Susanna: May I borrow your headlamp?

Posted on Dec 9, 2009 | 1 comment

When I had the delight of touring my friend Susanna’s garden a while back, she told me one of those stories only another passionate digger can appreciate. Seems that in winter, by the time she got off work and got home to cover the things in the winter beds, it was already pitch dark. So a friend got her a headlamp and they would laugh at the sight of the little headlamp out flickering in the yard as Susanna tended her leafy flock in the darkness….


Last night, I wished for Susanna’s headlamp. How shall I begin?

It was a dark and stormy night….

Sometime around dusk yesterday, the news finally penetrated my work-focused brain that the temps were predicted to plunge to 18-20 degrees F that night with fierce winds possible. Then Wednesday temps would never get above freezing and Wednesday night temps could drop as low as 12 degrees F with wind chills 1-6 degrees.

ARGH!! The rainy days of high 40’s had lulled me and I had forgotten my earlier intentions to winterize what’s still left out in the garden!  There was a nice patch of Ragged Jack Kale.  I wanted to harvest some, even though it will probably make it through if last year was any indication. (That link also contains a great kale soup recipe…) But the cilantro and dill were goners in those temps, most likely the chinese cabbage too.

ARGH! ARGH!  Then I remembered with a sinking feeling the dahlias and the lemon verbena!  I had promised myself I would lift the verbena and stash it in a pot in the well-pump house and see if it would overwinter alongside the dwarf Mission figs who cozy out the winter there. And the dahlias, which must be lifted and stored over the winter…  I will admit that in the past I’ve treated them—dahlia-lovers cover your eyes—as annuals. This translates to: I coldheartedly let them freeze into mush and die every winter…  Yes, I confess to some Darwinian gardening tactics at times.

But that was before I got a no-so-subtle request from my spouse, something like this:  ‘All the veggies are nice, but we sure could use more flowers around here!’  When your spouse is as tolerant of extreme gardening activities (and expenditures) as mine is, then when flowers are requested, flowers are planted.  Among other things, four clumps of dahlias went in the ground along with some I grew from seed. All were exquisite over the summer and the bees *loved* them. That last fact switched them over to the !Larrapin! category for me. That makes everything different.  Mendy headed out to harvest the kale in the dwindling light, while I was collected buckets, shovel and gardening fork to ‘save the children!’

It was dark in about four and a half minutes. Since I don’t have a cool headlamp like Susanna, I fetched a red flashlight with a cord handle. I gripped the cord in my teeth and attempted to locate dahlia bulbs in the dark earth, in the dark, with a flashlight swinging wildly from my jaw with the motion and the wind making it all look like a horror movie of  a monstrous mad scientist digging a grave in the wild night storm or something. Not to mention the cord in my teeth made me drool. So make that a frothing-from-the-mouth- night-digging-monster…

Digging dahlias in the dark is kind of like digging potatoes in the dark I guess, not that I’ve done it. It’s all dirt-colored in the dark. I had to find the dark withered foliage where the dahlias had been, dig in the dark earth to find the dark earth covered tubers, did I mention, all in the dark…

But there they were!  Along with some startled earthworms and crickets! I shook off the dirt and put them in buckets so I could dry them and store them later. Then on to the verbena!  Cut it back, dig it up, pot it up. (Fill in: in the dark…) Then clip great wet cold bunches of cilantro and take to the kitchen. Nevermind I had dirt in my hair from when the nearby climbing rose snagged my wool hat off and when I put it back on my head about the third time (in the dark) clumps of leaves and soil fell down my shirt. I had dirt on my face, made into muddy streaks by the aforementioned flashlight-induced drooling, all over my clothes and in my gloves.

Regardless, it all became worth it, looking around as the dahlia tubers lounged drying in their bucket in a cool room, the lemon verbena snuggled up to the sleeping figs in the pumphouse, and piles of cilantro, kale, cabbage and even a few collards for good measure were piled safe in the kitchen. All shall be well.

This seems a great time to share my recipe for lemon-verbena liqueur! But I’m going to save that for another post. Let’s just say I didn’t have any, so I had to make do with alternate libation for the night. (Generous blessings on Kentucky….)

So now you know, even if a story begins “It was a dark and stormy night…” the tale could still turn our to be about a garden.

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One Comment

  1. And how did you preserve all of that cilantro? Doesn’t it go brown pretty quickly?