As someone born and raised in Alaska, I love to be outdoors in the garden when a chill is in the air. While San Francisco rarely gets cold enough to worry about, temperatures drop much farther in my little mountain home in France, where winter is WINTER. I use my old Alaska layering tricks to stay warm as autumn gets cool in France, minus the Bunny Boots of course.
Alaska Cold-Weather Gear
When I say that winters were cold in Alaska, I don’t mean nippy. The curtain of winter falls fast and hard, blocking out the sunlight and ushering in the cold weather. Most people never experience cold like you see in Central Alaska. School closed when the temps dropped below -60 degrees Fahrenheit, that is, 60 degrees Fahrenheit below zero (-51 C). We always could count on a couple three weeks of cold weather vacation.
The cold-weather gear we used to wear on the school bus was intended to save our lives in case the bus broke down: ski pants over long underwear, two pair of socks, long-sleeved shirt under a sweater under a parka and two pair of gloves. While even the coldest days in France don’t merit parkas or those huge boots that made us look like astronauts, I do use the principle of layering to keep warm in the garden in France as autumn days get colder.
Layering is the key to keeping your body warm in Alaska, and it works just as well in the garden in France in autumn. But in France, it’s light layering. Ski pants aren’t necessary, but I wear leggings under my jeans and a sweatshirt over my tee-shirt. The idea is to be able to strip off the top layer as the weather warms up, then add a layer as it gets colder.
I like to wear the same clothes in the garden in France year after year. I have a special spot for the heavy jeans and the leggings in a box in the abris-jardin (garden shed). Once they are falling apart, I toss them and put another pair into service.
Autumn Garden Tasks
It isn’t really possible to plant a winter garden in France, given that the ground will likely freeze and snow may fall. That means that my autumn garden tasks largely involve active clean-up: chopping down the weeds and eagle ferns with the weed-whacker, raking and removing the fallen leaves and branches, repairing the fences and taking out the annuals.
This type of work in the garden helps to warm me up, and it is a rare day that I don’t shed my top layer and finish my autumn garden tasks in my tee-shirt. Once the south wind starts blowing or my little frog pond freezes over, I call it a day and move indoors to warmer pursuits.