I fell over in the dark last week. As I crashed to the ground time slowed down, as it always does in times of peril, and my thoughts went like this:
-Oh you stupid woman.
-Should I drop my nice red enamelled watering can now or will it break?
-What injury will I get from falling on it?
-I’m falling on it.
-How many pots am I breaking?
-I must try not to break my wrist again.
-If I break my wrist I’m not going to be able to plant all those bulbs that have just arrived.
-It’s going to be frosty tonight and I haven’t finished shutting all the tender plants up.
-I haven’t got my phone.
-It’s going to be frosty tonight and if I break my leg I’ll be lying here til Chris gets home.
-Chris is going to be late home.
-Ow my finger.
-Oh you stupid woman.
I had come out of a lit greenhouse, was moving too fast and had forgotten about a certain pile of small pots. I was lucky: I gained a few bruises here and there, and the worst injury was that I managed to bend the middle finger of my left finger back so that the joint went dark purple and for a few days I had to strap it to its neighbour while I worked. It swelled up and wouldn’t curl with the other fingers, becoming digitus impudicus for about a week.
ROSPA can add me to their plant pot related injury statistics. Did you know that the flower pot is the second biggest cause of injury in gardens after lawnmowers? It’s one reason why my working gait could be described as Gardeners’ Plod – if you rush about you are much more likely to trip over. Even so, I’ve fallen two or three times while carrying pots and not looking out for trip hazards. I’m becoming gradually more cautious as I find I don’t bounce so well nowadays.
Despite the dangers I like being in the garden in the dark. I love the quiet, the sense of the garden relaxing – it seems this is not an illusion for recent research tells us that trees “sleep”, lowering their branches slightly after dark. I could have told them that: many’s the time I’ve been poked in the face by a branch which I could have sworn wasn’t there during the day.
Having worked for the best part of 20 years in gardens open to the public I’m fairly hot on Health and Safety, so perhaps it’s time I started applying the same principles to my own garden. Or at least being a bit tidier.
We have outside lights by the house but I’m not keen on light pollution in gardens. I can normally walk about in my garden fairly comfortably in the dark as my feet know it off by heart and I like the fact that without direct artificial light you can actually still see a fair amount once your eyes get used to the dark, especially if there’s a moon to make crisp blue-black shadows. In the summer white and purple flowers such as Nicotiana and Phlox glow slightly, new fragrances are released, moths flutter, hedgehogs chunter. In winter the wind dies down as blackbird chinking gives way to tawny owl toowhooing; everything seems clean and cool, you can’t see the mud and all the jobs you haven’t done. You can’t see the pile of pots in front of your feet.
It is possible to carry on planting after dark, especially in pots, by feel and by glimmers of light from indoors, where the sensible people are. You may have to check the next day to make sure nothing’s too wonky. I’ve done this many times, when the pressure’s on, or when I have made a planting decision I don’t want to forget overnight. There’s often a fair amount of spilt compost to sweep up, but I haven’t yet planted anything upside down.
We don’t have many street lights near us, which is generally A Good Thing (meaning we can see the stars), except when it comes to evening gardening in the front garden. I have been known to startle passers-by by leaping up from my late weeding out there to wave my arms wildly in front of the motion sensor so that our front door light can let me see if I am digging up a weed or a more precious plant. I don’t need bright light all the time because I can tell which is a dandelion and which is a hollyhock by touch. Nettles and bramble seedlings are also quite easy to identify that way…
Some jobs are better done as the sun goes down: watering is most effective in the evening during the summer, slug hunting is fruitful after sunset. I also like to do light pruning at twilight – somehow it’s easier to see the structure of a tree or shrub clearly without the distractions of perspective/clouds/birds/other jobs. I don’t go up ladders in the dark, that’s asking for trouble, but time spent assessing a silhouette as the day fades can simplify decisions about which bits to lop off.
My problem with darkness is that as it gradually swallows more of each 24 hours so my mood correspondingly slides into the Slough of Despond. By November the urge to hibernate is strong and the urge to go out/speak to friends/do anything at all trickles away until I feel as if I am wading through heavy mud just to get the bare minimum of daily life/work duties done. I am not good winter company. I do have a SAD lamp, which makes a bit of a difference when I can be bothered to switch it on (it’s on as I write) but the best cure is a full day of gardening – preferably one which involves sunshine, chats with robins, a laugh with other gardeners and a little quiet time at dusk.
I must remember to move that pile of pots and sweep up the broken bits before I trip over them again.