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The Darkest Days

The cold winter days shorten as we move towards the winter solstice.

This time of year always seems so fleeting and excitement builds as we head towards the winter solstice and ultimately Christmas and the holidays that come with it. There is planning to be done and work to be finalised - a mad and unnecessary rush to tie up loose ends as the end of the calendar year approaches like a full stop. With this comes talk of putting the year behind us and moving on, of new beginnings and resolutions for a better year. I shy away from all this and prefer to base my year around the solstice - perhaps this is the gardener in me. Just as the plants I work with are led by the seasons so too am I. The solstice does not represent an end, but a turning point and for me the move towards the darkest day symbolises an important shift, especially where my garden is concerned. There is no clear beginning or end only a gentle shift in nature's cycle. Once we hit the turning point the daylight levels start to subtly increase and my garden, with all of its intricate layers and systems, continues to shift and grow. There is always change. There is always new growth.

And this is what I love so much about gardening. It is a place for me to use my skills and knowledge to work with and learn from nature to create a self-sustaining and restful, continuously changing space that fulfills many functions. My style of gardening is influenced by the permaculture movement and looks to work with nature not only to create a space that works for me but to create a haven for the myriad of wildlife that roams our towns and urban spaces. It should not only be beautiful to look at but should be a cyclical, self-sustaining system that requires minimum external inputs while producing maximum outputs. Forage and habitat for birds and bugs, fruit and vegetables for me and my husband, flowers for butterflies, compost for the soil and a space to relax and occasionally entertain.

As I sit at my desk and look out at the fading light (not yet four o'clock) I think about my weekend gardening jobs. There is an apple and pear tree to be pruned and some jerusalem artichokes to dig up from the cold, crumbling soil. My raspberries need cutting down to the ground, my elder needs cutting back and my strawberry patch could do with some neatening. I can now clamber underneath the shrubs in the borders, the cotoneaster and buddleja, the bay and the hypericum, and pull out any unwanted couch grass and goosegrass, brambles and nettles (although I always leave a small patch of nettles, hidden away behind the greenhouse for teas and composting and butterflies). My primula and garlic chives need dividing and the bird feeders need topping up.

And once it is all done I'll take myself inside to light the log burner, hunker down and make plans for the days ahead.

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