Year-round gardening - a blessing or a curse?

We are fortunate to be able to garden year-round, or so the experts say. Who are they kidding? Yes, there are odd bits of time between storms, but the lighted hours are getting so short and when the oppressive grey moves away, the brilliant sunshine in November just does not warm the cold fingers as much as we would like it to.

There are times when I have such great envy of those gardeners who know the date when their gardens will be under a blanket of snow. They have to get their spring bulbs planted before that date. I look at my bags of bulbs, and say "tomorrow I will do all that stooping and poking." In recent years, that tomorrow, much to my chagrin, often comes in January.

So, this fall I decided to go into overdrive. I would approach my garden with the same frenzied compulsion one gets in late spring. Usually, the dog days of summer in late August/early September take the rush out of the gardening year.

There is not much we can do, except some light dead-heading and cropping the vegetables. This slow pace then extends into the fall, as our calendars get full with school affairs, sports, cultural activities, and the cooler weather. Raking the leaves can warm and soften the new chill in the air, but other garden activities now come with cold fingers and wet soil, shoes and socks.

In order to bring some sense into this new challenge, I first had to choose a date that my theoretical blanket of snow would arrive. I chose the Saturday before Thanksgiving, for I knew that Sunday until Thanksgiving Day would be filled with shopping for food and cooking for the great American family feast. Of course my fudge factor is the three days after Thursday, but my dream is still alive that I will not have to use those days. Dream on I say quietly to myself, but Monday, November 28 is the date to welcome the "blanket of snow" to my garden.

The next step was to walk the garden and make a list of ALL the projects I wanted to tackle. All the pruning, the lifting and dividing, the transplanting, the renewal of beds, the bulb plantings, the propagation of treasures, the extension of decks, the repair of fences, putting the vegetable bed to its winter form, and of course dealing with the pots, irrigation issues, and the repair and sharpening of my tools and their orderly arrangement. Whew, what a list. After that exercise I needed to make a nurturing pot of soup, and enjoy a good glass or two of wine.

I left the list close at hand to add some other thoughts, but I also ignored its weightiness. The to-do list needed to compost in my mind for a few days. And not surprisingly, a few days slipped by, and then to my horror the date on my list was a full 10 days ago. The time to prioritize was starting to get long overdue.

With panic settling into my bones, I threw myself out to the garden and raked all of the latest windy storm detritus with a new-found furious speed. I cut back the annual fern fronds so I could easily pick up the blown leaves. Then I lifted huge clumps of Douglas -Iris that I had been meaning to renew, and replanted the bed. Guess what - there was now room to plant the bulbs I had ordered last June for that bed. No, not tomorrow my dear aching back, but now and I promise you a warm tub when we get inside.

Prioritizing became quite simple after that bit of exotic frenzy. I put some early spring months next to the major bed renewal projects. I called my favorite tree service and scheduled some pruning dates for January and February. They were very pleased to get some early bookings for their slow times. Then I made calculated guesses on the time needed for each of the other projects. Lifting, dividing and moving existing inhabitants should take about five hours. Cleaning and storing the pots will be six hours. Cleaning, renewing, and dressing off the vegetable beds will be seven to eight hours. And so it went through the entire list.

All of that effort felt so gratifying until I added up the hours and did a reality check against my calendar! It penciled out so that my "blanket of snow" could absolutely not arrive until April 6. Further editing, including cutting the hours required for each project and scheduling more projects for next year, a dream schedule finally took shape and included all of the bulbs being planted before December 1. Yes, I seized my three-day fudge factor.

Now, with quiet optimism, I whisper "bring on that blanket of snow."

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