I grew up in Queensland. Things grow in Queensland. All year round. Not just the sweet potatoes we dug almost every dinner time, or the rockmelons hanging off the fence, but the kikuyu grass, clambering up the gum trees. The lantana. Fruit not just ripening but over-ripening entrancing fruit flies all year round.
And then I moved south. The first winter I felt bereft every time I took my hands out of the nice, hot, washing-up water – it was impossible to stay warm.
I learned all about 'layering'. I learned to actually shut the doors and windows, and pulled the curtains at night. And I learned the many things for a gardener to treasure in winter.
Things stop growing in cold winters.
Yes, there are plenty of fruit or veg to pick if you have planned well, with warm courtyard walls or big rocks to radiate heat and sunlight into your lemons or oranges, not to mention late-maturing apples like Democrat of Sturmer Pippin, Beurre Bosc pears and quinces and medlars to store all winter, wrapped in newspaper in the larder, lovely crisp cabbages and tight-headed broccoli, winter-sweet carrots and beetroot, rabbit ear winter lettuce, Wandin Winter rhubarb and much, much more.
But they do it slowly. Ripen slowly and just sit there, waiting for you to pick them, or the birds to eat them, which is the subject for another week.
Winter gives you time to gather up rubbish to compost, to cut down and woodchip unwanted or aging trees; to pave the courtyard or the garden path or put in a pond. And to take a breath, and sit in the (few) daily hours of sunlight.
Sunlight is the enemy in summer, too hot, too skin searing. Just too much. Winter sunlight is to be cherished, as the leaves vanish from the deciduous trees.
Summer light leaches colours. Shadows are black. Winter shadows are blue or green or purple; colour seeps back into the world. Light gleams on the leaves and every flower glows. There is less daylight in winter, but each minute is more beautiful.
See a few columns ago. Many bare trees have stunning sculptural shapes. Others, like snow gums, display green, grey or orange dapples in their bark. Stop looking for the leaves or flowers, and look at shapes and shadows instead.
Want to plant onions? Dig, remove weeds, plant seedlings. And there will be no weeds until the weather warms. Of course then they will spring up like kangaroos. But you will have had a lovely winter break. And, of course, you can mulch the weeds and just cover them up.
Winter is the time to plan the bare-rooted fruit trees to plant, the potted shrubs you'll hunt out in the garden centres in spring, the vegie seeds you'll actually get round to planting this year.
And maybe you won't. And maybe you won't pave the courtyard either, or cut down the aging wattle trees. Not this winter, anyway. But it is so much fun to dream.
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