Thursday, January 27, 2011

January Dreaming

      It takes me a good few weeks to recover from the holidays and set my sights on spring.  Fortunately for the fatigued, winter gardening exists only in the imagination.  All I can do now is dream, wait for the delivery of new books and the arrival of seed catalogs.  These form the backbone that keeps the spine of the gardener upright during the dreary winter months.  That, and the traditional winter fantasies.

A greenhouse heads the list.  Longing for a greenhouse is an annual event, usually taking place after four or five really grey days.  The longing runs its course -– like the flu -– for three to four weeks and then I begin to feel normal again.  The activating virus may be a visit to any of the great New York City glass houses: the Staten Island Botanical Gardens, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden or the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Any one will do, as the longing is fed by the giant plants flourishing under glass.  A single gardenia may take up an entire room, bougainvillea is rampant, and the profusion of orchids will take your breath away.

My imaginary greenhouse would be filled with Scented Geraniums, Creeping Fig that would have walls to climb on, and a wealth of orchids.  “If only we had the right light, the right temperature, those cunning little automatic vents…” we whisper to ourselves.

The summer’s fuschias would winter over. Seeds would start early in proper flats instead of on narrow kitchen windowsills.  Failures conspicuous in the kitchen would be triumphs in the perfect temperature, light and humidity of the greenhouse.

What I have conveniently overlooked is the lack of a house to attach it to, the cost of construction if I had a house, the increasing expense of heating, and the constant battle with moisture.   Look carefully at an old greenhouse and you will see rotting sills, decaying wood and broken glazing bars.  The new greenhouses, made of aluminum and plexiglass, eliminate those problems, and the inevitable condensation is dealt with by angling the sills and brick flooring to allow gravity to do its work. 

The water garden is another popular winter fantasy; not a man-made pond, but a true running stream.   Of course you are subject to the vagaries of weather conditions, and streams have been known to dry up in drought conditions, but that makes it all the more challenging.

If you are ambitious, you could put a wooden walkway across the stream, allowing you to plant on both sides.  Should the stream rise, Water Willow and Buttonbush are comfortable with wet feet. Pinxterbloom and Swamp Azaleas, Highbush Blueberry and Yellow and Blue Flag Iris, Winterberry and Virginia Sweetspire would do well as would some ferns and sedges, if the moisture level holds.

Without good rainfall the stream will dry up. Nature may be humbling in the short run, but plants are often forgiving.  Once they are established, plants can survive a season of less than optimum conditions.  Over time, mistakes can be corrected, problems have solutions and progress is made.  Especially in gardens of the imagination.

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