Lorton
Lorton

We all make ‘em. We all break ‘em. Still, they are important. At the very least a New Year’s resolution steers us back in the right direction. However, in addition to New Year’s Resolutions, I like to think in terms of New Year’s rituals, especially when it comes to the garden.

Basic, every-year chores should be ritualized. At some point in January, we all take down the Christmas tree. Celebrate cutting up the branches to compost or perhaps feed into the chipper. Enjoy the fragrance, right down to the sap on your fingers, remembering those happy moments when we all returned to an ancient and civil cultural center. As for that sap, it’s easy to remove. Apply a little vegetable oil to each of the sticky spots. Wipe them away with a paper towel. Simply amazing. Try it.

Next comes the pre-spring garden clean up. That unpredictable, but never failing, dry, sunny day arrives in January. Cancel the lunch and movie plans and go out to gingerly rake up the last of the leaves and windfall debris. There you’ll spot the earliest of daffodil leaves popping out of the ground.

Take in the color of the first tassel blossoms of the Chinese Witch Hazel, listen to the chirping of the birds at the feeder or scouring the branches for seeds and bugs. Leave the ear buds and iTunes indoors. Nature provides the music in the wind, in the sound of the rake, in the chatter of critters, the creak of limbs — it is rhapsodic.

Now is the time to prune off unwanted branches and shoots. The best of them go indoors to be placed in containers, coupled with fresh, store-bought cut flowers. It’s all a natural and artistic reminder of the promise of spring.

Next, spread a generous layer of compost over the ground; four inches isn’t too thick. Be careful not to flatten those early emerging daffodils. Sweep all walks. Step back and savor the beauty of the garden in slumber. Enjoy the glisten from rainwater on stones and pavers. Marvel at the mosses.

Now, to the New Year’s resolutions.

Chief in my life has been this one: I’m not buying any plants this year. The garden is full. I have all I can handle. No new plants.

A stiff wind blows, and I can hear God laughing as I pass City People’s Garden Store and stop “just to have a look,” or walk down to Bert’s Red Apple for a baguette. Suddenly, a new and super-floriferous hellebore, which I’ve never seen before, calls to me like a siren to Odysseus. Cut the cords on the mast! Set me free! I’m buying it!

It will look great in a pot on the deck, right near the entry where I’ll pass and enjoy it many times daily. Then I’ll find a place to shoe-horn it into the garden. Why not? Yes! I can crowd one more into that big pot I have, in which I’ve accumulated the latest and most beautiful hellebores of the last five years. Really, could I allow this perfect plant to go homeless? It’s my duty.

Hopefully, I won’t see a Sasanqua Camellia in bloom or have my eyes snared by the brilliant bark of a red or yellow-twigged dogwood. If I do, however, I’ll buy it. So what? If I can’t find a place for it, I can always give it to someone else, presented with grandiloquent pontifications about placement and what it will do for the garden in years (Ha! In generations) to come.

So it goes, year after year, after joyful year. Along with my grandchildren and the new puppy in my house, my garden sweeps me into the future with the promise of continued life. I can tell you this: Yes, age has set limits on most of my long-term plans, but I still have compelling reason to look ahead to the next day, the next season, the next year.

As Amy Lowell put it: “The squills and daffodils will give way to pillared roses and to asters and to snow….” I look forward to seeing it all come to pass, to watching the parade, to taking part in the ritual, to breaking the resolutions.

Happy New Year!