Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The ostrich and the beaver

There are those who would seek to persuade you that there’s nothing to be done in the garden over winter. Pay them no heed. They are for the most part misguided, although several are bonkers and one in particular has that “Mwaha-HA!” laugh that tends to accompany delusions of a nature not conducive to the wellbeing of society at large. I have noticed that, whatever their peculiar motivation, they who espouse hivernal gardening abstinence fall into one of two categories, and can therefore be designated as either ostrich, or beaver.

The ostrich – who, like both its avian and metaphorical cousins, spends a proportion of the day with its head in the sand – dislikes facing up to the reality of the garden in winter, and will barricade itself behind closed doors with a glass of something medicinal the moment the days draw in and it becomes too soggy underfoot to be pleasant. Stopping its ears to the plaintive cries of neglected areas of its territory, it will walk with single-minded purpose between front gate and front door without so much as a glance to the side, lest a reminder of the work to be done should inconveniently intrude upon the conscience. It will survey the garden through the window, if at all, until it can be tempted out of doors again by more clement conditions in spring. At which point those tasks which should have been tackled over winter must now be undertaken in an undisciplined scramble, at an inappropriate time or, just as as likely, left until next year. When they probably won’t be done either.

Of course, it is entirely possible that you, dear reader, have Put Your Garden To Bed For The Winter, in which case I salute both your industry and your organisation and confer upon you the Order of the (Busy) Beaver. In an ideal world, I too would have spent the last few weeks of autumn weeding every border to within an inch of its life before spreading a generous several inches of mulch all around, both to suppress the weeds and to insulate the soil from winter’s icy machinations. Enjoying the prospect of a good frosty show, however, I’d still have left the more ornamental seed heads standing, and these would need cutting back around now as they start to take on a louche and bedraggled air, and then there’s the roses and the fruit trees, the grape vines and the second pruning of the wisteria...there are clearly practical reasons why you can’t do all of this in autumn, and if you leave it till spring you run the risk of the pruning cuts bleeding – not usually terminal, but unsightly and a bit messy.

My own list of winter gardening tasks is vast and comprehensive, including weeding and clearing, planting and mulching. There’s a whole host of plants which really benefit from pruning now in their dormant period, and they all need to be be attended to before the sap starts to rise in early spring. Not to mention shed-based jobs such as servicing mowers and strimmers and blowers, and cleaning and sharpening the hand tools. And even though the light is now increasing, there often don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get it all done.

Fortunately all of these are tasks which I enjoy immensely and, muffled against the cold, the winter garden is a happy place for me to spend my days. Even if there are some who wonder what on earth I can be finding to keep myself busy out there.