December 2, 2009

The Long Goodbye to the Gardening Season

We had fresh lettuce as part of our Thanksgiving dinner last week. It was wonderfully crisp and almost sweet to the taste. It was picked, hours before we sat down to dinner, from the cold frame outside our garage door.
It is also possibly the last fresh lettuce we will see until next April. We may get lucky and pick a few dozen leaves in early December but, eventually, sub-freezing temperatures will render the cold frame inadequate against the onslaught of a New England winter. When the lettuce is gone, it will officially end the gardening season.

We relish our growing season and put aside that which can be stored to savor into the winter. There are carrots in the refrigerator and butternut squash in the basement and, if the last two years are any yardstick for the latter vegetable, we will scramble in February and March to give away the last of our bounty before age renders it inedible.

There are green beans; blanched and flash frozen, then placed in sandwich bags to be parceled out at meals between now and next June. There is okra, an underappreciated vegetable in the north that will nevertheless grace our jambalayas and stews for the next six months. And there is corn. The same, miserable weather that decimated our tomato and pea crop gave us the best corn ever. Because all the corn came at once, we blanched, de-cobbed and froze the kernels from dozens of ears. Remarkably, it is as sweet from the freezer as it was fresh from the field.

With the end of November we should put out our driveway markers and forget about plants. Perversely – and sometimes aided by our own hand – nature conspires to give us reminders of the season past and of the one to come. There is a Daphne along the sidewalk leading to our front door that continues to bloom though it has been hit repeatedly by freezing temperatures. There are Hellebores across from the Daphne that will bloom until covered by snow – and then stubbornly thrust up flowers when the snow melts.

When I go out to pick up the newspaper, I see a patch of Delosperma reliably putting up purple flowers. Now, I know why it’s called the ‘Ice Plant’. Nearby, a clutch of Galliarda, planted last year, is still flowering prolifically. There are Heucheras, no longer flowering, but still displaying leaves with bright palettes of color.

The first heavy snow will put an end to much of this late-autumn display. But for now, with the sun setting at 4:30 and gray afternoons more the norm than the exception, I take delight in these small reminders of the season past.

We live in New England by choice. There are parts of the country where November is just a slightly cooler month in an eternal summer. I grew up in such a place and, frankly, I don’t miss it. The changing seasons are mileposts to be noted and savored. Winter, even one that lasts four or five months, is just another of those mileposts. And, each year, it gives me a better appreciation for the spring that will follow.

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