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January Garden Slumber

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This is what gardening looks like in Western Oregon in January.

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I’m trying to finish shoveling a giant pile of mulch off my driveway.  I’m down the last couple of yards, and even though it was 38 degrees and raining out, today was the day when I had room in my schedule to work on it.  So, I got to work.

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Most of the garden is asleep in January, but I still make the rounds of all my perennials every week to check on them.  Each one gets a visual inspection for weather/rodent damage, disease, state of dormancy, etc.

The Goumi berry (Eleagnus multiflora) (left) and Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) (right) plants may lose their leaves in winter, but they still provide visual interest with upright shape and scores of thorns.  The Goumi’s thorns are only on younger growth, but their downward hook means it is easy to snag a hole in your pants as you walk by.  Sea Buckthorns are notorious for their spines, but I grow Siberian varieties, which are less thorny than their German cousins.  Both species are nitrogen fixers and produce their own nutritious tasty fruits, but their spikey nature means I have planted them on the perimeter of the garden – near enough to the pome fruits to provide nitrogen-fixing benefits, and where their own berries can be easily reached but not where kids will fall into them, or clothes become easily snagged on the spines.

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Walking around today, I noticed that one of the rhubarbs in a particularly warm and sheltered spot has emerged early from dormancy.  The new leaves are always a vibrant blend of fuschia and chartreuse, with salmon and tangerine overtones.  Simply beautiful.

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The rhubarb divisions potted up for our upcoming spring plant sale are all still dormant, but I can spy one in the upper right trying to wake up.

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The backyard isn’t much to behold this time of year.  One can hardly tell there is an orchard along the U-shaped perimeter of the yard – it all blends in to the fencing with the leaves and fruit absent.  The rain garden in the foreground doesn’t impress much at the moment, either.  But soon sleeping herbaceous perennials and spring bulbs will start to stir from their slumber.

For the time being, the ducks have the run of the place -the rain keeps the chickens hiding much of the time, and the ducks follow me around as I take care of morning chores, although here they’re happily preening in the rain garden, in the midst of a downpour.  Always in their element in wet weather, the ducks.

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Working outside every day in winter weather has taken a toll on my hands.  Every time I come in, my knuckles seem to be cracked and bleeding.  Potting up dormant berry bushes for the spring plant sale, in particular, has been really rough on them.

Because being out in wet, windy, cold weather so much was damaging my hands – and because my dad, a hobby woodworker, was experiencing similarly cracked and banged-up hands – I made up a special batch of lanolin-rich hand salve.

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Lanolin is the waxy oil from sheep’s wool – because it is washed from the wool after shearing, and no sheep are harmed in production, it is a vegetarian (not vegan) product.  But because it is also an animal fat, made to keep skin & wool healthy out in the elements, lanolin is the perfect choice to use on hands that spend many hours outdoors or in rough working conditions.

Combined together with beeswax, lanolin makes a water-resistant coating against rain and wind.  And because lanolin is readily absorbed into the skin, it helps to heal and moisturize severely dry skin as it protects.

I’ll be back later in the week with more from the garden – evergreen plants that provide winter interest now – and nutritious fruit come summer!

If you’d like to order some of this batch of salve, you can find it here.

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