The ground is soft and crumbly, hardback not too far below the surface, but we’ve layered compost and manure over it a few times this year so it's somewhat more workable. As I move along this bed, I start to feel the rhythm of the heights and shapes to come. And colors, somewhat, so a few alliums for the hyssop, of course, chartreuse foliage against pinky-purple flowers. Even better, drumsticks to poke through bushy English thyme and towering rosemary branches. The catmint would look somewhat stylish with a few pink drumsticks popping through its silver leaves, right? It might fit in more easily with my palette which did NOT call for fluffy purple flowers. A break in theme keeps things more interesting, though, “splash of paprika”, and all that, right?
It’s soon time to go in. Patting the ground a few more times, I see more thyme and golden oregano in good condition, looking as if they’re about to have a growth spurt. The lavenders are doing okay, I worry about the fringed one (Lavendula dentata). My hydrangea with one bloom is standing straight as can be, holding that brown-petaled flower perfectly straight, I won’t touch it, it's one of the first glimpses of “winter interest” I’ve seen in this garden. The Cuban oreganos are mushy. I’m afraid to move them, but I suppose I'll have to cut away the dead leaves sooner rather than later. Little spider-like growths of grass dot the whole bed, some clover, too. I pull them out.
Behind me a small 'Filicoides' false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa), 'Purple Pearls' beautyberry (Callicarpa x Purple Pearls), inches tall, dead or alive who knows, a 'Black Beauty' elderberry (Sambucus nigra) in need of a haircut(soon!), Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca sempervirens 'White Soul') bushing out underneath. Next, a silvery Sage (Salvia officinalis) cutting, almost shining against the elderberry’s dark burgundy foliage. A bamboo stick steadies the 'Viking' aronia (Aronia melanocarpa), planted too close to a Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Lemon Twist', planted too close to a Victoria Rhubarb. One of these does not belong and that would be the Lemon Twist. To the front border with thee, perhaps.
Having turned almost the whole way around, I'm looking at a summer squash that has finally collapsed for the year, its companions, another Victoria Rhubarb, a water hose, and a Cryptomeria Japonica 'Black Dragon' are thriving. I spot the front steps ahead of me and stop, still thinking about other plants to move--my hydrangea, echeveria, another gardenia--then shake my head and go inside.
In The End
It’s been two hours since I pulled on winter garb, boots, and gloves and though it’s shocking how quickly the garden has gone from leafy lushness to barren brownness, what I’ve learned is this: Change need not terrify or even trouble the gardener. In winter, the plants are actors ducking behind the curtain to prepare for the next act, slowly changing their costumes, trusting their fans to remember and return after intermission.
The garden changes with the seasons, it dies and unexpectedly lives, and changes again. And until we have finished buzzing around like summer insects on the stage of life, becoming compost and living only in memories, we remember and return to our gardens after intermission.