Summer Gardens Stink

Oh praise be to thy fall and winter garden, the tawny rusts and dark browns, the sunlit oranges and yellows, the tans that tickle my senses on a cold morn. Oh praise be to the shadows of summer, the echo of blooms and the seed heads ripe with hope. Oh praise be to the birds who find shelter here in a driving snow, to the silhouette and halo of freezing fog on every dried appendage. Autumn, winter, your garden sings!


There — was that enough romantic gobbledegook for you on how I feel about the winter garden? It was not long ago that I sang the praises of July and September only, the two massive bloom times in my prairie garden. But oh, what a distraction! I can never imagine how insects navigate the airspace out there, the deluge of ultraviolet light and oppositely charged petals calling out, speaking out — take me, don’t take me, have at you, look out, hey hey hey let’s dance! Summer is too much a cacophony for this inward-looking introvert who values calm and quiet.


I don’t want to sound elitist, but when you come to love — and I mean LOVE — the winter garden, you’ve reached a new echelon of gardening for nature. When you can see as much beauty and purpose in the spent garden as the living one, and when you stop to think how much wildlife service is going on, you’ll garden in a different way. I think you begin to garden deeper, with a fuller awareness of how nature works and of how your corner of nature ticks. You come home fully. If we just pay attention to April through October we miss the subtle core of life. Nothing delights me more than sitting in the garden as a light snow falls, watching birds trample on the ground between stalks looking for seed, hearing the snow like a patient heartbeat as it settles all around me.


A winter garden is necessary for rest — a gardener’s and a plant’s. Seeds need stratification, trees need chilling days. I need chilling days. I need stratification. I remember when I was in college I was doing ok in French class, just trying to finish my two year requirement. Early in one fall my professor approached me and asked, “Did you take summer school? Your French is so much better!” Mon dieu! Quel surprise! No, I sure as heck hadn’t, but I’ve come to realize that in life I need a good soak, I need a period of rest to subconsciously process and integrate and become. Every winter I try to walk the garden as often as I can to understand it, to understand myself, to let it speak to me in a time most folks hunker down inside hungry for hot cocoa and garden catalogs. Not me. The garden is soaking — in the soil, in the world, in me — and together we are becoming so much more.

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  1. Dee says

    Benjamin, your article is thought provoking & your poetry is lovely! You bring up many points, things I haven’t thought about or considered before. I agree with you totally that the garden needs to rest, just like we do. The plants have worked hard throughout the spring & summer & we have too. You’ve taught us of the beauty of the winter garden, & I’ll never look at it the same again.


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