Thursday, 12 January 2012

The January Garden

Outside, as I write, a grey squirrel is busy collecting grass and dead leaves from the untidy margins of the garden. Stuffing it all carefully into a manageable, squirrel pillow-sized mouthful, she then scampers away along the fence with it. She makes a good half dozen runs within a few minutes so I think her dray cannot be too far away, perhaps in the neighbour's trees.

On the bird table the robin is on guard, the squirrels and he are locked in a dirty swearing match over the bird seed, despite the fact that the seed is regularly topped up and, what with the squirrels and now the influx of overwintering tits, the robin's lot is not a happy one in midwinter.

January is a hard month in the garden, and it is hard to love the cold winds, rain, the rotting dank of last year's annuals, the scratching bare branches and ankle-wrenching slippery lawn. Yet it is not the garden itself that commands attention now but the weather and the wildlife.
This January is a mild, wet, gale-strewn affair, punctuated with big fleeting bright days and crisp frosts. After a dismal growing season last year, it is a relief to focus on something other than the plants. With dark mornings and early evenings, the brief daylight hours are crammed full of wildlife-watching opportunities. Being situated near woodland, the early mornings (4.30 to 5.30am) are a good time to hear tawny owls hunting. Their calls are clear in the winter air whereas in summer, these hours are full of the dawn chorus of other birds.
Bird tables, water baths and the last of the berries on bushes are busily frequented by the garden's winter birds. This year, there are blue, great, coal, willow and long-tailed tits all visiting the garden. It's easier to spot some of the larger woodland visitors; jays, woodpeckers, squirrels and foxes all pass through for the easy pickings from the feeders and bird table.
January is all about the weather too. From silent, cold mists to fierce, bright days, the low sun lends itself to the dramatic lighting of bare trees, frosts and dews. Rainbows, late morning scarlet and gold sunrises, huge moons, dramatic storm clouds and eerie, swirling low fog sweep through the garden as each day slowly creeps out longer and longer. One day a storm, the next a still blue sky.

If the garden is to be enjoyed at all, it is in the detail, the tracery of last year's leaves, the slowly emerging bulbs, the lush green of the mosses, the old seed heads and berries still clinging to bare twigs; the dry rattle of long-dead grasses and the swelling of new buds, reminding me that Spring, with a bit of luck, is just around the corner.