Winter is a time to look. Where the sky had its limits when we looked up and out from the garden in London, here on our hillside we see as far as the eye can in every direction. This makes an enormous difference, for grey skies are rarely simply just that. They are layered and nuanced and seldom dull. The garden is the same and far from monochrome once you allow your eye to register new colour and form in the skeletons.
We leave the garden alone now so that we can take in this apparent stasis and appreciate a different, more attentive way of seeing. The first observation is that the garden is full of birds, some at ground level foraging for fallen seeds and others flitting from limb to limb rummaging through seed cases and searching for the insects that also harbour there. Stripped back, but far from lacking, the greens and colours of the growing season are replaced by something arguably just as beautiful. Blacks and inky brown-purples, cinnamon, sepia and silvery whites. The charcoal end of the spectrum darkening on a wet day, the pale tones warming and, in dry weather, the contrasts between light and dark opening out so that you register form and structure as you might with black and white film.
With time slowed down and the room to look, you see how important it is to understand your plants in their winter incarnation. A garden cut back and put away in the name of tidiness will never allow you to witness the low light caught, arrested and sometimes incandescent in spent seed heads and desiccated grasses. On a bright day the shadows of what came before provide another focus, sharply tuning your eye to the way your plants are constructed and to the movement in their wintry limbs. Though this pause in growth may find us pining for life again, the garden is far from static as the winter continues to weather what is still standing.
This is just the first chapter and it won’t be until the beginning of February, the mid-way point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, that we begin to see a loosening of its grip. The Pagan celebration of Imbolc around the first and second of next month marks this first day of spring and, true enough, you can usually feel a shift through the garden and what is happening in the hedgerows. Snowdrops moving towards their zenith and, at the base of the perennials that are still standing, a new sturdiness in now visible rosettes.
This year I am writing a long overdue book about the Tokachi Millennium Forest in Hokkaido. This means that I will be writing for Dig Delve fortnightly so that I can do both. However, in the weeks when I can’t write a full article Huw and I will still be making a weekly contribution. A visual and verbal haiku of sorts with a photograph and some words that will try to capture a thought, observation or moment here in the garden in the week it is published. We will be aiming to pin down moments of close observation and focussed attention. In so doing we hope to dig deeper into why the garden and our surrounding landscape help ground us and keep things in the moment.