A Canadian Winter Garden

winter sunset

I spent an hour gardening outside on January 3 in Canada. This is not west coast, temperate Canada, but middle-of-the-country should be really cold and snowy winter Canada.

We had just returned from a week an hour and half drive north where downhill and cross-country skiing are popular. We had lost power for a morning due to freezing rain which coated the white pine trees beside the balcony. The following day we stayed in while 10 cm snow descended to the delight of the skiers at the resort.

When we arrived home, there was no snow. It was a warm 6 degree Celsius and the front garden had escaped from its cover of snow. It looked bedraggled. I had managed to harvest the remaining tomatoes at the end of October before the frost set set in but had decided to leave the snapdragons in a bit longer. They were still blooming in early November and I thought maybe leaving them in would allow them to better seed themselves. Then, it snowed.

Around the newly uncovered brown flowers was a thick coat of maple and oak leaves. We have neither of those trees in our yard nor in the immediate area. They had blown over from the city park to the west of us and mingled with the stalks.

The irony of going back to school and starting a gardening blog was that my own garden hadn’t gotten a thorough fall clean up. I was too busy working on online modules, reading and planning to muck around a lot outside in the fall.

buds on a snapdragon

I decided to do the unthinkable, garden in January in Canada. An older gentleman walking his silky terrier, Dora, teased me for being early at spring cleaning. Little did he know, I was really quite late for fall clean up.

As I cut back the stalks and pulled out the stalks, I noticed something unusual. Many snapdragon stems had new green leaves growing from the bottom. They had been insulated by snow covered leaves and the roots were being lulled back to life by the unseasonably warm weather. I cut back the rudbeckia and noticed the same thing, green leaves at the bottom of the stalks. They weren’t finished, like the bulbs under the earth, they seemed dormant but the warmer weather was lulling them out of their sleep.

I mistakenly pulled out a sweet William but went back into the garage to find my trowel. The sweet Williams were beautiful last spring and summer. They had grown back from the year before. I even had some lovely pink crosses that had seeded themselves. Giving up on this one would surely be a mistake.

My son pulled up in his car and he teased me too. But when he took a closer look. He too realized that there was a surprising amount of green in a garden that should be dormant.

sweet Wiliams

When September started, I was back at work after a seven month leave and I hadn’t taken a course that was graded in almost 30 years. Somehow I managed to go from no work to full-time work, 15 hours a week commuting and a university course. I was terrified. Although I work with students on a day-to-day basis, I suddenly felt like an imposter. How could I be a good advisor if I wasn’t a good student? Had research and classroom technology outpaced me? How would I balance my work, home and academic responsibilities?

My instructor, one of the nicest people I have ever met, organized the course work in manageable blocks and encouraged everyone in the class every step of the way. My classmates, some younger than my own children, were passionate and supportive and produced excellent, interesting work. I learned a lot from them.

I got a lot of encouragement from my co-workers. My husband put up with many hours of me working through online videos, reviewing notes and writing. My video group, which consisted of me, a recent university graduate, a young entrepreneur and a colleague/poet/playwright produced a great two minute video despite some technical challenges. I filmed my part while I was visiting the other side of the country. Earlier I had thought that I would have to drop the course because of the conflict with my trip but my teammates and instructor helped make it work.

snow around the firepit

While it is easy to recognize green growth in the spring and summer, sometimes we forget about the growth under the leaves, near the roots in fall and winter.

I have seen many mature students return to university and do very well. They are motivated and inspired by life experience. Growth can happen in fall.

In the background of a photo posted to social media I noticed the beautiful paintings my friend’s mother is producing. Her mom is in her 80s and recovering from hip surgery. She loves her new art class and her work is amazing. Growth can happen in winter.

There is green and new growth where I didn’t expect to find it. I passed course one with flying colours. Course two starts in three weeks and I am now planning to complete the certificate by the end of 2020. With warmth and encouragement, I am confident to that I will continue to experience new growth. Seek renewal in all seasons, including the fall and the winter.


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