No new lipstick, but her garden gets a makeover

Sydney Craft Rozen, Impetuous Gardener

My wee dram of Irish normally lies smothered under the mound of pasta marinara that is my Italian heritage. Last week though, my voice took on a bit of a lilt as I bade goodbye to 2020: “Be off with ye now. Ye’ve been here donkey’s years and made a bags of the whole lot. Sure an’ glad I am to see the back o’ ye cursed year.”

Because of the pandemic, our family in the Seattle area and here in Moscow agreed we’d have no weekend visits or big indoor gatherings during the holidays. My husband, Lee, and I celebrated Christmas with scaled-down versions of the traditions we’ve cherished for decades. This year Lee didn’t need a stepladder to set the angel on the top branch of our tree, and I left a few decorations in their boxes, unused. On Christmas morning, we spent one joyous hour with our four grandchildren, daughter and son-in-law at their house, all of us smiling behind our masks while the kids opened their presents. That night, instead of serving our family’s usual 20-pound turkey, I prepared a pot roast dinner and side dishes for two.

On New Year’s Day I ordered six tomato plant varieties that had sold out last winter, when gardeners’ panic buying set in as soon as the coronavirus threatened. I also bought a packet of Bellatrix pumpkin seeds, named for the beautiful, mad witch, Bellatrix Lestrange, of the Harry Potter fantasy series. Territorial Seed Company describes the Bellatrix as “a carving pumpkin for your strange and darkest designs.” I wonder if the Garden Goddess will welcome a wild spirit in her place of peace.

My Church of Dirt and Flowers will bloom in jewel tones this spring, but it lies dormant now, a muted church of frosted branches. The pine siskins at our bird feeders add bright blurs of yellow to the muddy brown and slushy beige on the ground below them. They’re persistent little birds when they queue up for sunflower seeds. I’ve stood inches from their perch while they ignored me and finished their breakfast. Recently, Lee moved the two feeders from our apple tree and set them on the kitchen steps for cleaning. Moments later, I found nearly two dozen pine siskins fluttering, diving and muscling each other out of the way to snatch seeds from the steps. I wish they weren’t so fearless when they’re vulnerable on the ground. I expect my chief garden staffer, Benjamin BadKitten, to remember that his job is protecting, not pouncing on, the garden’s occupants, whether flowered or feathered. Mostly BBK avoids his outdoor office in winter and curls up in the house, enjoying his four-month hiatus and dreaming of his two-month summer vacation.

Until we took down our Christmas tree a few days ago, I loved looking up at the angel. The topmost tree branch was crooked, and Lee had to tilt the angel askew to wedge her into place. The skirt of her white robe hiked up on one side, so I set sprays of tiny silk roses around the hem to preserve her modesty. She always looked ready to flutter her wings and launch herself off the tree, leaving 2020 behind. If she were an Irish angel, she might have offered a traditional wish for the new year: “May good luck be with ye wherever ye go, and blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow.”

While she waits for the first green shoots to rise in her garden, Sydney Craft Rozen is reading about the language of flowers. Email her at

Recommended for you