Planting a Winter Garden


A Texas winter garden is an odd collection of delicate leafy greens and weather-hearty root vegetables like carrots, turnips, and beets. There’s also cabbages, brussels sprouts, and broccoli, who like the more delicate salad bowl greens, do not care for the heat, but are far more capable in the cold.

Maybe it’s the New Englander in me who grew up with turnips and the like, but I think of root vegetables as my kindred spirits in the garden. I tend to be drawn to those with not so obvious treasures.

It’s not hard to be radiant rainbow chard, prolific arugula, or tender lettuce showing off in the tamed, affectionate October sun. They remind me of youth and fade fast when faced with minor fluctuations in temperature.

The root vegetables are more like the later decades of life. They soak up the same soothing sun but with practical, more industrious looking leaves.

Their business is inward as tri-colored carrots drill deep into the soil; purple collared, moonlight white turnips nestle and grow round; and beets, with their earthy redness, lay waiting, painterly, to stain finger and lips.

The picture is of the garden I planted this weekend at Sunshine Community Gardens

Note:  I haven’t written much over the last four months. Our summer was about integrating a long-awaited closure with many beginnings. My silence was a needed stillness to reboot and figure out our new operating system.

The Garden

I moved into my community garden plot this past October. I was on the waiting list for about a year and a half before Kay notified me that my name had risen to the top. She said there were a couple of plots available.

I chose a twenty by twenty square that had paths in the shape of a starfish with raised beds between its symmetrical arms. It was the unique geometry that I liked and the dirt looked nurtured and loved. Kay said that the previous gardeners, a young couple in their late twenties, were the only people in the community to use the spoked design.

She asked if I was going to keep it that way. I didn’t answer definitively.

The couple left reluctantly. A move north of the city made the drive too high of a hurdle to continue. The community rules require members to clear their plot before they leave the garden. The couple left a solitary thriving Mexican marigold bush in the corner. It was a welcome gift I’m sure. So was their soil.

I thought about the couple while I tilled the garden in preparation for my winter vegetables. Like an anthropologist going through the dirt, I found evidence of the gardening lives before me – bulbs, roots from past seasons, fennel and herbs.

This afternoon I found volunteer poppies emerging alongside my cabbages and unexpected mint among my beds of kale. I would never think of pulling them up. They were here before me. I like the history.

I redefined the starfish arms with wood chips and arranged a resting place at the center using three cedar stumps I found at Shoal Creek and carried to my car.  After the kids leave for school, if time allows, I go to the garden and sit on the largest stump, drink my coffee and water the vegetables.  It’s my room of my own – the center of the starfish.

Charlotte, the zone coordinator, stopped by today to introduce herself to me and the girls. She told me a little more about the previous gardeners. He was quiet. She was passionate about gardening and health. The garden was more her project but he always worked with her.

I complimented the soil they left behind.  Charlotte nodded in agreement and then told me that they inherited the starfish design. There was a pause as she closed her eyes and tried to conjure up the image of the gardeners before the young couple. She could remember their faces but not their names. She was almost certain that the design was theirs.

She asked me if I was going to keep the same layout for my spring planting.

Yes, definitely.