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 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.
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.