March is a month of changes. Early in the month came that day when suddenly the quality of the light seems to change, penetrating nooks and crannies of the house that have lain shadowed through the winter; somewhat shamefully illuminating threads of cobwebs that billow softly in the currents of air, launching a frenzy of cleaning activity. Spring cleaning seems inevitable in the new focus of this brilliant sharp light of spring. This surge of daylight begins to stretch languidly at either end of the day that was once enfolded by darkness, such that before breakfast is even done, or while tea is cooking, our little one carefully carries his shoes to the kitchen door or pats the glass and points into the garden, expressing his desire to be outside exploring again.
Crocuses have been sporadic in the overwhelmingly waterlogged start to the year; a handful of golden yellow C. chrysanthus ‘Zwanenburg Bronze’ hugged the ground in the front and back borders, gleaming in the occasional glimpse of sunshine; just one C. chrysanthus Prince Claus; the deep dark purples of C. vernus ‘Negro Boy’ (finally renamed I believe, C. vernus ‘Twilight’) in the long border were all too brief in quantity and longevity, sadly these favourites seem to be dwindling in our garden. There’s been no sign at all of flowers on the lovely large white C. vernus ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ that were the last I added here, though there’s a chance that they flowered without me noticing in the tangle of winter growth.
A week into the month and I glimpsed a crumple of pale purple on the grass, and wandered over expecting to pick up a piece of in-blown litter. Instead, a lone Crocus tommasinianus shyly stood amidst the long damp grass. In previous years I’ve found a couple of these crocuses in the borders in pieces of plant gifted from my mum’s garden, where they spill extravagantly out of the borders and across the lawn each spring. I also scattered a small packet of seed across the lawn perhaps two or three years ago. Wherever this one has sprung from, it is most welcome here, and slowly I hope it will spread its magic through the lawn.
The early Easter weekend, predicted to be somewhat of a washout, surpassed expectations to give us some glorious sunshine. We took advantage of the best day, Good Friday, when Grandma generously came to look after our little one all day so that King of the Hill and I could both work outside, with sporadic tours of inspection from the under-gardener (not to mention a few wheelbarrow rides).
I was pleased to finish overhauling the last of our three major ornamental borders; tidying, cutting back, pulling up the early weeds – or overenthusiastic seeders. I have long since come very close to regretting sowing Briza maxima here – I love their exuberant dangling flowers, large pale-green scaled pendants with dark red caps hung on improbably thin wiry stems to dance in the slightest wisp of wind, and they make a fine companion for aquilegias in early summer – but for two autumns a rash of seedlings have sprung up thick and fast in the two borders where I first planted my handful of seed-raised plants a few years ago, squeezing up between the stones of the terrace and in every container within several feet. Persisting through the dull months of winter, they do add a vibrant splash of green, but they swamp the borders with a dense mat of lush foliage in early spring, quelling any other seedlings trying to come through, and create the perfect environment for slugs and snails to hide and devour any new growth that does manage to break through.
This year I’ve also been surprised by the abundance of Stipa arundinacea seedlings that have sprung up through the same two borders and again in pots and between paving stones of the terrace. Their wafts of slender russet leaves are less all-pervasive than the broad thick (so thick!) carpets of the quaking grass, not to mention looking rather handsome catching the low winter light, but still require rather a lot of editing. Fortunately both plants pull up easily by hand.
It was so good to catch up with the garden at close hand, and by the end of the day I finally felt ready for spring to truly surge through our garden. While I was tidying the ornamental borders, KOTH was hard at work giving the lawn its first cut of the year, and embarking on the first of our (possibly rather ambitious) plans for change, which involved emptying, dismantling and moving the longest wood store that he built for our garden along the boundary between our kitchen garden and next door. I hope to write a post soon – as time allows! – on our plans/intentions for this year and beyond – and see what progress we can make in our limited time by the end of the growing season. In essence, we are trying to optimise the garden with the hindsight of a few years’ hard use since we took it over, and make it more manageable with our busy family life.
As our little one has become more mobile, the very nature of garden visiting is changing. No more marching around with him strapped to my chest, sleeping or taking in the scenery; he loves nothing more than to amble along on his own two feet, often in the opposite direction to me (!), pausing to explore everything, taking tumbles in his stride, as it were, as the terrain changes. Only when his little legs tire (or its time to get somewhere fast) do I swing him up onto my back in a carrier where he swings his arms around pointing (and grabbing) at the things we pass.
A quick trip to Dyffryn this week was a revelation. We only had just under a couple of hours, and whereas in the past I would probably have done a lap of the gardens in this time and then lingered in the woods or formal gardens as time allowed, we barely touched the tip of these gardens on this visit, yet the experience was no less enjoyable. He really drew my attention to just how much richness and detail there is in the world around us, that we take for granted as we grow older. For a seventeen-month old, every step is full of wonders to explore; it’s surprising how much time can be spent – and fun can be had – with just one painted bench beneath an old yew; a small patch of felled tree branches scattered on the woodland floor; an undulating dell of ferns beginning to emerge amids rocks and fallen/arranged timber; a grassy slope; the textured bark of an old cyprus or a gnarled spreading oak tree; a paved terrace complete with flush uplighters, steps and statuary (some still under wraps to protect from frost). Sometimes I think he teaches me as much, if not more, than we could ever teach him. He certainly opens my eyes, and encourages my patience.
I was a little wary as we approached a grassy bank planted with clumps of daffodils; no, we weren’t going to admire them and continue along the path when we could wend our way around the clumps and down the slope: I was surprised and pleased at the skill with which he led me through the flowers, without picking or trampling any, negotiating mole hills and the slope with few tumbles, no carnage, and little need for a guiding hand. Not to say that he wasn’t happily picking all the flowers off a primrose in our garden earlier in the day – it’s a good job they self seed so happily for us!
I may need to consider our visits carefully before undertaking them this year, to ensure that they are suitable – a trip to a local lake was rather fraught with anxiety for me; the lake completely unfenced; the swans, ducks and geese milling on the shore apparently tempting for petting; the paths certainly not to be adhered to and any attempt at steering – or leaving – met with resistance… but I’m really looking forward to sharing some of my favourite places with our little one as he grows. Early in the month with family I visited the nature reserve I discovered last year, to see the wild daffodils emerging, and was glad that I hadn’t taken him with me, the narrow root-bound paths and steep slopes perhaps best kept until he is a little older. But otherwise, I hope we will get out and about as much as possible and I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from places I thought I knew.
As March draws to a close, the first tulips are in flower: pointed golden buds of Tulipa sylvestris erupting along the front beech hedge where the early daffodils have been and gone, and a deep red bloom of a hybrid tulip, ‘Ile de France’ I think, in the mixed pot I planted up for last year, since left untouched. While I usually replant these pots with new bulbs in the autumn, and transfer the previous year’s occupants to one of the borders to take their chances on reflowering, this year the pots remained undisturbed, and I found myself in December tardily and hastily digging up the front borders, lifting a chunk of earth on the blade of my spade, thrusting handfuls of the new bulbs deep into the ground and then removing the spade to release the suspended earth, tamping this back down above them. There are few signs of foliage yet from this very late planting, so I rather suspect that if we see anything of these flowers it won’t be for a month or more. As King of the Hill is fond of saying, they have two chances: slim and none.
On then into April. Spring is ramping up quickly and this month should continue to see lots of change. The first day dawned cold and clear, just shy of a frost. A brilliant blaze of fiery reds and oranges spread across the horizon and up the sky, subsiding only once the ball of the sun had begun to climb through this burning band. As quickly as they were kindled, the fires in the sky faded once more to leave a quieter wash of greys and soft gold, returning the world to its slumbered form, low clouds billowing over the hills and washing around the landscape, so that stands of trees floated unanchored in silver mists, a graduated set of receding bands of grey, putting me in mind of an extreme form of three-dimensional decoupage.