Monday, 5 May 2014

May Day

Bank holiday Monday, and the afternoon air is a cacophony of birdsong and lawnmower engines, aircraft circling over Gatwick, and the distant whine of motorbikes heading down the A21 for the annual May Day meet in Hastings. A ridiculous bluebottle careers off mirrors, picture frames and windows in a desperate fusion of frenetic industry and hopelessness. Three feet away the door to the garden is wide open. Bill raises his head from his afternoon nap, regards the idiot fly with apparent disdain, and returns to his philosophical canine deliberations: Cats – What’s Their Problem? and Why a Stolen Sausage Tastes Better than a Sausage Freely Given. Outside, a few weeks earlier than usual, the garden has exploded.

Only the first week in May, but this rapid burgeoning of everything in the garden began in the middle of April, and was well into its stride last week. The transformation of the geraniums first heralded the acceleration in growth rate; every year the speed at which this happens takes me by surprise – one moment a sprawling, untidy looking patch of straggly vegetation, the next, perfect, plumptious domes of foliage rising from the borders. It seems a miraculous transformation – standing still for long enough, you would surely see the plants growing even as you watch. But standing still is not a thing to be done in the garden at this time of year, unless that is you have a particular desire to be claimed by Mother Nature as a living sculpture, rooted to the soil by speedwell, smothered in goosegrass and hemmed in on all sides by tall docks. Borage, comfrey, and forget-me-nots join forces with the spanish bluebell – ugly fat leaves and ill manners temporarily overlooked – creating a striking, frothy blue understory around your tethered feet, mirroring the sky for now still visible through the canopy overhead, until the trees and shrubs reach full leaf  in a few weeks time.

May, then, is already green, glorious, and groaning with abundance, and not just in our gardens, but in the woods and the fields, the hedgerows and the roadside verges all around us. English bluebells which clothe the woodland floor came early into flower, but fortunately this seems to have extended the season rather than simply moving it a forward, the flowers making the most of the warm spring temperatures and greater light levels. Cow parsley too is already reaching statuesque heights, at least in those places as yet unreached by the brush cutters of the over-zealous maintenance contractor. How ironic to think of the understandable ubiquity of Anthriscus and other early flowering umbellifers at Chelsea in recent years, due to several late springs and the reluctance of many of the planned plants to come into flower, while this year everything is a good fortnight ahead – quite the opposite problem. Throughout the nation, virtuoso performances of the Chelsea Chop this year may well precede the eponymous flower show by a matter of weeks.