House & Home

Gardeners Keep Busy Through the Cold Months

The winter equinox is fast approaching. Cold rain is falling today and the sky is that special shade of ponderous grey. Many of us anticipate the coming cold, snow and darker days with dread. We prepare to “hunker down” thinking of soup simmering on the stove, and a fire in the fireplace while the wind howls outside. But we need only look to the plants in the garden for signs of spring. The different plants are in various stages of winter preparedness.

Some seem to be in a state of denial about the impending weather. Some roses are still blooming and will stop only after a hard frost. Oriental poppies lose their leaves after blooming in late spring but grow new ones in the fall. These leaves are still green in the garden. Buddleias refuse to give up their leaves just waiting for the chance to rebloom. Ferns stand proudly until hard frost. There is an anemone beside my porch with some dead leaves but with a few green ones clinging to life. New plants of hollyhocks and digitalis, both biannual, are plump for next year’s flowers. A hard frost will convince all plants that it is time to become dormant.

Other plants have accepted the situation, dropped their leaves and have made plans for spring already. Deciduous trees have fat buds. Hydrangea buds are bulging and those roses, still in bloom, show their buds for next year. Sedum buds are visible at the surface of the ground. Hosta and peony buds are hard nubs just below the surface. Nandina and holly bear red berries to drop in spring for new plants. Buds are evident even on the tender vines of clematis.

Most of the perennials in the garden died back a month or more ago and the ornamental grasses have turned golden. The fish in the pond have gone to the bottom in a torpor.

As the gardening season winds down, I look forward to winter. It is my time in the studio to manifest the things I contemplate all summer as I Zen-out while deadheading. I will go a new direction in my art work, unknown until I begin the work, but right now it is time for some serious quilting. I have made quilts for years and my favorites have been made using blocks and pieces made by someone else. The pieces come to me from several sources. My mother found them at antique fairs in Iowa, I bought some on eBay, and I find them at yard sales.

Often made from “vintage” fabric, many are years old. Some blocks are well-made but not finished. My favorites are the ones that are “kattywhampus;” neither square nor straight, they undoubtedly disappointed their maker after so much work that she just put them away not knowing how to finish a quilt with pieces so unshapely. I picture the pieces having been, put away with frustration on a shelf or left in the sewing basket and then forgotten. There are usually enough blocks to complete a quilt, all of them kattywhampus! Sometimes I need to combine different kinds into one quilt. I appliqué these misfits onto new squares of fabric and put the quilt together. Some of them are perfect and one can only imagine the reason they were never, as my grandmother would say, “worked up.” Making quilts this way makes me feel like I am finishing a project that someone started long ago and could not finish for any number of reasons. I like the idea that someone will finish work that I may leave unfinished.

I have 20 completed quilts and at least 20 more tops waiting to be layered with batting and then quilted. I am not the best quilter. I don’t cover the quilt with a dense pattern of stiches and my stiches are not small like my great-grandmother’s. She was an avid and productive quilter but hers were perfectly crafted. She and her grandson, my father, were also good gardeners. Maybe there is something to that heredity thing!

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener and consultant, for gardening discussion call 631-434-5067.

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