Grey. Dry, with a mist lying still in mid morning on the downs. The rusty cawing of crows punctuates the constant chatter of smaller birds and somewhere, never too far away, the white noise roar of traffic rumbling along the A road. A plane climbs ecstatically away from Gatwick (Mum – look! I’m free! I’m free!), as the neighbours’ boiler kicks into action. Two blue tits perch on the gatepost by my head, angrily haranguing me over some unknown transgression. A silly pheasant clucks from the cover of the tree line across the muddy paddock. It’s noisy out here, in the very best of ways.
It’s one of those winter mornings where, in spite of the gloom – the sun having made no effort to rouse itself today – it’s pleasant to be out, wrapped up against the chill, and moving through the garden with gentle purpose. Some tweaks to the wisteria, the roses to prune, ferns to tidy, leaves to relocate (still! Where are they all coming from?!). Nothing too strenuous but, while the frenzy of spring garden activity is still a good few weeks off, just sufficient to ease us into January, as the dark days spent indoors over the festivities fade into memory.
Naturally, there will shortly be tonnes of mulch and manure to barrow about the place, which is pleasing activity of a quite different nature but, as it does nothing to embellish the picture I’m attempting to create, we can for the moment consign the pleasant anticipation of this invigorating task to another time.
And as I snip and wobble atop my ladder, I have the time to consider the resolutions I’ve not made. For while you might think a new year requires resolutions, I like to tell myself I don’t go in for that kind of thing, and feel the warm, knowing glow as I watch my fellow creatures scrabble about at the end of December, setting themselves up to fail before the new year’s a fortnight old.
Of course, I’m completely kidding myself. Even as I open the virgin pages of my new diary I’m resolving to consult it more and use it religiously as a planning and thinking tool, rather than simply as a place to record dates, while everything else swims about the echoing space between my ears.*
And who can resist mentally replanting the garden each time the post arrives, bringing a new seed catalogue every day as the old year turns to the new? Not I, and I’ll admit, that’s a kind of resolution too. Last year I resolved to use larger modules, and as a result grew far less from seed than I’ve ever done before, as part of a cunning plan which would allow me to focus on raising fewer, better plants, and to avoid the prospect of a greenhouse full of half knackered looking things that I’d have neither the time nor the inclination to raise to the standards they deserved. It was all very sensible, but – you know what? A bit joyless, and I think as a consequence I almost retreated to the comfort of an expanding pelargonium collection and a budding interest in both roses and houseplants. This year, I may not be setting out with a finely honed plan and a suite of clearly articulated resolutions when it comes to the garden. But there’s one word which, in the churning maelstrom of my mind, gets repeatedly thrown to the surface whenever I consider my gardens – and that word is “more”. More in the veg patch, more for the kitchen, more in the borders and more of each thing. I’ve not bought a huge amount in plug form before, but I’ve a feeling that might be about to change. Sounds like trouble to me.
I am presently at the stage of sticking Post-It notes on those plants I want to procure from the catalogues. Currently, there appear to be more Post-It note than catalogue, and so either my bank balance, my back, or my sanity is likely to take a serious hit over the coming season. Quite possibly all three.
Setting myself up to fail? Almost certainly. But we’re a hopeful lot, we gardeners – and there’s always next year to get it right.
What resolutions, if any have you made for 2018 in the garden? I’d love to hear about them, either on twitter at @AndrewTimothyOB or in the comments below.
*I’m being a tad unfair to myself, as almost everything I think of or encounter on a daily basis gets sucked into Evernote, which catalogues things rather wonderfully and can even decipher my second best scrawl. I still like to keep a hand written diary, and have started to notice the odd looks people give me when producing my trusty Filofax from my bag.