16 January 2015

We are nearer to Spring than we were in September....

I have to confess that I'm not a winter person. If winter consisted entirely of blue skied, frosty days with the occasional dusting of snow I might feel differently, but up here in the Lakes winter is made up mainly of leaden skied rainy days,with occasional sleet to liven things up a bit (although it's snowing quite hard as I write this). For a gardener this is bad news and I sometimes scan the National Trust vacancy list for jobs in East Anglia where the yearly rainfall total is about what we get in a month. And don't get me started on the short days, having got up at 6 am this week for a gardeners meeting at Lyme Park I'm convinced there should be a law against getting up in the dark!

But there is one bright spark in this otherwise unremittingly gloomy season, and that's for the six weeks after Christmas the garden is closed to the public. That's not meant to sound unwelcoming; for the other forty-six weeks of the year you are most welcome to come and see the garden; but for those six short weeks I get it to myself. It's now that I can do all those jobs that are difficult when we're open, I can block the paths with branches when I'm pruning things, I can leave jobs half finished if the rain gets too heavy and come back to them tomorrow, I can leave muddy footprints on the paths and even park my van outside the house if I need to.

One such job which came to the top of my list yesterday was to cut back the rather too rampant ivy around the side gate to the vegetable garden. Ivy (Hedera helix) is a useful ground cover plant in shady areas and a good food source for a wide range of wildlife. This particular clump had escaped my notice over the last few years and it wasn't until I looked closely that I discovered just how out of control it had become. What started off as a little gentle clearing around the gate turned into a full scale assault on stems as thick as my arm which were threatening to completely engulf a couple of damson trees.
The end result was a much clearer veg garden wall and a huge pile of ivy that took three trips in the van to get rid of!



At the moment it looks rather like a bad haircut, but in a month or two you'll never know it had been cut back.

Incidentally ivy is dedicated to Bacchus, the Roman God of wine, who is often depicted wearing a wreath of ivy and grape leaves. Apparently it was thought that wearing a wreath of ivy leaves would ward off intoxication. I may try it next time I'm in the Tower Bank Arms!

Elsewhere in the garden, the snowdrops are just beginning to flower and the daffodils are poking their leaves up through the ground although still a month or two away from flowering yet, but as Percy Bysshe Shelley (why is no-one called Bysshe anymore?) wrote, 'If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?'

As always I have a long list of jobs including lots of pruning, loads of digging, some new apple trees for the paddock and a new fence in the veg garden. I won't get them all done before we open again on February 14th, but at least you'll be able to get up the garden path!

My musical link this time had to be this and I'll leave you with a short poem by Oliver Herford.

I Heard a Bird Sing.

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December,
A magical thing
And sweet to remember

'We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

See you next time.

Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener.