For a long time I’ve been labouring under the false belief that winters and I were not an ideal mix. An Anglo-Asian cocktail of sallow skin and bird-like bones my fingers turned blue in the meat aisles of any supermarket for years. But this year is different. This year I have embraced the short days and the frigid cold like they were long lost relatives.
The months I spent working outside every day, hands deep in the soil, sowing, weeding, harvesting, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, seem to have turned my bone marrow into insulation. I have an enjoyment in seeing the trees shed that last leaf that borders on the macabre, and I’m not talking about the novelty of Autumn. Dancing in the golden and ruby decaying leaves is a joy, but seeing plants die back - revealing the colour the earth - witnessing the structure of the deciduous trees, their skeletons exposed, brings a sense of relief and a new perspective of the world that we are all in need of.
Nowadays we tend to associate Spring as a time for rebooting and renewal. Yet it is the work we do during these quiet shorter days that prepares the ground for planting. There is an assumption that gardeners don’t have a lot to do at this time of year, and to an extent that is true. Shorter day-light hours, frozen ground and a slow growth season all mean that work is lower-key, but is no less important. Sheds get cleared out and organised, tools get cleaned and (if they’re lucky) oiled, tender plants are tucked tightly under fleeces, white plastic labels are scrubbed clean, catalogues are poured over and orders made, planting timetables are consulted or drawn up.
Assessments are made. You survey your plot, your patch, and you take into account what worked and what didn’t, what you could do differently to yield different results, where you might have been overzealous, and where you could have been a bit bolder. Perhaps you’ll completely redesign, perhaps nothing was working and you need to start again - working with what you’ve got (soil type; time; positioning; finances), or perhaps there are just a few small but significant changes that could be made. All of this requires some quiet contemplation, sometimes just a long hard stare of an hour or more, to weigh up how you envision the next growing season.