Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Seeds of Diversity Publication

Seeds of Diversity which in their words is a -

... source for information about heritage seeds, seed saving, plant diversity, garden history and your own garden heritage.

- thrice yearly published magazine and directory for seed savers and traders.

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Here's the 2007 issue for this year. Along with it came flyers for local oragnic and heritage seed companies.

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Which of course reminds me that Seedy Saturday is coming up... more seeds. Will it ever end? I love winter. Wait, did I say that?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Radicchio is a perrenial?

Yet another vegetable that requires its own little patch. To plant only occasionally is to make time for more tending (read weeding) of the other plants... oh and to spend more time smelling (or eating) the flowers.
Anyhow, it turns out that chicories, such as radicchio, are perrenial.

Or at least so I have been led to believe by this post on garden web . So I hit google and started searching. The evidence was mounting. The living herbs catalogue has red trevisso radicchio listed as a annual/perrenial. Not sure why the either or but hey, I continued to look. Yet another site makes a distinction in chicories by stating that radicchio is perrenial. It also says that chicories are annual and while this seems to be true of endive, I think a lot of sorting out needs to be done when it comes to the names of these things. Certainly common chicory whose pretty blue flowers cover waste sites and ditches are perrenial.

The site that convinced me was Floridata which stated that radicchio and chicory are hardy perrenials from zones 4-9 (American zones). I fit into that catagory and with a little help from mulch and perhaps some sort of cold frame rigged up, I think that they should survive the winter. We'll have to give it a try.

By the way, there are a dizzying number of chicory varities which I am trying to sort out, this is what I know:
  1. red / cream heading: radicchio
  2. green heading: sugarloaf
  3. long leaf : italian dandelion, sword chicory, Puntarelle, Catalogna
  4. thick stemmed: asparagus chicory
  5. round leaf, cutting chicory: small leafed varities for salad greens
  6. forcing: belgian endive, french endive, witloof
  7. loose heads: curly endive, escarole, batavian endive, commonly blanched, frisee
  8. root: common chicory whose root is used as a coffe substitute or additive

Did that straighten it out for you? No, I'm not surprised. Stay tuned for more as I untangle the story on chicory.

By the way, why you ask am I so interested in this salad ammendment? It is a cold tolerant plant which can overwinter if wrapped up in a cold frame or polytunnel, or both, depending on what climate you live in. Hey, it might just live outside if you are lucky enough to have mild winters. Cold tolerance is pretty exciting but add perrenial and I want to know more.

Part two


Monday, January 29, 2007

Composting in the winter

I don't know why but even I thought you couldn't compost in the winter. I guess technically if you live in the frigid zones then nothing is composting outside but that doesn't mean that you can stick compostables on your compost pile:

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The freezing will help break down the cells and in the spring, the pile will thaw and start up again. Now, I have to admit that I am a lazy composter. I do not make sure that my browns and my greens are in perfectly porportional layers. I do not measure the temperature of the pile. I do not water it though in this soggy land, I have no need to. I don't even turn it. The most that I have done is to build a bin out of pallets to put it in. In fact, after the first year of composting, my husband was convinced that all that rubbish was just sitting there unchanged. You should have seen his face when I moved aside the top two inches to reveal dirt all the rest of the way down.

The magic of decay.

Short Season Sweet Potatoes - the book


Ken Allan's fantastic Sweet Potatoes for the Home Garden arrived. If you live in Canada or in most any other zone where you wouldn't traditionally think of growing sweet potatoes but have always wanted to, then I recommend this book. It is particularly good for the backyard gardener with its tips on soil types, water and fertilizer needs, propogation, and cultural techniques for improving yeilds. It is well researched, and anticipates my questions in an easy to read style.

By the way, I live in the 'medium' zone for growing sweet potatoes- yes zone 5a, Ottawa.

He says,

"Gardneners in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Souther Quebec, Southern Ontario and parts of British Columbia can depend on a good yield of sweet potatoes, in all
except the coolest of summers, providing clear plastic mulch is used. This is the climate zone in which I garden and consequently where much of the research for this book was done."

You may correctly infer that there is an easy zone in Canada too! Though reading this book won't guarentee you can grow a good crop of sweet potatoes, it certainly widens the possibilities...

Hmmm - I wonder if I could grow peanuts

You can purchase this book at:

Friday, January 26, 2007

Winter Sowing - really, I mean outdoors

I bumped into this concept twice. Technically, only one is the true winter sowing, a technique popularized, and self discovered, by Trudi Davidoff. The other source is the 12 month gardener*. What it involves is sowing seeds outside under cover in the depths of winter, even in the frigid zones, and then letting them germinate and grow on outside. No taking up light space, and hardier seedlings. Sounds like a great idea!

Trudi describes her method of winter sowing like this:

With the Winter Sowing germination method you will be able to start hardy seedlings for pennies. Winter Sowing is done outdoors during the season of winter using mini-greenhouses made from recyclables; there are no heating devices, no energy-wasting lights or expensive seed starting devices. WinterSown.Org is a member of the National Agricuture Library AgNIC Alliance.

Tired, of leggy seedlings:

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I think that I will give it a try.

Starting with:

  1. brassicas: kohlrabi, cabbage, pak choy, chinese cabbage (michili), rabe, broccoli, collards
  2. celariac
  3. florence fennel
  4. leaf crops: spinach, lettuce, chicory, endive, 7 top turnips, mache
  5. alliums: leeks, onions
  6. herbs: dill, coriander
  7. roots: turnips, beets, carrots
  8. flowers: tall snapdragon (wildflower), alyssum
  9. Ottawa Hortiphilia tomatoes: a variety that self-seeded - appeared - in my garden last year with interesting properties including cold tolerance.

Stay tuned...


*This book is available in the Ottawa Public Library

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Short Season Sweet Potatoes

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Optimistic Gardener Warning

I plan on growing sweet potatoes. Before you point out my truncated growing season, look what I found out:

Hortiphilia Fact:

There are short season sweet potatoes
Most popular is Georgia Jet, between 90-100 days

I became interested in these beauties because they like thin, well drained soil, are drought resistant, and store well at room temperature. They are also highly nutrious and oh so tasty. I found reference to them in an old gardening book (currently on loan so I can't remember the name) about the Ottawa Valley where she says she tries to grow them every year not always successfully but usually has immature tubers to eat which are very tasty. Hunting down the possibilities of season extension, I came across Ken Allan - northern sweet potato guru.

After a year of humming and hawing, I decided that I must try and grow these too. So I have ordered his book and several slips of Georgia Jet.

His article on clear plastic soil warming has me optimistic about melons too.

If this has peaked your interest enough to try it, or if you are succesfully growing sweets in the north, let me know.


Greg Wingate at Mapple Farm supplies short season sweet potatoes and other uncommon veggies, as well as Ken Allan's book:

Ken Allan's page about his short season sweet potato book

Ken Allan also sells sweet potato tubers:

Garden Planning

'Tis the season to be planning, fa-la-la-la...'

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This fall I planted a whole bunch of bulbs, which are hopefully sleeping safely under the snow at the moment. They went in my spiral garden at the front which is a mixed perrenial bed containing dwarf/semi-dwarf fruit trees, self seeders, and the occasional vegetable - garlic was amoung the bulbs planted.

Anyhow, I notice how us gardeners acknowlege how our efforts don't always produce what we had dreamed. As this is the dreaming month, I thought I would introduce you to one of my dreams.

Last spring, I decided that I wanted a mini orchard with fruit trees and berry bushes. I wanted it in my organic front lawn: read, mixed low growing weeds that if kept mowed looks lawn-like. My husband hates the 'lawn' so agreed to it. I began to draw, and draw and draw. Eventually, I settled on a spiral path running around 2 apple trees, one self pollinating plum 'Montreal Plum', and a hedge containing a gooseberry, red current, and a rugosa rose.

Then I got out my spoons and string and mapped out the area. Neighbours made wisecracks about spoon harvests.

I planted the trees*:

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My Italian Neighbour made sure that I spaced them far enough apart.

I started canvasing for cheap stone. My handyman neighbour suggested blasting sights. I think my eyes must have looked like firecrackers had gone off in them. Free stone! Free. Absolutely free! I went to the Quebec Side and loaded my Cavalier (yes the standard non pickup truck model car) with rock. Then I went back 3 or 4 more times. The last time to get the piece-de-resistance, a 100lb rectangular slab that would make a perfect bench for the centre of the spiral. Now, if you were to see me, you would know that no one has mistaken me for the Incredible Hulk or any of his kin so this thing was HEAVY. But I lifted it somehow and stumbled about a city block to my car. I rested it on the curb to think. Could I lift it high enough not to drop it on my foot or the car? Thankfully a burly frenchman who had also been raiding the site came over and gave me a hand.

Next step, I laid the stone in the pattern I wanted on the ground. A stone spiral on grass got some funny looks. I don't think anyone yet had my vision for the thing. Finally the soil and mulch was delivered. Some furious digging later, this was the result. Actually this picture is taken in the fall after most of the plants that are currently in it have died back.

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It still needs the path running to the front of the yard, but that will be done next year.

I like it. I am happy. It is not exactly what I had dreamed but like any plan, its realization is more beautiful partly because of the triumph of completion (or nearly) and partly because of the process.

So dream, plan. It'll be great, or at the very least, a learning experience.

I'll keep you updated on whether the squirrels foil my clever chicken wire contraptions and eat all the bulbs that should come up in the spring.

* The two dwarf apples have my daughter's placentas underneath. The Montreal plum is self fertile but I have another to be trained as a fan in the backyard to act as additional fertilization. There is also a small cotoneaster shrub in the middle. This is an evolving garden so that some perrenials will eventually have to be moved as they are shaded out by the growing fruit trees. Most are part-shade tolerant.

Overwintering Parsnips

You may notice that I have a thing for overwintering and perpetual beds of vegetables. I know that normally it is only the westcoast gardeners and others in warmer climes that are all dizzy about keeping a vegetable alive so that it starts fresh and early in the spring. Maybe I'm jealous. Maybe I wish that my skin didn't feel lethaly threatened when I walked into a -30C windchill this afternoon. Maybe, but that's neither here nor there. -30C windchills are challenges just like 4 feet of accumulated snow, and percipituous killing frosts late in spring.

Back on topic - Overwintering parsnips.

Hortiphilia Fact:

You can overwinter parsnips!
Cold turns starch to sugar so spring dug parsnips are sweeter.

At least, it seems that most people can overwinter them even in zone 2/3. I read in the gardenweb forum of some really far north gardners who have self seeding beds of this divine root crop and I thought, is this possible for me? When would they flower. Would the seed grow fast enough to produce decent sized parsnips for harvest in the fall, or only in the spring. Would I be selecting for smaller parsnips? How many parsnips would I need to keep up sufficient variability in the genetic line? Will the garden plot get riddled with disease because it wasn't rotated? Questions, questions.

I think I stumbled across the answer of 6 parsnips as adequate genetic stock. I believe the source was Breed Your Own Vegetable Varities by Carol Deppe. However, I have to verify that.

Could I keep 6 parnsips aside for seeding reasons. Of course! Perhaps, an experiment is warranted... I feel an optimistic gardener warning coming on...

Parsnips in the foreground, mid-summer
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Extra, extra, read all about it (or general info):

  1. Plant parsnips as soon as the ground can be worked
  2. Soil must be loose and without stones. A cheat way to plant is to take a crowbar and make a conical hole, fill with a mixture of peat moss and sand, or some other sifted light material.
  3. Parsnip seeds germinate poorly so always use fresh seed. It also germinates slowly so many people suggest marking the row or block with radish seeds.
  4. They taste better after a couple of heavy frosts as the starches are converted to sugars.
  5. You can store them in the ground over winter. I've never heard of someone mulching them first but I don't think it would hurt. Harvest as long as the ground is diggable and then first thing in the spring.
  6. You can store them in a root cellar as well.
  7. They are really tasty roasted, or in stews. We make root veggie pie out of them!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

It's cold but that doesn't bother the weeds.

How cold?

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That cold!

By the way, there are still plants alive in there. In fact, when I was in the peaked-thingy-covered-in-6 mil-plastic-that-started-out-as-a-hoophouse and will forever after be known as my season extension spaceship, I uncovered perrenial weeds that were green and healthy inside. Perhaps I should just specialize in grownig perrenial weeds. I understand that many of them are edible.

While we are on the topic, let me list some that can be found regularly in my veggie patch:

1. Lamb's Quarters - salad greens
2. Dandelion - young greens, blanching suggested first. Besides wouldn't it be fun to cover these up with a pot thinking all the while that soon they'll be sauteed in butter?
3. Queen Anne's Lace - wild carrot (can be confused with 'poisoness plants')
5. Red Clover - flowers
6. Purslane - a gourmet green in fact!
7. Stinging Nettle - don't normally get it but I hear it's a great green.
8. Wood Sorrel - thrives in sun, shade, wet and dry soil, under plants, by itself, on concrete...
9. Shepherd's Purse - apparently it's peppery
10. Plantain - greens (blanch first)
11. Burdock - root
12. Mallow - though I would like to grow that as a flower... and an edible, hmmm, the conflict.

Some websites:

Go to Brookland Park for a forage with Steve Brill:

I just love the way this lady thinks about weeds:

A weed identification site for Ontario - only some of these are tasty and good for you too.

Monday, January 22, 2007

I ordered potatoes!

Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes offers gardener packs of 4 seed potatoes of 4 varities for about 15 bucks for shipping and handling. How could I resist? I ordered:

  1. Russian Blue
  2. Carlton
  3. Kennebec
  4. Cherry Red

According to my new book, the 12 month gardener you can plant potatoes in the fall, heavily mulched and then let them grow through early in the season. If you are thinking to yourself but if there is a frost, they'll be killed. Fear not:
Optimistic Gardener Warning

I read - somewhere - that the spud will just send out more tendrils. I think this probably works best if you have planted whole seed potatoes, or biggish pieces so it has lots of reserves to draw upon and if it has not grown too far. Also, in case of a frost, you could just practice Garden Safety Procedure No.1 - throw something over it. In this case, a blanket, box, or just more of whatever mulch you threw over it in the fall. I am not sure how well this would work in freeze / thaw areas but I know that ever year I get potatoes growing out of my compost in the spring so hey maybe it's worth a try.

Overwintering Peppers

After reading that:

Hortiphilia Fact
Peppers are perrenials

At least hot peppers are.

I wondered if you could keep them alive for a second growing season. Food producing plants that self seed, overwinter, or are perrenial makes me giddy! So I did some research and found that many people were keeping their hot peppers, and eggplants(? - more reseach to follow) alive to grow another season. So I brought in one of my potted babies. Here it is, a long cayenne, behind the azalea in beautiful bloom.

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When I first brought it in, it experienced leaf drop but then started to grow a bunch of new leaves, and flowers. I have been dutifully picking them off so it saves its energy for another season. Hopefully, as according to, Pepper Joe they will produce an early crop next year!

Go to Part Two - A Pepper by Any Other Name...


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Peppers in the North

I can do hot peppers - cayenne, banana. No problem. I have a jar full of them dried, but I have yet to be successful with sweet peppers. My one attempt of growing them in a container on my south facing concrete steps ended in three or four edible red mishapen peppers from stunted plants, and I am to embarrased to tell the tale of the eggplant disaster. This will not stop me!

Optimistic Gardener Warning

So I have done my research, and come up with a plan that involves:

  1. Growing seedlings in a heated tray
  2. Prewarming the soil in my raised bed with 6 mil plastic
  3. Surrounding the plantings with stone mulch
  4. Fertigating - supplying a slow drip of compost tea or the like directly to the plant
  5. Low tunnel during the worst of the season
  6. Digging them up to overwinter inside if possible.

Under this will thrive a crop of mini bell peppers, and some italian frying kind (to be purchased), as well as the elusive northern eggplant.

Right now they are just seeds.

Interesting Site:

Friday, January 19, 2007

Winter means the ground is covered or frozen

More simply stated, you can't garden outside in Ottawa! And I have promised myself that I am not going to start any tomato plants until at least February, preferably near the end of the month...

Check out the gardening forcast for Ottawa if you feel like a giggle.

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Just needed to get this blog back to the right season.

Introduction to my Garden

I am mostly into vegetable gardening when I'm not obsessed with perrenials, or fruits...

Since this blog just started, I thought I would introduce you to my best friend (sorry to any of my human friends, the plants just put up with me better).

Spring in the veggie garden

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Five foot tall foxglove

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Weather's Warming

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The Jungle

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Clemitis and Hollyhock

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There are more but I would hate to admit that I take as many pictures of my garden as if it were a growing child.

What's inside that spaceship?

This year, I got creative with my wood and 6mil plastic to create a 'greenhouse' of sorts. I read Eliot Coleman's excellent '4 season harvet' and decided that I too needed coldframes and a hoophouse for all year round salad production.

Optimistic Gardening Warning

With starry eyes, I told my neighbour. He mentioned that there could be a lot of snow in Ottawa. I changed my design to have a gothic arch instead of a smooth arch.

'What do you think?' I asked my husband.

'Won't the snow and ice flatten it?' he replied.

I started to notice structural supports on buildings, especially greenhouses, for the first time.

My neighbour's dirt biking buddy from up north. 'Only thing that'll hold that kinda snow is a peak, like a villa.'

My italian neighbour, 'Don't see why pvc shouldn't hold it.'

My environmental friend was not happy about the pvc.

So now it is a wood framed peak, badly covered in 6 mil plastic as I had to stretch it myself in the blustering breeze. After it had been up for a couple of weeks, I tossed in an opening, of sorts... Tuck Tape and Velcro.

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But the point of this was to show you what's inside- Some ragged Red Mammoth Cabbage that was re-heading in the unseasonable warm temperatures of November and December. We got enough leaves for a meal.

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And Swiss Chard which has fainted from the -25 C temp the other day.

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Outside, we also have parsley, mizuna greens, and carrots hunkered down in a uncovered coldframe. By uncovered, I mean not under the high peak wooden framed greenhouse thingy which started out as a hoophouse:

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Parsley is amazing!

The snow a blowin' or the end of El Nino

Apparently, the City of Ottawa saved like a bigillion dollars not removing
the mountain of white that has usually fallen by the first week of January. What
with the above zero temperatures, even the birds thought it was spring. And
then, a white cloud on the horizon:

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2 weeks later

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Exactly how many people are you feeding?

So you would like to know what's in my magic drawer 'o' seeds:

  1. Onion, Sturon, norstar H, red wing H, yellow sweet
  2. Pole Bean, Hunter, Cherokee Veil of Tears
  3. Broccoli, Windsor H, Early Dividend H
  4. Kohlrabi, Kongo H
  5. Kale, Red Russian, Semi Dwarf Westlandse
  6. Savoy Cabbage, Comparasa H
  7. Brussels Sprouts, Oliver H
  8. Pak Choy, Japanese White
  9. Greenlof Chicory, Rhodos
  10. Carrots, Nantes II, dragon, oxheart
  11. Celeriac, Giant Prague
  12. Eggplant, Millionaire, H
  13. Leek, Ramona
  14. Parsnip, Harris Model, Hollow Crown
  15. Hot pepper, jalapeno, caribean red
  16. Sweet Corn, Seneca Horizon
  17. Beets, Burpee's Golden, lutz greenleaf, seven top, detroit red
  18. Salsify, Mammoth Sandwich
  19. Radish, mixed
  20. Peas, early straight arrow, lincoln homestead
  21. Snow Peas, Oregon Sugar Pod
  22. Flowering Kale, Osaka Mixed
  23. Mache, corn salad
  24. Winter Squash, Waltham Butternut, pontimarron, sugar baby pumpkin (maybe)
  25. Bushbean, ours
  26. Nasturtium, jewel mix
  27. Florence Fennel
  28. Collards, vates
  29. Spinach, winter gian, bloomsdale long
  30. Lettuce, four seasons, oak leaf, green romaine, grand rapids loose leaf
  31. dill ?
  32. leaf fennel
  33. Chevril
  34. Borage
  35. Basil, ours, lemon, purple, sweet, thai, cinnamon
  36. Tomato, bradnywine, purple prince, ours
  37. Chinese Cabbage, michihli
  38. Mustard Greens, Mizuna
  39. Swiss Chard, rainbow, Fordhook gian
  40. Cabbage, golden acre, mammoth red rock, savoy Comparasa H
  41. Soy beans - given by an organic farmer at a protest against terminator gene
  42. Cranberry beans - super market
  43. Melon, cantalope, saved
  44. Watermelon, saved ?, golden midgit, citron
  45. Summer Squash, black beauty, white scallop
  46. Rabe
  47. Cucumber, lemon, improved long green
  48. Ground Cherry, Aunt Molly's
  49. Alyssum
  50. Mallow
  51. Linen Flax
  52. Columbine
  53. Yellow tall Snapdragon
  54. Silver Dollar
  55. Calendula
  56. Gladiosa Daisy
  57. Sunflowers
  58. Morning Glory - imperials
  59. Marigold - petite mixed

We'll see how many seeds I'll give away, or are past their prime though most of them are not more than 6 month to 2 years old.

By the way, the answer is 4 people.

I'm so ashamed!

Normally, I buy organic, heritage seeds and try and save my own when reasonable. But today was a fall off the wagon day.

I, OG, am addicted to gardening

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I'm glad this is a fuzzy picture, to mask some of my guilt.

You see, they were on sale! The 'Gardener's Choice' seeds are from last season and on for only 39 cents (Canadian!) and while I was by the seed rack, I might as well look at what the others had. It wouldn't hurt, would it? Was it my fault that 'Aunt Molly's Ground Cherry' was there. At least, I drew the line at 'Grape Cherry Tomatoes' for 5 dollars...


It's not like I have a drawer full already-

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-oh I do?

But I did need these varities (or similar ones) to complete my gardening plan for this year. Now, if only I can hold off until Seedy Saturday, then I will be able to buy the rest of my warm season veggies... dreaming of the 'on season'.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


"Someone pathologically obsessed with plants to such an extent that it interfers with normal life functions."


  • Can spin almost any conversation toward gardening. Example 'Yeah, I am really interested in the continental literature too, did you know that the French were amoung the first to originate the Biointensive Gardening Technique.'
  • Commenting on plants in unlikely places such as doctor's offices, romantic dinners (floral arrangements), children's birthday parties, during labour...
  • Getting joy out of corrupting others, especially children by giving them plant related children's stories. I recomment 'The Gardener.'
  • Having a drawer full of seeds, a bookshelf full of gardening books, and every available light source with green straining toward it.
  • Seeing your life as split between 'gardening' season, and that other boring one.
  • Driving down the street at 60 when you suddenly stop, back up, pull over and point out to your non gardening partner that there is a Bleeding-Heart root that had been thrown into the woods and was in bloom (scale, 40 foot trees, inside 10 foot chainlink fence 4 feet was a 10 inch plant that I managed to see) and that you just had to take some home. So you take your snow scraper and a plastic bag for the rescue. Or some other plant focused, mildy dangerous yet innovative venture.

Dreaming of Summer

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Beebalm and Oregano blooming happily together under a July sun. In the middle of winter, midcalf deep in snow (normally it's knee deep but it was unseasonably warm in December), this picture looks to me as if it were from a dream.