Actually I was thinking of the song by Billy Holiday which is Gloomy Sunday. There is a song called Gloomy Monday but it’s quite cheerful by comparison.
I don’t know if there is an official midwinter point for the UK but from a gardening point of view it would perhaps fall close to the end of January. The dead stems of grasses and herbaceous plants are starting to break up if they haven’t already been cut down. Frost has killed the top growth of the leftover Salvias, Cannas and Plectranthus. Balancing this are a few snowdrops and cyclamen in flower, the odd speck of pink from the hardiest Fuchsia microphylla. The hellebores are just beginning. Bulbs are pushing their noses through the soil; tulips, crocus, Camassia.
I am grateful for these small pleasures. They lift my spirits a little, bringing hope of things to come. I note what is performing now and plan to add more. I’ll try out new things, see if I can’t get just a little more colour. Only a couple of months to get through.
Then, come the summer I struggle to plant anything without digging up those very same bulbs. I don’t like to cut down the Narcissus and Crocus foliage too soon. There’s a drab area I can do nothing with because it’s full of Hellebores. I cannot go near our precious cyclamen collection, they must remain undisturbed so I can collect the seed. The winter flowering Camellias are blobs of dark foliage.
Having even a halfway decent level of interest in winter suddenly seems to have come at the expense of colour in the summer. The grasses that were so valued for their winter contribution are just background in summer. So too the late flowering Chrysanthemums, Asters, Nerines and sasanqua Camellias. The spring flowering Camellias are long gone too. OK, the spring flowering Magnolia is festooned with a summer flowering Clematis to disguise its dullness and Fuchsias have grown back up where species tulips and crocus were planted between them.
I do sometimes wonder though why I put so much effort into having things happen in winter. I spend very little time out in the garden and no-one ever visits to see the fruits of my efforts. Disappointment comes with the territory, the beautiful Camellia display turns to mush overnight, the late ‘mums get flattened in autumn gales, assuming they’ve survived the slug onslaught.
The way it is supposed to work is that the wood anemones in spring die down as the Roscoeas come up through them; then they are cleared away just as Cyclamen hederifolium buds start to push up in autumn, followed by their mottled leaves through to spring when the anemones come again. Here and there it does work out like that but most plants don’t conveniently die down to nothing when they’ve stopped performing. They remain on stage, minus their motley, and in so doing they stop other players taking their place.
Generally, for me, having something happening right through the year has comfortably trumped the summer crescendo. Then along came the notion of opening the garden in summer and the insidious, corrosive notion that the paying public must be given what they have paid to see. It might cross the mind of a few of them that some of what they are seeing would have been flowering months before or will be in a few weeks time. For most I think they judge only what is on show on the day of their visit. In fairness, I probably do the same when I visit other gardens. I am being pulled in opposing directions and have no more idea of which way I’ll go than you do.