Winter Gardening

A little rain never bothered a true-blue tiller of the soil

Yes, it looks cold out there in Marin-Bolinas Botanical Garden, but readying ground now makes for colorful rewards in the spring. Chronicle photo by Penni Gladstone
You don't need to be a psychologist to understand the mental health benefits of gardening. You just need to be a gardener -- the kind who comes in covered in mud, leaves stuck in your hair, leaving behind a nicely pruned camellia or a patch of freshly weeded soil.
I can't help but laugh when I read suggestions that during those winter months, when you can't garden, you get your fix by reading seed catalogs. I don't know, somehow that just doesn't get my blood pumping. And it doesn't cure the cabin fever that develops after a few days of looking out the window at a wet and chilly world.
Nothing but real gardening will do. So I go out anyway. At least in our area we don't have to shovel back a foot of snow to get to our plants, so just getting wet and chilly is a small price to pay.
My garden ought to look like Versailles for all the time I spend on it. It doesn't, but the time I spend is for me, as well as for my garden. I have chosen a "high maintenance" yard intentionally.
Once you bundle up a little and accept that you're going to get wet, you can do all sorts of garden chores in the winter rain. If you don't have the kind of clay soil that turns to cream cheese when it gets wet, you can weed damp soil with ease. My plants don't seem to care whether I prune them when the sun is shining or during a little shower. Raking sometimes works better when it is rainy. The leaves sort of stick together and clump in a nice pile, with no warm wind to blow them back across the lawn. And if the lawn needs aerating (mine always does), I use my little push-in-the-ground tool and then spread a bag of soil conditioner over the top. The timing seems perfect as the rain works the material into the lawn.
The major kind of preparation needed for winter gardening is mental. It's a matter of not considering weather as an obstacle. The other bit of preparation is to have everything you need already outside. You don't want to traipse mud through the house looking for the twine to tie up the abutilon or to find the phone that always rings the minute you get outside.
One other bit of preparation is a place to pile your muddy duds when you are done. A few spread-out newspapers work fine.
After a bit of rainy gardening you won't look out the window and have that, "Oh I wish I could get to that project" feeling. Instead, there will be a feeling of satisfaction and admiration at some neatly completed garden task.
Muddy clothes in the washer, cup of tea on the table -- now is the time for seed catalogs. Bring them out and meander through the pages. These catalogs do have their place, after all.
This article appeared on page E - 4 of the San Francisco Ch