Usually early October in uncultivated areas close to water, Topinambur also known as sunchoke flowers are about to appear. It’s like a sea of big yellow oxeye daisies, beautiful to look at. For me they are also a clear sign that it is time to get my garden ready for the winter. As I am lucky enough to live in a Mediterranean country, this is quickly done. It is in fact sufficient to remove the dry leaves and twigs, to prune where necessary and to plant the spring bulbs. There you go.
“Garden” in my case means a balcony quite narrow but about ten meters long. Originally the partition of the space should have been half plants and half living area. Nothing pretentious, of course, only two simple armchairs and a small table. But then, discreetly, quietly but decisively, the vegetation advanced. In the blink of an eye eighty percent of the space has been taken over by her and something is telling me that she has no intention to stop here. To be honest I must admit that I never really set any line.
Like many other people I have always been searching for houses with a terrace, balcony or garden, suitable to raise plants. If not available, window sills would do, too. A sea of colorful, sweet scented flowers of all shapes, maybe mixed with a small lemon tree and some shrubs are a true joy for the eyes and smoothing balm for the soul.
During the first years I got carried away by the euphoria in seeing flowering plants all year long which means December, January and February too. In fact, there was no pot, not even the smallest, without some sort of green about to show its most beautiful dress during the cold season. Maybe a little reluctant because of certainly not perfect temperatures, but maybe it just seemed to me like that.
Slowly slowly however, my garden taught me that there is a time to sprout, grow and flower. Then there is a moment of bearing fruit. Finally, a rest period will give the vegetation time to find the necessary strength for a new life cycle. It is in fact during the winter quiescence that Flora’s reign is calmly getting ready for the new challenges waiting for her.
Following the growing of tender plants or seedlings trying to find their place in the world is very fulfilling indeed. And we gardeners are always ready to give them support. Aphid and fungi attacks, specially when it is hot and damp, must be carefully monitored. Little root devouring animals may sneak in. Any change of color or shape of the leaves need to be recognized and cured as early as possible in order to avoid irreversible diseases. Only if strictly necessary, we proceed in curative treatments, obviously as less invasive as possible.
The young plants want to stay in the right place so that they would be caressed by the sunbeams and gently lulled by the breezes. In the right dose of course. Water must never be missing. And then there are mineral salts and vitamins ready to take the field if necessary.
You can’t command nature but if everything goes the right way, at a certain point, the garden all of a sudden wakes up and with it the entire vegetation. For months it will be generous, colourful and fragrant, luxuriant, bright, almost pleasantly garish. A paradise for insects like bees and butterflies, with an overnight stay option on corollas or inside calyxes, in case they are too exhausted to proceed.
It is a special moment of pride and satisfaction, the very same feeling of a couch claiming the first important victory of his athletes or of parents celebrating when daughters and sons reach their proper goals. Pure joy mixed with a deep sigh of relief.
I never forget to thank my collaborators which have always been following me with dedication. One is always ready for any need, the other checks carefully that everything is done in the right way. The gargoyle on the wall is keeping evil spirits at bay. An antique propitiatory wooden statue seems to be in close contact with Gea, Demetra, Flora and the other ancient deities. There is nothing to be worried about. We are as safe as houses.
It is said that gardening is good for body, heart and soul. Through the digging in the soil we stir up microbes (mycobacterium vaccae) which apparently release serotonin making us feel relaxed and happy.
While looking at my dirty finger nails and feeling my back hurting I am not totally sure about that. At the same time however, I am waiting for Zefiro’s return in spring. His breath always helps new generations to sprout and heirloom plants to bloom again. There will be old friends and new varieties, maybe coming from distant countries. Others, little known or completely forgotten, will be happy about the warm welcome from the merry band. As always, I am ready to foster and encourage them, just as any other happy gardener in the world.
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