A brilliant January morning has been put before us: bright and sunny and not too cold. We took down the last of the indoor Christmas decorations this past weekend, and before we did I sat in the front room by the tree with a toasty fire in the hearth, reading Butler’s superb The Way of All Flesh, and tried to absorb the last of the Christmas atmosphere.
At this dark time of the gardening calendar, I continue turning over in my mind the wisdom of a new method of gardening, which I began this past fall. I pull weeds and, if they aren’t going to seed, leave them to decompose in place, creating a kind of fertilizer, weed barrier, and moisture-saving mulch all at the same time. The question is, can my fanatical tidiness be quieted by the benefits of this new, lazy, but possibly more ecological approach? It may look a bit seedy in spring, when we like to see the fresh green shoots against the clean dark earth, but it should look less untidy as the plants develop.
Of course, I will clear away any twigs and thicker stems that won’t quickly break up, but deadheads can just be let fall. I wonder whether this is a salutary, poor man’s mulch, or just slovenliness presenting itself temptingly as an economical environmental theory? I already don’t use chemicals, so is not cleaning up after myself another large step toward not really gardening, or one toward gardening in a more “natural style?” Or is it, as I suppose, a sign of mature wisdom in the gardener to realize he has to let the garden be more what it is and less what he wants it to be?
Suddenly, yesterday, a winter miracle descended: it was sunny and seventy-three degrees here; only the thirteenth day in history, we are told, that a January day here hit the seventies. I made my wife take her paper and coffee and sit outside in the sun on a lounge chair. The quality of the air and light was exactly like the first morning of a winter trip to Florida, when you stagger out into the poolside sunshine for the first time, the air warm and moist and the brilliant light dazzling. Fabulous.
I have so far advanced in the spring cleanup (winter cleanup, actually) that
the porch bed is cut down and weeded; so are the arch bed and the front bed, where, to my delight, I found a tiny, ten-inch-high, offshoot rose plant that had volunteered from the climbing rose on the trellis by the front door, whose suckering progeny it no doubt is.
Every gardener loves to get free plants like this. The weeded, clean dark earth (you perceive I have not implemented my messy gardening scheme everywhere yet), with already the bare fuzz of spring green on it, is incredibly cheering for some reason; it must be the same joy a wheat farmer feels when he sees the dark of his fields fuzzed over with the first faint green of grassy winter wheat. For good measure, I cut back all the ivy in the back yard to give a nice sharp line between the barbered grass and the wilder zone of the ivy. A glorious day, truly a gift, and I appreciatively spent as much of it outside as I could.
“Winter,” we are told, “is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand, and for a talk beside the fire; it is the time for home.” So says Dame Edith Sitwell, anyway, and she is surely right. She and her two dotty brothers, Sir Sacheverell and Sir Osbert Sitwell formed an odd trio of English writers and were famous esthetes of a high and rather precious order.
Sir Sacheverell and Sir Osbert had no choice in the matter really, the poor dears; having been given such odd names by their parents, they pretty much had to turn out that way. But Dame Edith, lacking this convenient excuse, would occasionally, accidentally, say something sensible, such as this dictum about winter and home and so on.
Corn and Gruyère Soup
12 pieces of bacon
3 cups of chopped yellow onion
8 cups of frozen corn, thawed
7 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade, or vegetable stock for a vegetarian version)
2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
4 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. flour
2 cups heavy cream