November 2021: In the garden

I’ve had to have a rethink. 

When we initially moved back to the UK, November hit me like a ton of bricks. A good British summer really is idyllic, but along came November and I wanted out. 

I’d thought I’d got back into the swing of a new country; that I was settled again and enjoying what England had to offer. So it came as quite a surprise that I suddenly felt an almost hatred towards it.

I’d dress up in thick coats, hats and scarves, barely able to move, yet still feeling horribly cold. Until I went into a shop, to find myself instantly overheating and desperately ripping layers off. 

I couldn’t stand the short days: by 3pm it was beginning to get dark, but I wasn’t ready for hibernating at that time – there was still so much I wanted to fit into my day. I felt angry at it being taken away from me.

I remember meeting friends for lunch in the last week of November in my second year back, the life and soul of the party as I whinged and whined at how awful it was.

By year four, I’d bought myself a SAD lamp: perhaps a dose of bright light each morning could help make this cold, dark country feel brighter and better to me. I wasn’t holding out much hope, yet it really did boost my spirits. It felt like a drug and I didn’t miss a single day.

Last year though, a wonderful thing happened. We were in lockdown for the whole of November and I spent almost all daylight hours out in the garden. I forgot about my lamp. And I felt good about November in this country.

And this year I’ve managed a repeat. Even without being able to spend all day in my garden. 

I don’t mean to trivialise how seriously some people suffer from winter blues, but for me, I’m so heartened by what I can only imagine is a mind over matter revolution.

Back in 2016, my mind told me that I didn’t like. That the days of T-shirts and shorts all year (almost) round in bright, sunny Sydney were much better days.

And so I learnt that November was bad. And November was, therefore, bad. 

The SAD lamp presumably first gave me hope that a different experience was possible, somehow rewiring a few neurons in my brain. And with this hope, I went into November 2020 with more positivity. That, combined with being outside absorbing the sun’s rays and being amongst nature, was enough to change my outlook entirely.

And this year, I’m a changed woman! It’s been a ridiculously busy November, with a lot of time away from the garden, yet I’ve enjoyed pretty much every second. 

We started the month with a hard frost. The lawn turned white and mist filled the fields. Looking out from the warmth of our home, everything looked so pretty.

The first weekend was spent in Edinburgh: our first flight in two years, we stayed with friends, watched the Wallabies play Scotland and visited the wonderful botanical gardens. In the new world of Omicron, it feels such an enormous treat, looking back.

When we returned, the trees had turned. Colour filled the garden and the focus had moved from ground to sky. Somehow trees seem much bigger when they are partially clothed. They open up to show the full expanse of their enormity: the outline is the same, yet their depth seems greater.

I love the old sycamore at the front, dressed in ivy, with far-reaching bare arms opening up to the sky. We are so lucky to have all these large, wise elders living amongst us here.

It’s wonderful to have such a mix of colours, but I think yellow leaves are my favourite. The buttery, almost cakey tones of Ginkgo and Parrotia, so pure and simple, envelope me in another world as I stand within them. More restful, less brash, than their red and orange counterparts.

Each year I continue to notice more and more. I have a tendency to get bored of the same old, yet in nature, it’s never the same. As some aspects become familiar, others appear, bringing new depths of interest and understanding. It’s hard to comprehend how I didn’t previously notice the patterns I now see, yet I can foresee there will be newness each and every year that I’m here.

In the last week of the month, we had snow. Twice. I can only ever remember snow falling once in November and that was whilst living in Glasgow. I went into a pub one Friday night and came out, with enormous surprise, to a wintery, white wonderland in front of me. 

Snowfall seems to be in slow motion, flakes wafting down like small feathers, to the sound of total silence. It is still magical every time, after all these years.

Yet this time was different, for we had snow with deciduous leaves. Fortunately, not sufficient to dangerously weigh down the trees, but just enough to produce beautiful colourings in the landscape that I’d never before seen.

Not the monotone black and white of deep winter snow – as beautiful as that is too – but a softly coloured landscape, with muted greens, pinks and ochres peeping through the white covering.

It’s clear, when it snows, how much warmer the woodland is, remaining largely green against its white surroundings. A visual explanation for why the woodland pulls me there on every cold day.

As the sun rises in the snow, it acts as a search light, picking out individual objects with its beam: a wall or a tree trunk or a particular shrub, just for those few precious moments.

The sky can be orange, pink, yellow or simply the palest of whites, all alternating within the very same day. Watching lines of contrails form high up, as far as you can see, brings Australia closer to me, as I wonder if I’ll finally get there next year.

But everyone here seems safe. Harry snuggled up warm, against the garage, the Daryls passing through and Percy the pheasant always scurrying in the other direction as soon as he sees me.

Look beyond the cold and the dark and it really is achingly beautiful. 

Seasons, a gift, there to be devoured, if only your mind will let you.

8 thoughts on “November 2021: In the garden

  1. Adriana says:

    You have re-acclimatised Janna, what a joy! I too found (in my early thirties) that the one and only thing I never got bored with was nature and gardens — hence formulating an almost 35 year career. Melbourne is so unlike Sydney, the weather does drive me inside down here during winter – especially this year with constant rain. Spring was an extended version of winter and finally we are getting a few warm days now summer is here. You may find Tasmania a teeny bit more like England in winter and so unlike Sydney. Have a lovely Christmas Janna with Paul and your family.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Yes, a slighter cooler climate is definitely part of the attraction of Tassie. It still looks quite cool where you are though, this year. Good gardening weather though! I’ve virtually managed no gardening at all this month, for one reason or another, which is so unlike me. A combination of being a bit under the weather, a bit not liking the look of the weather and then more pressure coming from elsewhere right now. I can’t wait to get stuck into it in the new year – my to do list is growing really rather long!

  2. Suzanne says:

    Josh Janna, some of those photos with their sprinkling of snow look like cakes with a dusting of icing sugar; delicious enough to eat!
    I have never understood how anyone can get bored with nature or gardening, it’s so dynamic. The older I get, the more I drill down, the more I see; there is so much to amaze, delight and love and always something to cause wonder.
    Changing a mindset is such a positive way deal with all sorts of situations. I used to dread summer; the heat, the damage it did to the garden and I’d stress over water use, limp plants and a lack of lushness. I started to grow more climate-appropriate plants, that was easy and obvious, but it took a long time to accept that a lush spring changes to a golden brown summer, that plants aestivate like animals and they do die. This is the Noongar season of birak, the first summer, and there is much to enjoy. There will always be days that are horrendous but they do pass, damage can be repaired and new plans made. So long as the bird baths are full the birds are happy then so am I.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Oh, I do love that, Suzanne. Happy birds, happy friend! I think you have to go with nature to stop it becoming so stressful – whether that be worries due to hot, cold, wet, dry…. Stopping fighting it and working with what it wants to do. Your garden is such a wonderful example of that. Just so much more beautiful in your location than roses and dahlias. I hope you are still enjoying this period of early summer (still Noongar??) and that you have a kind season ahead. Doesn’t nature teach us so many universally-helpful life lessons though, whether the seasons are kind or harsh? I’m sure we grow much bigger and stronger through them.

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