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Acanthusigloo – 13th Jan 2024

2024 came in with rainy days that soon ceased, and the temperature dropped. The cold days have kept the garden quiet, but the low temperature is no bad thing. Frost kills bugs, such as greenfly, who would otherwise survive the winter and reproduce in greater numbers in the spring. Daffodils and our apple trees need a period of cold weather.

The days are slowly lengthening, already half an hour longer than at the shortest day, at the winter equinox on 21 December. With the longer days comes increased light to enable photosynthesis. As the sun gets higher in the sky this enhances the ambient light, which is Spring’s gift.

Taking a walk round the garden, I see marigolds in bloom, a kerria too in flower, a couple of hard done by pink roses in the rose arch, way past their sell by date. Viburnam tinus along the fence is in bloom and a cotoneaster nearby has a profusion of red berries. The acanthus are in good shape with deep green, large leaves, mounded over like a green igloo. As soon as the chill is over, the snails will be at them. It is always surprising how they manage to flower in spite of being so utterly ravaged.

The pond appears lifeless, but is asleep. All the animal life within it is cold blooded and so dormant this weather. The temperature is just too cold to get the vital enzymes stirring. In the mud at the bottom of the pond are dragonfly and damselfly larvae as still as stone. Some water boatmen will have survived and tiny daphnia will abound in warmer weather, but there is no sign of either yet.

It’s 4ºC, and all the volunteers are togged up with layers. Woolly hats are popular. A woman with three children is having a picnic at one of the tables. I admire their hardiness. She is wearing fingerless gloves, very sensible, as they keep your hands warm but give your fingers some freedom to grip. In our container, we have a range of gardening gloves to protect our hands but also keep them warm while we work. There’s the leather, loose ones, all right for digging or planting but no good for fine work. They are more or less waterproof, but the rubber ones are better if you have to work in the wet.

I learnt when I worked in the Parks, the necessity to keep the core of your body warm in winter. Layers are essential: jumpers or fleeces, and thick socks. In very cold weather I wear long johns, long legged underwear, also called thermal underwear, though I much prefer the term long johns as it makes me think of prospectors in the Yukon panning for gold in icy streams. If it’s really cold, I wear the long sleeve top too.

Curious, I looked up the origin of long johns. One explanation is that they were named from the garment worn in the ring by the 19th century boxer John L Sullivan. Another explanation is they come from the French longue jambes meaning long legs. I prefer the first as I can imagine the pugilist prancing about the ring, his arms outstretched.  

We are putting fat balls in the bird feeders. These have nuts and seeds in a fatty binder, and give warmth and nutrition to birds in this cold weather. It’s an awful time for them. Food is short but it is absolutely necessary to feed to keep up their body temperature. We do our bit to keep them alive.

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