Capistrano has swallows and the nation's capital has cherry blossoms, but here in the Northwest, it's a sure sign of spring when Starbucks rolls out its featured Frappuccino flavors for the eseason. We need such outward signs because the weather gives us precious few reasons to be hopeful. Despite all evidence to the contrary - like the flecks of ice falling from lowering windblown clouds - the gardeners among us believe intensely in the approach of spring. In fact, most gardeners of my acquaintance have already begun the seasonal exercise in resurrection, clearing away the winter's detritus and eyeing the soil for signs of green life.
Gardeners are a special breed who follow their own calendars. While the rest of us think of White Sales or dry powder in January, gardeners hunker down to pore over seed catalogs. Spring break and Easter top many agendas in March and April, but gardeners can be found outdoors, stirring the soil and planning a summer bouquet. Come July, when most of us think of lakes and barbecues, the gardeners are still out playing in the dirt, waging a major offensive against weeds and pests. When fall inevitably turns to winter, and the gardeners finally come inside, they spend the long cold nights dreaming about when spring will return.
Author Marianne Binetti loves her garden in Enumclaw, and she spends as much time as she can working the soil and reaping the harvest. Her gardening columns appear in about 20 newspapers, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and she is often a guest on Home and Garden Television. Binetti's newest book, Gardening Month by Month in Washington and Oregon, co-authored with Alison Beck, is just out from Lone Pine Publishing. She'll be at Auntie's to talk about gardening and sign books on Thursday, April 17, from 2-4 pm.
"Anyone with questions about gardening is welcome," she says. "I'm hoping some garden clubs will plan to come out."
Month by Month is Binetti's seventh gardening book and her third with Lone Pine Publishing, located in Edmonton, Alberta. Each month is laid out in weekly calendar pages, with a square for each date and rich color photographs surrounding the blocks. The idea is to use the book as a perpetual garden notebook or diary, a place to note garden events - frosts, plantings, blooms, harvests - as a record for future seasons. The book's sturdy waterproof binding opens up to lie flat on a work bench and the thick, glossy interior pages resist dampness. The publishers even rounded the corners so pages won't get dog-eared with constant use.
"The book is made to tote around and bring out to the garden," Binetti says. "When I teach garden design classes I tell people to start a garden notebook. The book can be a tool to help you be organized about your yard. I hope it keeps people focused on gardening year-round."
Indeed, the gorgeous garden images on each double-page spread are enough to keep even armchair horticulturists inspired. The planting tips are fairly generalized, Binetti acknowledges, but she gives sources for more details and explains climate zones across the region in the reference section in the back. And the inspiration isn't just for warm-weather pleasure; she explains how to plan for an interesting garden in the midst of a dismal Northwest winter, whether in the fog and snow of Spokane or the gloomy drizzle of the West Side.
"Every garden is different," she says. "Gardeners learn by trial and error, so if they take notes in the book, they can look back on prior years and see what worked and what didn't."
Encompassing an area as large and geographically diverse as the Northwest in a single garden book is not easy, but Binetti has experience getting things to grow on both sides of the mountains. After graduating from WSU with a degree in horticulture, she lived and gardened in Spokane for a time while working at Liberty Park Florist on South Perry. In 1980, she returned to Enumclaw and began writing a gardening column for the community newspaper while raising her children. The column won an award, gaining the attention of other editors, and soon it was running in multiple papers. Eventually, her gardening advice expanded to magazines, books, radio - twice-daily gardening tips on KIXI-AM in Seattle - and television.
"Yes, it's a whole multi-media enterprise now," she laughs. "It's grown right in pace with my children."
Yet she still manages to create a garden sanctuary on her family's two semi-rural acres on a plateau near the foothills of Mount Rainier. An upcoming segment for HGTV's Smart Solutions will film in her own yard starting in May. How does she find the time?
"I believe in lazy gardening," she says. "My columns are in the question-and-answer format, and I focus on tips and shortcuts." Her philosophy, she says, is still to have time to enjoy the garden, rather than spending all of one's time and energy on the garden itself.