"The Advent wind begins to stir With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir, It's dark at breakfast, dark at tea, And in between we only see Clouds hurrying across the sky And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry And branches bending to the gale Against great skies all silver pale ..."
John Betjeman’s Advent 1955 is one of my favourite poems of the season. I don’t have a Scotch fir but I do overlook the tall poplar trees along the railway line and they certainly bend in the gale, their skeletal forms looking particularly wintry against the early morning skies. But it’s that “dark at breakfast, dark at tea” line which for me sums up the essence of this time of year outside the backdoor. It’s the fate of the working gardener.
As I head off to work at 7:30am, it is just getting light and I am sometimes treated to spectacular sunrises as I approach the station. By the time return at 6.00pm it has already been dark for a couple of hours. Closer to Christmas, the walk home is brightened by the various lit decorations and last year I found myself running my own ‘best door wreath’ competition in my head! However, this means that I don’t see the garden at all during the week and my first view outside on a Saturday morning can be quite a revelation! For example, the sudden realisation that the winter clematis is in full flower or that some over-eager bulbs have started to shoot.
Over the past 6-7 years, we have ensured that we plant winter flowering shrubs near the house so that we can easily catch a glimpse of them either from the dining room on a cold / wet day or see them illuminated by the glow of the Christmas lights. For the last two winters, I have made a deliberate effort to plant a large pot with a winter flowering display that will catch the light, using pale cream or lemon violas, white hellebores and either silver or gold leaved ivies, avoiding anything with dark petals or dark leaves that won’t reflect what light there is. I’ve positioned it beyond the kitchen window so that it catches some of the light from the house when we’re cooking.
I will also enjoy the moment when we can head outside to decorate our Christmas tree which has been sitting in its pot all year waiting for its moment of glory. It’s grown a lot this year, entertaining us with its bright green shoots in Spring and growing by at least six inches! We started this tradition of an outdoor tree on the patio when our cats were kittens but now it’s become a habit and we actually rather enjoy having the tree outside and the way its decorations sparkle in the winter sunlight or twinkle away as the wind causes the branches and lights to quiver. We will also weave white lights around our olive trees on the patio and through the hawthorn, although this might be a bit of a challenge this year as we’ve just had the hawthorn pruned back quite substantially which, in itself, is letting more light into the house.
I am the first to admit that I am quite a fair-weather gardener so I would be lying if I said that I am looking forward to the long Christmas holiday so that I can get out into the garden and do stuff but I always hope for a few dry days in the run up to Christmas so that we can raid the garden for Christmas greenery without the need to dry it off before bringing it indoors. Any holly that has real berries will decorate inside whilst holly, ivy and laurel will make up some swags to adorn our side gates.
However, I am looking forward to the long holiday as it will enable me to be at home in the daylight so that I can really appreciate what is sitting just outside the backdoor. I will enjoy sitting in the warm looking out at the active birds flitting between feeders. If it’s mild, I may even spot an occasional bumble-bee seeking food amidst the clematis flowers or ivy, and like many of you I’m sure, I will sit mulling ideas of things to do in the Spring!