January the 1st right in the middle of winter, has always seemed to me to be a very unnatural time to choose for the start of a New Year. Much more in tune with nature’s rhythms is the vernal equinox in mid March, which is where New Year was before the Roman Julian calendar in 46BC. Quite a while ago I know although according to Google we British only really embraced the 1st of January date in 1752, not very long ago at all.
I’m still not convinced though, I’d much rather be able to see more evidence of new growth and renewal along with more clement weather and longer hours of daylight, March would be much better.
But the 1st of January it is and although cold and dark the snowdrops are pushing their pointy noses out of the chilly soil and some of the earlier Hellebore flower heads are full and fat and just about to burst.
One of my favourite cold weather flowers, winter aconites, are ready to pop up and make me smile with their bright sunny cups of flowers sitting just above the soil on their frilly ruff of green bracts. They always catch me by surprise by sprouting up overnight like mushrooms and as they’re soon over I’ve planted some by the front door to make sure I don’t miss them. Luckily the front door faces north and I brush all the dead leaves which the wind swirls around it onto their patch of soil in the hope that I’m fooling them into thinking they’re living in woodland under the canopy of deciduous trees, their favourite habitat.
Like lots of early flowering plants, they like woodland edge conditions, they’ve evolved to make the most of the light available while the trees are still bare of leaves.
The hedge at the bottom of my garden makes a perfect, if very short, edge of woodland. Beneath the hazel the deep summer shade is ideal for ferns and now the leaves are decaying gently beneath and the blackbirds and thrushes are busy poking through them, the bare branches are lined with rows of lengthening catkins, soon to be full of yellow pollen.
The Mahonia relishes the shade there too. It’s flowered its socks off all November and December and been a magnet for blue tits, maybe there are tiny insects sheltering in the sprays of flowers or maybe blue tits just like bright yellow.
It’s one of those ‘tough as old boots’ plants as are its companions in my garden, Cornus ‘Flaviramea’ with yellow and orange stems and a birch with bright white bark. They are all happy in my woodland edge with a big clump of Hellebores and a few snowdrops at their feet.
I put them together partly to emphasis their seasonal appeal but mainly because they like the conditions and so are happy to grow together there.
Happy plants, happy birds, happy garden, happy me. Maybe New Year in January isn't so bad after all!