One gardener's observations, discoveries and random thoughts whilst simultaneously worshipping and dallying in a Cape Cod garden. "A garden," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, "is like those pernicious machineries which catch a man's coatskirt or his hand, and draw in his arm, his leg and his whole body to irresistable destruction."

Winter Survival Skills


Hey everyone, mid-January greetings to you.   Here’s what the garden looks like this time of year.  Pretty sleepy, by all appearances, but it was only last week I saw signs of growing there.   Of course, the last week has been pretty arctic hereabouts, with temps down in the teens and single digits here and there, so I’m happy we had this bit of snow cover to start the week, to offer a little bit of an insulating blanket to protect my outdoor green friends.

Sorry not to be posting so much lately, but it IS January and this IS a garden blog and there just isn’t always lots to say.  Consider it balance for those golden days of June and July when I sometimes post twice a day!  I’ll also cop to falling prey to just a bit of seasonal depression last weekend.   Mostly, t’was the usual business of “Gee, the holidays are over and the bright lights are gone and wow, its gray and cold and miserable and…”, well, I bet you all know that old story.

And of course this year, the end of that holiday season found me reviewing the life-changing last six months and finding a household that’s still in a state of mild disarray, with a head and heart to match.  So a little time to pull inward and think too much about all that seemed hard to resist, if self-indulgent.   Just one more thing January is good for.


 Here, by the way, is a look at Rock Harbor the morning after the perigee full moon.   The tide was much higher than usual.   The brown stuff floating at the edge of the water looks like the shoreline, but is actually bits of leaves and sticks and other flotsam floating as the tide reaches up to touch the edge of the roadway there.  Impressive, certainly, but hardly mood-lifting.


But have you met my roommate, Badum?   He keeps me from sinking too far into despair, pointing out the important things in life, like the rainbow he was stalking here (which you can see below), and patches of sun to lounge in and kitty bellies that need rubbing.  His zoomy episodes are always a cause for amusement, though continually make me wonder if he couldn’t be swiffering at the same time he’s dashing about like a madman…er, madcat.


hot-chocolate-sparrowAnyway, with his help – and as always – the wise and encouraging words of a few good friends and family members, I was able to climb out of the Shallow Pit of Meh, get a little perspective, tie up a few loose ends in my thinking and get myself back on track.

Toward that end, I gave myself a little treat on Tuesday evening, stopping by our local cafe and candy shop, the Hot Chocolate Sparrow, where I ordered up one of their sinfully-wonderful hot white chocolates and found a table at the corner where I wrote for an hour.   What fun.   I’ve always enjoyed writing in public and hadn’t really given myself the opportunity to do much of that recently, so it was fun to discover a place to do so and let my pen dash across a few pages.

I think I have also mentioned here before that, while the summer sunsets on Cape Cod are nice and spectacular and all, it is the winter ones which also seem a little more special and amazing.   I had to consider this week the possibility that I just like them better because for a moment, they make me feel warm.   Whatever the case, here’s one for your viewing pleasure.


canna-leavesAnd I also remembered that, when the garden is covered in snow and frozen hard, there are other places to look for my off-season inspirations, like here in the windows of the Nest, where that gorgeous orange canna of summer’s end has begun to push up new flower stalks for the season to come. 

And that amaryllis planted just before Christmas?   It’s nearly two feet tall now and it’s big flower bud is just starting to get a little red.  In fact, today it appears the tips of the petals have seperated from one another.


It huddles near the frosty windows with a host of other houseplants, whom, I realized this weekend, have been very patient about having been a little neglected through the last six months.  Oh, sure, they’ve been watered and each of them given the best window for their needs…but it’d been far too long since they’d gotten any real pampering.  

A few of them would benefit from transplanting or at least a refreshing of their pot soil.  Others could stand a bit of pruning, cuttings saved for (gods help me) a few new plants and so on. 

As the Fixx sang to us in the 80s, one thing leads to another, of course, and before long you realize you’ll need more plant hangers, and hooks and flower pots and soil and fertilizer and so on.   But this is the perfect time of year for that and so around mid-week I began planning for some time to give them a little of the extra attention they deserve…and which, in the long run, will also comfort me by A) getting to work with green things, which is always fun and 2) having the Nest look a little more like the greens-filled home I’d love it to be.





Trust me, the mental adjustments and the project to plan for came at just the right moment, since Thursday we saw another little snowfall of a few inches, as winds continued to howl and temperatures barely rose high enough to allow it snow.  

At least the arctic temps made the snow light and fluffy and easy to clear away with a nearly-effortless sweeping.   It’s even sort of Zen, as activities go, this snow brooming.  But the timing of this little storm, and the cold temps going along with it did its bit to shutter things up here a bit, as the restaurant and others in the area made the decision to close a little early.  

It was probably a wise decision, too.   My commute is usually about five minutes or less, at least this time of year, and it was closer to fifteen or so.   I know, it’s still a laughably short commute, you urban types are no doubt grumbling at this point, and I don’t disagree.   I’m only saying conditions here that afternoon made for a longer commute, with some pretty slick roads and i was glad to finally get home.

And when I got home, I heard on the news that some of the geese Patrick has show us over at his blog might’ve gotten into a bit of trouble.   It probably wasn’t those geese, it seems now, but still, it’s a bit incredible to think of that plane coming down more or less over the spot where we walked along the river not long ago and splashing down a bit further south.    An amazing story…and an exciting one:  when we was the last time we had television anchors excited about good news?!   

A miracle, indeed.


The geraniums in the greenhouse dining room at work are blooming nicely, despite the snow and cold just out the window.



ivy-in-the-sinkFriday was a sunny day.   You shouldn’t be fooled though, it was still no more than 17 degrees outside, but at least the wind wasn’t blowing, which created the illusion of a little more warmth, anyway.   On the way to work I had the chance to do a little shopping, and while I felt a little of Goldilocks’ frustration, finding that most places only had flower pots which were either too big or too small, I did find some satisfaction at our local Agway garden center.  

They also have all the fixin’s out for seed starting for the coming garden season.   I found myself drooling a little over the little peat pot pellets (just add water!) and plastic greenhouses and – oh, my goodness – all the seeds to choose from.    I’ll go back again when I’ve gotten my head together, but I did pick up a few flower pots and a package of morning glory seedlings, which I hope to get started this week.

And when the day turned to evening and I was home again, I began the pampering, filling the kitchen sink with a few inches of warm water and starting to line up the evening’s participants.  With the dry heat of winter indoors, and the plants close proximity to cold windows, there’s plenty of ways to dry out, so it always seems like a good time to give them a little rainforest treatment and let them drink their fill, while I wipe off their leaves with a damp paper towel.   They always look so happy when I’m through.

wire-coathangersThis potted ivy has been growing steadily since we first met about four years ago and only recently had begun to look a little wild and unruly.   Which one of us couldn’t use a little guidance now and then?

So, after loosing up the soil in the pot around its roots and mixing in some fresh soil near the top of the pot, I dug a pair of old wire clotheshangers out of the back of the closet.  Contrary to what Joan Crawford would’ve had us believe, they do have their value, although anymore it is rarely associated with clothes-hanging.

They can be repurposed as a topiary form for your ivy who needs some guidance and encouragement, and so I unwound them and tried to bend them into more useful forms, with not dreadful results.    A professional form would’ve been six-sided, perhaps, and ended up a little more globe-shaped.  But still, I’m happy with my home-grown effort and I’d bet money my ivy’s happier, too.

I also transplanted this Christmas cactus which came to me this season.   It’s supposed to bloom yellow something I’ve never seen before in one of those guys.   I was hoping it might do so this year – it did arrive to me with buds on, but I think I might’ve given it a little too much water, or a window sill that was a little chilly and they fell off.  Anyway, I gave it a home in this nice blue pot and I’m hoping for better things next year.



It was a good evening’s effort and I got more accomplished than I managed to capture in photographs.   It’s a wet, dirty business, of course, and really no place for a digital camera. 

But there were snake plants (aka, mother-in-law’s tongue) – one plant turned into three, a couple of pothos trimmed and replanted and given some fresh soil.  I’m sorry to say my recent experiment with a cutting of aloe didn’t succeed.  But these things don’t always and I’ll just try again.  

The spider plants remain; the project of dividing and repotting them will be just a shade more complicated (that’s where the hooks and hangers come into play) and it was getting a little late.  But they’ll have their day in the sun…er, sink…soon enough.

Come dawn the next morning, though, everyone else was looking pretty great.   Of course, t’was one of those winter mornings when it just seems so bizarre that it can be 12 degrees in the dark before sunrise, and 6 degrees in the golden glow that follows.    Brrrr.   Before too long it was back to 12 and then up to 16.   Woo hoo.

Here’s how the ivy turned out.


I’m happy to say that I’ve awoken this gray Sunday morning to a temperature of 33 degrees, which feels just a little tropical now.  It looks like the snow forecast for us today will come as rain, which may put a hold on my plans to get out for a walk.  I bet the spider plants won’t mind at all.

Here’s a little something to crow about:  today, it’s been six months since that last dirty cigarette went between my lips.   I’ve actually gone longer with quit attempts in the past, but this one still feels like the one that’s going to take, so I’m willing to let down my guard and whoop it up just a smidge.   Woo hoo!!!!

Meanwhile, here’s a shot of Cape Cod Bay at Skaket Beach, which I captured last evening around dusk, as the bay began to freeze up after a week of arctic temps.   Pretty nifty, huh?  

Snuggle in and stay warm, everyone!



Comments on: "Winter Survival Skills" (13)

  1. I’m glad you are feeling more like your cheerful self again. I imagine that playing with your plants was good therapy for you and the plants. They look very happy. I like the topiary form for the ivy.

    Funny, isn’t it, how a dip into the single digits can make 33 degrees seem so balmy.

    Yes, I’M happy to have gotten through the slump, myself! Bah, winter…what are you gonna do? And yes, as always, thank goodness for the plants: they are always such good examples for the rest of us growing things! ; )

  2. What beautiful pictures…even in the winter the garden is nice. Something about flowers this time of year..they help one through the cold New England days.

    Hi Rick! Looks like you’ve had more snow than us up there on the north shore, but you’re right, no matter the snow totals, the flowers certainly make a difference!

  3. Oh I heard about the seasonal depression at Jamie and Randy’s Creating Our Eden (, where he gave great tips to overcome it. I hope it’s helpful. I initially loved the snow pictures but later on after seeing so many of them, I can see how hard it’s for you living amidst the gray. Ah, I’m glad your roommate keeps you engaged.
    Wow! It’s a blessing to see that array of blue and orange skies!
    Nice to see your plants are doing well indoor. That must have lightened your mood up. Blooming Geranium! that’s something to celebrate! It’s great to keep yourself engaged with your indoor plants – they definitely needed your attention.
    And, why not plan for the Spring garden? It’s just round the corner and before you know, it’d be there!

    Mouli, I’ll have to surf over and see what Jamie and Randy have to say on the subject. You’re right, of course, the time is here for planning the gardens of summer…and I’ve been sifting through seed and bulb catalogs for ideas, which always helps with the winter mood.

  4. Okay, I’m hoping to cheer you up a bit. I started reading your blog because we live in the same area (I’m mid-Cape) and I was hoping to pick up some tips on what to grow. Both my husband and I are kind of hopeless with the yard thing. So I’ve been gleaning bits of information here and there and LOVING the wonderful photos you post. But I kept reading your blog because there was something about you seemed really nice, funny, and smart. I like that in a person! You’ve made some tough decisions but, I think, some really good ones. It takes bravery to walk away from a long term relationship even when it’s damaging. We tend to cling to the familiar. Even the bad familiar. So kudos to you for having the courage to walk away!
    And the smoking thing? I quit two and a half years ago also after two previous attempts. Best thing I’ve ever done for my health. So pat yourself on the back for that decision, too.
    Things will look better soon. Hopefully my yard will look better at some point, too! In the meantime, I’ll keep coming back for ideas and hope.

    Hi Pam! And Thank you – I appreciate your efforts to cheer me, which succeeeded nicely! Your good wishes and wise words are just the sort of tonic to freshen me up on these dim days of January…and of course, my plants and kitty are a big help, too.

    I’m glad to hear you enjoy the blog and I hope I’ve been helpful in encouraging you to get out and make the most of your backyard!

  5. I’ve never had a white chocolate drink…sounds good.

    I wish I had a green thumb. I don’t have the ability to grow plants, although I am fascinated by gardens.

    Oh, John Michael, it was SO good! Sorry to hear about your thumb…but I bet it’s not as black as you think!

  6. “The Shallow Pit of Meh” would be a great book title.
    One thing my plants never experience is leaf cleaning. I bet the giant pothos would especially benefit from such treatment, but whoo boy, even thinking about it is daunting.
    Six Months Sans Cigarettes (also a good book title, or maybe pop song) is definitely something to cheer about. Having made that change along with all the others probably helped solidify it in your routine, too. Clever Fellow. Glad you’re feeling better; this was a cheering entry to read.

    Hey Pal. With you getting ready to head back to work shortly, this seems like the wrong end of your time off to start thinking about washing ALL THOSE pothos leaves at your place! No doubt, the plant would LOVE it…but I’d be worried it would grow in response to quickly and your roomie would come home to find you suspended by the thing up near the ceiling!

    I’m sure glad to be feeling better, that’s for sure…and glad this was a cheery post to read; it certainly contributed toward my ever-improving mood to write it!

  7. A very generous post…That is one earnest-looking cat, and I am hoping eventually to be inspired to treat my plants better by reading about your respectful and conscientious treatment of yours. Also, I particularly liked that ice on the window shot.

    The days grow longer!

    He IS quite the kitty, that’s for sure. Susan, my houseplants give me oxygen and mental well-being – a little maintenance is the least I can offer in exchange!

  8. Walk gently with yourself. I tend to look at all the changes I’ve gone through at arms length, not realizing the inner strength and resources they have required. I’m still “mehing” around, myself.

    Cheers, and sincere Shalom to you.

    Thanks, Joebear. I appreciate your perspective. I promise I’ll go easy with myself if you will with yourself!

    Meanwhile, in no time at all, the calendar pages will fly and our Meh-ing will turn to May-ing…which is always such fun!

  9. It’s nice that you can see the beauty in the winter, despite the depressing lack of light. I love the sunset photo and the freezing of the bay one at the end. It’s -2F here this morning, sigh.

    Things are easily more wintry in your neck of the woods, Torn…so I try to keep that for perspective, too. But the best antidote to winter is remember to look around for what beauty I can find to distract me from the cold! Well, and seed catalogs…

  10. This time of year can be a bit blahhhh, but think it is perfect for planning what you want to do with your garden in spring. I find when I begin to make cuttings and start seeds, time quickly begins to jump towards spring. Watching things grow gives me that glimpse of spring and it seems to be what I need. There is a certain beauty to winter and we just need to look for it Greg, of course when it is a zillion below freezing we need to look a lot harder! Haha! ;)

    Ha ha…Steven, you’re right: when you’ve got something growing to help mark the passing of days, they go a bit faster! Hope you’re staying warm up there.

  11. Well, you certainly made up for lost time in posting! :)

    I especially like that Snake Plant is also called Mother-in-Law’s Tongue… ;)

    Aren’t plant names fun? Somehow, I just knew you’d appreciate that… ; )

  12. Hello, having just gone through your blog – I have to say, yours is looking good for this time of year – especially for form and texture. Thanks for sharing the winter garden views with us.
    – Saira

    Hi Saira, thanks for stopping by the Garden. It’s a challenge to find the beauty in the garden this time of year…but often its right under your nose!

  13. Greg, you’re definitely thinking like a gardener, looking forward to things about to spring to life. The cannas look appreciative of your winter care and look like good company. Not as cuddly as The Cat, for sure, but good reminders of what’s ahead. And I’m sure Badum is a good reminder of how good things are now. Keep chasing those rainbows!

    Hey James…as ever, my longing for spring guides me ever forward! Won’t be long at all, now. : )

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