Christmas time and midwinter, originally a celebration of reaching the darkest day of the year; well done everyone! After 22nd December the days slowly begin to lengthen and we start the journey towards spring; of course, the winter solstice isn’t the middle of winter in the same way that midnight isn’t really the middle of the night (unless you get up at four in the morning!), lighter days feel a long way away at the moment. I can only imagine in days gone by the huddling around fires and candles during these weeks, slowly working through food stores while the days shrunk towards the solstice.
In these times we can watch the sun rise in the morning and then set later on all in a day’s work; fiery skies bookend the day accompanied by a croaking raven, a cawing crow or a robin’s solo. During the day in the Garden we’re taking care of borders, constructing new displays and reflecting on the year gone and considering the new one ahead. Plants are a constant in our lives and a love of them is something that links everyone working and volunteering here, no matter their views or background, plants brought us all together and bind us with their beauty. After the election there was a respectful air around our mess room table as all voted differently and all had different feelings on the day, but we all had plants and nature.
A walk around the Garden at the moment will show that the last leaves have fallen from the trees and we’re gradually scooping them up and hurling them on our leaf heap; this heap will be turned a number of times next year and by October will have turned into a dark leaf mould for improving the soil in a few lucky borders. Some summer plants are gamely holding on to their flowers like revellers in a dwindling party, such as calendula and penstemon, others decompose and reveal the intricate skeletal structure which held their summer show together. Meanwhile on the winter shrubs buds are forming; witch hazel, daphne and hellebores are preparing for their moment which I think signifies the end of one horticultural year and the beginning of the next as days slowly lengthen.
I read recently about a bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) called Methuselah in Eastern California; this plant is 4,851 years old, just a sapling when continents away the Great Pyramid of Giza was being built. The seasons this tree has seen! The sunrises, leaves fallen, elections, people and winters this tree has existed through. When this tree was a young thousand, across the water people huddled in their huts waiting for the days to begin lengthening once again, and today we still watch the same sun and observe the seasons changing in their slow and beautiful way. As I unlocked the Garden this morning, I stopped to hear a robin sing in the half-light, it was sitting on a damp leafless tree, there was mist all around me and not a puff of wind except for the vapour from my breath; it could only be midwinter.
A happy Christmas to you all; congratulations for making it to midwinter and we all wish you a fun and peaceful break; the signposts pointing towards spring begin soon.
By Andy Winfield