Sleeping beauty: snooze through winter ahead of spring
Beyond the frenzy of seed sowing, winter is the season of snoozing and taking stock, says Alice Vincent, and letting your garden rest up ahead of the demands of spring. Illustration Alice Pattullo
I have long been unconvinced by the New Year, New You notion. I’m an equinox baby, and consider September the thinking person’s January: new pencil cases and golden light, rather than January’s meagre offering of days that are grisly, short and somehow steeped in vague regret. The residue of Christmas lingers uninvited, like the last bundle of fairy lights that won’t go back in the box. In south London, where I live, the pavements are littered with browning Christmas trees. There are those who have the energy and impetus to lace up their trainers and do laps of the park, and then there are people like me, who like to hunker down for most of the day before possibly considering a walk.
No need, garden, to hurry or sparkle. No need to be anything but itself
I’m in good company. On 2 January 1931, Virginia Woolf wrote a diary entry that I revisit often: ‘Here are my resolutions for the next three months; the next lap of the year. To have none. Not to be tied…To go out yes – but stay at home in spite of being asked.’ It reflects a message smuggled into A Room of One’s Own, the book borne of the feminist lectures she gave at Girton and Newnham colleges, Cambridge, a few years earlier: ‘No need to hurry, no need to sparkle, no need to be anybody but oneself.’ It’s a mantra I recite to myself often. For a while it sat on a torn-out scrap of lined A4 on my desk, the ink run from some more energetic plant watering. It applies well to many aspects of life, but at this time of year it applies particularly well to the garden. No need, garden, to hurry or sparkle. No need to be anything but itself.
It might look like doing nothing but I prefer to think of it as more of a crucial dormancy
As gardeners, we can learn from this too. I barely grow edibles – certainly not in a manner that necessitates seed trays and heated propagators. I’m unwilling to give over the time or space in the garden that they need at this point in my life. But when I did, January became a kind of mad race to sow tomato and chilli seeds. Despite general consensus being that seeds will germinate more quickly, and grow more strongly, if sown after the vernal equinox, when the days are longer, recent years have seen a shift to a kind of competitive seed-sowing frenzy, played out on social media (where else).
Sowing seeds is an inherently hopeful act, and after the fuss and the mania of Christmas, there’s something deeply appealing about the simplicity of taking a pot of soil and placing small things in it with the determination that they will grow. If that’s what you need to tug you into the new year and out of a winter slump, be my guest.
Nothing can bloom all the time; we shouldn’t expect the same of ourselves
I, however, will be unhurried and unsparkly, in a continuation of how I’ve spent much of the past year gardening: standing back, looking on, watching it all unfold. It might look like doing nothing – indeed, I am writing this in bed – but I prefer to think of it as more of a crucial dormancy. Gardens wind down in the winter with good reason. We are in the season of snoozing and taking stock, of resting up and rejuvenating before the energy of spring and summer ahead. Nothing can bloom all the time; we shouldn’t expect the same of ourselves.
I spent half of last January isolating with Covid. When I wasn’t binge-watching Below Deck in a fugue state, I kept track of time by watching the sunlight move around the living room. I couldn’t smell the forced paperwhite daffodils that filled the mantelpiece, but I could see them unfold as the days passed. I craved a walk around the park, catching the smell of daphne on the air and watching the day mellow into pink. January: not being anything but itself.
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