I've never been the type of gardener who shuts up shop at the end of November, cuts everything down to the ground and puts the garden to bed for the winter. I admit there are some plants which collapse into a mushy heap at the first frost and are just too messy to live with but I always leave the majority of perennials in my garden to stand as bleached silhouettes right through the winter.
In late autumn they are festooned with dew covered orb spider webs, they look fabulous in the frosts, give a home to over wintering insects and are fastidiously picked over by birds searching for any remaining seeds, but they having taken a battering by the strong winds and are looking a bit the worse for wear now so it's time for me to get out there and start cutting down and clearing up.
All that dead top growth has also been protecting emerging new shoots, so if it stays really cold I'll wait until later in the month and by then there will be a lot more new growth for me to see too.
Unlike clearing up at the beginning of winter, after which parts of the garden are left looking bare and bleak for weeks, we know that despite the cold there is so much new life getting ready for the first signs of spring to burst through the soil and break from branches, so that now it's an altogether much more cheerful and uplifting exercise.
There are hidden gems to find at this time of year too, although it's technically still winter, under all that dishevelled foliage the first flowers of spring are already appearing. Pointed spears of daffodil bulbs, the delicate dangling white bells of snowdrops, the first primroses and rising from last years leaves, hellebore buds are opening out into the most beautiful and exotic flowers.
It's not just plants feeling the first stirrings of spring, if we're lucky February sees amorous frogs returning to the pond to spawn.
Those glistening balls of black studded jelly are for me the real beginning of a new year in the garden, just as exciting to see as they were when I was five. I gave up collecting frog spawn in jars many years ago but despite the finger numbing iciness of the water I just can't help it, I still have to get my hands in there!