New Year’s resolutions. The beginning of a New Year always has something of the seductive about it, no matter how dismissive we try to be, or how skeptical we think we have become.
I look at the blankness of the calendar’s pages, matching the blankness of the winter landscape and think about the ways I will fill the days of the new year, fill my days in the garden.
The older I get the unhappier I get with dichotomies, old or new, plain or fancy, dark or bright, good or bad. The older I get the more I see that we live in a continuum. We are always moving from one place to another.
Movement is irresistible and inevitable, but the movement is not always forward as in old to new. In the gardening world we see this in the tack of garden catalog promotions. They trumpet the New. Bigger! Better! Improved! There is the continuum, bigger, better and improved over the old varieties.
At the same time the old varieties, open pollinated varieties, heirloom varieties have come back into fashion and are once again New! The old flower varieties are again recognize for their charm, loveliness and fragrance, and old vegetable varieties appreciated for their flavor or hardiness or special suitability for a particular circumstance. They are also appreciated for their value in maintaining a diverse gene pool from whence new varieties will be born.
As I’ve considered the continuum I’ve asked people whether they have any new year’s resolutions. I’ve gotten an earful.
“More light!” One gardener said she and her husband had been working on their house and gardens for nearly two decades. They suddenly realized the sheltering woods around their house had grown so tall and dense that they shut out the sun. “I used to cringe at every tree that was cut down anywhere, but no more. The garden needs the sun.” And my friend assured me that lots of trees are left.”
This was a reminder to me that we have to be aware of how growth or depredation in our gardens creates the need to react to and work with those changes, whether it is trees that grow up and throw deep shade or old trees that blow down in storms resulting in unexpected sun.
Two other gardeners, one man and one woman, said their resolution was to get better equipment. Maybe a new tractor! Maybe just a new lawnmower. Both recognized the value of good sturdy tools and the necessity of caring for these tools and creating proper storage. I have my own resolution to create better storage for my tools and supplies.
“More dahlias!” Now there is a resolution that touches my heart. Aside from the fact that dahlias need to be dug in the fall and stored properly all winter, they don’t require a lot of care. In the end you can even treat the tubers as annuals. In the late summer they start a long season of bloom. Dahlias come in so many sizes and flower forms that there is a variety for every type of gardener and garden aesthetic. For me there is something about the big bold splashy vividly colored dahlias that really appeals. I’ve heard people call dahlias (surely only some dahlias) vulgar. I just think those glorious big irrepressible blossoms are great fun.
“We need to improve our soil.” This from my own son Chris who has never paid a lot of attention to the garden. Now he has a house that came with a yard of mossy compacted soil. Last year he put in a sod lawn, a mass of white rhododendrons, a holly hedge and a collection of shrubs around the house. Although he did take my advice about careful planting and compost, not everything has thrived. He is learning (the continuum again) that soil improvement is not a task you do once. It must continue throughout the life of a garden.
The custom of making new year’s resolutions gives us a ritual for looking at our past experience, in the garden and elsewhere. It also gives us a chance to think about new and interesting things we have seen during the year and to think about ways that we can incorporate some of those ideas in our own gardens.
Sometimes a review of the changes in our lives, children being born, children growing, children leaving, can affect the time we have for our gardens, or the kind of gardens we want to have.
Sometimes our interests change. With the easier availability of locally grown delicious vegetables the passion for a vegetable garden might wane, but a passion for dahlias might take its place.
Sometimes there is a change in our own health or strength and that compels a change in the scope of our gardens. The new year gives us a chance to consider the changes in our life and spurs us to think about shifting our efforts.
We toss around the words old and new, good and bad easily. But in the garden, as in life, it is movement along the continuum that keeps us balanced and happy.
I wish you all happiness in the garden all the new year long.
This first appeared in The Recorder in December 2004 BTC – Before the Commonweeder – and repeated in 2010.