This is the perfect time of the year to briefly reflect on our garden experiences of the last year and start the plotting and planning for our gardens in the new year: what worked, what failed and what were the points of sheer envy when you visited your friends’ gardens. 

Also, there is the social pressure of being au courant, so, finally, we have passed by all the semi-tropical plant fads and are now facing the locavore/sustainability/grow-your-own-food trends.

A different atmosphere

Once my garden was perfect as an urban agriculture site, but due to my out-of-control proclivity for making an urban forest, the site is now with a sunshine deficit! 

Where I once had cascading squash, pumpkin, cucumber and gourd plants with heat-loving tomatoes, eggplants and sunflowers, I now have beautiful peonies for eight weeks and woodland strawberries nestled between ferns and specie rhododendrons. 

I also have a remarkable parade of birds flitting through the tree canopies. I do not need to put out bird feeders, for the trees are being constantly foraged by large and small birds. 

I do, however, need to make sure, during the freezing times, to provide water for them all — and away from the prowling cats. It can seem like a warzone out there, with the raccoons, squirrels, moles (rats, I’m sure), and the cats and birds marauding through the garden.

Garden ingredients

Even with the lack of intense sunshine, there are many vegetables and herbs that thrive in my garden. I always need many haricot vert plants. These are the tiny, thin, French string beans that require no poles for support. Their one huge requirement is that when they start producing beans, you will need to harvest them every other day. 

They are so tender you can eat them raw, or they can be blanched and frozen for that summer taste treat in November, or steamed for two minutes and drenched in sweet butter with some crunchy sea salt and coarsely ground pepper, or drizzled with olive oil — and do add freshly minced French thyme.

My French thyme plants thrive, and this is good. Finding these plants can be quite difficult, but they are available on the Web. There are so many different types of thyme plants, but for me the only one I adore is the French thyme. Its flavor is definite, but soft.

My urban forest includes bay trees, so I always have enough for my own cooking and as gift offerings for other friends involved with the Mediterranean style of cooking. 

My woodland strawberries are prolific and succulent. They appear to be so small, yet they pack more of a true strawberry taste than the behemoths we see at our farmers’ markets. 

Of course, chives thrive along with parsley and leeks and garlic.

I want to encourage those gardeners who do not have the time or the desire to run an intensive vegetable garden that there are alternatives. We can support our incredible local farmers by not growing our own (green, in Seattle) tomatoes or potatoes or eggplants. 

We can also have the pleasure of growing and cropping a few of our own favorites. What are yours? I do hope you find them, so that the garden can produce for you. 

Also, with our too-busy schedules, by having some plants that need tending/cropping, we get out to the garden on a regular basis. Just leave your cell phone, etc., inside. That way, the garden will have a chance to not only produce food for you but also give some much-needed silence and smells and breezes, and sun on your back.

Lighting the landscape

By the time you are reading this, the sun will have started its return journey from the southern hemisphere. For me, this is such a part of our holiday celebrations — the return or birth of the light. 

While we wait for its impact to be felt, we light our landscapes, which include our homes. I always wish that our holiday lights could stay up longer, for the end of January still feels very dark and cold. 

However, out in the garden, I know that I will have found many iris blooms, snowdrop blooms and the early specie crocus, which only open their petals when they are bathed in sunshine. This is always a splendid sight that I await with great impatience.