I find myself in the throes of mid-January blues, broke, tired, a bit soft around the edges; dark mornings made even darker by evenings spent dreaming of May. With no crops to harvest and an allotment that has felt the swift slap of winter winds and the rot of relentless rain; I am definitely suffering from seasonal adjustment disorder. As gardeners, no matter how we like to think we are masters of our small domains, we are slaves to the weather, that’s not to say we are controlled by it, but we are tethered to it. It is the mean-time by which we set our watches. We dig in time to its beat.
This winter has been a strange one here in Ireland. We are only this week feeling the snap and shiver of frosty mornings, the grass only beginning to crunch beneath our feet. We spent the months of November and December in relatively warm temperatures for mid-winter carried in on weather fronts from the Atlantic that brought storm after storm. Storm Barney was the worst here in Dublin, with winds tearing down trees all over the county and leaving thousands without power. The rain has not let up for weeks, with many parts of the country completely flooded and homes destroyed. Christmas Day was less white and more wet. As for me, the winds drove me indoors and the rains kept me there and having spent the best part of eight weeks avoiding the plot, I can no longer leave her to the sorry fate that winter 2015 bequeathed to her.
My plot has been well and truly beaten by the weather this year. There is a path of destruction through her belly, a river through her heart. My polytunnel is wind damaged, the door is hanging from its hinges. My shed has shifted about four feet to the right and is lopsided. My fencing is little more than ribbon. The protective netting over my beds has gone, carried on the wind somewhere along with my kale and turnips. The only crops left standing are my leeks, though they resemble sad spring onions. It has been a very rough winter on the plot. Yet, the garden fills me with hope. There are buds on my fruit bushes. My spring bulbs are poking their tips above soil. My rhubarb is unfurling its fresh green leaves like a promise.
I have begun the clean up, it will likely take weeks to recover. But, here I am, excited for the year ahead. You see, January may be the lean month, my plot may be bereft, but she is also pregnant with potential. January is an opportunity for a fresh start. In this bleak January, when it feels like music itself has died, I am an absolute beginner again.
And so, if you’re feeling fed up with the winter, if you feel like throwing in the trowel, my advice to you is this: put on your gloves and wellies, make a flask of tea, brave the elements, go out, dig, destroy, construct, sing, yell, cry, plant and clean. Blast David Bowie and have a sob while you weed. Breathe in the cold air and expel warm plumes back into the world. Take what has been damaged and turn it into something beautiful.
Don’t let winter ruin your wonder.
Begin a new garden for a new year.
January makes absolute beginners of us all.