• Joan Donaldson

Winter Gardens

I met Joan Donaldson at the Bear River Writers Conference several years ago. I have since followed her work, fascinated with her ability to prosper in the quiet farm life of Michigan as well in the national writers’ scene. “Keep in touch with this lady,” I told myself. “She has creative gifts and a grounding in her faith to go with them.” I asked Joan to guest blog this week. We both thought “My Garden Under Glass,” was the perfect essay for now. I hope you enjoy it and please consider visiting Joan’s website where you can discover that wonderful versatility I speak of.

My Garden Under Glass

Wading through the snow to pick a salad feels like an oxymoron, but in the slanted sunlight of early January I plod to my garden. I sweep snow from the windows of my cold frames and with my mitten-encased fingers, pry ice off the Plexiglass. Tipping back the windows, I inhale the sweet scent of humus and chlorophyll, the gardener’s perfume.

I take that fragrance for granted during Southwest Michigan’s long lake-enhanced growing season. Certainly I appreciate those golden moments after a June storm or on a warm September afternoon when the air is filled with the scent of flowers and ripening fruit, but for most of the summer, my senses are saturated.

Now in winter, I long for the smell of wet dirt and compost. Watering house plants is a poor substitute for a morning spent in the garden. Only my cold frames, sitting on raised beds and surrounded by snow hint at next summer’s riches.

Rows of lettuce, corn salad, baby kale, and chervil dot these miniature greenhouses. I select my salad by thinning lettuce seedlings. The wind is calm, and the sun has warmed the earth protected by the cold frame. Casting aside my coat and scarf, I hunker down and pluck out chickweed.

In July, when weeding endless rows of beans, tomatoes, and carrots wait for me, this task is best described as a chore. But winter gardening offers a respite from the dry air of our wood heated house. I leave a clump of violas that sprouted in one corner of the cedar box. Come spring, the diminutive yellow and purple pansies will provide an early bouquet. Overhead, chickadees, tufted titmice, and goldfinches zip towards the birdfeeder hanging outside my kitchen window. A few stop and rest on a bent sunflower stalk that fed the birds in the fall.

Within a few minutes, the beds are tidy, and I firmly replace the windows and add a board on top of them. Gale force winds off of Lake Michigan are predicted tonight, and I don’t want to find the lids tossed about the garden and limp lettuce. All seasons in my garden are joyful, but few moments are as peaceful and satisfying as picking greens amid snow and winter sun. are joyful, but few moments are as peaceful and satisfying as picking greens amid snow and winter sun.

“My Garden Under Glass” first appeared in The Christian Science Monitor.

Joan’s essays have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Michigan History, Farm and Ranch Living, Victoria, Mary Jane’s Farm, Ideals, and Rosebud Magazines, plus the anthologies, Home in the Garden, and Home for Christmas. Each year, she records features about her farm at her local NPR affiliate. Joan’s recent novel, Hearts of Mercy has won first place in the romantic-suspense category of the PenCraft Awards. Visit her website at

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