Common Ground – January 2024

“I dreamed that, as I wandered by the way, Bare Winter suddenly was changed to spring.”


There have been at least three open winters in my time here in the valley. I’m grateful for all of them. One brought us late snow in March or April but we were so close to spring by then that no one seemed to mind.

The weather gods have been kind to spare us the kind of miserable Wuthering Heights cold and snowy holiday season that we had last year. January is named after the Roman god Janus who is represented with two heads, one looking forward and one back. Looking back at last year and then forward to this year I know which one I prefer.

The looking forward part of January includes the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. Does this make you groan or regret all the resolutions never stuck to? To keep things simple, I only ever make one. And that is to walk more and eat less.

There has been no excuse for not walking this year when we have so far been spared the usual ice and snow. Much had been written about the physical and mental benefits of walking so I won’t repeat any of that here. But I will quote from a favourite essay, In Praise of Walking, by Alpha of the Plough. It’s from a little book of his essays published in the 1920’s.

“What liberty is there like this? You have cut your moorings from the world, you are far from telegraphs and newspapers and all the frenzies of the life you have left behind you, you are alone with the lonely hills and the wide sky and the elemental things that have been from the beginning and will outlast all the tortured drama of men.” Enough said. Wiser words have never been written on the point of going for a walk.

I heard someone say recently that January is the best month for gardening. I understood instantly what they were saying: the garden of the imagination is always better than the real thing. Who hasn’t already planned out ambitious projects which are so easy to imagine when all is frozen solid?

The seed catalogues are still on the table and decisions are finally being made. What do I need and what is just silly?

I’m pretty sure that the Heath Robinson compost sifter that will set you back a couple of hundred dollars falls into the silly category. You could avoid ever having this contraption  in your life by simply putting your compost in the wheelbarrow and putting the bigger bits back in the bin. It would appear to be a solution for a non existent problem.

Also in the non essential category is the Decorative Natural Bee Skep. I need this like a hole in the head really but it’s on the maybe list. It’s fair trade and supposedly made out of recycled saris. Who could beat that? Bee skeps remind me of old cottage gardens and the beautiful gardens at Williamsburg.

The bee skep is in the same category as the little wind mill I bought a few years back. It might make the final list. I don’t know quite yet.

For some reason, the Christmas cacti that I have had for many years never seem to bloom in time for Christmas. They’re all just starting to bloom now. It’s cheerful to see their flowers in January even if hasn’t been too harsh a January so far. I have learned over the years that the Christmas cactus is quite a resilient plant. The resident cats usually manage to knock at least one Christmas cactus off its perch every year. The terra cotta pot smashes dramatically into many pieces. But the plant is usually unscathed and carries right on blooming in its new pot.

I was told a few years back that I would never be able to keep a trailing nasturtium alive indoors in the winter. So naturally I had to try it. My first attempt failed miserably but my second attempt has given me a fairly healthy plant that’s three years old now. Nasturtiums get most of their nutrition from photosynthesis which is what creates the difficulty in the winter. A west window has given it enough light to thrive for the last two winters. It’s very cold sensitive so I don’t leave it on the window sill at night. It did very well outside all last summer and produced long stems covered with flowers. I started cutting it back in September to get it ready to come inside for the winter. All the pieces I cut off rooted instantly in a compost pile beside the garden. I was sorry to see them get frosted but learned something about how easy they are to grow. The world of plants has lots of lessons for anyone who is paying attention.

Happy New Year everyone.

By Jill Williams

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