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Here in Northern New Mexico, there is not much gardening to be done in January. We are under a soft blanket of snow (although the rodents pop up occasionally for reasons of their own). Except for an occasional expedition to forage for parsley, all is quiet.

Once upon a time, though, January was the most important month in my gardening year. In January, you see, the new garden catalogs would start to arrive. With these in hand, the planning would begin. Lists of vegetables, flowers, and new iris varieties would fill my notebooks, and then the graph paper would come out and great plans would be devised. Bank accounts would drain, and the waiting would begin.

Planning helps create a new reality; it is a crucial part of the process of manifesting our intentions and bringing something new into being.

As time has gone by, though, I've become less of a planner. I still enjoy the garden catalogs, but now I tend to browse them for inspiration. Instead of breaking out the graph paper, I just walk around with a stew of various possibilities simmering in my mind. I may order a few things that especially catch my attention, but I'm more likely to just wait until spring and see which of my different inspirations I feel like endulging.

I've decided that planning needs to take a back seat to doing. As a young man, it seems like I spent more time in my gardens of the imagination in January than in the real garden in July. Somehow the plans were always more grandiose, more perfect, and more inspiring than the realities. I would over-plan, and then find myself overwhelmed with weeding, watering, and the other struggles of keeping things alive. Now I judge what and how much to plant by how I am experiencing the real garden in real time. If things are humming along and I'm keeping up with it all, I'll add a bit. If it's becoming too much, I'll scale back. If something is doing particularly well, I'll try some more. If it's not, I'll let go of that particular plan.

Imagination, I've found, is a powerful ally but a treacherous one. When imaginary gardens are more interesting than real ones, when imaginary conversations happen more often than actual communication, or an imaginary future makes the present slip by unnoticed, then it is time to step out into the snow and breathe the crisp air of winter.

In the Garden is a regular feature of Starweaver's Gems from Earth and Sky

Copyright © 2007 Tom Waters