This wintering is tough: this raging against the dying of light.
We have taken to driving down country lanes and along the wind-whipped coast to beat the gloom.
The trees are forever beautiful. They have a song for all seasons – wet black boughs or lime-green froth.
As dusk falls outside our window, my husband marks time by the birds soaring in hundreds of sooty flakes across the sky.
“Here they are now,” he says, tapping his watch. “Same time every day. You could set your clock by them.”
And you could. And he stops and gazes up into the skies and marvels at them as they whirl in the air, all heading off in the same direction – all for the same meeting.
My aunt lived in the country outside Derry and told how the birds swirled in the skies, then gathered on the trees near her house of an evening. The mystery and the magic of it.
I’ve had enough of winter dark – I spend my time on the internet chasing cheap winter rentals in warmer, lighter climes.
But then February enters and suddenly the first snowdrops are pushing their noses up above the dark, wet soil, offering a small moon-glow of happiness.
“Your mother’s snowdrops are here,” I text my friend.
“I saw them down here too,” she texts back.
The ghosts of our mothers drift through our gardens.
Gardeners are givers. This can be good and bad. Take the small, blue forget-me-nots that ma had in swathes right across her garden. I forget her not.
I have them, I passed them to my friends, they have them... in fact our cups overfloweth – a swash of a blue spring mantle across our lawns.
“They are the gift that keeps on giving,” says my friend. I know what she means. You can have too much of a good thing.
Sepia mops of last year’s hydrangea flowers stare accusingly in at me through the kitchen window above the wreckage of dead leaves and long grass that I always meant to gather... but just never did
The alchemilla mollis – My Lady’s Mantle – is grown for its foliage, perfect for the border. It is at its best after rain, when raindrops shine silver on the leaves.
On the other hand, once it takes root, it’s a thug straight out of Peaky Blinders – it has cost me a spade or two.
“Thanks for that one,” I tell ma’s ghost.
But this is idle chat. I have not made it out to work in the garden yet. It remains abandoned – sepia mops of last year’s hydrangea flowers stare accusingly in at me through the kitchen window above the wreckage of dead leaves and long grass that I always meant to gather... but just never did.
It is Miss Havisham’s rotted wedding feast. It is Oscar Wilde’s Selfish Giant’s garden.
He never let anyone in and his garden was forever icy winter. But a child stole in through a crack in the wall and other children followed and they brought spring and the small birds with them and they stole his heart. It’s a beautiful story of love and redemption.
At the moment, I’m channelling my inner selfish giant – blame it all on the darkness out there.
I walk out on that garden every autumn, slam the back door shut and abandon it until I can scarcely bear to look outside. Then in springtime, as the sap rises and the light steals back, I fall in love with it all over again.
I’ll know I’ll step out soon and hoke for the gardening gloves and ma’s old secateurs. Now that the first snowdrops of Spring have arrived, it won’t be long.
I know I’ll return, dripping apologies along with the old hosepipe on to the hydrangea and the bedraggled yellow rose that needs a trim and my beautiful acer stuck in its too-small pot, like a child with feet crammed into too-small shoes.
Soon I’ll return… It won’t be long now.