At this point in the year, you can bet that Martha will have baked her Christmas Cake, completed festive gift shopping not only for her nearest-and-dearest but also for those unexpected guests who may drop in over the holiday season. Mulled wine is probably even now gently steeping on the Stewart household stove, and the turkey is gobbling a little more anxiously than last week. No such preparations are afoot chez nous; we are tardy as ever. Only Harry is our constant reminder that Christmas is not so far away, as his anticipation builds about the arrival of ‘Farmer Christmas’ (something may have been lost in translation there, but I do like the mental picture of Santa arriving on a large muddy tractor).

The one thing I have done today is plant up some bulbs to ensure that the house is full of festive colour and the intoxicating smells of winter hyacinth and paperwhites….

I love the process of choosing the bulbs; visiting the garden centre and filling a large brown paper bag with handfuls of these rustling bundles of promise.  This year I’ve chosen hyacinths of shades of delft blue and rich purples, which I’ll combine with white, silver and wood tones when decorating at home.  I’ve planted some in glass forcing jars so that Harry and I can watch the roots reaching out for the water and see the process of growth and flowering happen at close hand.

We carefully carried these into the dark coolness of the garage where they’ll sit for a few weeks until the tips are about 1.5 inches long, when we’ll bring them inside to flourish and scent the hallway.

Paperwhites exude a more subtle scent and love company, so I added a handful of these to a simple tin basin, tips just above the soil, before consigning them to the dark alongside the hyacinths.  We filled just about every available container with bulbs; they’re so cheap and plentiful, and their beauty distracts from the fact that they’re housed in old tin cans, mugs, mismatched flowerpots and jars (and besides, this was just never going to be a home where stuff matches, let’s agree..).

When we take to the woods this weekend on our usual expedition to hunt for bears (we more often find the ice cream van and the swings, but Harry remains hopeful), we will also be spotting places for the best mistletoe and holly berries, so that in the midst of one cold December morning we can nip out and gather some for our Christmas table.  This may be both the beginning and end of my Christmas preparations for now, but at least we’re off the starting blocks…