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Blooming in Winter 

Once in a while, Humboldt County isn't the worst place to be

Among garden bloggers (a small but mighty force in the blogosphere) there is a tradition of posting a photo of whatever happens to be blooming in your garden on the 15th of each month. It's a useful practice for a gardener; if you keep it up for a couple of years, you will be able to look back and notice that your pear tree has been blooming earlier than usual, or that the poppies that used to fill your front yard have disappeared, prompting you to -- well, remark upon the fact that your pear tree is blooming earlier, which is exactly the sort of conversation-starter that makes you so much fun at parties. Or maybe you'll remember how much you liked all those poppies in the first place and re-seed the flower beds. Something like that.

In December, Bloom Day landed just before the first big winter storm hit. I thought my garden was looking desolate and downtrodden. I thought there was nothing in bloom. I envied all the people I'd run into around town who told me they were retreating to Mexico or Hawaii or San Diego for a tropical holiday. Deck the halls with bougainvillea, I could imagine them singing around their outdoor fire pit, which would be more for ambience than heat, while back in Eureka I looked around among the slugs and dead twigs in my backyard for a flower to photograph.

But in fact, my Bloom Day survey was pretty impressive. There was an exceedingly ambitious red brugmansia, also known in some circles as angel's trumpet, which was producing enormous, tropical, trumpet-shaped flowers well after Thanksgiving for reasons known only to it. The giant old fuchsia that I threaten to kill every couple of years was blooming as if its life depended on it, which it does. Bright orange calendula, which used to bloom in abundance in winter until the chickens developed a taste for the seeds, had managed to come back in a few spots. There were a lot of fennel blossoms, and I know that fennel is practically a weed but nobody said weeds don't count on Bloom Day. I even found one bedraggled and confused Shasta daisy with its head bent mournfully to the ground. I yanked it up and forced it to smile at the camera, then let it sink back into despondency.

So as you can see from the photo collage I assembled, my nearly-bare garden actually had quite a bit going for it. (And speaking of photo collages: the new version of Google's free photo editing software, Picasa3, is the garden photographer's best friend. The new 'collage' button rocks. You can add text, you can make slideshows and upload directly to YouTube, you can geotag for Google Earth -- well, don't get me started. If you're like me and you just refuse to deal with Photoshop, this is the way to go for simple photo edits. OK, enough tech talk.)

All the blooms I photographed crumpled up and vanished, of course, as soon as the first winter storm hit, but it made me realize how lucky I am to live in a place where you can actually cut a few flowers and harvest vegetables from your own garden around the holidays. My friend Michele, who lives in upstate New York, was so astonished by my Bloom Day photos that she posted her own image of an ice-covered fallen tree in front of her house with the comment, "Enough said."

Well, I can't help it if some people choose to live under the frozen tundra for half the year. But it did make me a little more grateful to be where I am, even if, for yet another year, I won't be spending the holidays around my outdoor fire pit, mojito in hand. Merry Rainstorm to all of you, wherever you may be this year.

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Amy Stewart

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