I imagine many readers glancing at this page have already abandoned a New Year’s resolution (or two).
Gone is the first week of the year, with its ambition and hope. Instead, we’re in the mid-January doldrums, part of the long wait for the sun to banish our muddy yards and seasonal affective disorder. Almost definitely, your resolution has already atrophied into resignation.
Although maybe it hasn’t. Perhaps it never was made to begin with. New Year’s resolutions seem to have gone out of style somewhat. Perhaps it’s because more people believe in incremental behavioral change or deconstruct diet culture. Perhaps we collectively heard one too many late-night hosts (or newspaper columnists) joke about gyms being crowded on Jan. 1 but abandoned by MLK Day. Perhaps the pandemic has shifted our conceptions of time and progress and how much control we have over fate.
Whatever the reason, resolutions seem to have toppled off their pedestal while lots of fresh-faced alternatives are squabbling to replace them. Some of my friends still do a Word Of The Year, a blogging trend I flirted with in the early 2010s. Others do daily vibe checks and intention setting. And then there are the annual challenges, which are resolutions with rounder numbers and better branding: 100 books, 1000 hours outside, 10 minutes a day of stretching/practicing Spanish/yodeling at your cat.
But let’s be real. This column is about gardening, the lifeblood of ancient peasants. Digging holes and planting seeds are not the stuff of fads. It’s more Mesopotamia than Metropolis. Around here, we don’t need newfangled “challenges” or “vibes” chronicled in 5G apps monitored by Big Brother. Nah, let’s stick with dusty, dowdy resolutions. Here are mine:
RESOLUTION 1: Stop leaving pots and shovels everywhere.
Congratulations if you are good at finishing what you started. I am not. Listen, once I muster the executive function to grow a plant from seed or buy it from a nursery, weed a little patch of earth, dig a hole, add compost, plant the thing and water it, maybe mulch it, I am done. That was fun, but now I am out of willpower. I do not want to gather or sort or clean plastic pots and dirty tools and empty seed packets and my waning dignity. So, traditionally, I leave the mess for another day.
This, in a word, sucks. It means the next time I muster the executive function for a project, I must start by cleaning up the last one. Which sometimes sours my mood and dampens my energy before I even get to the new one.
You may scoff at this. (Ancient Mesopotamian peasants absolutely would scoff at this. “You have a shed? With a sturdy roof and a lock of iron? You have TWO shovels? How can a god complain of his riches!”) But change must start with honesty, silly though it may be. Since it’s unlikely I will resolve my way to a new personality, I should set myself up to flourish with the tendencies I have.
YouTuber Gardener Scott talks about being successful as a self-described lazy gardener. Since he also doesn’t like traipsing back and forth from shed to garden, he keeps a small collection of hand tools and supplies for regular tasks in a big old mailbox installed among his raised beds. I’ll incorporate this idea by creating a small, covered station right in my vegetable garden for a few tools and adding a waste bin to the backyard. If cleaning up is easy, I’m more likely to follow through.
RESOLUTION 2: Keep a calendar (and look at it).
I often plant, say, a radish, dreaming of the salads it will join, then immediately start forgetting the radish. I know it’s there — I even water it regularly. But it becomes a sort of buried mystery. When exactly did I plant the seeds? How many days should it take to mature? 45? 90? When should I harvest it? Oh no, I should have pulled it two weeks ago! What have I done? My radish, my poor darling radish!
My mind is not so much a memory palace as a memory labyrinth full of lockboxes for which I have misplaced the keys; a Houdini who makes his bedazzled assistant disappear then wonders where she’s gone.
This is a problem silly and solvable. In keeping with my archaic relationship with technology, I keep a paper calendar for appointments and reminders rather than a digital one. But this year, I have a SECOND calendar (don’t tell the ancient peasants this; they’ll faint). It is my planting calendar. I will write down when I start seeds and transplant seedlings and when I expect edibles to be ready. In the past, I’ve halfheartedly scribbled down a couple of dates on a scrap of paper, but as you may guess, that paper vanished like the bedazzled woman. A wall calendar has more permanence. I respect the wall calendar. The wall calendar is my two-shoveled god, and a ripe, hearty radish shall bless this humble acolyte.
RESOLUTION 3: Prune things at the right time (with the right tool).
Oh, you thought spacing out a radish was bad? Wait until you hear about the entire trees I forget!
I kept meaning to trim my plum and apple trees last winter. “I’ll do it tomorrow,” I would say. “This weekend,” I’d assure myself. And then, suddenly, the leaves were budding (and the aphids were attacking). Fortunately, the trees are young, and any trim would have been a light trim anyway. So skipping a year wasn’t a big deal. But I’d prefer not to make it a habit.
Then there’s the problem of my camellia. I remembered to prune it last spring (as you should do with woody shrubs, as they set next year’s flowers soon after blooming), but I didn’t do it well. To be fair to me, my camellia is notoriously hard to deal with. It was planted a bit too close to the house, there’s no clear ground around it for a ladder, and it’s tall and wide enough that my longest loppers can’t reach the center branches at the top, which means I have not trimmed the crown. This is okay as long as my draping willow leaves veil it, but my shame is revealed once winter winds strip those away. Who ever saw a camellia with a cowlick? I assume my neighbors refer to us simply as The Alfalfa House.
So, I’ll be adding a pole blade to my shopping list and writing pruning dates in my Holy Planting Calendar. Worst case scenario, I’ll see the reminders when turning to the next month and only be a couple of weeks late.
Despite what I said earlier, it’s clear I’m still inadvertently participating in the Word Of The Year fad after all. And this year’s word is Organization. What about you? It’s not too late for gardening resolutions or challenges. The winter lingers, the garden still asleep; things can only get better from here. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a plum tree to trim.