January 2023 – Time for hibernation

Here we are again at the start of a new year, wondering what it will bring and perhaps thinking that this will really be the year we get hold of our gardens, build that water feature or upgrade the greenhouse or take out that shrub that sees to do nothing and put something else in its place.

I think this is absolutely the time of year to dream rather than to do. Just as nature has this time of rest, gathering her resources so should we.

I read a fascinating book last month. Called Wintering and written by Katherine May it considers that humans also need fallow periods to restore and renew themselves. Written in a poetic and often funny way it addresses a truth which should be self-evident but so often isn’t.

This quote rang a positive church tower full of bells with me. “Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximising scant resources…. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”

As I write this the rain is hammering against the window and the idea of going outside (necessary at work if one wants to make a cup of tea or go to the loo: those facilities are not all in the same building) is not one I’m keen to consider.

The idea that it might ever be dry enough to go outside to actually do some gardening. To plant something or to weed or to lift and divide plants seems like a wild and fanciful idea from another time.

At times I can find myself feeling quite low. I’m avowedly not an advocate of gardens tidied with an inch of their lives but I do like the autumn tasks of bulb planting (this year picking a day when the ground didn’t actually squelch under my feet), lifting and dividing and generally messing about in flower beds.

All these things seem impossible with the state of the ground, I might as well cry for the moon. But I think that is what Katherine May is talking about, albeit obliquely.

We all need a period to step out of the rush and take stock. Everyone seems to have such busy lives (as if we are only alive when we are busy).

No one can be busier than nature in spring. Everything goes wild as the days get longer and it can feel that you are getting left behind in the garden as you struggle to catch up with plants that need pricking out, potting on, planting out, sowing and so on.

But things have been happening all winter, they’ve just been at a slower pace and hidden from sight unless you go looking. The leaves fall from the trees in November but even at that stage the buds of next year’s growth are already visible.

Bulbs are stirring long before we see the sharp green noses of new growth poke their way through the soil. And the rhythm is always there: winter aconites, snowdrops, crocuses, tulips and so on through the year to nerines and autumn crocuses.

Maybe my first instincts weren’t far wrong. Winter is a time to stay by the fire and dream of the return of long days and sunshine. It’s a time to renew our own inner resources, to slow down a little and dream of what we will do in our gardens once spring is here. Here’s to a happy gardening new year to you all.


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