by Tricia Harris, Helmsley Walled Garden
Do you ever get the feeling that the year has just shot past you at seemingly the speed of light? I definitely do and seem to find myself saying is it December ALREADY with increasing regularity. Possibly it is just age creeping up on me but I don’t think so.
I find myself measuring the year by what is in the garden. So January is naturally snowdrops, April is apple blossom, May starts with tulips and ends with the Laburnum Arch in full flower along with the Iris Border. June brings Papaver orientale ‘Patty’s Plum’ almost perfectly in time for the summer solstice. You get the picture.
This year I seem to barely have waved bye bye to the dahlias as I tucked them up for winter in their compost baskets before I’m decorating the shop for Christmas whilst tunelessly whistling The Holly and The Ivy.
The garden bustle lessens at this time of year. The soil is getting chilly and damp and it is time to curl up with a late seed catalogue or two and dream of spring and new plants.
I’m a big fan of anything that brightens the very dark days of December. I struggle with short days and find cheery lights and the brightness of berries and suchlike a real tonic.
I also enjoy looking at some of the customs and celebrations around the world, plant based or otherwise. So Sweden’s St Lucia candlelit festival on December 13th is duly observed as is St Nicholas’ festival on December 6th where good children get their shoes filled with sweeties (although my feet are size 3 – this is a festival where size really does matter).
But my favourite is the mythology surrounding the plants of Christmas. Before Christmas was the older festival of Saturnalia and holly, ivy and mistletoe all had meanings associated with the winter solstice, eternal life, and rebirth. To the Celts holly (Ilex aquifolium) represented the holly king of the winter solstice and it had magical properties because of its shiny leaves and ability to bear fruit in winter. The druids believed it stayed green to keep the earth beautiful whilst the magical leaves of the oak had disappeared for winter and people used it along with ivy (Hedera helix) around their doors to repel evil spirits.
Mistletoe (Viscum album) symbolising life and fertility by Celts was also seen as an aphrodisiac and protection against poison. In Norse mythology it was sacred to the Goddess of Love Frigga whose son was shot by Loki, God of Mischief with an arrow made of mistletoe wood. Frigga revived her son and then blessed the tree so that anyone standing beneath it would be protected from death and would also deserve a kiss. And who can argue with that.
I will leave it to Shelley to have the last word on the season, from Ode to the West Wind: it seems particularly apt for a garden:
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
All that remains for 2022 is for me to wish you a happy solstice, the turn of the year deserves celebration. I also wish everyone a peaceful, happy and relaxing time over Christmas. May 2023 be a better year for all of us.