Late Winter Restlessness

I would be a lousy bear.

Late January is upon us. Spring won’t be here for awhile yet, at least in theory, although the plants don’t always know this. Spring is a weird nebulous spectrum in this state, generally running from mid-February through April. It hinges on your definition—I tend to go by “when the bumblebees emerge” and “when the daffodils come up” rather than “the point at which I can plant out tomatoes”—but no matter how you define it, it’s not here yet.

If I were a bear—at least one of the ones that hibernate, although a lot of them don’t—I would presumably be asleep right now, or at least sluggish and prone to naps. It would be a very foolish bear that was out and about going “I’m bored. Nothing’s going on. I want to do something. Why is nothing awake?!”

In December, I’m all about winter. I am ready for the growing season to be done, for the garden to relax, for everything to go dormant for awhile. But by late January, I’m restless. I’m wandering around the garden muttering. I circle things in seed catalogs. I pace the paths. I grumble.

(This is, incidentally, the time of year when most of my home-improvement projects get done. “Honey, I’m bored. Gonna paint the hallway!” “….’kay…”)

I appease myself for a few days with little fiddly tasks—picking dead leaves out of the yucca, for example, or setting up new garden trellises. Then I fidget some more. I don’t want to cut down the standing stalks because it still gets cold at night. There are no new beds to build. I could probably use a truck load of manure. Hmm…manure….

Eventually I lose patience and go out and come back with a load of stone. I pave the path in fits and starts—twenty here, forty there, first over the mucky places that always turn into mud this time of year, then connecting those bits to each other and trying to make the whole thing look less haphazard. There are gaps between stones and alongside the edges of the beds. That’s fine. Plants will fill them. Maybe I can convince our native woodland stonecrop to fill it in, if the chickweed doesn’t get there first.

Laying stone settles my nerves for a few hours at least, but a truckload doesn’t go nearly as far as you’d think it would. I buy more stone. I lay more stone. I wander around the garden feeling irritable and wonder how I’m gonna cope when, some years from now, I have finally finished every ounce of hardscaping I can manage by hand. (Medication, I think. Possibly vodka.)

I’d like to be graceful about this, really I would. I would like to slumber as deeply as a tree, stay inside, do small domestic things, take inspiration from books and the stark outlines of bare branches against the sky. And I do that…for a couple of weeks…generally…

But a gardener can only take so much dormancy! It’s like a weird reverse SAD, as I twitch and mutter and contemplate how much I am not doing and not accomplishing and how many things could get done if only the weather were warm and the plants awake and on the job.

(This, incidentally, is why I have no fear that I will tire of the garden some day, the way I occasionally tire of other hobbies and art forms. There is nothing so inspiring as not being able to work on something. The summer heat and winter cold keep the garden perversely fascinating.)

I want a thaw. I want sprouts to come up. I want to yank the cardboard off the vegetable bed and fling beet seeds into the damp earth.

I’m ready for spring.

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  1. says

    I hear you grumbling! In fact, you’ve reminded me I began some stone paths and I could work on those if they weren’t buried in snow and the hardware store still carried “summer” stuff – like stone. This year I was unbelievably tired but I am getting restless myself. I am sure you will get those paths finished and your household projects done and still find time to pace.

  2. says

    Is it not strange how often wish we were in another season? Here in South Africa I am enjoying all the summer fruit and summer gardens, but as a gardener I am thinking of autumn and all the gardening joys of cooler weather. Then again we should be happy about seasons. Just imagine how boring life would be without them. Enjoy the last few weeks, spring will come sooner than you think.


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