I have always found it a bit odd that we celebrate the new year ten days after the winter solstice. It seems so clear to me that the solstice represents the depth and end of the old year, and that the returning sun can only be emblematic of the year returning as well. Perhaps the ten-day lag was the work of some superstitious medieval functionary who wanted to make absolutely certain that the sun was really going to come back this time before we drank all the mead and depleted our stores of explosives (did they even have explosives back then? Maybe in China?). You can’t be too careful with these huge cosmic events. Anyway, we have had the solstice, and, comfortingly, the ten days have passed, the days are clearly getting incrementally longer, and now we are at the new year. I will spend the next three months incorrectly dating all documents that come my way, but other than that my mental image of the next few weeks is that we are slowly climbing our way out of a very deep basement. Trudge, trudge, trudge we go back up to the light, following in the footsteps of Persephone, of Orpheus, even of Theseus as he left the Minotaur’s labyrinth. I celebrate the sun and the light every day and any daylight after 5 PM fills me with joy. It is still too early to see much change in the garden, especially with this very wintry, cold weather. Our huge oceans keep the effect of the solstices offset for some time, so I will not expect to see any real change until Valentine’s Day when spring comes for me and my garden.
However, a glimpse of the near future was provided for me in a blog that I follow. Margaret Roach was, at one time, the editor of the magazine Martha Stewart Living. I have a few clippings of her houses and her garden, and have long admired both. Her taste is simple, but detailed, her style very clean but still rich. In short, I am more interested in her point of view than in Stewart’s. A year or so ago she left the corporate world and moved full-time to her country house in upstate New York. Her blog is awaytogarden.com, which is also the title of her first book, published a number of years ago. Another book of hers entitled and I shall have some peace there is coming out in a month or so. In her most recent blog post she included a video of Piet Oudolf, the Dutch landscape designer and plantsman, in his wonderful garden just as it was emerging from winter. The subject of the video is hedging, but as the camera pans the beds enclosed by the hedges there is this wonderful picture of all the truly nose-like snouts of the perennials emerging from the ground into the sunshine. And at the very end of the video Mr. Oudolf says “From today on it will only get better.” I loved the optimism of that statement, especially from a man who has been around for a while and has doubtless experienced more than his share of horticultural heartbreaks since he gardens not only for himself but also for clients. Nevertheless, he looks at his garden and sees only hope. So that is my New Year’s wish for all of us. That from today on it will only get better: brighter, greener, flowerier, warmer, lusher. The weather, even though very cold, has been obliging us with beautiful sunshine and an exquisite sunset tonight.
I hope it is an omen of hope for us all. The sun is ever so slightly farther north already, and even though it is cold, the promise of warmer days is just around the corner, and with that warmth the earth will burst forth once again with its unimaginable riches. So, hunker down for a little while longer, but when the time comes I hope your compost is crumbly, your spade sharp, that you always prune just the right branch and that your plants fruit and flower as never before. Happy New Year.