This is a time of year when we can literally feel spring coursing through our veins. It’s a season full of rebirth and new growth, a time of endless possibilities, and a time of innocent hope. Whilst our climate is generally mild here on the coast and the risk of a frost is pretty much gone now, March and April can be fickle months; we can be dining al fresco with windows and doors wide open one day, and the next be plunged into less favourable temperatures with chilly winds and in definite need of a coat. It’s also a time of year when you can bring spring inside too, when branches of blossom can fill the house with colour and scent
and daffodils can be perched, canary yellow, in a vase on the kitchen table.
For one reason or another the garden suffered slightly from a lack of attention last year. I felt as if we were always playing catch up and I never quite managed to achieve what I wanted to. This year, I plan to put that right. No, I don’t have more time on my hands, in truth I have less, way less, as the children do more and more outside of school. To some this might seem to be an even bigger problem but I’m not going to let it deter me. I’m eternally optimistic by habit and the key, I have decided (like so many things), is organisation. Getting a head start is the first thing, and if successful it will certainly make the main growing season a great deal less hectic. I read somewhere that getting on top of the weeds in early spring will make for a much easier summer and I am pinning my hopes on this by getting to work now!
We’ve been blessed with the most wonderful weather the last week or so and I have gardened in every second of spare time I can muster. It is fantastic to get my hands dirty again and to feel the earth staining my fingers.
I don’t know about you, but I am one of those people who – if I feel everything is in control – then I can conquer anything; nothing is impossible. I am an eternally positive person and this has given rise to big plans for the garden this year, and while I know it’s utter madness to take on more things, an hour’s digging for me is far more fun than going to the gym. To be blunt, I have never been one to sit still.
First up on the agenda is the long herbaceous border. One of the things we love most about our garden is that it is surrounded by old stone walls; this border runs right down the middle of the garden, effectively cutting it in half. It is even fenced in two! On the south side is the chicken garden bordered by a long row of cob and hazel trees. These trees have grown to huge heights over the years and although we can still see signs of where they were once pruned it seems this seasonal haircut stopped long before we bought the house. They have also stopped producing nuts. This winter we took up the initiative bravely and cut them hard back, reducing their height by half. Of course, in some ways this was also a savage pruning in an attempt to reinvigorate the fruiting gene. All in all it was way more exciting than it sounds, and for the first time since we have lived here the herbaceous border is finally getting plenty of sun once again, just as it was planned to do when it was first planted decades ago. Over the years many of the perennials under the trees have had to adapt to the lack of light; they are nearly all sun-loving plants and yet they have been forced to tolerate dry shade.
Now that the light problems are solved, and we have a shed full of wonderful hazel posts and switches for the vegetable garden, I am gently digging in a good 5cm of organic fertiliser. There will be light and there will be sun and I am excited to see what a difference this is going to make.
Whilst working away, lost in my own little quiet and peaceful world, I realise it is in fact far from silent; if I listen carefully, nature has an entire orchestra surrounding me. Bees form a constant buzzing bass and birds form the chorus, their soprano and alto song in perfect tone and pitch. An occasional rooster crows in a neighbour’s garden, a green tree frog croaks and the distant rattle of a lawn mower can be heard.
All the time I am wondering, did I notice these things when I was a child? Perhaps not, and then I remember my grandfather’s gardener, he was always called Bonnyface, I never knew him by any other name! He seemed old to me back then but probably was not; how he always took the time to stop and talk to me and how he always wore a felt hat. Sadly we don’t have help in the garden and the weeds more often than not win our constant battle. But then, what a weed is to some is not to others, of course. The celandine for example; between February and April their bright yellow flowers cut a swathe across our lawn and in the beds, so many that they really should be an unwanted nuisance, but I rather love their welcome cheerful colour, and then Roddy says a heartfelt ‘thank you’ on behalf of his beloved insects who need every bit of help they can at this time of year from any splash of colour.
And so, the kitchen floor has remained unwashed, the paperwork has been slightly pushed to one side and the laundry (whilst washed and hung out to flap on the line and then dried in the sunshine) has remained neatly folded in its basket by the foot of the stairs, not yet successful in its final journey upwards to each of the children’s bedrooms. You can imagine, there is a lot of laundry, for 6 or 7 people all the time, and there’s a lot of cleaning, a lot of cooking, and a lot of just being Mama. Not to mention the driving and too-ing and fro-ing and the resultant support network. But this brings me back to the garden again, for when I hear the squeals from the swings, or see the girls sitting on the grass making daisy chains in the warm spring sunshine, chatting away without a care in the world, I know that it deserves special attention; it is a place that just keeps on giving, and it is a part of our lives that brings so much enjoyment to everyone in so many ways without anyone really realising it.
Then there’s the smell of freshly cut grass. Yellow butterflies are already chasing each other high and low. The dogs lounge around soaking up the warmth, and of course each has their favourite spot.
The wisteria which I cut back just before we went away to the mountains has exploded into a mass of buds.
There’s a hint of green on many of the trees, and the ash is slowly uncurling its fingers, and the hard pruned cob and hazel are already coming back to life.
Yellow was the dominant colour a couple of weeks ago in the garden; daffodils, forsythia, primroses and the aforementioned celandine all brought a touch of sunshine to the green spaces, everywhere you turned.
Slowly though, the whites and pinks have added their delicate hues, starting with the plum blossom
and then moving on to the cherry,
and the camellia
And now we’re finally starting to see the blues and soft purples; hyacinths, grape hyacinths (muscari) and violets. Rosemary and vinka.
Soon we will have bluebells and iris, soon all the trees will be in full leaf, and soon we will be planting out vegetables. I’ve got to the end and as always I’m searching for a title for this piece, but everyone is at school so there is no assistance there. I rest my chin on my hand and stare out of the kitchen windows; there’s a bee hard at work, a tiny spider weaving an intricate web glistening in the morning sun, insects flying around and endless birdsong. Someone away in the distance is using a chainsaw somewhere in the village and the rasp of it gently filters through the open front door. I still don’t have a title but I wish I could find a way to bottle up and give away these tiny simple pleasures.