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Christmas and the Botanic Garden

Andy Winfield
Being out and about in the Garden gives a sense of the changing of the seasons, a sense brought about by the combination of light, temperature, wildlife and, of course, plants. This is felt most keenly at this time when we are the furthest from the sun that we will be, until next year. I find mid-winter an uplifting time; leafless trees show their bones and wildlife is easier to spot. It’s amazing how much life is flitting around in an old oak tree when you take the time to look into its branches. The sky seems bigger in winter and the sunsets more vivid. This might just be that we don’t get to see them so much in midsummer, but at this time of year we see the sun rise in the Garden and set in the Garden.

From this moment the days get a little longer and we begin to see
Witch Hazel in early January 2017
movement in the soil, small signposts to spring that don’t occur before midwinter. Snowdrops and winter aconite emerge in January; tiny and fragrant flowers emerge on shrubs such as witch-hazel, Daphne, winter flowering honey suckle and Christmas box. These plants need to attract the few pollinators that may be around from long distances, hence using strong scent rather that the colourful showy flowers we see through summer.

In the low sun and with the soundtrack of robins, crows and the odd fidgety group of goldfinches, we spend the winter tidying and weeding the borders knowing that they’ll stay tidy and weed free until spring. Structural work takes place on trees, landscaping of areas that need developing and of course repotting of collections inside. Winter can be hard work, but it keeps us warm and is always good to keep projects moving while we can.

A goldfinch eating the seeds
from a teasel plant.
Throughout the Christmas period someone must come into the Garden to water the glasshouses, check the boiler is working and eat the chocolates. So even on Christmas Day there is a member of staff working in the Garden for a few hours. In some ways it’s a nice to escape the Christmas mayhem for a while in the tranquillity of a warm glasshouse, unless of course there’s a small flood, snow or an electrical trip to deal with. Whatever happens on our Christmas duty there are many gifts brought in by our volunteers in the form of chocolate, cake, biscuits and pies, it is difficult not to pop a chocolate in our mouths when passing; sometimes the work means we pass quite a lot…

Our efforts on the left, Oaxaca market stall on right.
(right photo by Alejandro LinaresGarcia)
There is one Christmas tradition that we’ve been interested in for the last few years. Did you know that in the Mexican city of Oaxaca the 23rd December is the Noche de Los RĂ¡banos, the Night of the Radishes. Since 1897 displays of ornately carved radishes have been a prominent part of the Oaxaca Christmas market; and here, many miles away, we’ve had a go on the 23rd for the last four years. Maybe not as extravagant as the Mexican markets, but a good try.

Enjoy this midwinter break whatever you’re doing, and from the Botanic Garden we wish you all much laughter and warmth to take you into 2018.


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