I was moving snow in the ‘garden’ (called a ‘gård’ in Swedish, which is a better description than ‘garden’ for here because it’s more like a ‘backyard’). It’s very different from gardening in England, where I was digging and turning the soil, pruning bushes, and watching my garden grow.
Gardening in Kiruna, on the other hand, requires enormous optimism and a better knowledge of arctic vegetation than I possess. (I know what does really well here though – rhubarb.) Most of the year the ground is covered in snow, and the rest of the time it’s overrun with grass, growing uncontrollably in the 24 hour daylight. To garden here means focussing on just the two or three months of the year you see the ground, limiting yourself to the hardiest of hardy plants, and working in the face of midge and mosquito battalions who see your face and hands as their vegetable patch. I just don’t have what it takes.
Instead of gardening I am engaged with snow. Snow must be cleared away or else we can’t reach the garage. It doesn’t melt until April, so now it must be piled up very carefully or else later in the season there will be nowhere to put it.
Over the last two years we have perfected our technique. We know where the bottlenecks are, the areas we need to keep clear for when it’s been snowing all day and the snow must be moved quickly. Many small paths leading away from the driveway are required, and many places to move the snow to. Those piles have to be as far back as possible from the driveway, right from the beginning of the season.
We have excelled ourselves this year. We’ve created twice as many snow-piling opportunities as last year. We’ve smoothed the paths to make the sledge slide easily. Like all good gardeners, we’ve worked to create some kind of order in the creative chaos of nature. We’ve endeavoured to make the snow piles not look too out of place next to nature’s own wind-driven piles. Leaning on the snow shovel looking down on our handiwork brings a feeling of enormous satisfaction.
It occurred to me that gardening is only partly about making greenery grow – it’s at least as much about achieving a sense of temporary mastery over nature. Just as with plants, we need to learn how snow behaves, how it changes with the seasons, when it grows harder or softer, releases water or absorbs it, when it is possible to move a snow pile, and when it isn’t.
After an hour of organising my snow piles I feel my white garden is also one of nature’s miracles. And when the snow melts, there’s always the rhubarb.