Long, long ago in a land far, far away, a wizened old man lived alone in a little cottage on the moor. Some of the locals whispered that he was a wizard, but he himself would be the first to tell you otherwise. He just preferred his own company, and the visits of the local wildlife, to the hubbub of the rest of mankind. One particular day, the little old man sat inside the damp stone walls, huddling close to the fire as the sleet pelted down outside. He was cold, and it seemed like the whole world had always been grey, and cold, and damp, forever. He couldn’t really remember the last day the sun had shone. In fact, he had taken to differentiating the days, not by sunlight, but by the degree of less darkness and type of precipitation. Snowday, Fogday, Rainday, Sleetday . . .and they all blurred together into a long season of cold, damp misery. Heaving a deep sigh, the little old man hauled himself out of his chair by the fire and tottered over to his bookshelf. Time to do something, he muttered. Reaching up with a ice-fingered hand, he selected just the right book and tucked it under his arm as he shuffled to his rickety table. Thump, went the book. Creak went the chair (and the old man) as he folded his sore joints gingerly back into a sitting position. He took a deep breath, reached out, and . . .opened the book.
A bolt of thick, yellow light burst straight out of the book, first illuminating the room with the brightness and warmth of the hottest of midsummer days. When it seemed that the room could hold no more light, it began to spill out of the windows, under the door, and, little by little, flood the surrounding countryside. The pattering sleet turned to a warm shower, then gradually faded away as the sun burst through the clouds. A rainbow reflected itself in the droplets on the suddenly shockingly green grass. Gardens planted themselves and began to flourish, and the smell of flowers and fresh vegetables permeated the air. The grey and black skeletons of trees burst forth into riotous green, and songbirds made melodies from the fruit-laden branches.
Back in the little cottage, the little old man sat for hours at his table with his open book, basking in the warmth and smells of spring and smiling to himself. He made a few notes and muttered to himself some more, then, with a final deep sniff, he closed the book. The light faded. A quick glance towards the window confirmed his suspicions: the sleet had stopped, and turned to snow. It was time to feed the fire again; the damp was creeping in. Dusk was coming, and the world had once again become cold and grey. But now, when the old man glanced at the book on the table, he could see just the faintest of glows, a reminder of the warmth that would come.
Now, granted, I’m not a little old man, and I’m definitely not a wizard. But, this time every year, I have to confess that it seems like winter is never going to end, and maybe it’s just going to keep getting colder, and greyer, and muckier. Whoever runs the marketing departments at Burpee’s, Gurney’s, Territorial, and even Baker Creek are blessed geniuses. There you are, stuck in the middle of winter, and out of nowhere, in your very own mailbox, arrive little samples of summer. No matter how ugly it is outside, you can spend hours planning your garden for this year. Should you switch that border over to phlox, or try a new iris variety? What tomatoes do you want to can this year? Should you try pickles? Zoodles? And, if you’re like me, you’re smelling the fantastic smells of flowers, fresh tomatoes, even freshly tilled dirt as you’re making your choices. Your garden patch may be covered in snow, but you have to glance out there to see if your tomato cages might do OK on the south side this year if you move the border a little.
You can even get a jump start and start seeds inside. Even if those beans turn out too leggy to plant, or the tomatoes don’t manage to get hardened off, it makes the winter weather outside bearable if you’re watering tomatoes, or peppers, or beans inside. Visions of sugarplums come second to visions of dilly beans, peach preserves, or homemade salsa. Eight different varieties of okra may seem like a practical idea, or maybe this is your year to try kohlrabi. Maybe an orchard is in your future, or even a little patch of goji berries. It’s time to cut loose and grow wild.
Seed catalogs are tangible glimmers of spring in the depths of winter’s cold grip. They’re a reminder to never lose hope, and that big dreams are OK. May you all have excellent gardens this year—if not in the soil, then at least in your mind!