My day started before the night had finished, as is often the way in late December. The darkness was still complete, AMP headed out for his pre-work run, and I was able to hog the warmest part of the bed. But there was no possibility of me going back to sleep; the owls saw to that. The clarity of their calls that traveled so sharply, told me of cold air, and perhaps a frost that would come alive when the sun rose.
By 9.30 the sky was a unblemished blue, pale yet strong. Rooftops and fence-lines and grass blades; all were coated with a layer of pointed crystals that sparkled and pulsed in the morning light. Although I couldn’t see the sun itself over the roof of the house, many small replicas could be found shining along the stems of the winter jasmine which now bears the brightest yellow flowers to be found anywhere in our gardens at this time of year.
After a long-weekend of festivities, the freshness and coolness of the day was enlivening and cleansing. I swopped my christmas pjamas for dungarees and jumper, party shoes were put aside in favour of thick socks and boots. It was time to get back to the earth.
I’d had little opportunity to mark the solstice, but it seems nature hasn’t failed to notice the returning light. Yesterday, a Boxing Day morning stroll revealed fully formed hazel catkins dangling in the hedge, in a dip beside the road that captured the additional warmth for passing traffic. Today I paused to look closer and marvel at the soft puff of yellow pollen released when the long tassels were jiggled, and the tiny red female flowers, like tree-bound sea anemones on the end of each twig. I wonder if pollination will be successful this early, or if we will have to rely on any catkins that bloom later in their more traditional season to provide any cobnuts for the autumn harvest.
When I reached the allotment gate, the low sun was striking across the plots from behind the trees that ring the lake.
The frost looked heavy on the grass, but I stubbed my toe in a mole hill and found soft soil. A woodlouse scurried in shock when I moved an old paving slab. I tidied, cleared and pottered for an hour or so, content in my work. It occurred to me that in a way, I was reclaiming my territory after a few weeks absence, as though I had emerged from hibernation and was investigating and exploring my patch and the seasonal changes that had happened whilst I’d had my back turned. I worked until my hands stung from the cold, then I propped my wet gloves on the top of the gate in the weak sunshine to dry and shoved my hands into my pockets to defrost. And that’s when the magic began to work. I stood, quiet, breathing in the fresh air, simply looking and contemplating. A robin, perhaps the tame one that used to keep me company here last winter, perhaps not, hopped around where I had just been working, glad to find a few insect morsels in the disturbed soil and leaf mulch. The yet-to-be-planted extension of the rose bed, formerly the dahlia bed, had a thick mulch of old manure a few weeks ago and this seems to be suppressing most of the weeds and rotting down into the soil nicely. The gravelled surface of the bulb pots is puckered into hummocks by the tentative but determined shoots of the crocuses. A wren, blurred in flight, landed atop one of the fenceposts before flitting down and picking its was amongst the vegetation of the Parham Border.
As I gazed, in my minds eye the bare structure which bore the runner beans last year, blossomed into a mass of gloriously scented sweet peas. Beside them, stately gladioli held their stunning heads high. The principle cut flower border will be planted one third with dahlias in the spring, and I must grow larkspur again as it was such a success last year. The third bed, with its divider of chives, hyssop and mint, will see some vegetable plants this time around. The onions will be repeated, but on a smaller scale, and they will be joined by sweet orange carrots. I ran out of time this autumn to plant the garlic however, but perhaps some rainbow chard will do well in the other end of the bed.
The two old apple trees need pruning; I will look at those later in the week when the sharpest frost eases for a bit.
Walking home, a heron is poised in the overhanging branches on the far bank of the lake, sword beak positioned above the water. House sparrows chattered excitedly in the end of the garden where I turn left into the housing estate. One of the flock of starlings in the top of the oaks at the entrance to the factories road had perfected a startling imitation of the buzzards call. A pair of wood pigeons is attempting to nest in the end of a role of chicken wire stored in the open rafters of our car port. It is 27th December and spring is many weeks away yet, but that doesn’t seem to bother them. Today, after a gentle hour at the plot, it doesn’t bother me either. As I headed indoors to put the kettle on, my heart and my eyes were as bright as the yellow jasmine that grows just inside the garden gate.