February 2020: In the garden

February is a funny old month. In the northern hemisphere, you so often hear people say, “ugh, February’s awful”. Often our coldest month and meteorologically the third and final of winter, I suppose people have had enough by then and just want spring to jolly well hurry up.

Yet I see it really quite differently. To me, February stands out as a uniquely special month. Perhaps not my favourite, per se, but I’ve always been strangely attracted to slight misfits.  

So, whilst all other months hath 30 or 31 days, special special February goes out on a limb with 28. Only sometimes it decides to have 29. February is a month with distinctive personality and character, is it not?

Possibly part of my bias is that my birthday falls this month, so it is perhaps when I feel extra specially loved. But my emotional bond with February goes further than that and I think it is much to do with what’s happening outside.

There’s no question that the sun setting at 5.38pm, today, is distinctly favourable to a 3.54pm disappearance on 21 December.

But it’s also about what’s happening in nature. Woodlands carpeted with sheets of luminous snowdrops; the first cherry trees laden with bright pink petals; crocuses bursting through the lawn, creating a mosaic of purple, white and yellow. 

These very early flowers seem to be in defiance of the harsh conditions around them. We’d call them ‘Aussie battlers’ down under.

Turned crisp with frost, laden down with snow or shaken this way and that in the gales, these seemingly soft, delicate, floral gems don’t worry a bit about any of that. And the contrast between this pretty, pretty, fresh new growth and the starkness of the still bare trees and decay of last year makes it all the more incredible.

For a little, baby, short month, it’s also one that shows tremendous progression from start to finish. On the third of February we had fields of snowdrops, yet by the 22nd, in a chameleon-like act, they had turned the rich butter yellow of daffodils. 

I think it’s at this time of year, whilst everything is pared back, that we can most appreciate the details of nature. I adore stumbling across little clusters of self-formed miniature gardens: perhaps a primrose happily sheltering under the moist shade of a fallen log, or aconites taking advantage of the free-draining soil around a raised, rotting tree trunk. 

These miniature gardens of natural diversity look so happy, so comfortable in their perfectly found conditions, starting and stopping with the changes in soil. Being, precisely where they want to be, not forcing anything where they don’t. These natural plant colonisations, combinations and patterns, exquisite to the eye, are impossible for the human hand to beat.

And I love the clarity at this time of year, that nature hath no boundaries. Plants don’t stop at the farm fence. They creep under it, exploring the land and blurring the lines between nature, farmland and garden.

I wonder if my increasing fascination with nature is something of a natural progression. A friend I studied for the Master of Horticulture with recently told me that the course made her realise her true love was nature conservation, not gardening. Perhaps over time we look to nature as the ultimate guru of plant growing and design. We aspire to her, rather than Percy Thrower, as the pinnacle of all things green.

February has also been a time of much fun with the animals. I had a photobombing deer: trying to capture the ‘daffodil field’ I realised I needed to move to the right as the Paulownia had stuck itself right centre-frame. Looking at the camera to check the composition had improved, I realised a deer had walked right into it.

They’ve been making themselves quite at home this month; I’m hoping the female sitting comfortably by the pond is a sign of her resting from the busy job of making us new baby roes.

Along with Harry the hare, who is back, Mavis the mole and Monty the muntjac, Donald and Donalena have returned early this year. I’m so happy to see them splashing about on the pond, but step two feet out of the house to get a photo and they are gone, soaring over the trees into the distance.

Oh, the irony, knowing that in a few weeks’ time we’ll be walking right up to them, trying to shoo them away from the muddied waters and munched plants and they won’t take the blindest bit of notice.

In contrast to February last year, we have had no snow, but the month has been characterised by exceptionally stormy weather: extremely wet and extremely windy. Seeing lakes appear on nearby fields, I’m very grateful to have free draining soil but the almost continuous rain has showed itself in the widespread moss that has artistically popped up on every available surface.

There’s always a positive that comes out of a negative.

So, spare a thought for poor old February; I feel it’s a real trier. Perhaps not inherently blessed with the best luck of all, I think it packs quite a punch in its short 28 days. And if we didn’t have February, could we really appreciate what follows? 

Hoorah for this special month, but don’t hold back, spring!

9 thoughts on “February 2020: In the garden

  1. Adriana says:

    Beautiful Janna – how could you not love February with all that colour and joy! Your February is ending with a giant leap into spring; ours was wet and mostly cool but also more humid than normal – as was most of summer, spring and last winter. We didn’t experience the drought that affected many of our naighbouring regions – in fact the opposite. My garden here in the Dandenongs (as well as many around Melbourne and outskirts), for the first time in many a year, isn’t limping into autumn, sad, brown and shrivelled but leaping with vitality and colour – thank you nature! Just planted a few Johnny-jump-ups too Janna – they flower right through winter into spring here, love their happy little faces. Love your photos and your eloquent writing .

    • jannaschreier says:

      How lucky you have been with your weather this year. And especially as you are creating a new garden: all that moisture as new plants establish. You must feel very sure that you picked just the right spot. I planted so many small new plants in the autumn, almost all drought-hardy, and I await to see how many of them will have been drowned this winter (if not nibbled too enthusiastically by the wildlife) before they had a chance to settle in. I’m look forward to spring with a genuine sense of ‘anything could happen’. We could just as likely have a beautiful, full garden or a very very bare one! It’s all good learning though.

  2. Deirdre Mowat says:

    Lovely! I do adore those little details in winter, when we can appreciate them without distraction. Our February gardens here in Sydney have been miraculously transformed by recent very heavy rain. it is like a jungle out there!

    • jannaschreier says:

      I can imagine how much things are growing. Your plants must be so relieved! Hope it’s got you enthused about gardening again. Or perhaps you don’t have time to think; too busy cutting back! It’s wonderful that you’ve had all that rain at last, even if it was a bit late and a bit much.

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