This week it has begun to feel as though we are starting to turn a corner in the garden. We are not quite out of the woods yet, but it is slowly beginning to feel ever more springlike. Apart from a brief visit from storm Doris on Thursday, which shook all of the loose branches from the trees and provided us with more than a years worth of kindling, we have generally been blessed with warmer, sunnier days and milder evenings. Both myself and the garden breathed an audible sigh of relief as we started to wake once again from our winter slumber.
The days are getting noticeably longer and there is movement in the dew pond once again. The edges are bubbling with the diving newts and we have seen the appearance of two new breeding pairs of ducks who have taken to feeding at the pond on a morning. Even the normally aloof moorhens seem to be spending much more time in closer contact, renewing their bonds and perhaps anticipating the new life of spring once again.
This weekend, passing through my neighbourhood I saw daffodils ready to burst and the first of the cherry blossom appearing from the dependable blackthorn and black plums. Unfortunately, I am aware from past experience that the appearance of the blackthorn flowers can often be a prelude to a few cold nights, so I haven’t cast aside my warm coat just yet. Autumn sown broad beans and peas are now showing in the kitchen garden and the onions and garlic appear much happier. I have even started to sow a few trays of hardy salad leaves in the sheltered areas around the shed that I can quickly cover with fleece if the threat of frost is forecast.
There is a comforting inevitability of the seasonal cycle. As sure as we know that January and February will be filled with cold frosty days, the imminent arrival of March signals the start of a new growing season. Life as a gardener seems to have created a unique obsession with timing. My whole year revolves around trying to schedule my tasks as accurately as possible so they can be done at the ideal point of the year when the soil is warm enough and the weather is cooperating. Our lives are dictated by natures calendar and, in much the same way that many flowers only open when they have the correct proportions of daylight, moisture and temperature, we are constantly watching the weather and calendar so we can judge the perfect time to set about our most pressing tasks.
At no time during the year does this seem more critical than in the spring. Much like Easter, Spring is a moveable feast and seems to appear when it wants to, rather than when the calendar says it should. This year I have noticed that the colder weather in January has meant that many flowers are still several weeks later than when they first appeared last year when it was considerably milder.
Like many gardeners, I have very little space outside to propagate my seedlings, so need to resort to filling the windowsills of my house with my tender plants. I know that if I miss-judge my timings the limited space will soon become chockablock with young plants eager to make their way outside, and leave me biting my fingernails as to wether they will make it.
But as ever, the plants know best. They know when it is exactly the right time to sprout and when it is exactly the right time to flower, and they will continue to knowingly mock every one of my attempts to preempt them. For the meantime I will religiously consult my almanacs, calendars, schedules and weather reports in a desperate attempt to foresee what will inevitably remain elusive and unpredictable, and which after all, is the main reason that this is still so exciting after so many years of trying.