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Winter Gardening

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The new year has arrived in central New York where all is white with fluffy snow and it is 5 degrees outside as I write this. Seems difficult to even consider gardening when temperatures are in the single digits and only houseplants grow—or struggle for light and humidity in their assigned spaces by my northeast windows.

Just because the landscape outside is frozen solid doesn’t mean nothing is alive and growing out there. In the fall I tucked two pots of pansies under the deck stairs. They moved with me from North Carolina last spring and I am happy to report that their leaves were still bright green when I last went out to visit the birdfeeders.

And then there are the lively, voracious birds, deer, rabbits, squirrels, and nightly marauding raccoons emptying their favorite bird feeder. Birds are delighting me most in the monochromatic garden just now. 

The charming winter finch here outside my bedroom window is a female redpoll. The guys have bright scarlet on heads and necks. I just learned to identify them this weekend. A couple of American tree sparrows, the song sparrow harbinger of early spring, graze on the snow under one feeder down there with the steely grey-backed juncos and a community of mourning doves. I only learned yesterday who these visiting sparrows are while reading the latest issue of Birds and Bloom. They look just like chipping sparrows with their cinnamon colored heads, white breasts, and backs striped black and brown. Except there is a black spot in the center of the white breast on both the male and female of these tree sparrows. When I saw the black smudge on the breast of my sparrow I felt the thrill of discovering a new species, or a star. At least that is how I imagine discoverers feel. The wonder of learning something new, even if a small thing, delights the soul.

Another discovery—perhaps living in the imagination is how winter-bound gardeners make it until spring arrives.


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