January is here. This is the time of year I vacillate between wanting to grow EVERYTHING next year, and wanting to grow nothing. In that, I mean I have so many plants, and wouldn't it be nice to have a break. But then I love the warm sun, soil on my hands, and walking the garden on a warm summer night. I don't like ticks, which come with country living, or having to change clothing when I come inside from the garden to ensure I am not a host to one. Do you watch YouTube? Do you see all of the channels that have women in long, flowing skirts, with hair to their waist, walking through tall waist-high grasses, laying down on the ground, and picking herbs with bare arms and shoulders? Does that seem as unrealistic to you as it does to me? What I mean is that the dream of the idyllic garden and the reality of the hard work that goes into growing thousands of plants is at odds in January, when it is cold and there is much time to idle and read, hangout with my (adult) kids, and work on home projects. Of course in the end, I crave and dream of the garden, even if I am wearing ankle and wrist guards and have my clothing all tucked into my socks and have my hair under a hat. I enjoy weeding and picking and harvesting, even if wearing rose gloves to the shoulder. And, I know that though there were some failures last year, there are new plants to grow, new things to try, more space to fill, and more challenges to learn and grow as an herbalist, aromatherapist, and grower. There is always more to do, more to grow, and new plants to experience.
Every January I sit with my boxes of seeds that I put away last fall, and I sort them. I filter out the things we didn't really like or that didn't work well, and I box and organize the things I know I want to grow again. We do grow a lot of perennials, and some are short-lived perennials, so they must be replanted every year or two. Some are root perennials, so I dig them up and they need to be replanted every year or two. And, every single year we continue to plant more fruit and perennial food, so that eventually we have a significant amount of plants that need minimal care and produce a LOT of food. Trees can take years, so I continue to plant new trees from seed, bare root, and transplants, every year.
I also dig through all of the veggie and fruit seeds to see what I have still, and filter out any old seeds or seeds that performed poorly, or what we didn't really like. I remove what didn't do well in our soil. I always want to buy all the new veggie seeds, but make myself go through and see what I have still, first. It is hard to resist buying all the seeds, but I try.
I do buy annual flower seeds every year as well, so I love going through all of my seeds and then picking a thematic color for the bouquets and flowers I'm growing. Two years ago I had all the colors - but last year I picked all warm pinks and creams, and this year I am going with all peach, brown, cream, and warm gold. I love having a cutting garden, where I can walk and cut fresh flowers for the house every day. I do also grow some flowers that don't come into the house as they are not safe for my animals (lily, etc.) but I do grow them to deter deer and for their beauty and fragrance.
Other considerations for seeds includes at-risk plants, woodland medicinals, and natives that I want to grow and expand. There are many native plants that I grow a few of every year, and plant out annually to expand the stands we are developing in the shade and wooded areas. I also do purchase bare roots, rhizomes, and transplants to go in ground each fall and spring. One of my projects is to also expand the sweetgrass that is already growing here. I think it is my most favorite aroma on the planet. It is the smell of the upper midwest prairies in the summer. I love that we have enough so that even walking out in the prairie areas of our land I can smell it in waves. Every time anything is mowed the smell wafts and drifts down the road from all of the roadsides and neighbors. I want to plant more sweetgrass in other grassy areas we have, so that I have more to harvest. And so that the world smells of Sweetgrass in July.
I so love aromatic plants in general (I'm also an aromatherapist) and want to continue to grow aromatic plants that I can distill into hydrosols and infuse into oils and other carriers to create my own aromatic apothecary of plants in addition to those that I carefully select from ethical producers to use. So, with that, perennial and annual aromatic plants and plants that have amazing properties as hydrosols are wonderful, including those natives that I love so much such as yarrow, violet, and sweetgrass. We also have pine, spruce, juniper, and cedar on our land, as well as cottonwood, rose, sweet woodruff, goldenrod, plantain, chickweed, cleavers, and other cultivated plants such as other rose varieties, lilac, thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, tulsi, lemon balm, mountain mint, hairy mountain mint, catnip, peppermint, spearmint, hyssop, chamomile, yauhtli, pepicha, and others that have amazing aroma and flavor.
This year I have gone through my main list of seeds, and have a growing list of what we will be starting from seed and growing this year. This first list ONLY has new herbs and flowers, and does not yet contain vegetables except for fruit bare root trees I have purchased and potato starts I have coming in spring. This list is on a separate tab from our existing natives, and from the perennials we are planting in succession in past years. I also have dye garden herbs in this round, and will probably add a few more, but need to decide what to purchase!
It feels like a good start. Next, to hone the list and fix up the names, and then start adding the final vegetables/greens/fruit seeds we will be planting. I bought a lot of seeds last year, but we had a lot of poor germination, so I might try purchasing my food seeds from another company, to see if we can get better results.
Anything special you are starting this year, or excited to try growing?
How do you store your herbs? How do you inventory and track what you have?
We made it to 2023. I will say it again. We made it to 2023. As a family that has been on lockdown since March of 2020, that is almost unbelievable to think. 3 years. No dining out, no grocery stores, no shopping in person, no restaurants or cafes, no events or festivals. No family holidays, no vacations, no hotels, no business trips, no hotel pools, no dentists or hair salons, no road trips, no museums. No book stores, no clothing shops, no live music. No visitors in the house, no friends over, no driver's education classes, no botanical garden. As a family with several high risk people including one with a compromised immune system, we have done all touchless, curbside, online, shipped to the door for everything. While we regularly go into Doctor offices and hospitals for ongoing medical needs, even our Doctors have done telehealth and video visits to protect the high risk here. I cannot believe it is 2023.
One thing I always focused on when my kids were young was creating the life we didn't need a vacation from. To work so hard at things we don't love only to desperately get away from it all every single day off seems off balance. While I have traveled and enjoyed travel, I also spent most of my childhood wandering the woods by myself. I am so grateful that I can be with myself and family for a long time. I know that means something to be able to sit and read a book. To sit and write for hours. To make sourdough bread from scratch at home 3 times per week. To have time for art and making and tending the home. To spend every day with our kids. To have time to garden and grow things. To have time to cook meals. To have time to just be. So, while we would love to get out and about more, we also are OK being safe and keeping our most vulnerable safe, spending time as a family, and living our life from our home, as people have done for millenia.
Does anyone else remember the early days of blogs? Back when we all wrote and shared and visited each other and left comments that became conversations? When it was about feeling the roots we made with our family and our connections to them? When we all became penpals and wrote paper letters as well, with the people we met and connected with? When sharing was about sharing and not a hustle? When we cared enough to visit and comment on our lives and ask questions, and have meaningful exchanges? I can tell I'm getting old when I say it was not like the tik tok of today with people faking entire lives and filtering faces and hair and clothing and location and food and experiences to get attention and people only clicking the little heart or thumbs up button, it was interactive. I think constantly seeking new experiences and constantly running and looking for more attention and more clicks and more approval is a product of our modern society in many ways, as old as it might make me sound. ;) In the beginning of the pandemic I thought here is everyone growing vegetables, being home with their kids, having quality time just being, engaging on a deeper level...and then it was gone.
I hate New Year resolutions (esp In january - hellooooo regeneration and new life is in spring, not deep winter), but my wish for the world is to have more time. Time to be home with family. Time to spend reading or hanging out with the kids. Time with teenagers before they leave. Time with partners to talk and dream and think together. Time to read and write and draw and bake. Time to plant feet on the ground and smell the fresh clean air. Time to feel the sun on your neck as you weed the garden. Time to enjoy a bite of a freshly picked strawberry. Time to take a long walk and look at every plant along the way. Time to scribble in a notebook and explore your ideas and inspirations. Time to sit by the fire. I wish that for everyone in 2023. The year of home, the year of simple living and being where we are.
Winter for me Is a time for Introspection, stillness, recovery, connection. In winter we cocoon and prepare to emerge with the green grass and golden sunshine. With that, I plan to post more often this winter, like we did back in the olden days of blogs, with conversation, sharing, and inspiration.
Happy New Year.
If you have a moment, I'd love to hear from you. What are you dreaming this January? How do you rejuvenate yourself in winter? What are you doing at home that makes you feel grounded?
I am a certified aromatherapist, clinical herbalist, organic gardener, plant conservationist, photographer, writer, designer, artist, nature lover, permaculture designer, health justice activist, whole foods maker, and mother of two unschooled teens in south central Wisconsin.