Well, that’s December over with. I say this with a great deal of regret, as December is my resting month in the garden and it is always too short. Last night I happened across a differing opinion in an early essay* by British celebrity gardener and writer Monty Don. He sharpened his tongue against the ‘clumsy life’ of December – a state of neither here nor there – and was glad, on his garden’s behalf, to see the back of it.
I attribute such enthusiasm for the end of the calendar year to the hallucinogenic effects of the Gulf Stream – the ocean current that, along with other despicably unfair meteorological phenomena, protects the UK and its inhabitants from the harsher realities of winter in latitudes above 50°N.
Culturally, such weather also makes gardening compulsory for adults over 30 and allows words such as ‘celebrity’ and ‘gardener’ to be used together in a sentence without confusion. This doesn’t tend to happen in Irkutsk.
Back in the Mid-Atlantic United States (where this doesn’t happen either), this garden writer would prefer to sharpen her tongue upon a more deserving month. January doesn’t hand you a mug of holiday glühwein while you peruse contemptuously clever essays in your favorite yellow chair, nor does it permit ‘do-overs’ when the thermostat fails your barn-housed collection of succulents.
It is a physically and mentally punishing month – particularly for those of us raised on milder winters in far-off places. The excitement of what Don termed the “jollity-blip of Christmas” is firmly in the rear-view mirror, and gifted chocolate boxes have been emptied of all but their papery husks and rejected bits of fruity fondant. Exit Jolly Elf. Enter Screaming Banshee.
The situation is grim, certainly, but it’s not Minnesota-grim and there is work to be done. Tackling this work is what gets me through the long days of January (that paradoxically end in the late afternoon). Once one has girded one’s loins and various other extremities against the bite of northeast winds, it is a month of brush clearing, bonfire building, structure repairing, garden planning and constant monitoring.