Friday, 28 February 2014

Winter’s end

The sun is playing hide and seek. Magnolia peeping, cherry blossom beginning to froth the boughs. It is, after all, the last day of February, a milestone marking in my mental calendar the end of the hivernal trimester. In reality, the seasons are hardly so orderly, and signs of spring have for weeks been coexisting with a mild but stormy winter. March is a time of bitter winds – oddly, rather than images of windswept rural landscapes, the arrival of that month conjures memories of walking up Bishopsgate, hunkered down in scarf and coat against icy blasts seemingly intent on keeping me from the office. Perhaps the wind was trying to tell me something – turn around, get back on the train; leave the city behind, pull on your boots and get out in the open where you belong. I’ll be no kinder to you when you’re surrounded by trees and standing on soil instead of stone, but you may feel the benefit of a warmth of a different kind. An inner warmth that comes from knowing you’re where you belong. Odd, for a London-bred lad. But a few months later I had taken a part time job closer to home allowing me to volunteer with the garden team at Scotney Castle while studying horticulture at the local college.

So, we have March winds to look forward to, and the long range forecast is talking of colder conditions arriving in the south east – there is plenty of time yet for frost to nip off the over eager shoot or bud. But the earth needs a spell of freezing, and the cold temperatures are essential for controlling the less desirable elements of our local ecosystem, including a host of plant pests and pathogens. The arrival of frost also suggests clearer skies and brighter, drier conditions. Coupled with the steadily increasing daylight, I think that can only be a paticularly good thing.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Remembering snow

Wednesday morning. Birdsong, drizzle. The constant background roar of the bypass, the occasional metallic ululations of a passing train transporting early-morning commuters into the capital. A typical Hildenborough morning soundscape in early spring. While not understanding the mechanics of the process, I have noticed how rain – all rain, but particularly a thick curtain of fine rain or mist – magnifies the sound of the distant trunk road and the railway tracks that bisect the fields behind. Pondering on these things, I realise why I have missed the snow, why I always long for the snow when it seems that all around me dread the faintest rumour of its arrival. It’s not so much the excitement of looking out of the window in the morning to discover your world blanketed in white. Nor is it the prospect of snowball fights and sledging, of watching Bill testing the alien coldness with a tentative paw before diving in, tail up and head down, nose bent to the trail with that degree of focus and determination only seen in snow or after a heavy frost. Nor even is it the pure, childish pleasure of being the first to arrive at some virgin drift, boot-clad feet breaking through the taught crust, descending through the powder beneath, crushing and compacting ice into chunky treads. I love that about a good, deep fall of snow. But it’s not what I miss most.

It’s the silence.

I miss the silence. In order to maintain a sense of balance I need to spend a good proportion of my time outside, working in gardens, running or walking through woods and fields, and I’m aware how fortunate we are to live in a county where this can be a daily reality. But appreciative as I am of our surroundings, I can’t fool myself for long that this is anything approaching wilderness. Stand still and listen, deep into country footpaths almost anywhere in Kent, and beneath the sound of the birds and the animals, and the wind in the trees, you’ll almost certainly become aware of the noise of the transport systems that crisscross the countryside, not to mention the ever present rumble of air traffic far above. Much of this is necessary to maintain the lives we live – I don’t dispute that. But a heavy fall of snow stops the lot. Inconvenient, undoubtably. But, for a few days, silent.

I wonder if the snow will come this year? I think probably not. But I take comfort in remembering.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

5 reasons why you should grow sweet peas this year

Over the past week, between prolonged periods of blustery wind and torrential rain, there have been a few occasions where the sun has shone. Not many – not nearly enough – but sufficient to engender the tiniest spark of hope for days of an altogether different nature – fresh, sunny days, firm underfoot, where the wettest hour of the day sees twinkling beads of morning dew hanging poised, as if deciding whether to roll gently to the earth along stem or blade, or hurl themselves into the unknown and plop fatly to the floor. I want to wander along winding paths flanked with flowers, surrounded by scent and colour and the buzzing of bees. And the flowers I imagine, translucent petals backlit by the sun, are always sweet peas.

Friday, 7 February 2014

5 ways to overcome garden inertia

Having a garden is supposed to be a good thing. But all too often, it can become a source of bewilderment, guilt and even stress, particularly for first time buyers and those juggling the pressures of work with young families. The majority of the garden media spreads before us lavish images of beautiful, perfectly manicured plots – aspirational, certainly, but seemingly unattainable and remote. Even those helpful articles with titles like “10 things to do in your garden this month” – clearly intended to offer sound, step-by-step help and advice – can often seem to be giving you ten more reasons to beat yourself up for your lack of achievement. The knowledge that over two million homes in the UK are without a garden probably only increases the guilt, rather than reminding us how lucky we are to have a garden of our own. We should be doing better with the resources which we’re so fortunate to have. Faced with a yawning chasm between what our garden could be and the reality of what it is, who can blame us for falling into a state of denial, and closing the door to our outside room, particularly in winter. But anyone who's tried this approach will tell you that there's a catch. The more we put off taking action, the more there is to be done. You think you can get away with ignoring your garden in winter. By May, it’s a monster.

If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. It’s something I increasingly encounter; if I’m honest, I even feel this way myself from time to time. If someone for whom gardening is both passion and profession can feel this way, you should know you’re in good company.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Alarm call

Hmm. Looks cold up there. Might stay under this leaf for a few more days.
A blackbird is singing outside my bedroom window. The morning creeps into the room, a faint grey glow seeping around the edges of the blinds and pooling in the corners where wall meets wall, and the sound of birdsong, gentle at first then more insistent, draws me into consciousness. Hurry, it is day now. Quick, now, quick! Spring is on its way.

And, spring is on its way. February is come, and suddenly, just when we thought winter would never end, we’re more than half way through, and hellebores and snowdrops, eranthis and crocuses are forcing their way out of the ground to shake themselves out of slumber. There’s more wet stuff on the way – another nasty front coming in tonight if the forecast is to be believed. But the birds are singing, the bulbs are up, and I’ve got a spring in my step this week.