The shortest day, the longest night

Enjoying a German rose-garden alongside the River Rhein
Tomorrow (21st December) is the winter equinox when dark far outstrips daylight and time to be out of doors has to be squeezed between all other tasks and daily chores. I fell to thinking about our garden, orchard and nut plat, high in the north Cotswolds, and about all the gardens I have visited throughout the year. About gardening in general in fact – it’s a good time to reflect on the concept of a garden, and what it is that is so compulsive about the thought, or act, of gardening.

By definition, a garden is “a piece of ground, often near a house, used for growing flowers, fruit or vegetables; and ornamental gardens laid out for enjoyment and recreation.” Simplistic, but true nevertheless, though for me a garden is about the plants that surround me, the varied wild-life that is attracted to the spaces created for them, the weather – benign or otherwise.

I find the tracery of branches against a winter sky quite magical
Sometimes a pen and notebook is more useful than a camera
My camera is not always to hand, though my notebook usually is, but frequent recording and note-booking of what I see, and how the garden looks, brings joy or despair (in equal measure), yet enables long-term planning. It isn’t just about growing crops or decorative plants, but about the ambience into which one becomes absorbed. And the fact that no matter how long one has been ‘gardening’, there is always something new to learn, new plants to inspire, shows and gardens to explore, and, for those of artistic bent, a hundred-and-one ways to interpret all this natural glory.

Bliss to be working in the garden on a Summer's day
I urge everyone reading this blog to set down what it is that inspires YOU – a series of topics or headings: start perhaps with your own garden (crops, plot design, plants for cutting, new techniques, new plants to try) and then move on to ‘beyond the garden gate’. 

Properly proportioned tools are easiest for the grandchildren
There are bittersweet moments in my reveries. I remember the time when we would ‘borrow’ our grandchildren for much-needed images of children working in their garden. Though it was part of the area being reclaimed at the time: and the little beds are still there, ten years later, overtaken by weeds. All our grandchildren are now beyond the primary school stage, but nevertheless, it is a joy to see the enthusiasm with which schools are addressing ‘learning to grow’ topics.

Malvern in the Spring
So one of the first on my list of ‘must visit’ garden shows this coming year will be the ‘Three Counties RHS Malvern Spring Festival’ (formerly the Malvern Spring Gardening Show), from 8th-11th May, 2014 – “bursting with spring flowers, gardening, shopping & food” and, as ever, so much to see and do, including practical planning workshops for first-time gardeners. The School Gardens Challenge is bound to wow visitors with the thought and ingenuity that goes into all the educational work at Malvern. And at Chelsea (May 20th-24th), young designers will be showcasing their work – a stepping-stone on their way to a career in horticulture. There are lots of other RHS Shows around the country of course besides Malvern and Chelsea, and some of this year’s blog-posts were transmitted ‘live’ from various show-grounds. 

North Yorkshire - the Deer Park at Fountains Abbey
(image ©National Trust Andrew Butler)
Visits to Shows can be exhausting – one does not want to miss a single activity, but a gentle stroll around a National Trust garden can be taken at a more leisurely pace. Many are on a grand-scale but nevertheless, there’s always something that will trigger new thoughts, be it a walk through the woods, or a cheeky scarecrow in a newly-renovated vegetable plot. Such visits also offer an opportunity for capturing photographic images and making notes or sketches. Visits can be the spark that lights the way towards other creative endeavours – your own garden journal, blog or other creative enterprise. It’s a question of keeping your eyes open, and that is often easiest if you go alone, or act independently if you are with friend or partner. And if the image above inspires you, what could be more refreshing than walking through the beautiful landscaped Georgian water garden of Studley Royal at the National Trust’s Fountains Abbey, near Ripon, North Yorkshire, complete with Neo-classical statues, follies and breathtaking views. Along with the Cistercian Abbey, landscaped garden, medieval deer park and the water garden, you can experience a magical family day out through December (apart from 25th/26th) and the whole of January.

A surprise visitor
Back at home, remember that not all wild-life hibernates throughout the winter, and birds particularly need all the help they can get to survive. With so much removal of cover in roadside hedgerows, our gardens and shrubberies offer a safe haven. Ensure your bird-feeders are kept clean and topped up and maybe you will be surprised and pleased to see some new faces (or beaks). Our delight has been the timid nuthatch which in all our years here since 1969 has never been seen in our garden or orchard. It’s not a regular visitor, but comes and goes. 

Autumn Bounty could perhaps be achieved again
Gardening is good for you – fresh air, exercise and a calming influence on the mind. Hopefully, I will again be producing bumper crops next year and will be spending the Christmas break trawling through the Dobies catalogue once more, whilst reading and researching new topics to bring to you. The Blog in its present guise is evidently being revamped from the beginning of January onto a new platform – I am sure the Dobies tech-guys will tell you how to re-register.

A simple photograph, digitally manipulated
Meanwhile, our very best wishes for the Festive Season and a happy New Year; and thank you for your interest and support throughout the last twelve months.

Don't forget to  visit the Dobies' website for all your gardening needs and requirements. You may particularly like: vegetable seedsvegetable plants, flower seeds, flower plants, herbs, fruit and equipment. And don't forget their regular mailings and special offers online. Just keep visiting so you don't miss anything special. 

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