Surving the wulf-monath and the return of Pollyanna and the muse

winter beach

January, a time for new beginnings and transition, derives its name Ianuarius from the Latin word for door (ianua) and not necessarily from the Roman god Janus. I also like the alternative Saxon name of Wulf-monath, which conjures a much more northern vision of the cold, hard, first month of the year.
Here on the island January exhibited both these characteristics, as two-faced as Janus himself. It has been cold, dark and stormy, but being housebound provides time for planning and looking forward. This year the planning has involved rather more than a perusal of the seed catalogues. We are coming to the end of our “ten-year plan” and after eight years on the croft the outcome has been very different from our first naive visions.  However, we are more than content with our achievements, but complacency isn’t our style and it is time to look forward.

drying onions

Last year we didn’t grow any main-crop potatoes, primarily because we have a fungal disease in the soil which makes it a waste of time and we don’t eat enough potatoes to justify the effort of growing them in another part of the croft. So I left a couple of my vegetable beds fallow. We usually have a good crop of onions and shallots, but because our season is so short it is almost impossible to ripen and dry the bulbs; consequently after a couple of months in storage they begin to rot. So it was not a difficult decision to stop growing onions, particularly as I had been looking for a suitable space to grow more herbs and bulbs.
This was start of the realisation that it was time to think about beginning to change my gardening habits as the heavy labour involved in vegetable gardening gets heavier and heavier as the years progress. This is not an easy fact to come to terms with, but on balance it seems to be easier to adapt slowly rather than to have a major change imposed and to be unable to implement an alternative strategy. Fortunately my inner Polyanna came to the rescue and provided visions of exciting new projects and a little retail therapy with the bulb catalogues did the rest.

storm damage

All was rosy in the garden in November; the winter tasks complete and the mild weather had given the winter crops in the polytunnel a good start. I suppose it was too optimistic to hope that the jet stream wouldn’t meander south and subject us to the usual mid-winter storms. Predictably, just before Christmas, the weather changed and storms Barbara and Conor arrived. The rest is history, by Boxing Day the polytunnel was missing two roof panels and those in the western gable end were starting to tear. Over the next few days, tools, pots and assorted gardening odds and ends were re-housed, the over-wintering plants were evacuated and placed in intensive care, and the casualties put on the compost or in the recycling bin. The onions, garlic, carrots, coriander and parsley were covered with a double layer of enviromesh, a desperate effort to rescue something, particularly as the spinach, beetroot and winter salads had perished.
My inner Pollyanna was remarkably quiet for a few days – probably skipped off with my muse to the Bahamas, a likely pair of flibbertigibbets!  Fortunately the Head Gardener was around to encourage me to be pragmatic, switch into strategic planning mode, do the risk assessments, analyse the options and see if there was any money left in the piggybank. So after shaking the piggy bank, searching down the back of the sofas and going through all the coat pockets, I’ve scraped together just enough to repair the polytunnel and finance its eventual replacement. So there is a new plan on the drawing board and I’m looking at the future of the vegetable and cottage gardens from a slightly different perspective. Although everything in the garden is not quite as rosy as it was, Pollyanna and the muse are back, I’m perusing the seed catalogues and as soon as it stops blowing, raining and or snowing I’ll be back in the garden.

16 thoughts on “Surving the wulf-monath and the return of Pollyanna and the muse

  1. A contemplative post, Christine, leaving us wondering what your plans might be. I suppose losing a bit more of the polytunnel was a likely scenario this winter, but I am puzzling over what the alternative might be. And the different perpective…? Sorry you lost much of your winter greenery to gales, and that you are driven to searching the house for odd pennies. You will of course have no floor boards for them to drop between, so that’s an advantage I suppose. I am glad you have been able to rein in those fickle females and can look ahead (even to the increasing heaviness of gardening tasks) with your usual realism. Best wishes to both

    • I didn’t want this post to have too much of the tempus fugit and imminent arrival of the grim reaper about it, but the polytunnel is beginning to show her age and her joints are creaking. However, there’s life in the old girl yet so we’ll give her an overhaul and hope that she lasts a few more years. To be pragmatic I’d rather have the replacement ready before she goes to the recyclers, so there are some plans on the drawing board.
      Having the garden trashed by the weather is just part of island life, and I’ve come to accept that you just clear-up the mess and start again. New projects, exciting new plans – you need something to get you from under the duvet in a Hebridean winter!

      • And you both have the right mentality to accept all that Hebridean Island life has to offer, even if you do have the occasional wobble when the polytunnel takes off again

  2. Well Christine, as you said, I think you do live in a different and challenging world. Mind you what a sunset(?) I look forward to reading about just what the next phase is,
    best wishes for the next few tougher weeks before spring proper springs,

    • Thank you Julian. Alas even paradise has its “off” days but life is always interesting and never dull. The winds dropping today so I’m hoping to rush out between the icy squalls to do a nother damage check and see if there is anything interesting on the beach. Do hope the forecast snow is not going to ruin all your lovely spring bulbs.

  3. I admire your determination Christine, and hope your plans for a replacement are successful, whatever they may be…. In the meantime I hope the weather gods are a bit kinder to you this year!

    • A little storm damage is a small price to pay for my wonderful life style. I occassionally indulge in some fist shaking at the weather gods, but they’re oblivious to mere mortals, so best get on with repairs.

  4. Less ‘Protect and Survive’, more ‘Adapt and Survive’

    • It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. Charles Darwin 1809

  5. You are a stalwart! I am sitting here at 3.30am kept awake by a northwesterly gale and listening for the sound of the greenhouse blowing away (a new stronger one is on order). The moonlight on the snow was magical and spring will come…and the seed catalogues are arriving daily.

    • Do hope your greenhouse survives. The days are starting to get longer and the sun has reappeared. Pollyanna is on good form and we are hoping to get out for a walk tomorrow.

  6. Having lived at my central Virginia spot for the past sixteen years, in 2015 I gave up veggie gardening in the raised beds and converted them all to heriloom daffodil and tulip beds…a reliable and beautiful cash crop for me come April. Indeed, I cannot eat them in a famine. yet, as long as the local farmer’s market, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s remain eight quick miles away, I shall not starve.
    The chewing insects just exhausted my patience, and revenue is much higher from beautiful spring flowers which both delight and educate urban shoppers.
    I have three circles of herbs just outside the kitchen door, which provide me with chives, parsley, tarragon, saffron, and crocosmia for the hummers.
    As I age in place, gardening struggles are removed yearly, and joyous perennial flowers dot my landscape instead. Of course in this climate (zone 7a) I continue to challenge many fungal issues, yet with keen observation, I am beginning to gain strides.
    Keep up your fine efforts in 2017 and enjoy your dormant season. Diane

    • I’m only planning a slow change, but it is better to start now rather than when I have too. I love eating fresh vegetables from my own garden,but I’ll just have to be jmore careful about what I choose to grow. Unless I can find myself an apprentice!

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