Our family’s holiday season was one of the most joyous in 40 years. Our two little granddaughters flitted around the house in their fairy wings, while their brothers paged through their new books and the adults shared family memories. In the tradition of Italian mamas, I cooked enough food to provide leftovers for everybody. The only sourpuss at our house was Benjamin BadKitten, who stopped brimming with holiday cheer even before he noticed the stacked boxes of Christmas decorations. As soon as we brought the 8-foot tree into the living room, BBK’s ears flattened and his tail started twitching.

My Maine coon cat has landed on Santa’s naughty list 13 years in a row and suffers from holiday-related anxiety. He knows a Christmastime visit from our son and his sweet, but large, dog is likely. This year, our son and his girlfriend brought the dog — and their cat — with them from Seattle. I’m normally an indiscriminate cat woman, but I adore my BadKitten and know him well. So our understanding with our son was the cat would be welcome if it remained in our guest space downstairs for the entire visit. Everybody, including our four cat-loving grandchildren, respected this boundary. I don’t think Benjamin even suspected there was an alien feline presence in our house. If he had, I would have been cleaning up the evidence of his distress all week.

Now our home is peaceful again, and I’ve bought a calendar with monthly suggestions for garden projects. Maybe I should just declare victory for 2020 right now, because the list said to review my notes from last year’s garden journal — and I actually kept a journal in 2019. From early spring to late autumn, I made sketches of planting beds and noted varieties of vegetables that grew well. I also saved extra seeds, hoping some of my favorites will germinate this spring, including May Queen and Butter King lettuce. In my garden journal, I graded the six varieties of tomatoes we grew — Japanese Trifele Black, excellent for sauce; Red Racer, first to ripen and a prolific grower; Tasti-Lee, delicious but vulnerable to blossom end rot; Bloody Butcher, reliable and flavorful, and Heirloom Marriage, fine for sauce, but too soft and squishy for sandwiches or salads. Our tart Artemis cherry tomatoes tried to take over the patio, and I’ll replace them with several sweeter varieties this summer.

The calendar also suggested that I read garden books and seed catalogs, which is like telling a chocolate fanatic to open that deluxe box of truffles. A lovely book for my winter reading is “The Literary Garden,” with descriptive passages from more than thirty novelists as diverse as Louisa May Alcott, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marcel Proust, Daphne Du Maurier, Edith Wharton and Mark Twain. A friend gave me this treasure, with permission from the estate of the late Richard Naskali, Ph.D., the first director and guiding spirit of the University of Idaho Arboretum and Botanical Garden.

I’ve have started drawing my new garden plans and have asked my husband, Lee, to build a third raised bed for our backyard. Even after I told him what I wanted to plant there — pumpkins in the sunshine — he said he’ll do it. My literary garden book includes a passage from“My Antonia” by Willa Cather, with several mentions of big, yellow pumpkins. Three pages of growing instructions follow, beginning with the dubious promise, “Pumpkins are fun and easy-to-grow annuals.” Longtime readers know that the pumpkins in my patch have never been easy to grow or even much fun. They’ve made good copy, though, for more than a few column inches of humiliating stories over the years. But now that I’m acing the January calendar’s list, I’m already jazzed. Maybe this will be the year I turn my perennial orange betes noires into jack-o’-lanterns.


Sydney Craft Rozen and her chief garden staffer, Benjamin BadKitten, will be back in the dirt as soon as the last snow melts and the Rozens’ Christmas lights come down. Email her at scraftroze@aol.com

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