The Garden of 2009

January never really feels like the beginning of the year to
me. September, with its end-of-summer, back-to-school vibe, is the time of year
that makes me feel like I’m starting over. January just feels like more of the
same: more cold, more wet, more long, dark nights.

But I can’t help but look ahead and
think about what I want to do differently in the garden this year. And I’m not
afraid to call them resolutions. Everyone I know has become resolution-wary;
when I ask them what their New Years resolutions are, they laugh and back away,
saying, “Oh, no. I don’t do resolutions.” But really, what’s wrong with
resolve? What’s the problem with making your intentions known? Are we really
that afraid of commitment? Is there some penalty for not following through on a
resolution that I haven’t been warned about?

So with all the resolve I can
muster, here’s what I intend to do in the garden this year:

More of it. I was just
talking to another garden writer about how terrible our gardens look. People
think that if you write about gardening, you must have the best garden in town.
But the sad truth is that freelance writers spend far too much time in front of
the computer writing about the thing they are interested in, not actually doing
it. Last year I gave up my gym membership as a cost-cutting measure, and where
did I spend the time that I used to spend at the gym? In front of the computer.
This year, I'll be out in the garden more. It’s the best exercise I know.

More vegetables. I just got
the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog, and it reminded me how much I love
growing unusual and hard-to-find vegetables. I've already made plans to expand
and improve my straw bale vegetable garden this year, and in a few months I'll
be starting some seeds from Baker Creek. They have heirloom tomatoes from Iraq,
sent by farmers who report that they are being encouraged to grow more modern
crops and fear that their heirloom varieties may be disappearing; bizarre
French melons covered with a thick, warty skin that looks like a winter squash,
and, for the flower garden, twenty-three varieties of sweet peas. I’m all over

Get tough on lavender. I
love lavender, I really do. But mine is so overgrown and woody that it hardly
blooms at all anymore. It's time to rip it out and replace it, a big job that I
have put off for far too long. Look out, lavender, you're about to become

Grow more poisonous plants.
You heard me. I’ve got a new book coming out this year—I’ll bore you with the
details of that later—but it's all about the dark side of the plant kingdom.
Many of the most evil and fascinating plants I discovered in my research are
tropical varieties that won't survive here. But I managed to clear out an
enclosed, protected space by my kitchen door to grow some of the beautiful and
deadly flowers I've been writing about. Many of them — datura, castor bean,
tobacco– are annuals that need some pampering if they're going to reach a
respectable size over the summer. So I'm starting some of those indoors this
spring, too, so they'll be ready to go outside when the weather turns warm.

Plant another fruit tree.
Growing an apple tree has been such a delight. It’s remarkable, given our
temperamental climate, that something as seemingly complicated as an apple tree
would grow so easily. The time to plant a fruit tree is right now; bare root
varieties are showing up in garden centers around town this month. I highly
recommend taking a workshop on fruit trees just to get a handle on the basics,
but really, it’s not hard. Miller Farms is offering berry and fruit tree
workshops in January; give them a call for details.

Water less. A friend who
gardens in the Arizona desert recently said to me, “How do you know a plant is
drought-tolerant if you water it?” Whoa. What a concept. I am really trying to
grow a garden that can survive on natural rainfall, with a few exceptions: the
vegetables get watered with a soaker hose, and the annual flowers that need
extra pampering are all clustered together near the house so I can water them
easily. But even my apple tree didn’t get much water this year, and I was
pleasantly surprised to learn from a few local apple farmers that they don’t
water their established trees, either—or if they do, they give them one good
soaking a month for just a few summer months.

More heathers. Okay, this is
a resolution I’ve made before and not kept. I get more fond of heathers every
year, and I’ve watched over the years as newly-planted heather gardens in my
neighborhood have grown into lovely mature plantings. The Fortuna River Lodge
garden and the heather garden at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens are also
inspirations—go check them out if you haven’t already. Maria Krenek at Glenmar
Heather Nursery knows how to help plan a heather garden that will bloom all
year long; this year I swear I’m going to clear a space and make it happen.

Really. This is the year I’m going
to finally do all this stuff. I swear.