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Archive for December, 2012

Merry Christmas!


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Today it is six months – half a year – since my Dad died. It was a beautiful summer day, with the wild flowers in bloom and birds singing in the skies above.

Dad's Last Table

This picture was taken on his last evening. He had asked for a candle to be brought into the bedroom, and his younger brother and sister had stopped by earlier in the day with some flowers from their gardens and a final goodbye. There was sparkling wine, beers and a lovely mood, though saddened by the fact that we all knew the end was near. The end, or perhaps the release.

But as Suzanne Brøgger wrote:

The sorrow shall be written in water
The joy in stone

My Dad always loved fire. He loved lighting a good fire in the woodburner in the dining room on cold winter days and he loved lighting a good fire in the fire pit in the garden on warm summer evenings. He loved being the head of the family who ushered everybody into a darkened room while he light the candles on the Christmas tree and he loved filling trays with candle stubs for the 12th night.

So tonight, at the beginning of the longest night of the year, I celebrate the Winter Solstice and my Dad by sitting in a house illuminated only by candles and with a warm and comfy fire in the woodburner. And a small bonfire outside the windows.

Bonfire for Dad

So here’s to the Solstice and my Dad – and to remembering the joys we learnt from those who passed away. Like a bonfire in the middle of winter or a candle on a bedside table.

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At 12:12 on 21/12/2012 the Winter Solstice will finally arrive. This means that today is the shortest day of the year, of course, and because the solstice happens just after noon the coming night will be the longest – by mere seconds. Tomorrow will be a longer day, and the night after tomorrow will be a shorter night.

Isn’t this WONDERFUL??? I know everybody talks about Christmas these days – myself included – but really the solstice beats Christmas…

Winter Solstice Sunrise

The picture above was taken at 9:15 as I was taking a walk through the forest and the sun was slowly making it’s way over the horizon. Technically speaking sunrise was at 8:41, but because of hills and trees I only saw it half an hour later.

The Solstice is of course the reason the Romans celebrated their Saturnalia – which came to define the time of Christmas, it seems, since nobody really knows when Jesus was born (let’s face it, Christian or not there is firm historical indications that a man called Jesus lived in what is now Israel in the years after 0AD; whether he was the Son of God or not is a matter I shall let others discuss) – and also the time for the Norse Yule celebrations.

So whether you are Christian or not, the holiday season is a celebration of the coming of light. For the ancient Norse it was the coming of the light of the Sun, for Christians it was the coming of the “Light of the World”. However, leaving all religion aside I think that as gardeners we should definitely celebrate the coming of the light of the Sun; just imagine, in a few months it will be time for winter aconites and snowdrops, then daffodils and tulips and before you know it we will all be saying to each other “well, maybe next year I will find time to do X, Y and Z…”

Tonight I shall be celebrating the Winter Solstice by stoking a warm fire, cuddle up with a nice book and lots of candles. Light and warmth to ward off the darkness and the cold – even if the coldest months are still to come. And then, when I grow tired, I will retreat to a warm bed, cuddle up under the duvet and blankets and do my best to sleep through the longest night and wake up to a new day that will be just a little longer than today.

Happy Solstice to all, and a Merry Christmas and a Bountiful New Year!

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Well, first of all pardon the rather crude title of this entry, but it is addressed to the deer that seem so fond of nibbling on our roses and then do this:

deer droppings

I mean, I’m all for getting some free deer manure (well, “free” is an exaggeration; I pay it with perennials, rose buds and whatever else the pretty things like to munch on through the year), but couldn’t they at least be trained to leave their droppings where they have eaten?

If they’re going to stop and smell taste the roses, couldn’t they also leave their droppings there so they return the feeding favour to the plants? Rather than leaving the droppings on the lawn…

Speaking of the lawn… Now that all the snow has disappeared again I’m really happy I got around to giving it that last trim just before frost and snow set in; it somehow makes the garden look “tidy enough” with the cut lawn, even if there are twigs here and there and some leaves that have blown about. And yes, deer droppings.

Lawn in winter

The garden does look rather drab today, though, doesn’t it? Compared to the glory of what it looked like last week, it certainly is less bright and festive, but there are still a few highlights.

Goldenrod seed heads

I love how the goldenrods provide winter interest with their fluffy seed heads that seem to retain their fluffiness in spite of snow and rain; there’s a lightness to them that seem to contradict all the other down-heartened perennials that have given up the will to live – well, at least that’s how they look, though of course they will be back next year – and I love how they move in the wind and somehow look like a black and white version of their old, flowering self.

(Some might even say that their seed heads are more tasteful than the rather garish yellow bloom, but I love that, too.)

I’ll end this with a rather special treat: One of our fir trees is sporting the most stunningly beautiful cones at the moment!

Porcelain fir cones

Okay, the more botanically minded of you might remark that fir trees don’t normally suspend their cones from ribbons – and you’d be absolutely right, of course. Yesterday I did what one does when unemployed; I went for lunch in the Tivoli Gardens in central Copenhagen with my mother-in-law, and she stopped by one of the stalls and bought these two un-glazed porcelain cones that I think are absolutely gorgeous; I love un-glazed porcelain, though it can be quite a hassle to keep clean. However, for Christmas baubles I think it is okay as they are unlikely to get very dirty ever. (Well, unless you play around with them in the garden, of course, in which case you really have to be careful not to drop them.

Now, the reason they ended up in the garden was that while my mother-in-law was carrying quite a generously sized handbag at the time she asked me if I’d have room for the small package in my bag, so apparently they are a present. I think they will look lovely on our tree on Christmas Eve – when my mother-in-law will obviously also be there to enjoy them – and they somehow seem like a very beautiful modern take on the old-fashioned glass fir cones that we also have two of, inherited from my mother-in-law’s mother.

Christmas

I do like them a lot, though obviously new ornaments will never be as cherished as the heirlooms – but ornaments bought at special occasions (like the handpainted baubles the Flâneur Husband and I bought in Pitlochry last year, including the yellow one above that somewhat incongruously features a pineapple and grapes) or given as presents will still rank highly and will definitely find a spot on my tree.

So there, an entry encompassing crap, garden, baubles and family. I wonder what sort of Google search people have to make to end up on this page…

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Many cities have Christmas decorations, some more spectacular than others, but I really like Copenhagen at Christmas.

Copenhagen City Hall Christmas Tree

Obviously there’s a big tree in front of the City Hall. It’s decorated courtesy of Children’s Aid, so each of the hearts carry their logo. It might not make a big difference, but if it gives them just a single extra donation, well, so much the better! (And the decorations are, of course, sponsored so the expense doesn’t come out of the money to be used for helping children and families.)

Copenhagen Christmas Lights

Most of the pedestrian streets in the old city centre are hung with fir garlands and various decorations that are illuminated after dark. It might not be as spectacular as the London Christmas lights, but I find it infinitely prettier. Simple, somehow comfortable and absolutely charming.

Copenhagen Christmas Lights

Today the thaw started, and the snow is melting away quickly all over the city. But we might get more frost towards the end of next week, so there’s still the chance of a white Christmas. Fingers crossed, right?

In the mean time, how does your city or town deck itself out for Christmas?

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First of all, let me show you what it looks like these days when I leave the city and go up to the summer house – and the garden…

Snow roadThis is what it looks like when I walk from the bus stop – end of the line – towards the summer house. The road has the forest to one side and some natural plots to the other, so it gives an all-together feeling of being away from the city. You do see houses on the left, but very few – and they are sheltered by trees and hedgerows.

Snowy Forest

To the right the forest spreads out; a mix of mainly oak and beech with pines and larks in-between. And lots of honey suckle, but you don’t really notice these in winter…

Deer Beds

In the garden, the first thing that you notice is that there are several spots where the snow has been melted away, even though it has been freezing consistently for weeks. This is where the deer have lain down to sleep, thus melting away the snow on the lawn. I find this very charming, and today two of these spots were clearly fresh – and there was a third one (top left of the picture) that was perhaps from last night or the night before.

Deer tracks

Actually, the snow makes it pretty easy to see how frequented our garden is by wildlife. Most of these tracks are by deer, but a few of them seem to come from smaller animals with paws rather than hoofs. Perhaps a fox? And of course lots of birds, ranging from the size that HAS to be crows to the smaller ones that might be tits or robins.

Robin / Erithacus rubecula

I have one robin that seems to like the covered terrace; while the great tits and the blue tits come in pairs – or flocks at times – there is only ever one robin at a time on the terrace, and I like to imagine it’s the same one. And now when there’s snow all around it seems – oddly enough – that the tits are less keen on the feeding balls, whereas the robin keeps coming. He/she doesn’t like the hanging balls, though, preferring instead to feed on the seeds that fall off when the tits are feeding, so I decided to leave a feed ball on the paving for him/her, and he/she really seems to enjoy this. (Please note how – apart from the tail and the beak – the bird seems to be as round as the feed ball…)

Snowy Puddles

Also, just because people seem to like this garden feature / folly, here is a view of The Puddles… You can just make out the outlines of the third one at the back, but really they are all frozen over and covered in snow. I hope this means my water lilies will be safe beneath the blanket of snow, but you never know… After all, they are rather shallow, so I might have to start over in spring.

Anyway, back to what this entry was supposed to be about – which was not wildlife, but snow lanterns!

Lanterns in the snow

Strictly speaking, these aren’t snow lanterns, but when the snow is deep enough, why not just immerse lanterns in the snow?

Lanterns in the snow

Now, those among you of a nautical persuasion might argue that I placed the lanterns in the wrong order (red = port and green = starboard), but these pictures where taken from the entrance to the terrace, so clearly they will then be in the right order when you approach the harbour / house. And after all, nautical markers are normally placed so they make sense when you approach port, rather than when you are leaving it…

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Tonight the Flâneur Husband will be having his card club over for a Christmas party. Just the four of them (they play whist), and I will soon be leaving for the holiday house – and the garden.

I’m not involved in the card club since it was created before I ever entered the picture, but for tonight I will definitely claim the role as “facilitator”, since I have done some of the preparations. (Well, I’m sure my husband will accept it if I say “most”…)

They will be having a simple dinner before the card games, so yesterday I bought some ripened pickled herring for the starter, and I’ve also made som duck confit that just needs to be heated up and served with potatoes as the mains. The dessert will be more or less traditional marzipan chocolates. Some with an orange liqueur, some with a nougatine filling.

And, well… The garden will be present!

Christmas

I cut these twigs from the garden on Wednesday and brought them back so there would be some sort of Christmas feel to the dining room. Tax, pine, dogwood, berberis and a few twigs of dog rose. You might have spotted that the baubles are not naturally occurring on these plants, and that is very true; I added these because the red hips and berries are difficult to see by candle light, so something slightly more sparkly was required.

There will be one of these bouquets in each of the two windows in the dining room windows, but to add a bit of sparkle to the table itself I took our remaining baubles and piled them up randomly in two dishes.

Christmas

Some are old, some are new. The oldest are probably more than 60 years old, the newest are from this year. Very few were bought, very few were presents and by far the most are heirlooms. And somehow they all go together because they are all so different. Some are family, some are gifts from friends and some were just bought to embellish the Christmases I will be spending with the  Flâneur Husband.

I hope they will have a lovely evening. If they don’t, well… It will be their own fault, because the food will be good and the room will look pretty – and they will be in great company with each other.

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