January is a strange month.
I start out having just finished my only actual ‘holiday’ of the year and it feels like rather a struggle to get going on gardening things. By the end of the month it feels like the struggle is lifting, thanks in no small part to the lengthening days.
I believe that gardeners possess great powers: endurance for sure, probably a degree of courage too, but by far the most important superpower for a gardener working through winter is the ability to see beauty anywhere.
Beauty is important if you’re out in the cold. Rain is so much more bearable if you have diamond-like raindrops hanging from bare branches to enjoy. Frost is more bearable when you have the pretty patterns of ice crystals to marvel at.
The grey days don’t seem quite so grey when you find yourself in the company of winter flowering plants; winter plants become companions, like the ever-faithful robin that flits around as I work. There are signs of life everywhere, even if we do have to look a little harder for them.
Gardeners are in the business of life.
It’s what we do, nurturing plants that in turn nurture the life that relies on them. Humans traditionally consider themselves masters of the natural world, yet the modern gardener is more a benevolent guardian who keeps balance and order in the garden. It’s a good way to be, nurturing rather than oppressing.
It’s difficult when you’re working with people for whom domination is the only acceptable option. It’s often even harder when you’re working for such people. Getting others to see the world in the way we, as gardeners, do relies on persuading people to open their eyes.
“Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination”, Mrs C.W. Earle wrote in Pot Pouri From A Surrey Garden in 1897; how true these words are to the gardener, and how frustrating it is when we struggle to get non-gardeners to exercise their imagination.
There is great joy in the spidery flowers of ‘Witch Hazel’ (Hamamelis). Here, at a time when the so-called sensible folks are tucked up indoors, is a plant of such exquisite defiance that even the smallest sprig deserves exaltations from the gardener. The glow of red, orange, gold and lemon yellow among the bare branches has the cosy allure of a warming fire on a frosty day.
Not For You And Me…
It’s human arrogance to think that the perfumes of these precious plants exist for our pleasure; the perfumes we are blessed with in the garden are nothing more than a plant’s desperate attempt to lure in insects for pollinators, not just for our pleasure.
We are bystanders in the mating of plants, a sort of benign floral pervertedness on our parts. It is a wonderful thing that we too enjoy the pefume of plants.
It Will All Be Over Soon
Despite the chill of winter, the stinging rain or grey and dismal days, to be among plants at this quiet and intimate time of the year is an enormous honour. In a month’s time March will be on us, and for many of us this will suddenly mean a time of great activity. The garden will burst into bloom, and we’ll go from floral poverty to an embarrassment of botanical riches in no time at all.
For now I celebrate winter in its beauty.