Outdoors Recreation

The Observant Gardener: January is a Time of Reflection

Rime ice on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Photo by Judith Canty Graves

It is reasonable that a man should be something worthier at the end of the year than he was at the beginning. – Henry David Thoreau, 1852

By Judith Canty Graves

It is quite an achievement to reach the end of a year with all its ups and downs, surprises, changes, losses, births and deaths. Every year in early January, I contemplate my passage into the new year. Each year is eventful.

This is the time of year most people like to reflect on what happened the previous twelve months and think about what the future might bring. It is a universal feeling. Can we let go of the past? Can we plan for the future? What have we learned?

The namesake of January, Janus, was the god of change in Roman mythology. He had two faces, one looking into the past and one looking into the future, so he symbolized time and life’s transitions. The Romans worshipped him at their times of transition, such as spring planting and fall harvest, youth and adulthood, as well as marriages and deaths.

As each year is full of transitions, it is appropriate for gardeners to reflect on the past year. There are so many changes in the natural world over twelve months that I need a period of inactivity and dormancy to absorb what happened in my garden during that time. That’s why I love January, when the earth is sleeping and I can lead a more inward life.

Western North Carolina enjoys four distinct seasons, which makes for a year of constant change and stimulation. This means that keeping a garden journal during the year is essential because it is difficult to remember in January what was planted last spring, which types of plants did well and where they grew best. Even when I don’t have much time to write detailed descriptions, I try to jot down a brief note or two about how the plants did. I also take photographs to help as reference.

When it is winter and I look at the photographs of my summer garden, I am always amazed, as if seeing these lush plants for the very first time. The contrast is so striking. Were the plants really that tall and green? I ask myself that question as I look at the barren winter landscape. Yes, they were!

This is the month I will spend time inside reading garden books and dreaming about what I would like for my garden in the coming year. I will walk around my yard with my cat, looking at different planting areas and noticing how the sun strikes them. Of course, the sun will change by spring and summer, so I need to be mindful of that.

It is important to have a vision of what to grow and where to grow it. As we transition to the new year, I use the time to develop my vision of my gardening future. Spring planting is a major event for me, so January is the time to reflect on the past and imagine what the next growing season will bring.

Judith Canty Graves is an Asheville gardener with a background in photojournalism. Follow @TheObservantGardener on Instagram to see new garden photos daily.

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