January is a great time to plan a garden. The Romans named the time immediately after the winter solstice “January,” after Janus, the two-faced Roman god who looked backward and forward at the same time.
In the short, dark days of winter, being surrounded by green plants can inspire creative thinking. While a trip to a warmer part of the world may not be possible, a quick trip to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, or the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago, can provide a refreshing break. Garfield Park Conservatory (admission and parking free) is easy to reach by public transportation. Designed by Jens Jensen in 1906, its desert, jungle and fern rooms are filled with soft air and fantastic plants.
Having been stimulated by a quick trip to the tropics, gardeners may then wish to visit the Evanston Public Library (parking in the basement). On the third floor they can flip through the recent gardening magazines that are produced by gardeners for gardeners. Interesting finds can be photocopied or even scanned and emailed to one’s personal computer.
Plants are very conservative. They have been growing their own way, doing their own thing, without human help for millions of years.
Some plants are very tolerant of growing under new conditions. Other plants are very picky. For best results with picky plants, caregivers should check growing conditions in their area of origin. If the plant received no water for half a year where it grew, watering it regularly every week for a year may not produce satisfactory results.
Some things take a certain amount of time. More heat or more fertilizer will not make plants grow any faster. The days to harvest given in catalogs are the minimum number of days under the very best growing conditions.
For many people, modern technology has erased the differences in the times of day and the seasons of the year.
One reason why plants that flourished in grandparents’ homes do not do well today is that gas and electric heating systems can maintain an even temperature 24/7.
In the old days when people used wood stoves or coal heat, the night temperature was usually much cooler than the day temperature. Since most plants prefer cooler nights, setting the thermostat 10 to 15 degrees cooler at night will save money and produce happier plants.
My final advice to gardeners who are eager for the spring is to read up on plants, observe them carefully, let the plants set the pace and always try to do things their way.