Award winning landscape designer and author, Xanthe White, has been Daltons brand ambassador for over ten years. She has plenty of gardening experience and knowledge to impart to home gardeners and professionals alike. Here Xanthe shares her passion for gardening, along with tips, advice and gardening secrets even the most weathered gardener may not know.
What winter brings
This year was a great one for my garden. I finally found myself a window of time to upheave the little triangle of lawn in the front of our house and plunder its fertile earth for a productive patch. Its funny the effort it takes to change our habits even when we want to. To turn from mowing to sowing even when it might take no more time and effort and the rewards are such easy takings. Being a mum taught me the comfort of routines, simple rhythms that are reassuring and placating, but sometimes you have to ask why am I walking this way, and is there another. I think gardening is like this. We become so attached and familiar with the way things are that we become afraid to experiment and try things new.
This little triangle of grass has bothered me for years. At times the cars have parked on it, bicycles lain on it, kayaks washed, but most of the time it’s been a lonely space visited only by the fortnightly roar of the lawnmower after which it returned to its solitary state. Its ripping apart was not a beautiful affair. The sawing back of the old hedge and the first stage of bare dusty earth was definitely reason to have left it alone. The birds were delighted and created dishy baths of fine soil clouds fluffing themselves up in the joy of dirt. The neighbours revealed on the other side of the halved hedge looked surprised to see our faces popping up as they made their way up and down the drive.
Next to fall was the little fence, and with it the letter box that for months sat balanced on a rock while plans were made and changed. The first round of seedlings were devoured by the neighbour’s chickens who had joined the other birds in admiring this lovely toiled spread of dust. They took great pleasure in kicking it around and in my taste of greens and beans. The weeds too delighted in the spaces yet to be occupied and leapt at the opportunity to spread unabandoned through the rich compost we’d spread about.
But slowly the shift found a new equilibrium. My husband and I found that the corner we had never been to in over a decade received the very best of the late sun. Here we spent the warmer days hiding with an evening drink while the children enjoyed this hour of unguided mischief from beneath our wings. The neighbours got used to seeing us out the front and started to stop and chat as we picked the evening lettuce. The chickens decided that the newly installed chicken wire fence actually gave them a lovely spot to snuggle in, unbothered beneath the mandarin hedge, to plan another way into another part of the garden.
Now the new productive patch is part of the garden. The children are used to the routine of evening gathering and friends will soon forget that we ever had a little lawn in the front if they had even noticed it before. Change is like this. It has this moment of chaos in which one wonders what on earth one was thinking which is I think why sometimes it’s a hard move to take. Especially when our lives are to all extents satisfying and content. But its worth reminding ourselves that out of that chaos new things are born and it’s worth making the effort to create a little disruption so we can keep creating.
Winter is a time where we tend to conserve and when conservation can be wise, but it’s also a time when a bit of energetic action will warm us up (even if our noses remain a little chilled at the pointy end) and get the soils ready for something new to begin. So, as you look out into the cool air from your warm and comfortable house, slowly slip on some socks and warm layers. Remember where you hung up the gumboots and slip out the back door and do the thing you’ve wanted to do for years. Be warned you may be met by some surprised faces when a branch is chopped back or a fresh green spot turns earthy brown. But keep smiling and toiling and in spring you’ll be ready to begin preparations for the summer wine.