn up the thermostat, grab a book, and pretend like it was summer. I wish I had space to do that in my apartment now...

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    1. I had to look up Gluhwein, I'd never heard that term! I like your pretend summer set up. Makes me think of all the warm hours I spent in tanning beds. Back when I was young and foolish.

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  17. Hey DG - Your post is striking the heart of the matter for most of us in the PNW this time of year. I love the quote, thanks for sharing. I wonder if we PDX bloggers might consider a wintertime gathering to shed the winter blues? Cheers, Jenni

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    1. Fun idea! Where would we gather?

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  18. January is my least favorite month too. This morning it was 13 F with a 7:18 sunrise. Blech! Although December is probably more dark from a day length standpoint, I find the holiday lights and celebrations help to brighten the mood.

    The downside to places with mild winters (at least on the east coast) is they typically have blazing hot summers with high humidity. When I think of where I might be happiest as a gardener I think PNW :).

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    1. Okay 13 F is pretty horrible, I don't think I could do it. Nor do I care for much humidity. I hear what you're saying...

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  19. My longest month is February. Usually some of the holiday glow lingers enough in early January to make it a little less bleak than what follows. Thanks for sharing the quote, it might serve me well, especially considering who said it.

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    1. I hope it does Les, and like Heather (above) said at least February is the shortest month!

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  20. Oh believe me, Phoenix has a Death Star more laser-focused than Austin's. Your brother-in-law would be fine out here. Tell him to come on. We have a great gardening vibe/culture here in Austin, Death Star and all. :-)

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    1. Brother (not in-law) and I'll tell him! His wife is a rose lover, how do roses do in Austin?

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