It’s the scent, I think, that draws me to real trees. It reaches you the moment you open the front door. The lights might not yet be on, but Christmas hangs in the air and leads you in from the cold.
We would always have leaned towards getting real Christmas trees. Perhaps because we both grew up with them. And fake trees have always struck me as just a little sad; somehow managing to be both a shadow of and a more brash version of the original. But that is just my perception, formed from the sense that our lifelong habit must be the right one.
And there is an annual debate about that is the ‘right one’, environmentally speaking. It seems the answers are similar to others in this debate: try to keep the one you have in use as long as possible; if buying new, buy quality and organic. So potted trees are the eventual way forward.
If you can keep them alive that is. Since we got our first garden, we have been trying. And this year, we’re celebrating the fact that we will finally welcoming one back into the house for its second Christmas season. A miracle, of sorts!
As I write this, a storm of conkers just descended onto the roof of our neighbour’s car and it’s 23 degrees Celsius outside. This is our topsy turvy year of seasons encapsulated.
Summer 2018 was, in many ways, my dream season. Weeks of bright, bare-footed and loose-armed days. Dinner in the garden every night, finished off with a teapot of homegrown mint tea. Claustrophobic socks left in the drawer. And yet, it was also a mixed bag. A little too hot to function at times; resilience a little fractured once 30 degree days had turned into weeks. And a creeping concern that this is the shape of things to come, the climate change canary in the mine (something I wrote more about here).
And then, at the end of August, summer seemed to suddenly and subtly give way to autumn. Things turned. Fallen leaves. Warm evening air found a chill in its edge. Arms searching their way back into jumpers. And, despite a ridiculous long summer season, I wasn’t quite ready for the change.
This year I learned a new phrase that I found a particular resonance with: “I’m sorry for what I said when it was winter.” And if this past winter was a long, tough, frozen one, then spring has been its glorious antidote. So glorious that it feels like we tumbled into summer weeks ago. And I am grateful, feeling that my barefoot self is my best self.
There have been other highlights too, of this sun-loving season.
This blog post arrives as a seasonal coincidence. This day, the Solstice, is apparently the true start of Winter. But in truth it’s felt pretty frosty for a while. We’ve been buried. Inside and under blankets, with a hot drink in hand. Outside and under woolly hats, with a hot drink in hand (in reusable cups picked up from Oxfam).
Despite my annual trepidation as summer fades, I’ve become better at finding joy in the nature of each season. I attribute much of this to gardening giving me a greater appreciation of the year’s rhythms. For the first year, we’ve made considered efforts to winterise the garden, rather than just letting it slide into neglect until Spring. We’ve planted winter jasmine and hellebore, and still taken our morning coffee on the bench – fortified for the cold with a blanket and an extra woolly jumper.
It’s beginning to end, the season of abundance, of frivolous beauty in the garden, and laboured-for harvest from the pots of vegetables. It’s beginning to feel dishevelled. The runner bean plants disrupted by (and not quite recovering from) my rifling for treasure. The annuals fading into oblivion. There is no denying that winter is heading this way.
Some of this summer has been spent in wrestling with a tension in the garden:
How do we keep gardening a relaxing past-time, whilst also growing more (plants, vegetables and our own skills and knowledge)?
We’ve entered a season of conflict in our home. I wander around barefooted, eking out every last breath of summer’s warmth. My husband looks at the turning leaves with growing anticipation; autumn is best for him. September may have a foot in both camps, but there’s a distinct chill to the evenings that even I cannot wilfully ignore. It’s time to look forward to the leaf-paved season and gather reflections from the golden one that’s past.
This summer I’ve found myself struck but the thoughtfulness of others:
Water is life-giving. It’s consistent – in how it flows, fills the space it enters. But water is also fluid, changeable. Abundant in some places, absent in others. It is easy to be casual with water when it springs readily with the turn of the tap. The emptying reservoir lies unseen.
Water is local. The drops we thriftily save will not, then, be available to people in drought-ridden East Africa. That’s not how water works. But it doesn’t mean we should be wasteful with it. The water from our taps has already been through the energy-intensive treatment process to make it safe for us to drink. It seems a shame, after all that, to pour it all over our unfussy vegetable plots.
Summer is still toying with us a little here in the UK. A week of flip flops and suncream is followed by gusts and woolly socks. Given that it’s June though, it’s probably safe to hail Spring goodbye and call it Summer. So, a look back on the last season:
One day’s work would be enough. Enough to transform the garden at our previous house from ramshackle to haven. It was essentially a blank canvas: a square patio edged by an empty bed on two sides. Turn over soil, dig in compost, two hours planting – and it would have arrived. A garden is never finished, but this one would have at least become a coherent entity. Time would only improve it. That ‘Rome’ was built in a day.
It’s been quieter than I would like around here of late. Other parts of life – work commitments, relationship forging, local exploring – have crowded out the quiet and contemplative moments at the laptop. We’ve been gentle with ourselves during this move – reminding each other that building new patterns, routines and habits takes more time and energy than it sometimes seems it should.