A little over a year ago, I completed my year of weekly ‘seasonal treasures’. I started the project as a form of self-medication: I suspected that I had some form of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and that winter would always make me feel low, even though I had learned – consciously – to like it. Now I am not sure I was right. I wonder if it was in fact a combination of difficult circumstances for several years running that formed unconscious, bodily associations of winter with physical and emotional difficulties, and that these associations required a concerted effort to break, by replacing them with more positive ones. Whatever the problem was, my self-prescribed concoction of daily walks, a daylight lamp, more frequent social and musical engagements and, perhaps most importantly, weekly writing about highlights of the season, was more successful than I ever could have hoped.
I enjoyed the writing so much that I continued my seasonal treasures through the whole year. It wasn’t only the process of writing that had such a positive effect: it was the necessity of noticing, and dwelling on, the beauty around me, in order to choose something to write about. In fact, I ran out of weeks to include everything I wanted to. So the following year I thought I would continue, if less frequently, in order not to leave out anything important. But my intentions didn’t materialise. As time went on, I realised that without a self-imposed schedule, my more pressing writing engagement with Suffolk’s churches took over, and the seasonal writing was left by the wayside.
In early December I was talking to a friend who said she missed my nature blogs. When I told her they had been weekly blogs for a year, she was surprised, if not shocked. She suggested one per month might be more realistic.
I started to mull it over. This might work, I thought. I missed writing about nature too, and the only way to make it happen while I was still writing about churches – and always trying to catch up – was to make a regular slot for it. One highlight a month felt like a manageable quantity; an enjoyable task but relatively unchallenging compared to the one I had set myself in 2018. Three per season also seemed a sufficient quantity for me to cover most of the highlights I had missed out first time round.
So, I find myself in January 2020 feeling entirely happy with the season of winter, and entirely happy in myself. Thinking about the change in my state of mind since two years ago, and how my feelings about the seasons have settled into something altogether more positive, I came up with the following words to describe them:
Winter: Depressive, desperate anticipation
Winter: Restful, joyful anticipation
Autumn: Glowing, reflective
In this still fairly novel state of affairs, I gain double pleasure: in the season, and in the fact I am enjoying it so much. Perhaps the first thing I noticed this winter was cherry blossom. For some reason I thought it was plum blossom – I looked it up some time ago, I remember – but now I can see that in most cases I have been wrong. Cherries have narrower, more feathery and abundant petals; plums have fewer, larger and rounder petals.
Winter cherry blossom is delicate and understated, timid almost; a contrast to the blousy, triumphant spring-flowering cherries. Both are beautiful, and both entirely suited to their own season. Seeing it, before and after Christmas and New Year, was a reminder that some life may be dormant, but most creatures and plants still go about their business despite the dark and cold – if real cold ever arrives in Suffolk this winter. I don’t rely on these reminders, now, to lift my spirits, but they give me great pleasure nonetheless.
This year the winter blossom has got me thinking. I lost my beautiful ‘Dawn’ Viburnum in the heatwave of 2018, and I realised I have no other winter flowering shrubs or trees in the garden. It is time to do something about this sorry state of affairs. The easiest part of the decision about what to plant was the viburnum: I know it grows well in my garden, and I have bought another to plant near the location of the old one. The goats never gave it any trouble, so I hope that with the assistance of precautionary fencing, the new one will flourish.
Having seen and admired two yellow-blossomed trees this month – a Mahonia and a witch hazel (photo left) – I decided that this colour would also be a welcome addition to January. My first choice was witch hazel, but my landscape architect brother advised me against attempting it in this alkaline, heavy clay soil. He has sent me a list of alternatives for my weekend homework.
A winter-flowering cherry is by no means last on my list, but I am as yet unsure where to plant it, and unsure what size of tree I should buy in order to ensure its survival: the cost of a tree goes up exponentially the more mature the specimen, and establishes more slowly, but there is a minimum size of tree (as I have discovered to my cost) that can survive the attentions of my hooved hooligans in its first few years, even when I do my best to protect it. I may wait until later in the year to make my decision, as a small rowan on the road verge between the two driveway gates was looking distinctly unhealthy last summer. If it kicks the bucket before next autumn, that is where the cherry will go. Or perhaps I will plant it alongside the rowan as a replacement anyway, as I am fairly sure the latter will die sooner or later. There the cherry will be safe from the attentions of goats, and deliver a vibrant ‘Welcome!’ to me and anyone else arriving at my house in the depths of winter.