Dreaming Garden Beds

Covering the glasshouse salads with a cosy blanket of horticultural fleece last week, gave a real sense of putting the garden to bed for the midwinter. The same fleece draped over the containers and trollies of chillies and figs, however,  lends the warehouse a Dickensian feel, though more Great Expectations than Christmas Carol: shrouded in white web, they are ghost plants in purgatory, waiting to see whether Jack Frost pushes through the walls this year.

Our vegeboxes today carry the real gifts of our potatoes, chilli garlands and salad bags to our members. “This is as bad as it gets”, I told Mary, our new grower, as we picked and packed chilled salad with frozen fingers last week. Possibly it isn’t: but still, I am grateful we won’t be doing it in January. Harvesting will cease; there will be an inward focus; and I’ll be away for a while, the earthing of Christmas and New Year with kith and kin followed by roamings in Andalucia, in search of almond blossom, lost settlements of inspiration, perhaps a promising chilli cultivar.

The Hawkwood midwinter celebration on Tuesday was a merry occasion, with almost sixty of the volunteer team in attendance. Alongside great food, song, speeches and forest escapades, was “The Ghost of Hawkwood Future”, a guided unveiling of the 2012 planting plans. After three years, it’s good to be at a point where we’ve sort of worked out what works out. So next year we look forward to tweaks rather than wholesale changes. There will be a couple of trial tomato cultivars alongside the firm favourites; squash again, some with a twist;  potatoes “Arran Victory” make a triumphant return; and we hope to be awash with salad leaves.

So much to look forward to: new faces; mainly old friends. Happy New Year.


The Pondering Season

I have a tea tray at home, illustrated with all manner of garden paraphernalia, bearing the legend “A Gardener’s Work Is Never At An End”, repeated around the lip. Some have taken tea with me and flinched at this idea. But unlike “a woman’s work is never done”, that phrase that sums up the endless drudgery of the undervalued housewife, I think  positive interpretations can be made.

For one, the tray depicts a room where gardening tools are displayed resplendent on walls, gardening books adorn the shelves, and the tables are brimming with flowers and vegetables. The message is that gardening isn’t work which you drag yourself out to, and come home to recover from:  it is something you bring back, to decorate, restore and feed the home and mind environment. Secondly, unlike so much contemporary work and thinking, gardening is essentially cyclical, rather than linear. The gardening day, week, season, year, life, contains cycles within cycles. Under every moon there is something needing sowing or planting, but the where and the when is constantly changing.

This is the time of year when I come closest to feeling that the work is done. Last week I congratulated Elith and Gertraud on completing the last planting of the year – the second spring garlic bed under glass. Yet, in my mind’s eye, the spring garlic has greened and gone to climbing beans: that morning I had unveiled/ dished out the draft  planting plans, after a six week process of review, consultation and pondering, alone and with co-op members and our catering partners.

Pondering is a vital part of the gardener’ work. Often it is performed “on the job”, though the importance of giving dedicated time to high intensity pondering should never be underestimated. And we are coming up to  slap bang in the middle of  the pondering season.

As the verb suggests, liquids can be well employed as pondering aids, notably seasonal fermentations of plant extracts. But they are not the only tools of the job. The gorgeous low light in the pondering season is highly conducive to inner reflection, as are the long nights, the humming fires.

I don’t want to waste them: with the planting plans done, the seed catalogues will be mulled like wine, and Resolutions made to change the substrate recipe, tweak  the apprenticeship  programme.  We will meet up in warmth to chew dreams and schemes for alternative local food systems, and relish the scarce bright hours in which we can get our ponderings out in the open, spade or secateurs in hand, never at an end.