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When you live in Southern California, you learn early on that standard garden rules don’t apply here. It’s fun, of course, to get on the computer and just casually mention to folks shivering in Maine or Pennsylvania that I’m getting ready to go out and pick roses for my holiday table. They’re gathering firewood, I’m still picking lettuce and cherry tomatoes.

I’d tell you that this is a typical December garden around here, but there isn’t such a thing. All I can say for sure is that it’s this year’s December garden. Last year, the roses were gone by Christmas, but the camellias were magnificent. As of yesterday, not a single one of my camellia buds was showing any sign of opening.

The one thing I can absolutely count on, however, is nasturtiums. Once upon a time (about ten years ago, I think) I foolishly planted a packet of nasturtium seeds. The things all sprouted and grew and made a beautiful deep carpet of orange and yellow flowers. Eventually, the plants got leggy and scraggly. I waited for blooms to stop so I could dig up the bed without feeling guilty. Thanksgiving came and went, Christmas and New Year’s Day and still I had nasturtiums blooming. By Valentine’s Day I was thinking that tomatoes would do well in that sunny spot, but the no-good nasturtiums were still thriving. I finally dug the darn things out and with regret donated great armfuls of viny plants, still sporting the occasional bright bloom, to our compost pile. I dug and turned the soil and practically sifted it before I planted my veggies.

You guessed it! The nasturtiums came up faster than the tomatoes did. I plucked out each emerging seedling, but in my heart I knew that somewhere deep under the topsoil they were cloning more every minute.

Oh, yes, the tomatoes grew as well, right up through the flowers. The tomatoes came and went (feeding us and the neighbors quite well all that summer, thank you) and the nasturtiums stayed…and stayed.

This December, I look out my sunroom window and I can see the occasional bare spot where I’ve planted ranunculus bulbs that haven’t yet peeked through. But there are no bare spots on the bank that we laughingly call the South 40, just green mounds of aromatic, saucer-sized leaves and a handful of scattered blossoms to remind me that they’ve defeated me again, beautifully.

I’ll see you again, after the commercial.

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