My grandmother, a good puritan soul, called February ‘the devil’s month’. Something to do with the weather, being trapped indoors, and no healthy fresh air to lift the spirits and divert troubling thoughts. In her honour, and because we’ve had enough devils to deal with recently, I’m going to rename it ‘February Feel Good Month’.
So what can possibly be good about this time of the year? The veg patch looks depleted, the herbaceous border is still coloured in shades of black and brown and yes, the weather is daunting. And I won’t even mention the C word (that’s C for compost). It’s too soon to be putting it down to prepare for spring sowing, the winter rains will wash out the nutrients.
But grandmother would have celebrated Candlemas. Her local church reads out Simeon’s affirmation that Jesus was the Light of the World, and then blesses their stock of the year’s candles. Personally, I prefer the pagan celebration as a festival of light. It marks the mid-point of winter, halfway between the winter solstice (shortest day) and the spring equinox.
I’ll be lighting candles on February 2nd to celebrate this turn of the seasons. Days are getting longer, green shoots are appearing and the sun is beginning to warm. Already I’m feeling better.
Doing jobs in the garden always brings a warm glow of feel-good satisfaction. If you can’t actually get growing, then why not spend this month preparing for that spring rush. Here’s a few ideas for quiet moments – both indoors and out. Do one or all of them, and trust me, you’ll feel good as a result.
Get ready for spring sowings. Brush out any pots and trays and give them a good scrub. Don’t hoard the potting compost in them, it will be spent of nutrients and could harbour pests. You can safely put the old stuff on the compost heap. And start fresh with new potting mixes for your precious seedlings.
Clean the greenhouse surfaces, and inside your cold frames. Check to make sure there are no snails lurking in damp places under things. You can either rehome the pesky molluscs on a woodland walk, or throw them out onto the lawn for hungry blackbirds and sweet-singing thrush.
I’m making up bags of my own potting compost. It’s guaranteed peat-free, and saves deliveries of bulky bags. For seed sowing, I use simple garden soil, which I have sieved and baked in a hot oven for 20 mins. This semi-sterilises the soil so that I don’t have weed seedlings competing with my own. If like me you have mole hills, the soil from these is perfect.
For potting on, the seedlings need more nourishment, so I add my own compost (again sieved) for a 50:50 mix, and a small amount of grit/sand to help with drainage. It’s fun playing around with mixes. Don’t be afraid to try. And if you need further advice, go to Garden Organic’s page on peat-free growing.
What else lifts the spirits on a cold winter’s day?
I check my new blackcurrant bushes aren’t lifted by the frost, and I dream of hot summer days picking fruits and bottling dark red syrup, rich in vitamin C. I get warm with a vigorous turn of the compost heap, helping the microbes to break down and release the nutrients. And I’m out on a bracing morning doing some winter pruning. The promise of roses, apple blossom and fragrant late summer jasmine fill my head.
Sometimes I just stand at tea-time dusk, listening to the final rustlings and chatterings of the birds as they settle. Going back in to a warm kitchen makes winter seem special, not daunting.
And on those days when it just isn’t possible to go out and feel good, I’m gardening indoors. Sowing salads in trays on the kitchen windowsill and cutting back my geraniums (that sharp pelargonium smell is as heady as the first whiff of greenhouse summer tomatoes). Once trimmed back, I start feeding them to give them a boost ready for the early summer flowering. I make a cuppa and have playschool fun with coloured felt tips to do that all important planning of what and where I am going to grow in the veg patch. Moving crops round from where they were last year.
I miss my grandmother. Not least because she taught me much about gardening. And this year more than ever I would love to have shared with her that February feel-good feeling