I am not a winter gardener. In the cold and wet I am much more likely to be found by the fire inside than outside pruning fruit trees. When I started to garden seriously perhaps twenty years ago I would get all keen from March to July, go away on holiday in August, come back to a tired flopping mess and basically give up again until the following spring, apart from a few bad tempered forays outside during the autumn to tidy up.
Gradually my gardening time extended. I started planting bulbs in the autumn. I planted one or two evergreen shrubs so that the garden was less of a blasted heath in winter. And that was about it.
Coming here has made a difference in two major ways: firstly I have become much more interested in autumn. This is partly because the light here is liquidly beautiful in September and October and the hedges are full of hips and berries. The michaelmas daisies which were here already in their hundreds throng with butterflies and I found myself falling in love with a season which had for me previously been too heavy with the loss that was to come. Maybe I have just got better at living in the now as I have got older. I would also not underestimate the impact of Karen at An Artist's Garden. She loves autumn and her own garden shimmers and glows in autumn in a way which was a revelation to me, eye-opening, exciting.
Secondly I have become addicted to early flowering bulbs, mainly snowdrops so far but naturalising crocuses too. That is a country thing I think. When you have a couple of acres of empty scrub as opposed to the suburban gardens I have always had before you can afford to give space to naturalised bulbs. That is how I love to see them, in sheets and drifts and streams. I can't say I have got there yet. You wouldn't believe how many bulbs you need for a drift and so far mine are more puddles. But I know what I am aiming for. Winter in deep country is also a far more profound thing that a city winter with streetlights shining and shops and bars and restaurants offering warmth and food and company. Winter is hard and cold or wet and cold. Grassy paths turn to mud. Ice and snow create a ferocious cruel beauty that reminds you how vulnerable people are, away from their cars and their central heating. Winter is hostile. So the signs that winter will end are far more precious out here.
This morning I went looking for signs of life. The snowdrops are pushing up their glaucous green snouts in the side garden although there are none yet to be seen by the dogwoods or at the bottom of the stone wall by the gate. The marbled leaves of the arum, bought as a tiny plant and still small, are full of quiet beauty. There is a flower on one of the hellebores and fat buds crowding at the base of the plants. There are even some signs of the early native daffodils pushing up amongst the dead leaves in the curve of the fallen tree by the swing. The witchhazel is starting to flower. All this makes me realise how very much I need these signs of life and hope.
So I have just ordered nine more hellebores from Sarah Raven's site. We will have primroses here too and Carol Klein's wonderful new gardening programme (which I think deserves a blog to itself) last night showed how easy it is to sow seed from primroses so that is another thing I will do in the spring. And now I will make a big vat of chicken soup and some cheese scones.
What do you do in January?