The groundhog gave us the wakeup call


Winter seems intent on proving the groundhog right. It’s not over yet by a long shot, and I suppose that’s probably as it should be. I remember the last time spring came early: it was so weird it was almost hard to enjoy it. Safe to say nothing is normal anymore and probably never was. But at least we can count on the groundhog to give us the wake-up call. By the time you read this, two of the predicted “six more weeks of winter” will have passed. Fast as that. And the next four will do the same. In fact, time flies so quickly, even when it feels like it drags, that I am making every effort to keep from hitting the snooze button. There’s way too much to do in the little down-time left before spring’s frenzy to stay tucked up in grumpy hibernation.

I still haven’t figured out what to do with the gaping gap in my entry garden where excavators removed half of the concrete walkway last spring to repair a broken water line. Should I remove the rest of the concrete and shell out for a prettier path to the (unused) front door? Patch the gap with a beach stone mosaic — at least until I win another lottery of second-hand flagstone? Buy more time to decide with another load of the town’s free mulch? Whatever I do, I should get busy forming a concrete (so to speak) intention and roughing out a plan with which to follow it through.

Last summer I decided that this would be the winter I would take out my remaining pear tree. It’s an ungainly little thing incapable of producing delicious fruit (its pears are best left to the squirrels who never take more than a bite either). It pokes us in the face on the way to the shed and is nearly impossible to mow under and around. But I have been feeling sentimental about it, especially now that winter’s end is fast approaching and I know that I will completely lose my resolve once its buds start swelling. So if it’s coming down, it better be now.

I recently mentioned my desire to start a vegetable garden. There’s no time like the present given the predictions about how California’s drought is likely to affect their crops, and subsequently, produce prices. Not that my chef buys much from California. Most of our veg comes from the local farmers market even in the winter. Nonetheless, I could use the practice and I’m up for the challenge. Aren’t I? That means I need to decide, very soon, where to have my carpenter build the raised bed(s) and how big they should be. No more than 4 feet wide for easy reaching and a good 8 feet long? That seems huge for this little garden, but two or three that size would probably keep us fed with a healthy variety of salad greens, tomatoes, peas, string beans, and root crops. I’ll continue to encourage squash to grow in my compost pile since that requires prodigious space to sprawl. I know I can stick to that part of the plan, at least.

In the meantime, while we wake up to decisions that finally need making, winter demands appreciation. It won’t be long before swollen buds open on shrubs and trees; before dormant perennials show a little life at their crown. Birds are already starting to get frisky and sing like spring. Time is short. As sick as I am of winter’s chill, disgusting slush, unwalkable sidewalks, and thwarted plans, it’s worth savoring the discomfort of this moment, as well as any ephemeral beauty, and banking some shivers for the hottest, most unpleasant heatwave-days of summer. No matter what the groundhog says and how it feels right now, they will be here in a blink.

Kristin Green is the interpretive horticulturist at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum and author of Plantiful: Start Small, Grow Big with 150 Plants that Spread, Self-Sow, and Overwinter (Timber Press). Follow Blithewold’s garden blog at


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.