A Garden Retrospective


With the bustle of Christmas over and the new year just ahead, it’s time to take stock of our lives, and that includes our gardens. Now, when the ground is frozen, plants dormant, and hopefully under an insulating blanket of snow, we have time to catch our collective breath and consider our garden from a broader perspective.

Let’s start with the positive. What worked this year? What do we want to do again? In my garden, I trialed a new variety of carrot (my old standby was no longer available). It was an unqualified success. ‘Prodigy’ is a terrific carrot, a uniform bright orange and amazingly tender considering how huge each root is. I cooked the ones I’ve pulled so far (the rest are tucked under mulch in the garden, waiting their turn), and they were tender and delicious. I intend to grow it again.

It might be a bit painful, but we an learn from our failures as well. To avoid repeating our mistakes, we need to figure out what went wrong, and what we can do to correct the situation. For example, I didn’t get my pepper seedlings into the ground early enough (we were out of town at the crucial time). Even the ones in the greenhouse didn’t have time to produce as large a crop as I’d hoped—the ones outside just sat there and did nothing. Resolved: start seedlings a bit earlier, plant them sooner.

Sometimes, it’s hard to determine just what we did wrong. Dying shrubs, patchy lawns, trees that aren’t putting out much new growth—it can get complicated. Is it a pest—an insect or disease? Or perhaps it’s something in the environment. Hail damaged leaves can look as if they’ve been chewed. Did those bare circles in your lawn come from using the wrong herbicide—or the neighbor’s dog?

If you can’t figure out the culprit, ask for help. Check for the county extension services in your area. Master Gardeners have had hours of training just so they can solve your garden problems. (I’ve often explained that as a Master Gardener, I don’t necessarily have a better garden—but I do know why my plants died!) Their advice is based on research, and they aren’t trying to sell you anything.

I used to despair when the beautiful flowers I saw at the garden center refused to grow in my garden. Then I heard a famous garden designer speak about all the plants she had killed over the years. Sometimes, we just can’t know how a plant will do until we trial it. This is why I tend to buy one of something to begin with. If it survives a full year, I go ahead and purchase more.

January 1 is the perfect time to start a garden journal. A journal can help us keep track of our successes and failures. It can be a fancy notebook, or just a file on your computer. Make notes about the weather, when various plants were seeded and/or transplanted, what you do to the soil, pests, how the plants grow, and anything else that seems useful. That way, it’s easy to look back and see what was happening on a certain date. After a while, I learn when to spray a pre-emergent herbicide, when to bait for grasshoppers, when to plant my peas, etc. The information is tailored to my own yard.

I love being a gardener in winter. I can imagine the garden to come without breaking my back—or a single fingernail. My imaginary leaves are untouched by bugs or hail, the tomatoes in my mind are round, red, and luscious. I refuse to remember hours weeding in the hot sun, late frosts and scary spiders.

The color of springtime is in the flowers, the color of winter
is in the imagination.  ~Terri Guillemets

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