Thursday, 15 December 2011

Digging December

I’m not sure that anyone spends much quality time in their garden during December. Even the keenest of gardeners will find more pressing things to do in the run up to Christmas, and it’s probably no accident that the holidays occur at a time of year when there’s little work to be done outside and the garden can be left largely to its own devices. But for those determined few prepared to contend with claggy lawns and inclement weather, there’s the promise of a calm, quiet space so different from the frenzied maelstrom which too often typifies our experience of the end of the year.

Admittedly, this is not a month when the garden looks its best. Dun grey sogginess rules in the absence of snow or a transforming frost, and those keen on crisp lines and defined edges may need to find something to distract them for a month or two. But December air is crystal clear, and reason enough to get me through the back door, warmly wrapped against the weather and sucking in great lungfuls of the stuff.

And once outside, you can just linger, and breathe, and enjoy the peace, or you can get stuck in. There’s plenty to be doing should the mood take you. Providing the ground is sufficiently soft and not buried under snow the winter months usually find me digging: carving out new borders, renovating old ones, or planting a hedge, something for which I never seem to lose the passion. I have dug our Kentish clay in all weathers and conditions; when the ground has been baked dry and every bone-jarring thrust of the spade reverberates through your body, to when the waterlogged soil has had to be sliced like a thick, stinking jelly. After six years of incorporating compost and manure the structure in our garden is greatly improved, but this year, following a relatively rain-free autumn, the going is pretty good in general. Hand me a spade, a radio and a cup of tea, and I can lose hours in the garden, with only my thoughts and the occasional inquisitive robin for company.

If all this sounds too much like hard work, there is another way to enjoy a spot of festive digging: by watching somebody else do it, preferably from the warmth and comfort of the house, mince pie and glass of something fruity in hand. There’s a strong argument to be made for the vicarious enjoyment of this particular winter sport. Although come boxing day, having been cooped up indoors with the family and after one helping too many of leftover turkey, a lungful of fresh air and an excuse to expend some pent up energies might just hit the spot.

Above: Scenic December dig, preparing the ground for a client’s new box hedge. This trench took a casualty as a stubborn euonymus bent my steel-shanked spade. Perhaps Father Christmas will bring me a new one.