You snooze, you lose

It might still seem a bit dull outside, but we’ve somehow made it more than two thirds of the way through winter. So, when it comes to the garden, now’s not the time to be caught napping.

December is all mulled pies and minced wine – twinkly lights, good will and good grief, in equal measure, to all mankind. January cowers under a blanket of gloom and despondency with, if we’re very lucky, the odd glorious cold bright day to break through the murk. By February, it’s too easy to find ourselves succumbing to a creeping inertia brought on by the cold, the wet and the dark.

We must fight the dullness, kicking off the listless mood which can paralyse a gardener through a long winter. By the time February arrives, we need to be psyching ourselves up, taking advantage of every second of extra daylight in preparation for spring. Complacency can be a pitfall during the shortest month – barely four weeks long – by the end of which the gardening year will have begun in earnest. Experienced gardeners might even be forgiven for a fleeting sense of panic around now, knowing just how much there is to be done in so short a space of time.  

l’m not concerned about the obvious tasks getting done in time – the pruning of fruit trees and roses, the mulching, the weeding, the almost certainly pointless bramble attacking sessions (in spite of last week’s post, I’m still gardening old stylee). It’s the next category of job where I’m likely to find myself caught out – the almost obvious things which, perfectly apparent on walking through the the garden, but which, in the absence of decisive and timely action, too easily get moved from “Oh yes, I can do that next week” to “Oh bugger, I’ll have to do that next winter”.  Replacing the supports for my clients’ vines is an example of this, the issue being that if I don’t do this in the dormant season, the ageing fixtures will be torn out of the wall by another generous summer crop. Claret everywhere.

Then, just to complicate things, there are the tasks that are being brought forward by the mild winter. It’s t-shirt weather again today, and you don’t have to look far for signs of life. The phlox is leafing up nicely in one border of The Rabbit Garden, which means the rabbits won’t be far behind. Better get cracking with the protection – a not insignificant job that wasn’t in the diary for another few weeks yet. And – I’m still slightly in denial about this – the grass, which hasn’t really stopped growing, really could do with a cut. If the ground dries out enough, I’m going to have to break the mower out early.

This is beginning to sound as though I’m limbering up for a whinge, but not so. I’m as happy in the garden in February as I am at any time of year. The unglamorous nature of so many winter gardening tasks – the raking, the barrowing, the endless leaves – could seem like drudgery if you were to adopt a certain mindset, particularly over the dark days that top and tail the year. A few weeks of this, and most people disappear indoors for the duration, refusing to countenance the space beyond the back door until tempted outside again by the smell of some pioneering neighbour’s late spring barbecue. But we’re not most people. We’re gardeners, and we know that this routine stuff is what keeps us connected with our plants and gardens throughout the year, so that we’re on hand and in a position to tend or tweak should tending or tweaking be required. And yes, I’m quite aware of the many keen and vociferous advocates of a winter’s break with a spring catch-up, just as I’ve heard tell of those who insist on brown sauce rather than red in a bacon sarnie. What’s more, I’m happy to defend to the point of being mildly uncomfortable their right to exercise such eccentric lifestyle choices, always assuming no harm is done.

But you won’t catch me napping in February ’cos it’s cold and wet outside. Where would be the fun in that?