Saturday, 28 February 2009

Slowly Does It in the Spring Garden

With the first warm, sunny day of the year the garden comes alive. Under the bare copper beech, crocus flowers open up to such an extent that bumblebees are able to crawl around in them. Dusted liberally with golden pollen, their big, hairy, black and orange bodies are ready to act as natures’ cupids.

Scents of loveliness only insects can detect have reached the beehive. The honey bees come out in force, eager to start collecting for their pantry. They have until September to produce the goods. By then, a double storey dwelling should be able to produce 50 jars of liquid amber, Food of the Gods.

But if we are to have other produce, veg beds need to be turned over and fertilized, greenhouses cleaned, tubers chitted and seedlings started on windowsills. And if the garden is to burgeon and bloom, roses, vines, trees and shrubs must be pruned, climbers tied and perennials cut down.

And this is only a small part of what should be happening in the garden. In many gardens it is underway. In this one, we’re still in planning mode: I’ll throw away all those pots; you must have a bonfire; we should buy our salad seeds before they sell out. This summer we’ll keep the garden tidy: we’ll cut the grass more often, dead-head the roses more frequently. Blast, is it too late to cut down the lavender?

My laissez-faire attitude to putting the garden to bed does mean that the place doesn’t look too tidy at this time of year. I leave all the perennials and seed heads for the birds to feed on in the winter months. I leave shrubs and herbaceous alone to give shelter to small mammals and insects. I even leave windfalls – a very messy habit.

This all in the name of ecological awareness, habitat protection - green-ness. It is an ideology that suits the lazy gardener. We have a symbiotic relationship in winter, my garden and me – I leave it alone, it leaves me alone. Then with the first signs of Spring I start planning what I will do. Planning mind - let’s not run before we can walk – planning, not doing.

And then, I’m a slow starter in Spring. The first sunny day - what can be more pleasant than a leisurely walk around the place to admire the brightness of the aconites and sophisticated simplicity of snowdrops. To seek out shy iris, smile at bright narcissus, smugly congratulate myself on the elegant hellebores. I must linger by the fragrant primrose honeysuckle and blush pink viburnum. I want to find that wonderful scent that reveals itself as modest sarcoccoca.

It’s a time to asses, to imagine, to decide….I shall fill that space with a tall perennial, move this shrub to the other side, cut down that bush and plant some more grasses. And that bench must be scrubbed, the summer house cleared out, a new hinge is needed on the gate. My goodness, look at that ash tree - how did it get there – and how come I never noticed it last year. It has to come out. Right away.

Well, soon anyway. Plenty of time before Spring really begins.


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