A Cold, Dry Month with a Record Effort
Last Saturday my husband and I spent a few hours toiling away in the back yard, a red letter day in our household. Yard work in winter? What gives?
Typically by that time in January we expect about 4.5 inches of rain, but we were logging in at 0.31 inches. Puddles form in the back yard on the wettest days, which might see more than 2 inches of liquid sunshine. Along with the lack of rainfall, the temperature hovered right around 30 degrees, day and night. Our normal high is 48, with a low of 35.
The unusual weather presented a unique opportunity to tackle yard work without getting soaked, or so I suggested to my husband, who wasn’t nearly as enthused as I was. Usually we ignore outdoor chores during the wet season, but I didn’t want to pass up the chance to get the drop on some of our problem areas. Eugene is a green city that enjoys rampant, prolific growth in springtime, and because our spring months are also wet and our soil waterlogged, managing the abundance presents a challenge. Hence my eagerness to get started on a chilly winter day.
Himalayan blackberries and English ivy can take over a yard in a single season, given the chance. Saturday we pruned them to a manageable level, at least in one section of the yard, and stuffed their arms and legs—er, branches and leaves—into a yard-debris bin, which is collected every two weeks all year round. I’m hoping the weather holds so that I can take a stab at another flora stronghold, by the snowball tree in the corner of the yard. There, tall blackberry canes sweep over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, while ivy vines slink up the rough slats.
I noticed a few things while I was outside. Tiny buds have appeared on the lilac trees. Apparently these buds form in late summer and become visible when the leaves fall. In spring, this head start allows blossoms to quickly burst open. I missed this interesting phenomenon during previous winters while sheltering inside. Lilac is a favorite of mine, and when we bought this house we inherited three varieties: white, pale purple, and deep purple. Score! I may be crazy, but I think they all smell different.
Lilac buds in our back yard, January 2013
I enjoy the appearance of bare tree limbs, along with red rose hips and bright berries that remain through winter. I also like the look of lemon balm stalks, with the seed pods sticking out like odd-looking beaks. But the stalks have to go now, before the first flush of spring. While cutting them back, I noted with surprise a shock of tender green leaves at the base. They’re ready to go as soon as the warm weather hits. By May, our far back yard (it runs pretty deep) will become a meadow of thick bushes that when gently pressed, smell—you guessed it—strongly of lemon.
For centuries, lemon balm has served as a medicinal herb. It offers antibacterial and antiviral properties, and helps to calm jaded nerves and enhance the mood. It contains eugenol, a natural pain reliever, and speeds the healing of wounds. One study found that it helped patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s symptoms. It may also be useful in combating obesity. Lemon balm may work to suppress thyroid function—useful for people with an overactive thyroid, but unfavorable for those with an underactive thyroid.
Lemon balm and ivy, January 2013
Making lemon balm tea is simple. Just use two to three tablespoons of fresh leaves or one to three teaspoons of dried leaves per cup of water. Bring water to a boil and pour over the leaves. Steep for 10 minutes. The flavor is mildly lemony.
A local herbalist gave me a simple recipe for lemon balm honey. In the summertime, pick a handful of leaves after the dew has evaporated. In a clean jar, add a small layer of honey and place a leaf on top. Spoon on more honey, enough to fully cover the leaf. Add another leaf and repeat the process until the jar is full. It won’t take long for the herb’s healthful benefits to be absorbed into the honey.
In other news, I’m back at work on my sequel to Freeblood, after a hiatus. It’s called Fastblood. Those who have read the first book will understand the title’s significance. Blocks and barriers that seemed frozen in ice have melted away, and a creative landscape that once lay dormant now seems lush with possibilities. I’d worked on other writing projects in the interim, but it feels good to be back scribbling on Quinn’s story.
It’s been a few days since I first started this post, and the yard is calling me back. Those areas of bountiful overgrowth may be weighing on my conscience, but I equally suspect the allure of the first signs of spring.