As I write, we are experiencing the first frosts of the season, tucking up tender plants into the green house, closing up doors on the polytunnel nightly and pulling the duvet of fleece over beds in our cutting gardens. Winter is here.
In the rough waters of our time, one thing is for certain, Christmas is coming. The sun will rise again, the seasons turn and I will forget where I put my warmest gloves! For centuries long, midwinter is a time of celebration as the shortest day passes, giving thanks and looking forward to warmer brighter months.
I don’t mind the winter at all. I am fortunate to be outside most days and so shorter ones are a great relief after busy harvest and preparing the beds for a winter’s recuperation. The cold is good for the garden. Ridding the garden of pests and diseases and many plants needing this spell to trigger growth again. I adore the completion and constant circular connection that seasons maintain. It’s easy to say this when my work is entirely tied up in them. But, in order to truly benefit from the floral seasons, I must understand and value the others.
In the gardens, on dry mild days, we are deeply mulching beds, providing food for the worms which will in turn enrich the soil as a ready larder for the plants next year. Any well rotted organic material will do alternatively order from Field Compost or Madingley Mulch. We turn our compost heaps, it is incredible how hot these will get afterwards and continue the decomposing process. A favourite view is the wisp of steam arising from a newly built heap for days later. There is still time to plant Tulips and finish off planting of new shrubs and perennials. They might lift out of the soil after a frost so press them down again with your heel but planting now allows the roots to settle and get away next spring. It might look like the garden is dormant, but there is much going on beneath your feet in the soil.
In the low cool light, I look to evergreens and bright red from berries, shiny honesty paper pods and dried grasses as the stars of the season. The smell of greenery bought into the house is quite wonderful. Decorating with foliage at the solstice is a tradition that has been carried out for hundreds of years from Romans at saturnalia, Pagans in midwinter and in every culture. It must be entirely human to do so when we continue with this tradition in a time of such consumerism.
A wreath on the door is a wonderful welcome, but I particularly like hanging conifers, pine and cedar wood branches on picture frames, tucked in between shelves and across the fire place. The oils from these trees are released in warm air and fill the house with seasonal scents.
Foraging in hedgerows on a weekend walk is the perfect time to collect greenery to decorate your home. Don’t forget to check you are allowed to gather by checking the Countryside Code and local Council websites for public parks and footpaths. Only take a little and leave plenty for the plant to provide food and shelter for wildlife.
We planted up pots of paperwhite and ‘erlicheer’ narcissus to grow indoors – there is still time to do this and enjoy early next year. Blossoms on the shrubs sarcococca, viburnum bodnatense and lonicera ‘midwinter beauty’ are delicious and should be planted in a spot that you pass every day. Their flowers are tiny and any other time of the year they would be lost but pollinators need a little extra help in the winter so these diminutive blooms release heady scents. Just a branch or two is all you need by your bedside for an ultimate luxurious natural room fragrance. Merry Christmas.
Originally published in Cambridge Edition, December 2021.