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The Garden in Winter, Part One: Falling in Love
by Jodi DeLong
by Jodi DeLong


Writing about plants and gardening is just one part of Jodi¹s professional writing business. She¹s been a garden columnist for the Atlantic Co-operator for over five years, and last year was invited to do a biweekly column in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Canada¹s oldest independent daily newspaper. In addition, she writes regular garden features for Saltscapes magazine, Manitoba Co-operator, Grainews, Rural Delivery, and has also had various feature articles in Canadian Gardening, Cottage Life, Complete Canadian Gardener, Aquascapes Lifestyles, and East Coast Gardener. Jodi sits on the National Board of Directors for PWAC, the Periodical Writers Association of Canada, as Atlantic Regional Director, and is also a member of the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia. When she¹s not writing, she¹s gardening, reading about gardening, photographing gardens, thinking about gardening, or ignoring the housework.

February 9, 2003

It was a typical weird winter day, early February, 1999--weird because this is Scott¹s Bay, on the temperamental Bay of Fundy. Between global warming and the general quirkiness of a Nova Scotia winter, more than three days of similar weather in a row constitutes a season. It¹s been cold and blustery now for several days, enough to stir up the few inches of powdery snow that fell a few days prior--enough to be daunting for this trip to view a potential new home.

Even before we¹re out of the truck, I'm noticing the remains of flower gardens--winter interest, some gardening enthusiasts call these collections of desiccated seedheads and stalks--remains, I call them. Places for birds to collect a few cold tidbits, signposts sticking up out of snow to mark garden plots, remains of seasons past. There are a number of apparent gardens--one a raised bed framed in by timbers and accented by an impressive chunk of granite, another flanking one doorway, a set running down each side of the walkway leading to the front entrance. A number of uninspired (to me) evergreens clump around the face of the house closest to the road--junipers, yew, a cedar or two, all of which look like they could use a trimming. Two more cedars of uneven size stand sentry at one entryway, and another, at least 8 feet tall, looms near the grey sided barn.

Okay, so much for the evergreens. It¹s those winter interest items that are attracting my real attention. There are a few poppy heads of varying sizes, which hopefully have left their seeds in the ground for another crop. Those tall stalks are probably ladybells, those persistent but lovely wild bluebells that pop up everywhere in July and early August. Behind the house, huddled against the west wall is the seedhead of a purple coneflower, surely? Visions of those wonderful summer flowers, so beloved by birds and butterflies alike, dance in my head as another gentle blast of Arctic air hit Lowell and me a tender buffet. We progress around to a large bed hemmed by stones and rocks of various sizes, where I pick out the remains of sedum (maybe it¹s Autumn Joy!) and more poppy heads. There are several small azaleas hunkered down in the snow, their leaves bronzed with winter¹s kiss, and a few broken down stalks of what look like columbine heads. That big clump of decaying leaves, looking like desiccated grasses, is surely daylily of some colour...and there...oh, could it possibly be? Hollyhock stalks tumbled over against the wind, the seedheads empty but still obvious...I dream of a garden filled with hollyhocks in all colours and sizes, doubled like rose blooms, single and ruffled. Who cares about the wind? Let us progress further.

Our continued walk shows us forsythia, hydrangeas, lilacs, some sort of rosebush, its once fleshy rosehips withered against the cold. A clump of young birches off to one side of the back yard invite birdfeeders, and to the south of the house, the remains of a vegetable garden. Stalks of what must have been asparagus poke up through the snow, but they are few and far between, and likely ancient, in need of redeveloping. A net of plastic mesh leans against several tall stakes, and my minds eye invites sweetpeas to travel up its height next summer. Against the edge of the yard closest to the road is a motley hedge of young spruce trees, while in front of the house the hedge is a composite of things, the only ones recognizable in this February chill being young maple trees and a lilac. The front gardens hemming the walkway bear definite signs of peonies and delphinium, as well as some sort of succulent which has tried to take over the entire garden. There¹s an air of unkemptedness about the gardens, yet at one time, someone loved them and took much time to plant shrubs, perennials and trees...maybe even bulbs? My mind dances in excitement at the possibilities--a huge amount of work to do, surely, but still, the gardens are at least partially formed already...

I turn to Lowell, and announce simply, ³We¹re having this place.² We¹ve not yet been inside the house, only been able to peer in through windows at wooden floors in need of refinishing, scary wallpaper in the kitchen, but huge and splendid windows to let in light, and an old fashioned stained glass window frame near the front door. But the house and its property have charmed us, and we need only to slip into the barn, admire its sturdy beams and the collections of curiosities in the haymow: beekeeping frames with honeycomb mousechewed but still evident; old metal kegs and a milk can; ancient dried herbs hanging from nails; a huge net--a herring seine, Lowell says--to cement our desire for this place. The tiny greenhouse built on the side of the barn was filled with dead dill plants and caraway--and two valiantly, optimistically flowering Johnny jumpups, nestled in one corner. That was the coup de grass for us. No plastic siding, no artificial niceties, no neighbours five yards from us--this will be home. And these will be our gardens.

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