Andrew Oldham continues his diary from his home at Pig Row.
With the arrival of December, it is easy for me to hope that the garden has gone to sleep and that the next time I will be out there is when the first buds break on the fruit trees. That’s what I really want to think but then there’s the reality of growing: there’s weeds out there taunting me by growing in the cold and wet, there’s garlic on the kitchen table waiting to be planted when the weather breaks, there’s fruit trees to be pruned to encourage growth and I have to fit a growing list into a possible few hours were it doesn’t snow, rain or blow me away.
THE REALITY OF WINTER IN THE GARDEN
Even a simple job, like tying in the cherry fans becomes an endurance task. Just as my fingers start to warm up to tie back the branches to their frames the sun leaves, the wind clatters and I am plunged into an icy coldness that means my bones won’t thaw until July. The next morning as I looked out all I could see was an icy whiteness, the depth of my knees, and those cherry trees I tied back to the frames, as my fingers turned blue, had snapped under the weight of the snow. That is the nature of winter on our hillside, it either gambles in like a newborn lamb on spring grass or the lamb hires a tank to do doughnuts on the pasture. My to do list grows more and more, but one thing usurps the planting of the garlic and the pulling of weeds: fix things. ‘Fix things’ is the universal call by gardeners in winter.
THE ADVENTUROUS LIFE OF THE GREENHOUSE DOWNSPOUTS
At the moment, I am in a personal war with the downspouts on my greenhouse. In the last month they have developed lemming instincts and regularly throw themselves into the icy cold depths of my water butts or sail over the hedge to visit my neighbour. I have used silicone and glue to keep them in place, used a Heath Robinson clip of wire and string, to no avail. I have even threatened them with legal action, waggling my finger at them as my neighbour has looked over the hedge and asked, ‘Are you okay?’ I have prayed to what gods that are listening for them to stay where they are supposed to be, on my greenhouse, but alas they go a-wandering with the wind and the rain, and the snow. The only reason I am so worried about my downspouts is that if I lose them, I won’t be able to get replacements because they don’t make my greenhouse anymore. Since I put it up, greenhouses have gone from a slight stretch of my wallet to a cost that makes me sob each time I open a greenhouse catalogue. Touch wood, as I withdraw to the warmth of our cottage, the greenhouse has stood for over a decade and continues to be belligerent and stubborn in the face of the wind. If it went over winter, I doubt I could afford anything more than an umbrella. The worry that one day I will go out there after a storm and it will be gone hangs heavy on me at this time of year. It happened to my polytunnel which landed in someone’s back garden a few miles away during a storm. A complete waste of money.
A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS, CELEBRATING IN THE WINTER
Going indoors is where I am driven in the foulest of weather, like a fish out of water, I mope around in the kitchen and family room, then become incredibly giddy with the arrival of Christmas. For me, Christmas is about celebrating the light in the darkness, it’s a roaring fire, good food and family. I don’t care about the gifts.The arrival of the Winter Equinox, Yule, is my greatest gift as it is the turning of the great wheel and from that day, the days get longer, and the garden beckons.
This article extract was taken from the December 2023 edition of The Country Smallholder. To read Andrew’s article in full, you can buy the issue here.
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