All winter long, my garden is just ugly.
There’s no excuse for it, really. We’re in Encinitas, just north of San Diego, where the sun shines pretty much year ’round.
But the truth is, I need a break from gardening in the winter. There’s other stuff to do. And then, when the garden starts getting winter-ugly, I really don’t want to go there. There are weeds — every year more weeds! (I swear the garden was weed-free when we first planted it five years ago; that sure ended!) There are towering stalks of kale, bearing ever-diminishing returns; overblown Brussels sprouts too. The skeletal remains of holy basil, and blueberry bushes, slow to rebound after a soggy, direct-sun-deprived winter stint. These garden remnants, leftovers from warmer, sunnier times, repel me all winter long. Too ugly. Looks like work. I’m out.
But then on some sunny day, February 25 or thereabouts (I really should make a note on my calendar — I bet it’s the same day every year), the tide changes. I look outside and see something I really ought to just quickly take care of… then another thing… as long as I’m picking weeds, might as well do something about that leggy loopy vine over there… and I’m BACK, baby!! Back in the garden — back in love with the garden. Clawing, spading and weeding, pulling and picking, until surprisingly quickly what had looked irredeemably seedy is once again respectable. A place where magic could and does happen. Ripe, if not with fruit, then with possibilities.
Working in an ugly garden is not without immediate rewards. The patch of earth I’d snubbed all winter had some surprises in store. Tiny Brussels sprouts, up near the ends of the stalks; some of them wrapped in deceptively brown skins, which peel off quickly to reveal pretty green, eminently edible clusters. A dozen perfect, if smallish, Yukon Gold potatoes were a complete surprise. I’d tossed them into the garden after they sprouted in the pantry last year, gave up on them when the plants died back after not doing very much; now, those 3 or 4 bits of spud had grown into twelve delicious little meals. I admit, I’ve eaten four of them today, and they were the creamiest, smoothest, richest potatoes ever, with a super thin and satisfying skin, enhanced with Kerrygold butter and nothing but.
But of course the pièce de résistance of the late winter / spring garden is the asparagus. It’s here — a few new stalks of it every day, each growing up so quickly that I wish I had a time-lapse photography set-up to record the sheer determination of it. Seeing asparagus popping up in mid-February is a bit concerning — we could certainly use a bit more winter around here! Nevertheless, it’s always such a pleasure, never a given, to see those asparagus coming back up again out of that plain old ugly brown dirt.
A gardener never forgets the capacity of plain old ugly brown dirt.
And if she does, the garden reminds her.