Monday, 25 March 2013

Frozen rabbit

Late March, Palm Sunday behind us, and most of the country is in the grip of snow again. Here we’ve escaped the worst of the weather – only the odd flake falling – but outside the wind is bitter and a chill is on the ground. Indoors we’ve been nursing coughs and sneezes and sore throats – my first for at least eighteen months – but out in the cold, fresh air my head clears and thought becomes easier as the steady tempo of work drives out more precious complaints. Here in the ever-present company of robins and the occasional blackbird, to whom clearly both spade and mattock ring sonorous as any dinner gong, I am glad of my hat (sometimes two at once), scarf and thermals, but I muse as I work that the central heating back indoors has spoilt us. Not only does it make us softer and more susceptible to winter illnesses when we get a little run down, but it dries out throats and noses and makes sleep elusive. Still, I ask myself if I am really advocating a return to houses like the one in which I spent my childhood, with gas fires and three-bar electric heaters, where only the side of you facing the heat source was warm and to move more than a foot or two away was to be resubmerged in icy cold so thick you could almost see it eddying around you? I don’t think so. I think rather I’m picturing some cosy aga-warmed kitchen of a woodland cabin or farmhouse I’ve never seen, wet boots and gloves drying on the hearth while supper warms in the oven and a kettle sings on top. Fairy tale stuff, but it’s cold and still dark, and spring’s late, so I think I’m allowed a comforting daydream.

Swing {thump}, tread {squish}, lever {thut}, shovel {flump}. I love digging. The sound, the rhythm, the movement. Though I’ve a sneaking suspicion that there might be something in the no-dig method, I've not yet found a way of putting in rabbit fencing without disturbing the soil to at least a spit deep, preferably more, so I feel I can safely complete this job without spectral voices nagging me about damaging the soil structure and the loss of carbon sequestration capacity. Quite apart from which considerations it’s a cracking way to keep warm, so I’ll continue to find many a reason to so occupy myself during the colder months, even if the days of double-, or even single-digging a plot are largely behind us.

Swing {thump}, tread {squish}, lever {thut}, shovel {flump}. I scoop the final mound of earth back into place over the chicken wire barrier, a warm glow steadily spreading through me at the knowledge that my handiwork will keep my clients’ cherished plants un-nibbled this year.

A flake or two of snow has started to fall, and a rabbit scampers over my boot.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The dark side

Spring time. Well, March anyway – time at last for sowing seeds, and the last chance for clearing beds of the rotting bedraggled remnants of last year’s splendour and, in doing so, banishing all memories of a wet and miserable year. Lengthening days, air noisy with the chatter of birds, buds on the brink of bursting, soil warming as the sun gathers strength with every passing day. Gladdened by the prospect of the new year and the end of the long, dark winter, we rashly peal off layers of warm clothing and head for the garden, to be met with ferocious, bitter winds, the coldest March night in 26 years, and three and a half inches of snow. The snow, which started suddenly at half six on Monday morning, continues to fall heavily and apparently, eschewing tradition, almost horizontally, until noon the next day, at which time the sun suddenly appears and begins to melt it away. But by this time we’ve had an evening of travel chaos, schools are closed and gardening plans seriously disrupted.

You’ll pardon us in Kent if we feel confused; the more cautious of us were expecting winter to have a sting in the tail (I may I fear even have predicted it in my last post) but, considering the last couple of weeks have been warm enough to work outside in shirt sleeves, excepting Friday’s torrential rains, it’s hard to plan when the weather is quite so capricious. Suffice to say, it would seem safe to suppose the next week or so will see colder than average temperatures. I wouldn’t mind that if only we could be sure of some decent light – at this time of year, it’s important to resist the temptation of sowing seeds too early and then running the risk of the seedlings going all weak and leggy as they struggle through the gloom. But this is gardening, and there are precious few guarantees. Especially, it would seem, in March.