Sharing a Garden in January

Sharing a Garden in January January 9, 2024

melons growing on a trellis
image via Pixabay

I apologize for the radio static lately. It’s just that I don’t like January.

As Januarys go, 2024’s January isn’t terrible. I am not very depressed; I’m just dull and flat and not very creative. I’m not having panic attacks; I’m just a little bit anxious now and then.  Besides the fender bender, nothing has gone terribly wrong since the spring of 2023.

I can’t remember another year of my life without a catastrophe. Somehow, it took until I was thirty-nine for life to be bearable. It isn’t the easiest now, but it’s ordinary levels of wrong. Still, an ordinary January is still a January, and I’m awfully exhausted.

I keep meaning to at least drive to a park for a hike, or into Robinson to go people-watching at the mall. But thanks to the standard January insomnia, I stay up most of the night and sleep all morning before trying to wake up all afternoon, and then I have to get Adrienne from school. The good hiking trails and the mall are about 40 minutes away and Pittsburgh is an hour, give or take. There’s nowhere to go, have fun, and be back in time. So I tend to sit around the house trying to write, and then there’s nothing to write about, and then my post volume slips down.

If only it would stop being so gray. January used to be snowy, but now it’s gray clouds and putrid gray mud, another February, sixty days of February. Sixty days of February means it’s now fifty-two days until March. Sixty-two days until it’s even possible to break up the soil and plant spring peas and onions. Seventy days until Spring. An eternity.

This afternoon, in desperation,, I started searching the seed catalogs.

My veteran readers know that I do this every winter. I am obsessed with gardening. If I were ever rich enough I’d get a triple lot and an urban farm like my grandfather. Jimmy’s boy and I had a marvelous time in the vegetable patch last year, and this year he wants me to grow peaches. I don’t feel like planting whole trees on the landlord’s property, but I remembered that there was such a thing as a “vine peach,” a miniature melon that looks like a peach. It takes up a great deal of space, which I don’t have in abundance. I started researching to see if I could trellis it. You can trellis just about everything that grows on a vine, after all: cucumbers, beans, winter squash if they’re light enough. Could I grow a melon on a trellis?

Yes, it turns out, you can trellis melons. You have to use a strong trellis and support the fruit as it swells, but you can grow all kinds of melon, even watermelon.

What else could I grow this year? What was that beautiful candy-sweet plant that one of the community gardeners grew two years ago: the one that came in its own wrapper? Was it a ground cherry?

Yes, I confirmed with my googling, it’s a ground cherry. It’s related to the gooseberry. Ground cherries are annuals and you grow them from seed. I’ll have to teach Jimmy’s boy to only eat the fruits, because the leaves are toxic, but that won’t be hard. He listens very carefully now. I’m going to grow a ground cherry.

When I should have been writing, I popped open a tab to the garden store and planned potato grow sacks and sacks for cascading tomatoes upside down. I searched the heirloom seed bank. I planned a great big symphony of heirloom sunflowers: mammoth gray stripe that grow tall as a one-story house next to lemon queens that get seven feet tall, next to chocolate cherries next to Autumn Beauties and so on, all the way down to the Teddy Bear species which is a dwarf. I’ll have to dig up part of the front yard for that, because it will be too beautiful to hide in the backyard vegetable patch.

The heirloom seed bank gives away free seeds if you make a donation for shipping. Ten dollars would get me fifteen small packs of seeds. Considering what I’d be buying at the garden store and what I’d be planting from last year’s seed, I didn’t need that many packs.

I got in the neighborhood Buy Nothing group and announced that I was making a seed order.

I’d be donating ten dollars to get fifteen packs of seeds, or if I had a good month I’d be donating twenty to get thirty, so anyone who wanted free seeds could tell me their order and I’d make a giant order for all of us. Neighbors asked for things I’d never thought of growing: asparagus and straw flowers and strawberry tomatoes. I was inspired by their choices.

It felt like spring.

I think I’ll go put cardboard over a big stretch of lawn tomorrow, to kill off the grass and give myself more growing space.

After all, it’s only fifty-two days until March.

It’s only sixty-two days until I can start planting peas and onions.

That’s how you banish the January dark.




Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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