A confession, with roses

At this point in winter last year, Boise was cold, cold, cold.  I recall still being in a California frame of mind and heading out to prune the rosebushes in late January or early February, Sunset climate zones be damned.

It started to snow.

As much as I love my job here, that moment likely represents the emotional nadir of my life in Boise.  I hadn’t found truly fresh produce for months and I had major cabin fever from what I’m told was a freakish and unusually persistent snow. As the flakes began to fall between the blades of my garden clippers, I confess I thought, “What the fuck have I done?”  (And no, I wasn’t referring to any potential injury to the roses.)

This afternoon Lucas invited me outside to build fairy houses, a popular pastime at his school for hippies’ children and grandchildren. My iPhone told me it was 45 degrees, but it was sunny and warm enough that we could go outside without jackets to collect bark, dried grasses, leaves, twigs, and stones.

While scouring the yard for fey construction material, I noted that all three of the rosebushes in the front yard sported reddish-purple new stems, and a few even had leaves on them. There’s a lone broccoli plant that survived not only the neighborhood mammals last fall, but also the coldest days of this winter. Snow remains on the local mountains, but the foothills are clear of it. Certainly there will be more snow later this month or in March, but for now I can say that I’m content with Boise at this moment.

Since the wine won’t ice up the sidewalk this year, I’m pouring libations to Boreas and Zephyros–and pretending that this isn’t a freak weather year brought to us by global climate change.  I hope you’re having a good winter, too.

Gardening in what is, apparently, the Arctic circle

Gardening: I like it, but in a spend-a-few-minutes-a-day-on-it, minor hobby kind of way.  After all, I rent, so it’s not as if I can tear up the front or back lawns in favor of large raised beds or rows.  (I did make a couple of raised beds in the backyard in Davis, but the landlord dinged our security deposit for the cost of removing them.  Lesson learned.)  I’m stuck, then, planting around the edges of the yards, even though I currently have a rather huge lawn; we live on a corner, so we have grass on all four sides of the house.  It’s a push-mower nightmare, I assure you, and I’d much rather plow it under.

All my life, I’ve been able to treat gardening as an afterthought because of where I grew up.  My mom worked hard in her garden, but she could grow things year-round with relative ease because Long Beach is in USDA hardiness zone 10b and Sunset climate zone 23.  (Tomatoes at Christmas!)  In Davis, I enjoyed USDA hardiness zone of 9b–the same as Tucson, folks–and Sunset climate zone 14.

Here in Boise, I’m in USDA zone 6a and Sunset zone 2b.  My gardening season has gone from 11 months to maybe 4.

This makes gardening a bit, erm, challenging for someone whose idea of gardening long has been:

  1. Dig hole.
  2. Toss in some potting soil.
  3. Stick in plant or seed, regardless of season.
  4. Tamp down soil.
  5. Water regularly.
  6. Ignore.
  7. Harvest food.

Here, folks say not to put tomatoes in the ground until the snow is off Shafer Butte (elevation ~7600 feet).  I can see the butte from my house, and after administering last rites to tomatoes I planted much too optimistically early, I’ve been eagerly watching the snow recede.

Then yesterday morning we had a rain/snow mix in the valley and the damn peak is covered in snow again.  It didn’t help my mood that a colleague then mentioned it occasionally flurries here on the 4th of July.

I’m twitching from wanting to get something growing.  So yesterday Lucas and I went to a gardening center and bought some of those little plastic trays for starting seeds.  Some of the varieties we planted are supposed to germinate within the week.  We’ll see.

Our yard has a mix of sun and shade, tree canopies of differing densities, and fences of 3 different materials and heights.  So there are definitely crazily local microclimates to contend with. We’ll be experimenting wildly to see what works.  It’s kind of fruitless (ha!) because I’d like to move to another neighborhood within the next year, and all my experiments probably won’t apply in my new location.  Still, it’s What Passes For Science Around Here.

(Consider the rest of this post a bit of a gardening journal.)

Because we’ve passed the last average frost date, I put in seven new tomato plants today–a mix of heirloom and conventional–and I noticed that even the frost-killed tomatoes aren’t fully dead; they’re sprouting new leaves.  3 zombie tomato plants + 7 (for now) healthy tomato plants = a lot of tomatoes, I’m hoping.

I also have about 20 strawberry plants, one raspberry cane, and 4″ starts of a few kinds of squash, plus eggplant and two kinds of bell pepper.  The strawberries are out in the sun and seem pretty happy, but the others are still sensitive and spend nights under the patio roof.  (Well, the raspberry went into the ground too early and may or may not survive.)  The potted cilantro is thriving despite the cold; the two kinds of potted basil (Genovese and Thai) not so much.

We started seeds for two kinds of radishes (scarlet globe and French breakfast), broccoli, two kinds of basil (sweet and dark opal purple), acorn squash, pumpkin, two kinds of eggplant (Black Beauty and early long purple), cantaloupe, a mix of five kinds of salad greens, and oregano.  If I knew I was going to be gardening in this yard next year, I’d plant asparagus and artichoke–I wouldn’t think they’d thrive here, but my friend Barbara Ganley is a total inspiration in that regard (and many others).  And I’m glad to see that my much more knowledgeable partner in Pacific Northwest horticulture, Gardengrrrl, is blogging again.*

This weekend I plan to weed the beds in the front yard and scatter flower seeds of various sorts on a small sunny berm there, then put some sweet peas and beans along one of our fences in the backyard.

We may get a chest freezer for the garage. I’ve added a book on preserving foods to my Kindle reading list, so if I’m feeling inspired late this summer and early in the fall, I may try my hand at putting up some jars of stuff or drying out some herbs instead of tossing fruit and veggies in the freezer. Maybe I’ll even make jam for the first time ever.

That’s crazy talk.

I’ll post photos once seeds have germinated and when I have more stuff in the ground.

* I totally envy her Sunset climate zone 6 and USDA zone 8a.