Gardening at Christmas

Well, it’s that time of the year again. It’s the time where we all hunker down and do loads of exercise and spend loads of time outdoors drinking loads of green smoothies while feeling the sun on our backs. Oh, wait. No, that’s summer.

This scenario certainly isn’t the reality for me this December, as I’m very much of the stay-inside-where-it’s-warm camp. But I’m fine with that, because I think part of my motivations are driven at a subconscious level, as deep down I anticipate, accept and relish the fact that 2017 is drawing to a close, and 2018 lies waiting patiently on the horizon.

I tend to stop official gardening business around late October/early November time where I do a small ‘clean-up’ in my garden. Now, this is not the traditional ‘putting your garden to bed’ lark that people often prescribe at this time of year. Personally, I’m a fan of just casually letting things be. Leaves litter the ground, perennials go un-cut and weeds are left to face the frosts.

When I tidy the garden, it usually requires a lot of manual lifting. It’s a necessary evil, but the gravel-laden expanse that sits between my house and the lawn has become somewhat of a dumping-ground for extraneous waste that is produced from the work we’ve been carrying out in the house. Think (seemingly) endless piles of lath, plywood, skirting boards, MDF etc, etc. So, I’ll tidy all that and clear any large garden debris as well, if I’ve done any substantial pruning.

An argument I’ve heard made a few times over the last couple of years celebrates the idea of not tidying the garden up at winter time. By refraining from cutting back perennials and clearing the ground of leaves, plants and debris you create a more habitable environment for all sorts of wildlife. Additionally, leaving a range of plant skeletons and seed heads add to the existing winter-structure a garden acquires when leaves begin to fall from the trees. RHS-owned Harlow Carr in Harrogate embraces this methodology and the results are tempting enough to drag most from the comfort of their central-heated homes.

However, breaking tradition, I did experience a wonderfully serene moment of impromptu gardening last Saturday. It came on all of a sudden, like the desire to drink a gin and tonic on a hot summer’s day. I had bought daffodil bulbs mid-October from good old Tescos, and for a good month and a half, stoically repressed my guilt of not just putting them in the ground as soon as I had bought them.

But last Saturday, with a burning desire to do something productive (and shying away from the myriad of jobs that need to be done in the bleedin’ house) I found myself in the shed gathering some tools and the forgotten bag of daffodil bulbs.

These aren’t special daffodils, they’re the large gaudy yellow ones that add a burst of spring joy in the cold months of the new year. (Next spring I’m hoping to pick up some native daffodils in the green to add some diversity).

Being the naive gardener I am, I was worried that I may have missed the ideal planting time. In the past, I have planted bulbs in September. However, the instructions on the packet read that they could be planted any time from September through December. There was even a note on the packet which advised Tescos workers that the product should cease to be sold from December 31st, so perhaps that indicates that the bulbs themselves can be planted up to that time.

A note on 2017

2017 feels to me to have been a far more productive and generally more enjoyable year compared with the turbulent and destructive 2016. However, for myself, and for a few of my close friends and family, this year has also seen some very low moments, where things haven’t gone as planned, and when time has deliberately been taken to step-back and process the world around us.

I guess that’s why I like the new year so much; many people dread January, but I love it. I love the notion of a ‘blank slate’ and believe that on a psychological level, the second-hand hitting twelve is cathartic, and in a way, gives us permission to relinquish our hold on worries from the past year.

When I garden, even in the coldest months when the ground is hard and my fingertips are frozen, I take immense comfort in the fact that, as certain as death and taxes, the daffodils will flower, and leaves will coat the trees once again. (Monty Don summarised this notion wonderfully in a recent interview he gave on Radio 2.)

This will be the last post for 2017. Thank you everyone who has signed up so far for a roller coaster journey on expert ramblings on novice gardening, and I wish you a happy Christmas and a fabulous 2018!

Maria xx

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