I like to remember my mum smelling the roses, stopping to think, breathing in a lungful of sweet morning air (or the sharp, rich fug of a strong coffee) and listening to the excited trill of the blackbirds.
She savoured the simple pleasures of life; even before the intrusions of phones and apps, it was quite a rare gift to have, and one I’m grateful she handed on.
Through the good times and the hard (and there have been plenty of the latter for most of us this year), being able to pause and appreciate the wonder that is around us can be life changing. And that’s no exaggeration. While it took a good few decades to truly kick in, I feel privileged to have inherited that wonderful ability from Mum. I also appreciate that for many, perspective and seeing the bright side isn’t always easy.
Those daily reminders of the beauty of life could come from a loaf of bread, fresh from the oven and held up to the nose to inhale deeply; or maybe a ripe fig sliced open to reveal its intricately seeded anatomy. For a gardener like me, it’s the other-worldly softening of November fog, a string of fat dew drops clinging to the spreading branches of an acer, or the velveteen promise of a magnolia bud in winter.
Either way, and perhaps counterintuitively, it’s the details of the world around us that seem to allow us to step back and see the bigger picture. With possibly the most un-traditional Christmas ever around the corner, and – if the last few months are anything to go by – many a twist and turn likely on the road ahead to spring, it seems a good time to take stock. So, with that in mind, I present a modest list of some of my most reliably joy-bringing candidates.
I have three in my city garden, planted by the previous owners (that willow two metres from the house was a big mistake – but I thank you for the silver birch!). They’re the upright kind with bright white trunks, just the right size for a small garden. Right now, their crowns are a delicate rust-coloured filigree against a pale grey sky.
Acers / Maples
I mentioned my lovely acer earlier, with its shimmering dew drops strung along the near-horizontal branches. It really does have lovely bones. And more. The spring leaves come in zesty lime and pink, then mature to a deeper green. In autumn the foliage is transformed again, covering the ground underneath by November in a rustling cloak of pomegranate red.
I have at least three roses in my back garden that are still in bloom in December. And I know that’s not just the London microclimate. I’m constantly astounded by their toughness in the face of adversity, carrying on regardless of neglect, unwieldy pruning or battering storms. A lesson in resilience for us all.
Mine starts coming into bud in November and carries on through until February. The large, rather ungainly shrub transforms to a powder puff of creamy white, each flower a power pack of sprightly lily-of-the-valley perfume. On a sunny day, the scent is irresistible. And the bees agree.
I’m an absolute sucker for fuzz, fleece or fur. Whether it’s a leaf, a bud or the unfeasibly soft paw of my cat, I’m forever reaching out for a stroke. Right now in the garden I have stachys (aka lambs ears) still as tactile as ever, while just down the road is a fabulous Magnolia stellata already in bud. Rather incongruously, it’s a street tree just outside the chip shop. Perhaps it’s a ploy, planted by the owners to lure in passing bud-strokers as they catch the scent of salt and vinegar on the breeze.