In the January Greenhouse

We’re having a stretch of frozen nights and nearly-frozen days this week. While I derive a certain amount of comfort from news stories of stranded air travelers and lake effect snow – “up to six feet expected in Buffalo” – this is winter enough for me.

I have a sister-in-law, a real gardener (she grows her day lilies from seed and starts at least sixty tomato plants a year) who spends her winter months in northwest Connecticut browsing garden catalogues and making lists of bulbs and rootstock to send away for. Me, when I can’t be outside playing in the dirt, I’m prone to turn my back on the entire enterprise like the petulant youngest child I really am. To heck with it.

DSC_0006Here’s the back yard, all cleaned up for winter, the little greenhouse looking like a wee rocket ship. In the foreground is that nandina I’ve written about before, the one that keeps trying to get into my sock drawer. Even in this paralyzing cold spell that bush is shooting up tendrils closer and closer to the foundation, thinking perhaps that I have forgotten her intrusive intentions. I admire that kind of persistence.

It is disappointing to have such a small greenhouse; I still miss my old one, with all that room for me to lean back in a comfortable chair and read. However, it remains a great pleasure just to unzip the plastic door and step in for a visit. My “milk house heater” keeps the low temperature at around sixty, and if there’s any sun at all it will be ninety degrees in there by afternoon. The plants inside are thriving, no doubt relieved to be left alone for the season, away from my prodding and trimming and tendency to overwater.

One by one the succulents bloom.


A few “mother of thousands” plants go about their maternal activities:


and slips of purple heart develop roots to prepare for life in the landscape.


Although I have never had any success with growing plants from seed, over the next few weeks I’ll be buying a few two- and four-inch pots to add to the greenhouse population. I can only go just so long with no fresh basil.

Meanwhile, a few more views from the greenhouse:




You really do get the feeling that there’s extra oxygen in there.

What to do while the outdoors is taking care of itself? I don’t even like to ride my bike outside when it’s this cold,* but Travis and I have taken several good long hikes in the greenbelt. As we venture deeper and deeper, I wonder how people on mountain expeditions find their way back down.

With Everest, of course, you have lines of people three across and a mile long, with a chain of dead bodies to help you navigate your descent. But I feel like someone on, say, Kanchenjunga – less traveled, I imagine – who’s forgotten my bamboo poles back at base camp. How will I ever figure out the way back?


I tend to become slightly distracted by some of the vistas, especially the ones that seem lovely and creepy at the same time. On a day when clouds blank out the sun then slip away to let light through, there are some places that seem straight out of a fairy tale.


My imagination creates small creatures behind every fallen log and clump of grass. Then I’ll hear a steady canine howl surrounded by barking, visions of sparkly winged creatures evaporate, and I start looking for coyotes around every turn. Some fairy tale.

As Travis guides us enthusiastically down one trail and then another, I try to memorize landmarks: here, we took a right by this rock pile someone has so thoughtfully provided; here we’ll start downhill and to the left by this charred stump. Sometimes just an autumn leaf that hasn’t yet given up will mark a trail for me. I’ll remember this:


It’s probably not wise to navigate by trail markers that could disappear in a puff of wind, but this is the kind of thing that turns a boring old walk into a potential disaster. Our kind of fun.

On this day I didn’t even have a phone with me, so no GPS and no way to summon Floyd for help should we become lost, as a friend of his did a couple of weeks ago. She called from some trail in gathering darkness, heading toward panic. Floyd had her describe where she was and as much as she could of how she’d gotten there, and he was able to guide her to a large, familiar place from which she could easily see her trail out.

I will generally walk until nothing around me looks familiar, then tell Travis: “Go home!” Since he has marked so many bushes and trails as we walked in, and since he has travelled all these trails many times over, it’s as easy for him as finding a dropped chunk of cheddar on the kitchen floor.


Being the border collie that he is, he doesn’t let himself get very far ahead before he turns or circles around to make sure his little herd of one is keeping up. He does like to take his little short-cuts and wait for me behind bushes so he can surprise me when I catch up. This never fails to make me laugh.

Every now and then I’ll ask him to stop and pose for a picture. While it’s far from his favorite thing to do, he generally obliges.


Good dog.

*When I read that sentence it sounded kind of odd – where does one ride one’s bike if not outdoors? – but as you no doubt recall from a previous post, Floyd’s set my road bike on the trainer in the living room, where I can pedal madly to nowhere while watching TV.

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