As the winter solstice approaches the days are very short: between sunrise and sunset there are just 6 hours and 30-ish minutes. If the weather is being particularly Hebridean it can seem like a lot less. When we get a fine day (i.e. not raining and with winds gusting less than 40 mph, sun shine optional) it’s on with the wellies and woolly accessories and down to the garden.
The cottage garden is in deep hibernation, any plant unwise enough not to have retreated underground is battered by the wind and burnt by the salt spray. Although I do my best to protect the borders with a heavy layer of mulch, after the recent sequence of gales I suspect what wasn’t dumped in the Bay of Biscay is now in the Faeroes or on its way to Svalbard.
During these dark storm days the cottage garden is left to its own devices. There are regular visits just to make sure that it’s still there and I can’t resist checking on my bulbs. Hebridean winters are mild and the first green tips of the Narcissi often appear in November and then slumber putting on a spurt of growth in March. The Muscari and Scilla siberica are also showing green shoots, as are some of the early alliums, notably A. cowani and A. sphaerocephalum, but these fare less well and often get damaged by the wind. I am always surprised that this does not seem to affect the outcome as they flower well and are multiplying.
When the weather is not too wild we can potter about in the polytunnel, but this doesn’t maintain the healthy living regime prescribed for those over 50 by the local health police. However, our winter gardening projects always involve some civil engineering which are powered by a daily energy expenditure equivalent to a serious aerobic workout (blood, sweat and tears optional). Now the Head Gardener has morphed into Chief Engineer and Project Manager and I’ve been demoted to labourer my exercise budget is definitely in the black. With a project schedule to meet, there is no alternative other than to drag myself away from the tempting pile of new books, suppress the urge to bake a cake or make gallons of soup and get on with it. As a reward for good behaviour I’m sometimes put on log stacking duties or get a temporary promotion to gofer.
Alas there is rather more to gardening than gently pottering around the garden in a sun hat with a trowel and a trug. At some stage before you can harvest prefect vegetables and luscious fruit, or admire the herbaceous borders on a summer afternoon, there has to be some hard physical labour. Unless, of course, one has a brigade of gardeners. As I am from peasant stock I quite enjoy the more physical side of gardening and getting the muck under my finger nails. There is something very satisfying about watching a new project develop even when the joints are creaking and the back is aching.
As for the very Hebridean weather this winter, well it’s very Hebridean, mild, wet and very windy. Today it’s stormy again, with torrential rain and gale force winds. There’s not much prospect of anything different all week, so it looks as if I’ll have time to bake a cake, make soup and try out some new recipes. There is no better place to spend a winter’s afternoon than in the croft kitchen, apart from the garden!