Overcoming Winter Blues

Limb by limb, it seems that I’m falling apart at the seams. It’s got to stop, otherwise I’m in big trouble.

This year has to have been one of the toughest I’ve had to endure, physically. A relentless sports season saw me working harder than ever before in my job, faced with new challenges, demons to overcome and lots of frantic deadlines to meet. But I made it. In the run-up to Christmas and New Year (also my birthday, gah, let’s just forget it) life is still hectic but somehow with the new work project it’s more predictably hectic. And most of all, I now have the opportunity to get back to managing my health.

I’ve learned this year that I like the simple life. I like growing things, reading, cooking and pottering. It makes me happy, and that’s OK. I’ve learned that not wanting to dive headfirst into management and climb the greasy pole – to just be able to do my job and do it well – is actually OK. That not pushing to progress up the career ladder isn’t a lack of ambition at all. I have so many things in my life that I want to aspire to do, it’s just that I’m happy with a stable and straightforward career.

But I’ve paid for my hard work this year. I practically eschewed all forms of exercise – about from working on the Smallest Smallholding – and one by one, my arms, legs, shoulders and hips have seized up and become weak and stiff. I’m an almost-32 year old virtually trapped in the body of an old lady. And I’m tired.

I’m tired of the constant pain, aches, the continuing loss of mobility, the nights where I can’t sleep because of the pain. I can get treatment but really, it’s only a sticking plaster. It’s a lifestyle thing. Too much time tip-tapping away at the laptop when I should be building my strength, clawing back my flexibility and gaining back a pain-free life. Chronic pain is draining and demoralising, and whilst on the outside you might look normal – you walk OK, you can do a few things without any visible problems – it’s actually miserable.

So no time to wait to start New Year resolutions here. It starts now. Next year, I want to devote even more of myself to my growing and gardening and I can only do that if I’m fit enough. I don’t want to be tired and in constant pain any more. I want my life back.autumn leaves

T-Shirts in Late Autumn

After working eight days straight I finally had a day off to myself last week, and what a day it was! I can’t quite believe that November here and I’ve been out *sweating* in a t-shirt and leggings in the garden! The sun is still warming the earth and some of my spring flowers are a little confused, and I’m not surprised.

Still, it’s given me a chance to do some catching up. The heleniums, echinacea, lavender and crocosmia have all been cut back now, and the compost heap has been filled with the remnants of summer and early autumn flower beds, asparagus tops, lawn clippings and shrub prunings. Of course there’s still so much more to do but I have the feeling that this year, we’ve just about kept on top of things ahead of the big winter sleep.

Raspberries in november

The summer raspberries are even still fruiting, with a few canes hanging on for dear life, determined to produce some last jewelled berries before the frosts set in. And in the veg plots, I have two squashes that are still swelling in size. The pumpkin seems to have had a bit of a renaissance, suddenly producing lots of lush green foliage and surging its way up the wire mesh I’ve provided as a climbing frame. The butternut squash looks less healthy, and seems to be pouring all its energy into the single fruit that remains on the vine.

I can’t quite remember a late October like this, and it’s been very therapeutic to just work out in the sunshine below a china blue sky. I have a feeling it could be the last sunny, warm and cloudless day we’ll see for quite a long time and I am so glad I wasn’t stuck inside all day missing it.

But there is still so much to do at The Smallest Smallholding before we start winding down for winter. Here’s what’s ahead:



Dormant tree ready for planting

Planting trees
We still have two apple trees to plant and another to find to ensure that we have fertile collection of trees for next year! Late autumn and winter is a great time to get trees and large shrubs in the ground. As long as you can get a spade in, you should be fine to plant.

autumn leaves for leaf mould

Gather leaves for leafmould & clean leaves out of the pond
With plenty of windy weather of late, there are lots of leaves to collect. Leaves can take quite a long time to break down amongst other compostables so leaf litter can be gathered and kept moist but not waterlogged in a container or bag to create crumbly leafmould for conditioning the soil in borders and veg plots. A purpose built leaf litter bin is great if you have lots of leaves to contend with, but for smaller gardens an old compost bag with breathing holes or a leafmould bag bought online should suffice. If you have a pond, make sure to regularly remove any leaves from the pond surface and cut back any marginal plants to avoid decay in the water. More advice for pond maintenance and water gardening here! Don’t be too tidy – leave a few leaves on the ground for wildlife as leaves are great nesting material and cover.

Mulch the veg plots
Autumn is a great time to dress your soil with at least a couple of inches of organic compost or well-rotted manure. In autumn, the soil is still warm enough so the worms will rise up and access the new material. Then over winter the weather will also help to break down any lumps in the compost or organic matter, and in spring the mulch can be raked in. NO need to dig!

Last chance to mow & cut hedges
Luckily we kept on top of our hedges this year and as the days have shortened, the hedges have stopped growing so we’re ready for winter! We now have lovely dense hedging that will help keep the birds and wildlife protected in the bitter winter winds and temperatures. But if you’re a bit behind then October in particular is a great month to get those last cuts done before winter. The unseasonably warm weather has meant that we’re still mowing but soon it’ll be your last chance saloon before the ground gets too wet!

Divide perennials and rhubarb crowns
Our heleniums exploded this year so we’ve got lots of dividing to do into new beds this autumn – free plants! Summer flowering perennials can be divided round about now – this includes our salvia, sedum, verbena, agapanthus and geraniums. With the soil still warm it’s a great time to get your flower beds laid out and really for spring, and in the veg plots the rhubarb crown can also be divided. Just get rid of any decayed or weak crowns, and then using a spade divide the crown at the root and replant.

Colour me happy this winter

As the evenings are drawing in and the leaves are falling from the trees, it’s easy to feel a little despondent. Especially when the landscape turns from a multicoloured Autumn spectacle into a drab brown, green and grey mire. That’s why this year I’ve been determined to bring a little cheer into my life. I do love Autumn but sometimes the persistent grey clouds and long, dark nights can be a drain, so now is a great time to turn up the saturation filter and get some winter blooms in place.

My back doorstep has become a little haven for potted plants. The steps are in a corner and sheltered from the winds that gather pace and blow furiously down the side of our house into the garden beyond, and surrounded by two brick walls offer a little lift in temperature. Earlier this summer I planted up a small herb pot for use in the kitchen, and since tidying up the steps I’ve potted up some winter colour bedding in various pots.

Pansies for winter colour

Pansies are not only pretty and inexpensive, but very hardy – so no worrying about whether it’s the right time of year, if they are suited to the British winter or all that malarky. I am still a bit rubbish about knowing which plants flower when and what are annuals as my main consideration is pretty much “are they good for pollinators”. But pansies are perfect for autumn and winter colour, and with such a wide selection of varieties to choose from, a perfect plant for pretty pots.

Pansy Matrix Morpheus

Pansy Matrix Morpheus

I planted up the following flowers in my pots, all of which have been in for over a month and are looking as good as new. The pansy varieties I chose are mostly compact and have been bred to last longer than other pansies:

Pansy – Cool Wave (yellows, whites, purples, blues – winter and early spring bloomer)
Pansy – Matrix Morpheus (yellow and purple)
Pansy – Matrix Marina (light blue, deep blue and white)
Pansy – Frizzle Sizzle Burgundy
Wallflower – Sugar Rush Yellow
Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus) ‘Golden Queen’ (adds great texture, variegated colour and scent)

Pansy Frizzle Sizzle Burgundy

Pansy Frizzle Sizzle Burgundy

At this time of year you can also try primulas, polyanthus, violas and in spring cyclamen and bulbs such as irises, narcissus and tulips will bring earlier colour. Heuchera are also a fab choice as are evergreen herbs such as rosemary, lavender and sage.

Pansy Cool Wave Selection

Pansy Cool Wave Selection

I’m looking forward to still having some winter colour around, I find it’s good for the soul and will help just a little bit to keep away those winter blues…