Monday, January 25, 2021

The Garden in Winter: Reading the Trees

Hello!  It’s been awhile! After a hibernation hiatus I decided it’s time to write myself back into the world again. I want to share some thoughts and images from my neighbourhood and also some strategies and resources that have been helping me through the lockdown this winter. You can also follow me on Instagram (@beespeaker) where I post on a more regular basis.



I am learning to deepen my relationship to this land I live and work in. I wake up and ask myself: “How will I honour the land today? How can I lighten my footsteps and “food steps” on this land? How can I fall more deeply in love with the natural world within my reach? I am challenging myself to get out in all kinds of weather and get down in the dirt on my knees with my camera documenting the gifts that I discover on my daily nature walks. It might mean more loads of laundry, but it’s worth it!


It’s almost February and getting close to the time when the earliest spring bees will emerge seeking nectar from late winter and early spring blossoms. I’m walking around the neighbourhood, seeking inspiration from people’s boulevard and front yard gardens. I need to take a measuring tape out and document the sizes and heights of some of my favourite raised beds. It’s lovely to see how many folks are growing food and herbs in raised beds during the pandemic lockdown. Artist Jenn Pearson has coined the term “ad hoc” gardens to describe the ways people have improvised all kinds of containers to grow a variety of plants. It’s also a good time of the year to look at the “bones” of gardens, to see how the gardener has used hardscaping and plants to shape the site in three dimensions.


I don’t garden in winter. I guess this is partly because of my prairie roots. In the winter, we put the garden to bed and wait until the spring thaw. Of course in Vancouver you can grow things all year round, harvesting leeks, Brussels sprouts and kale, but it’s best if you leave the garden alone as much as possible. There are bees overwintering in the ground, leaf mulch and stems. There are well-camouflaged butterfly and moth cocoons that need to be left alone. The soil needs to rest and replenish. Birds need to forage in the seed heads and scurry about in the soil digging for grubs. For these reasons, it’s best not to over-clean, over-mulch or over-prune your garden in the fall. Just “let it bee”. A light touch is all that’s needed. And in winter you’ll see that gardens with some of the wildness left in them are what’s best for wildlife.


In winter I peruse the bones of gardens and I also make friends with our local trees. At this time of the year when I’m not distracted by bees and blooms I can turn to the subtle beauty of the tree bark, moss, lichen, and fungi. And because we can’t hug many of our loved ones, I find the skin-to-bark contact a very important part of my mental health right now. I like to cozy up to a tree and give it some lovin’! I want to read its bark like a book, getting to know its surface and becoming attached to the subtle textures and how they change from week to week. I find myself wanted to revisit a tree to see how its fungi are transforming. I examine its bark like a lover’s skin, mapping it and marvelling at the rich textures and colour. Velvet Turkey tails emerge and then fade to a papery death. Jelly fungus pop up and plump up, only to shrivel, fade, and disappear. Mushrooms grow in number, height and width and then fall over and fall apart, chewed by slugs and torn by curious children.


Trees are dynamic! Landscapers often want plants that are static and function more like lawn furniture than nature. They like the cedar and yew hedges that stay put and stay green. (If you’re lucky.) We need to change that aesthetic to embrace plants that are ephemeral and ever-changing. What I’ve been noticing lately are the subtle changes I see upon closer examination. And in reading those changes, I deepen my relationship to the beautiful trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants I see on my walks. My gratitude for their beauty deepens too.

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