Heart of the Home: January Signals Start of Spring Gardening Season

A reader talks about the thrill of seed catalogs arriving in the mail, planting flowers and vegetables, and getting her herbs in containers growing.

Helen plants a variety of herbs in containers on her deck, so all she has to do is step outside and snip off what she needs for whatever she's got cooking.

Photo by Fotolia/anjokan

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Once Christmas is over, plants and seed catalogs start showing up in my mailbox. It’s an exciting time, as it gives me a glimpse of springtime.

I pore through the pages, “oooing” and “ahhing” over all the new shades of flowers and the latest rose sensation, and then I usually end up ordering the same old seeds and plants as usual. The stores have different seeds and plants than the catalogs, though, so I can always buy other varieties there. Last year, I decided to do something different, and I ordered a bonica rose. It bloomed heavily in varying shades of pink, and I was not disappointed. It’s gorgeous.

In late winter, like a magnet, I’m led to the seed section in local farm stores. The selections can oftentimes be overwhelming, but sometimes I’ll get brave and decide to try a new variety – especially a new kind of tomato. Roma is my personal favorite, but a friend told me last summer that Brandywine is a very tasty variety, so that one is on this year’s seed list for sure.

The earliest garden vegetables always seem to taste the best. I love a ruffly leaf lettuce salad with crunchy ‘hot’ red radishes, along with bits of fresh green onions and a little Italian salad dressing. Yum!

Edible pea pods are high on my husband’s favorite food list. However, he prefers to eat only the peas and not the pods! So, we came to the agreement that he’ll shell the pods and give them to me to freeze for Asian dishes. That works, and we’re both happy.

My spindly bell pepper plants can’t compare with the larger and healthier ones I find at greenhouses. If I want peppers larger than grapes, I have to rely on the greenhouse varieties. I’ve yet to grow big pepper plants myself. The same is true for eggplant. The sturdier plants are well worth the cost, though, as they produce so much better.

Peppermint, lemon balm, chives, and horseradish all grow in a perennial section of the garden, though three out of the four need a watchful eye so they don’t overcome other plants by spreading. I freeze lots of lemon balm and peppermint leaves for winter teas.

This past year, we made some changes to the garden, and we now mow the grass between the rows. It makes it nice after a rain, as the ground dries faster. We also expanded the perennial row, adding the bonica rose, rhubarb, and black and red raspberry plants. I hope to add a few fall-producing red raspberry plants this spring. I didn’t even know until recently that raspberries produced in the fall.

In my opinion, there’s always room for flowers in a garden, and some of my favorites include 4 o’clocks, zinnias of various sizes, petite orange and yellow marigolds, nasturtiums, dianthus, bachelor buttons, and gladiolus. Yellow loosestrife blooms prolifically each summer. It’s very pretty, but also a spreader.

Johnny jump-ups and pansies are always nice. I have several dried little flower ‘faces’ I plan to use for crafts. I also dry lavender for scented sachets, though I seem to have to replant my lavender plants each year.

As for vegetables, Swiss chard, cucumbers, dill, green and wax beans, summer and winter squash, pumpkin, beets (I especially love the tops), spinach, onions, potatoes, kohlrabi, and sweet corn are a few family favorites. I freeze as much produce as I possibly can, and then add them to soups, stews, and breads. They’re especially tasty in the middle of a frigid winter.

An assortment of herbs, including basil, oregano, parsley, cilantro, marjoram, rosemary, and thyme, can be found growing in planters on my deck. I sometimes recycle old ice cream containers to plant the smaller herbs in. They work great, just make sure to punch drainage holes in the bottom. It’s easy to step outside with scissors and a bowl, and snip off whatever herb I need. Frozen in small jars, these flavorful herbs are also added to soups and stews.

My personal feeling is that a garden is pretty, just by itself. However, I do add a few other pieces of interest, such as a birdbath, statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Michael – a gift from my husband for my birthday – and a small garden “Blessing” plaque. In addition, my son and daughter-in-law gave me a goose statue that looks perfectly at home among the rhubarb.

A garden is such a place of peace. English poet and hymn-write Dorothy Frances Gurney (1858-1932) wrote, “One is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.”

While I myself feel closest to God in church, I do like that saying.


Read about another garden plan in Heart of the Home: Planning a Garden.