Gardening in the dark times


IMG_2752For years, I’ve been using gardening to ease the transition from the long, light days of spring, summer, and early fall to weeks when I leave the house before dawn and drive home at sunset. The idea is to stay in touch with growing things no matter what. I can still plant no matter what the season or weather or where the sun is in the sky. There are a few hundred tulips and hyacinths in the root cellar now with more to come. I have Erlicheer tazettas and Luna amaryllis growing inside, and I’m thinking of putting together another succulent terrarium like the one I’ve have in my office for years. (The succulent ones seem to be the easiest, as long as you allow for air circulation.)

IMG_2766And, regardless of seasons and weathers, there is always interest in the natural landscape. Sunday I took a walk on Goat Island, where native plantings are doing really well and where the scenery is invariably spectacular. This area and others along the Niagara River are great for bird-watching (though I mainly distinguish between birds by how big and what color they are). Last winter, part of the Falls—mainly the mist from them—froze; it was amazing. Lake Erie in winter is also beautiful.

IMG_2761Whatever the limitations or conditions, there is always a way to escape to the world of plants. It’s temporary, but it provides positive outcomes when hope or beauty seem increasingly hard to find elsewhere. Gardening may not be the solution, but it can really help.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. First of all, there’s Monarch butterfly news. And, this time of year continues to be good for pollinators in my yard here in the mid-Atlantic. The zinnias and Mexican sunflowers still feed the insects, so I encourage gardeners to plant annuals mid-summer to help the overwintering and those that lay eggs. I enjoy extending the growing season before it frosts and this can help not only the monarchs, but the other beneficial insects, as well.

  2. Totally understand, Elizabeth. Most of the successful strategies I’ve used to combat melancholy and sluggishness in the dark season revolve around plants (though music and lights help too). Here’s hoping you have a great crop of bulbs this winter!

  3. How about a picture of your succulent terrarium? Better yet, how about a post about it? I think I would love to have one of those.

  4. Your bird ID system sound better than a plant ecology professor’s I once had. He recognized only three types of birds – big black birds, little brown birds and robins.

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