Winter Visions

Ardivachar December afternoon
Ardivachar December afternoon

Let me a conjure a vision – a late December afternoon as the sunlight begins to fade and the shadows deepen, the trees are skeletal, an elegant tracery against the translucence of a winter sky. The wind swirls among the fallen leaves hustling them into corners to hide among the glowing stems of Cornus and flirt with the last of the autumn crocus. The faint perfume of winter box teases the senses as you hunt for signs of the first snowdrops sheltering between the mounds of primroses. The holly hedge is garlanded ready for Advent, as yet its scarlet berries shunned by the blackbirds in favour of the windfall apples.

A cruel delusion, a mere figment that drifts through the mind’s eye, images sown from the artful photography in a glossy gardening magazine. In a garden that has no trees, no architectural evergreen shrubs nor graceful seed heads to be glazed with hoar-frost, it is easy to become prey to seasonal gardening angst and serious plant or even garden envy.

Sitting on the bench in the cottage garden contemplating the changes to be made for next year, it was hard not to be disappointed by the forlorn and bleak nature of the garden. The debris from the last gale has been cleared away and I have been busy weeding and mulching, but it still looks neglected. The garden has retreated into the earth. Tufts of dry bleached stems, scorched evergreen branches and tangles of shredded stems are all that is left the summer’s ebullience. However if I raise my gaze, the vista is so awe-inspiring that the interplay of light, clouds and sea sweeps my tattered winter garden into insignificance.

November garden

My feeble efforts could never compete with the landscape, but there is always room for improvement. Sometimes you just have to sit and hope the gardening muse will strike. As the sun made a brief appearance, illuminating a stand of fennel stems,  I reached for my camera and realised that in viewing the bigger picture I was missing the point. In the summer the cottage garden is a tapestry of colours, a magic carpet that sweeps the eye over the wall and beyond. Individually the flowers are lovely and merit attention, but it is the combination of colour, form and texture that makes the garden live. In winter the scale is too big and the colours too soft for the garden to borrow the landscape and become part of the panorama. In the garden where the colours are subdued, texture and form become ascendant and the mood grows contemplative. The gaze is drawn not to distant horizons but is focused on a series of transient, minimalist miniatures.

The relationship between structure and light are the foundation of the winter garden. If the bones are elegant the garden will always be beautiful. I had been momentarily seduced in wishing for the moon and had failed to see the potential for paradise beneath my feet. Sometimes we just need a nudge and I am grateful to Cathy (The Rock in November) for providing the inspiration.

8 thoughts on “Winter Visions

  1. The details and the view each complement the other beautifully. Magazine gardens exist only for the time it takes to photograph them while those stones and your view will be there much longer.

    • The stones are Lewisian gneiss,some of the oldest rocks on the plant and so hard that I am sure that will be around for several more millennia. I like the contrast of the permanent with the transient, a shaft of sunlight can transform the winter garden in an instant and then it is gone.

  2. This is such a lovely post Christine – very wise and beautiful words indeed. I’m glad I could inspire, but you have certainly given me some food for thought too. Thank you! I admire your stone wall – not only a wonderful backdrop for the garden, but also perfect for the contrast between garden and vista.

    • Thank you Cathy. I think that we all both inspire and gain inspiration from each other – gardeners are usually generous with their experiences and knowledge. The lichen clad walls are the most important feature of the garden and although I miss trees I love the stones.

  3. Your literary muse did not desert you today – perceptive observations and lovely words, and I was pleased to be able to follow your link to The Rock in November. Very thoughtful posts.

    • I think it is the gardening muse who has been hibernating!
      Cathy’s Words and Herbs site is always worth a visit and often inspiring.

  4. Beautiful words and images. A pleasure to be with you for a few minutes.

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