Winter Thoughts

Wharf House in December 2018

As I write, the rain is lashing against the window. The wind is swirling. It’s dark, gloomy and cold. All things considered, one would have to have an especially sunny disposition to regard this as one of the best days that Winter has to offer. Sadly, this is far from being an atypical day, so far this Winter at least. On the other hand, the picture above shows that rarest of Winter days in the midlands of England in this era of global warming: a day of deep (for us) snow. We do of course get cold, dry, sunny days as well, yesterday was one and it was glorious and life-affirming. Even so, at the moment the light fades here at about 4.30pm and the dawn doesn’t come up until 7.30am. These are very short days.

There are aspects of Winter which I love. There is something deeply, deeply satisfying about settling down in front of a roaring fire in the late afternoon, book in hand, cat on lap, safe in the knowledge that one is not shirking any jobs outside because it is already too dark to do anything. On a sunny, cold day, there is great beauty to be seen in a bare tree against a deep blue sky. It is the pheasant season and every Sunday our local gamekeeper brings us a brace for supper. Last but by no means least, it’s Advent and shortly it will be Christmas. We enter into Christmas with considerable enthusiasm at Wharf House. We will festoon the mantelpieces and staircase with evergreens from the orchard. As we light the fires and the rooms slowly warm, a sweet scent of pine will infuse the whole house. Ordinarily, the house would be filled with family, friends and dogs. It will just be the two of us this year but even so, we will thoroughly enjoy our country Christmas.

In the garden, one must search out beauty but it is there to be found. The ‘Garrya Elliptica’ in the kitchen courtyard looks better by the day, with long, smoky white racemes. The hellebores are just starting to come into flower. They will get better and better. Elsewhere, there are signs of the Spring to come. As early as next month, large swathes of the garden will be filled with snowdrops. A week or two later, pots of bulbs will start to perform. ‘Iris Reticulata’ will be first, followed by crocus and chionodoxa. Later still there will be daffs and tulips. All this is still to come however, for the present, the garden is mostly bare, often muddy and on a day like today, rather dispiriting.

For me then, Winter is my least favourite season. That is not to say that I dislike it. I savour its pleasures but in truth, it is for me principally a staging post to Spring. The gardener in me hopes for at least a few days of sharp, persistent frost. We know all too well the effects that our increasingly frequent mild and wet Winters have on the local slug population! A short snowy interlude would be lovely (although at a weekend please!) but hosing-down two muddy labradors every day, is a pleasure that I could cheerfully pass up and let’s face it, a garden without flowers, is like a stage without actors.

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