winter greens

A garden's beauty doesn't have to disappear in wintertime.

As i write this, Christmas will be here in five days. Today is my deadline for clearing the dining room table of a tangle of ribbons and wrappings, two sewing machines, piles of Christmas fabrics (who knew last March that we would be gifting Santa’s reindeer-themed masks in December), and sticky and stained recipe cards for all the holiday treats I’ve been cooking up.

Even though my calendar consisted mostly of blank spaces in 2020, the busyness of preparing for Christmas was unchanged. I’m looking forward to having time to cuddle up with all the seed catalogs tempting me from my bedside table.

Liberty Hyde Bailey, one of America’s first horticulturalists and a founder of the 4-H movement and agricultural extension programs, recognized that, “A garden is half-made when it is well planned. The best gardener is one who does the most gardening by the light of the winter fire.”

A recent post from University of Minnesota Extension offered some ideas for planning a garden in 2021. Looking back on what I’ve grown in the past, the author challenged me to ask: “Do I have too much? Not enough?”

The “not enough” question was easy to answer. The Baranys need more winter greens. A few weeks ago, while rummaging through the tangled remains of the vegetable garden looking for yet another misplaced shovel, I found a patch of arugula that must have self-seeded late last summer. It was bright green and delectable, standing tall and unscathed by frost and temperatures in the low 20s. When I thought about winter greens before, sturdy kale was all that came to mind. I discovered arugula, mache, collards, chard and mustard can also outlast the winter months.

The “what do you have too much of” question was more complicated. Every gardener has grown too much of something. It can be an opportunity to feed our neighbors, and to donate to food banks. Some gardeners plant too much precisely because they want an abundance to give away.

If you have more produce than you can eat, preserve or give away, consider adding more shelf-stable plants to your garden next year. Borlotti-type dry beans have become some of my favorite crops to grow.

But the best idea was to make a giveaway stand in the front yard for extra seeds, seedlings, plants, produce and flowers. I live on an off-the-beaten-path street no one has ever heard of, but my Little Free Library draws book-loving walkers and strollers from blocks away. One of the best parts of my day is watching people open my library and take a book.

I grow more flowers than I can possibly pick, but don’t you dare even hint that I plant less. Instead, imagine the pleasure of seeing people go home with a book and a simple bouquet I’ve offered from my overabundance.

The last year has seen more Americans facing isolation and loneliness. Research proves that flowers increase levels of positive energy, decrease depression, and help us feel secure, relaxed, optimistic and happy. What the world needs now, more than ever, is the simple gift of flowers.

It will be months before I can even think about picking fresh flowers. In the dark days of winter, we need something fresh and green NOW. Bouquets from the florist or grocery store are pretty enough, but they can lack “soul,” much like January’s imported Roma tomatoes.

Just because I don’t have any splashy bloomers to build a bouquet around doesn’t mean that I can’t come up with something just as fabulous with other ingredients my garden might offer. I just have to look a little more closely.

It won’t be long before my husband prunes the fruit trees. Instead of composting all those bud-laden branches, I’ll set them at the curb, in a bucket of water, with a note assuring passersby that they will soon burst into fleeting, but splendid, bloom.

There is no end of possibilities that your garden can offer, any day of the year, to boost someone’s lagging spirit. All it takes is a simple sign at the end of your driveway that says “Happy to Share” and a weatherproof table. Maybe you don’t grow flowers, but you have the best zucchini in town, and plenty of it.

Seed catalogs are beginning to spill from mailboxes, reminding us that there’s a garden out there, full of fresh possibilities. New plans for a new year might include simple and spontaneous gifts to Yakima neighbors. As my husband’s Aunt Helen always said, “My garden grows best when I give it away.”

Carol Barany and her husband, John, found paradise on 11∕3 acres just west of Franklin Park, where they raised three children and became Master Gardeners. Contact her at florabundance14@gmail.com.