Why January and July are Alike in the Garden


In outward appearance, these two months aren’t alike at all.

But in the heart, mind, and soul of a gardener, they have something significant in common.

These are the months that invite us to pause. To be still. To pay attention. This is how we tend the soil of our own selves in order to better grow the gardens we really want to grow.

Not our grandmother’s garden. Not the garden we visited on vacation. Not the gardens we see in books or on tv, but the garden that is unique to us and to our place.

The garden only we can grow.

Like my cat Tom, pictured above, mid-summer should be lived (and gardened) less frenetically and energetically than spring.

July is for watering, and deadheading, and gathering the first harvests of vegetables or flowers, but the heat of July is there for a reason. It pushes us down–into a chair or onto a hammock–and asks that we simply look. Looking is one of the most important things we can do as gardeners, but attentive observation is too easily lost as we bustle back and forth at work in the space we are making.

When we stop and look–really, look–we can see the gaps we want to fill, we can see the plants we really love (and the ones we don’t), and new garden dreams can begin to take shape. Lately, I’ve been sitting quite a lot at a glass-topped table outside my kitchen door. Because of all that sitting and all that looking, I have begun to imagine a lily pond in the space between the gravel terrace and the flower garden. Perhaps it’s a terrible idea, perhaps it will never happen, but it is certainly an idea I never would have had if I had kept on quickly marching between the kitchen and the garden with only my next garden task on my mind.

July and January: if the garden is a journey, these mid-points are significant. They are signposts we should not rush past without taking time to reflect.


Here are a few “seeds” to inspire your own mid-season contemplation:

  • January is a good time to think through what we will plant in spring. July is the perfect time to consider what we might plant in fall, and some argue that fall is an even better time of year for planting. This may be especially true for trees and shrubs. The soil has warmed, rainfall often picks up again, and the plant can grow its roots a bit before resting through the winter and taking off again with vigor in the first warm days of spring.


  • Are you naturally more of a plant collector or a landscaper? This is a tension I am always feeling in my own garden. At heart, I’m a collector. I want one of everything and often order special plants before I know where I will put them. But gardens rarely look as good they could without restraint. A hodge-podge is not as peaceful as a landscape thoughtfully designed to look and feel good. Currently, I’m thinking through my approach to a long stone-edged border in my backyard. The plant collector in me has filled it with roses and dahlias and a lot of self-seeders like poppies and cosmos and verbena bonariensis. But it is a border that is usually seen from a distance, and I know it would have more impact if I planted it with big blocks of color. Neither is right, but I do need to take the time to consider which style I really want.


  • Sometimes, what we need most mid-season is escape. If we escape into garden books and television shows, we often emerge re-invigorated to tackle our own garden challenges. I love to read memoirs about the making of personal gardens like Charlie Hart’s Skymeadow: Notes From An English Gardener or We Made a Garden by Margery Fish. I also like to browse old episodes of gardening-themed television shows on YouTube. I recommend both seasons of the Great British Garden Revival and the always inspiring and informative Gardener’s World hosted by Monty Don.


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Posted on

July 6, 2020

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