The January Garden – Looking Both Ways

Janus Pater
Painting from the ceiling of Waltham Abbey.@ Steve Day

Janus Pater, firstborn of Roman deities, presides over all transitions and beginnings, the door keeper, guardian of the new year, and custodian of the calendar, from whom January takes its name. In deference to Janus I am ambivalent about January – the lengthening days tell me to look forward as spring is coming, but the cold wind and darkening skies remind me that winter still lingers. If I push against the door too hard will I hasten the warmth of the spring sun or will February gales slam it shut in my face?
January roared in with wind and rain, so it was time to look back at the past gardening year and begin to plan for the next growing season. Time to peruse the seed catalogues in expectation and reflect on the packets of seed from last year still lurking in the box. Shall I impose discipline and austerity or be profligate and extravagant?
As I spread the seaweed and garden compost on the vegetable beds for the next generation of vegetables the past still lingers – the calabrese is still producing tender young florets, the red cabbage radiates colour in a desolate cabbage patch while last of the carrots slumber next to globes of celeriac. New life is stirs in other parts of the garden as the first tender, buttery leaves of rhubarb thrust aside their protective collars of nourishing seaweed. Under cover some of the over-wintering plants are already responding to the lengthening days, the Florence fennel promises me crisp juicy bulbs by March, the beetroot and spinach offer me tender leaves for a winter salad whilst the shoots of the winter onions stretch in search of the sun.
The cottage garden is desolate with only the faded broken stems of last year’s flowers to remind me of their past glories. A rich dark mulch of compost helps dispel the air of neglect and here and there the bright green spears of the spring bulbs promise me smiles. The primroses continue to bloom in defiance of the chill winds and harbor the first of the snowdrops as they emerge as perfect in miniature complete with tiny pure blooms – droplets of snow glistening in the late afternoon sun.

red cabbage

11 thoughts on “The January Garden – Looking Both Ways

  1. I can see an early glut for you just around the corner… fennel in March, aaah, the luxury!

    • There is never enough fennel, but always plenty to share with friends.

  2. You put us to shame with your selection of winter veg – and how come you have snowdrops in flower already when you are so far north? Apart from one of my new ones which was in bud when it came, so doesn’t count, mine are all some weeks from flowering. Anyhow, which do you think will prevail – austerity or profligacy?

    • It is a very very small snowdrop and so close to the ground that I couldn’t get a photograph. Hopefully I will grow a little more. Although we have the Atlantic gales to contend with and the winds can feel glacial, thanks to the Gulf Stream our winters are relatively mild. I think we’ve only had one sub-zero day this winter.
      With seeds it’s austerity, I must use what I have. However I might buy some mini dahlias or lilies for the pots in the cottage garden. I don’t like dahlias but I need something bright and cheerful and reasonably robust. So austerity but Extravagance is never far away.

      • So does the Gulf Stream come either side of the Outer Hebrides?

        • The jet stream swings west across the Atlantic and as it runs north it moves towards the west cost of the UK and is probably at its closed along the NW coast of Scotland and the Hebrides, although it does move depending on other oceanic currents like the Labrador. This means that we are at least 5C warmer than our latitude predicts, also being an island we are warmer than the mainland. Is this total gibberish or do you get the general drift?

          • Yes, I know that part of the Scottish coast is considerably milder, from my Mum’s experience and prior to that from having visited Inverewe and other NW Scottish gardens. I am now curious as to how ‘wide’ the jet stream generally is, and I am not sure (despite my geographical background) why you are warmer being an island (and it’s only a small island at that)? Surely being relatively low lying you are quite exposed and have no geographical shelter from the wind? I have had a look on Google maps but it’s quite clear that I will have to come and have a proper look for myself.

  3. It sounds as if there’s lots of hope in your garden! Primroses already, rhubarb, spinach – lucky you!! As far as “…Shall I impose discipline and austerity or be profligate and extravagant?” I say go for extravagant!!! Life is short – live it LARGE!

    • By nature I’m a hedonist, profligate bohemian, but sometimes the protestant puritan ethic surfaces and reminds me that I must not be wasteful and “make do and mend”. Ever a child of post-war austerity!

  4. Hope you’re thinking these poetic thoughts while wrapped up warm inside.

    • Poetic thoughts in winter need a warm fire and a cup of tea, going to get the veg on cold wet afternoons only provokes grumpiness!

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