Escaping the winter gardener blues

Escaping the winter gardener blues

As a native Portlander, I get a little defensive when people say things like “It must rain there all the time.” My city-defending instinct first kicked in when I was a kid visiting family in Connecticut, and someone asked if we got snow year round. Somebody got me a “Oregonians don’t tan, we rust!” shirt, which I didn’t find very funny.

Most of the year, I’m at peace with our seasons.

  • Spring: Fully engage in renewed horticultural obsession.
  • Summer: Hunker down and pat myself on the back for finally getting that air conditioner, watching the garden from inside.
  • Fall: Constantly exclaim things like “Look at the trees! Look at this leaf! Look at me wearing boots and a sweater!”
  • Winter: Pray for snow. Check the weather forecast compulsively. Enjoy the lights and sparkly bits that pop up around town.

But there is an awkward in between period that gets me every year, post-winter, or maybe pre-spring. Holiday celebrations are done. All hope of snow is lost. Coloring books from my youth would have me believe there are cheery flowers bursting forth. But in reality we’re in the March doldrums. I wasn’t annually afflicted until I started gardening and became aware of how long it takes for the garden to be green and leafy again, and this stretch of time is agony.

There is no cure for the March doldrums, but there is treatment that can relieve the symptoms. Now, I’ve never been a sun worshiper, much to the dismay of the wing of the family that digs a poolside vacation, but I’ve learned from them a valuable lesson about the value of blowing town. One year my sun loving kin invited us to join them renting a house in Palm Springs. All I knew about it was that it gave me a hell of a sunburn the one time I visited as a kid. It wasn’t on my radar as a place to go, but as an adult, vacation opportunities are too rare to pass up, so I went back.

Visiting as a grown up, I discovered very a different reason to travel here. While I wouldn’t say there’s a whole lot to do, it’s a funny sort of gardener’s paradise. There are a couple official gardens you can visit, but what is especially exciting is the omnipresence of spectacular plants everywhere, all the time, like they’re no big deal, mostly in front of to-die-for architecture. Plus, it’s quick and can be done fairly inexpensively if you time things right. So now, every couple years, when March is too long to bear, I try to get back there and remember that the plants will be green again soon enough.


Roman Holiday, Orto Botanico Style

Roman Holiday, Orto Botanico Style

Visiting botanical gardens is the main reason to travel, right? Right. Sometimes my traveling companions do not understand this fact.

While my sister was spending a year in Rome, I went for a visit. Our first day in Rome, she gave me a very nice tour of the city along with a complete history lesson, which, if I’m being honest went in one ear and right out the other. Here’s what I hear when anyone talks about history: “buildings, buildings, war, some old guy…” and then it repeats. The next day when we planned to meet up , I had to admit how little I retained from my tour, when my only frame of reference was, “I’m at the building you said used to have cows.” I do have a memory for plants and animals.

My only agenda item in Rome was checking out the botanical garden hidden in plain sight in the picturesque Trastevere. Once you find the 30 acre garden, which is surprisingly easy to miss right in the middle of this huge city, you have the place nearly all to yourself. It’s such a welcome break, when you’re in the middle of a fast paced crowded city where you don’t speak the language, to step 10 feet off the street and find yourself surrounded by peace and quiet and 3500 plants.

3 palm walk
The “big crowd” was gathered here. The rest of the joint was deserted.

I laughed, looking back at my photos. I hadn’t taken a single photo of the city. Just the plants. Clearly I have my priorities straight. I’ve tried to select photos that prove this garden was in Rome and not California.