February in the Garden

The garden has been both the bane and the medicine of my life this month. I had one of the most stressful weeks I can remember, although admittedly, it does sound a bit ridiculous writing it down. It was over a vegetable garden that I felt this immense stress. We’d asked someone to come in and build the garden for us, and he neither built what we asked for, nor would listen to anything I said and all in all was a thoroughly unpleasant man. When this happens in your garden, and you’re me, it feels a little as though your heart has been ripped out. And we are now left with a half-finished, totally off-brief and out of character vegetable garden, a lot less money in the bank and a whole host of decisions to be made. 

Fortunately, February was an utterly beautiful, amazingly uplifting and wonderful month in so many other ways. So, we will dwell on these, knowing I will get over a few pieces of wood in the wrong place in time; indeed, the rest of the garden is already bringing the solace I need, along with my mum, Paul and a very dear friend of mine, who have all been unbelievably amazing in my week of sadness.

February, aside from the vegetable garden, was all about snow. Snow snow and snowdrops, with a few snowy sheepies thrown in for good measure. I woke up on the first day of the month to this:

and this:

and on the second, to this:

It’s enough to wear you out, all that beauty. My very own winter wonderland. Not in the Hyde Park horror sense of the words, but as I walked around the garden that first morning, all snuggled up in the closest I have to ski clothes, ‘winter’ and ‘wonderland’ were the two words that just wouldn’t leave my mind.

I had such enormous fun, as a detective, trying to identify the footprints of the vast array of animals we have playing in our garden each night. Deer, perhaps, here? 

The fresh, blown snow, glistening in the blue-tinted sunlight above the daffodil leaves. 

The clarity of the north easterlies, placing a vertical line of snow along the length of the tree trunks to the north east of the front door.

And the beauty of a small walnut tree, outlined in black and white, providing an architectural focal point in the field beyond.

It is on days like this that I feel especially glad that I find it impossible to cut back perennials in autumn. Of course, it’s easy to justify it in a Piet Oudolf kind of way: we leave the dead stems standing to provide winter interest. And in the snow, they do look gorgeous. I’m not sure much can be said for the rest of the time, but just as I find it impossible to throw away a vase of dead flowers in the house (seeing through the ‘deadness’ to how they originally looked), it’s more my love of anything growing, that makes me want to keep it all as long as I possibly can.

We are unbelievably lucky to have sheep grazing on all three sides of our garden. They are always gorgeous but seem especially so in the snow. And just so stoic in the freezing temperatures. They are the funniest things to watch; in some ways, so stupid, but in the cutest, most entertaining fashion.

And in other ways, just unbelievably human. We’ve watched them through the windows at all life stages now. The older ewes, calmly, diligently ambling about the field, looking for the best patch of grass with which to feed the family. The tiny lambs, venturing off a few steps and then panicking and running back to their mothers. The growing toddlers, climbing up on the rotting tree trunks and racing the farmer in his Land Rover. And the adolescents, getting into head butting fights in a bid to woo the best looking lambettes. 

3.20pm and they are all pally pally…
3.21 and they square up…
3.21 and a bit and…charge!

The only time I’ve ever been worried for a sheep, however, was when I saw one of the rams lying haphazardly on his side, completely still, in the middle of the day. So out of character was he, in contrast to the lambs and the ewes, that I actually text the farmer’s wife in concern. She shortly text me back, saying she’d been over and he (he) was, “just having a little nap. If you’re worried again, try clapping your hands and he’ll likely give a little snort and jump up out of his sleep.” For some reason, Paul doesn’t seem to find the similarities to humans quite as amusing as I do.

I clearly have lost the plot, however, as I caught myself looking out of the window at the sheep one snowy day, saying, “I love you sheepies”. Definitely a lost cause.

Meanwhile, within both our lawns and our woodland, the snowdrops open up and stand tall in their peak at just the very moment the winter aconites are coming off theirs. 

It’s incredible how many we have here – I thank the keen gardeners that lived here from 1973 to 2012 for getting them going and for the many years of multiplication since. 

We have a few different types, too. Not that I’m a galanthophile: I’m much more interested in the overall effect of snowdrops, rather than the exact markings on each, but it is fun to have some singles and some doubles in the mix.

Gosh, they are hard to photograph though. I’m not quite committed enough to lie flat on my stomach on a level with them, and somehow a wide sweep of them always looks much smaller on ‘film’.

But I enjoy them in all forms in the flesh, particularly how they sit, so alive against the dead, brown leaves, popping up in every little nook and cranny they can find.

Everything in the garden feels more vivid at this time of year. The light is so soft and every detail stands out without the attention-grabbing jumble of colour that the other seasons bring. The sight lines are clearer, and the view points from one part of the garden to another suddenly inspire new ideas to play on and accentuate them further.

Looking back through my photos of February 2018, I was also reminded of the house we then lived in. A building site, more like. We were in the midst of converting a large sitting room into our new ‘everything room’ – kitchen, dining and comfy seating – just as we lived in Australia.

I didn’t have time to tidy or ‘style’ the room before snapping the ‘as is’ version – I was supposed to be helping Paul cook dinner – but hopefully you’ll agree our new room is getting there and already much more homely than 12 months ago. As I look at it, I think more plants are definitely required!

We end the month with record February temperatures, gardening in a T-shirt and our Iris reticulata springing into life. The snow has completely vanished, but I still have lovely memories of the sheepies stoically (and oh, so delicately) munching on their frozen turnips, wondering what on earth was so interesting that I was gazing on so lovingly, camera in hand. They bring me so much joy and make the garden feel dynamic and alive, morning, noon and night. Thankfully, it’s impossible to feel sad for too long when I have all of this around me as I potter about my everyday life.

22 thoughts on “February in the Garden

  1. Flower Roberts says:

    I loved this visit with you. First, if anyone changed my garden in a way that I did not like I would be distressed also. Second, I am a biologist but always see similarities between humans and animals. We are all from the same stock, so why not? Thirdly, I loved the “as is” photo of your beautiful everything room. I visited a house this weekend that seemed “staged’ because it was so clean, tidy and devoid of anything personal. It made me wonder if the folks really lived there. Wonderful post Janna.

    • jannaschreier says:

      You are very kind, thank you. Makes me feel less sad being reminded that most people are so warm-hearted and kind-spirited. And I completely agree, I’m not keen on totally unpersonalised rooms that look as though everything has just come off the back of a swish furniture lorry. But I thought perhaps, when posting one solitary photo of the inside of your house, one should, maybe, make some effort to capture its best side?!! As to your biological expertise, perhaps we are like sheep, rather than the other way around?!

  2. Marian St.Clair says:

    Good to see so many lovely things happening. Love the sheepies, snowdrops, and everything room. I’m just home from a long work/play weekend in Tampa, Florida, where I relished a walk on white sand with the Gulf of Mexico tickling my toes. Not bad either.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Thank you Marian! And how lovely to have been in warm Tampa. I was there in the early 90s (how old does that make me feel?!) and my lasting memory was of the Pan Am pilot doing an amazingly sharp dive into the airport on arrival, seemingly just for fun. Even the hostess said ‘that was better than Disneyland’! Sounds like you had a lovely time there – good for you!!

  3. Deirdre says:

    Wonderful to see your winter garden, Janna. And I agree that having sheep around is a delight (as long as they don’t get into your garden!). Loved seeing your room.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Funnily enough, the sheep did have a wander (or two) around the garden last year. The ground was so dry that the new, unsheared lambs could easily nip through the electric fence without getting much of a shock. I loved having them there and the haha stopped most of them getting up to the flower beds (although we do now have quite a few trees ‘pruned’ to lamb mouth height!). But one day they got brave and as I saw one bite off the head of a hollyhock by the garage, decided I’d really better do something about it!

    • jannaschreier says:

      Thank you, Jacoba; it’s wonderful to hear from you. Our garden is a little different to a Sydney garden, isn’t it, especially at this time of year?! Would love to see some pictures sometime of how your garden is developing – it’s such a special space you have.

    • Nicola says:

      Hello Janna. I had a hard day, and was feeling a bit sad and wobbly tonight, sitting down at my desk to do some work. I went to flick through my phone for a podcast when l saw that you’d posted. It was balm to me, thank you. All the beautiful photos, and the generous amount and relaxed pace of your words, gave me the feeling l get when l hear from one of my sisters or women friends. Your garden is so beautiful, even if almost alien to me here in Australia, but the way you write about your relationship to it feels very familiar to how l feel about my own. If l could thank you in a scent it would be the one wafting in right now from the frangipani outside my window.

      • jannaschreier says:

        I can smell the Frangipani from here, Nicola! How I miss those beautiful trees. It makes me extremely happy to think that my garden can send relaxing waves over the internet, all the way to Australia. What wonderful things gardens are. I do hope you’ve had a better day today.

  4. Louise says:

    Another beautifully written blog……always a pleasure to read. Sorry to read of your stress though, must have been awful. Glad you had a Mum, Paul and great friend to debrief with 😊 I do love snowdrops. I have been thinking about adding some to my garden. What do you think? Do you recommend any particular one? They are so delicate looking on mass. I must say those pictures of the snow covered areas in your garden are spectacular. I was intrigued to read of your love for the sheep. Hope you get that veggie garden built the way you want.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Oh, how we need a bit of debriefing sometimes! I’m trying to think if I’ve ever seen snowdrops in Canberra. The larger snowflakes, yes, but not snowdrops, that I can think of. I think they might suffer a little in the dry. If you want to try them, rather than snowflakes, I’d probably just go for the simple species, Galanthus nivalis. They are so delicate to look at, yet tough in the ground. But I think you’ll need to keep them nice and moist. They literally grow in boggy soil by the stream here, which doesn’t remind me of Canberra soil very much! Good luck and let me know how they go!

      • Louise says:

        Thanks Janna. Looking at lambley nursery they sell many varieties for Canberra region, interesting! I will give it a go & let you know.

  5. Adriana says:

    Sheep, snow and snowdrops – what a lovely picture of your winter garden Janna. Such a contrast to the dry and heat here (and hydrophobic soils!). Hopefully you will soldier on and start again with your vegie garden. You are much too patient – many a gardener would’ve chased this chap off the the pitch fork! Always love reading your posts.

    • jannaschreier says:

      The three Ss are a pretty lovely combination, aren’t they? It does feel very strange seeing snowdrops in the weather we’ve been having over the last week or so though. Not hot by any Australian standard, but we’ve hit 20 degrees and it’s been super sunny, which just doesn’t compute with snowdrops to me. They are not going to last long, but I’m not complaining; we’ll take any warmth we can get!

      • Adriana says:

        I love 20 degrees Janna – lucky you and sunshine best combination especiallly with a bit of crispness in the air. Can’t wait!

  6. rusty duck says:

    Golly, you had far more snow than us. Yet just down the road (near to that place we all had dinner that evening?) the DPD man was stranded in his van overnight.
    The veggie garden would have upset me too. I hope it’s not too late to salvage something from it. Snowdrops and sheepies make up for a lot!

    • jannaschreier says:

      I’m really surprised we had more snow than you. Devon and Cornwall looked the worst of the worst on the news. But as you say, it was obviously pretty localised. Funny how that happens. My parents actually had a white covering next door to them, but nothing at all in their (pretty modestly-sized) garden one year! And thank you for reassuring me I’m not completely loopy about my garden…or at least that there are a few of us loopy-gardeners out there.

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