This, the last week of March, I have been away for work. The work is exciting, but leaving at this moment of awakening is always hard. To miss what you have been waiting all winter for. First green in the hawthorn hedges, the wild narcissus at their peak, epimediums unfurling and the deepest crimson of peony foliage.
There was one bud open on the Yoshino cherry (main image) when I left, but the tree had been gradually transforming over the weekend. Not fast enough to visibly see the flush of sugary pink intensifying, but enough to feel it gathering in the toing and froing as we walked under its branches in the yard. Winter to spring and a moment I find most wonderful in the early stages of blossom gathering pace. I will not miss the spectacle of the tree in full flower, but in the five days away I will miss the moment. The alchemy of energy moving after the last dark months of slumber.
Before I left we went for a walk in the first extra hour of evening light on Sunday. Won with the clock change and long-awaited, the time between the end of a gardening day and having to go in to prepare supper is the very best time for looking. We walked through the garden, where the mulching is all but finished, making a mental inventory of what has already pushed through the dark eiderdown and what is yet to come. It is still too early to tell if the damage from the hard winter has killed and not simply razed the Euphorbia ceratocarpa to the ground. This is the first winter we have seen such damage from the freeze, but by the time the cherry is over, we should know whether we have to reconsider their replacement.
Walking out through the gate toward the ditch, I made a note to prune the willows that have already flowered, but to stand beneath the branches of the Salix purpurea ‘Nancy Saunders’ and soak in their shimmer of tiny catkin whilst they are still with us. The relay from one variety to another has kept us moving between the willows as the pussies silver to break winter and then flower to welcome spring and the drone of early bees. As soon as the catkins are over we will coppice them along the garden boundary, where they have been providing much needed shelter. The fast growth of the shrubby willows has been perfect as the garden has been establishing, but they can now go onto a three-year coppicing rotation. A third will be coppiced every year, so that it feels like there are generations in the group and the balance remains comfortable in the planting. Not too much shade, but enough to make a little microclimate and whip in the wands to catch the breeze.
Down through the second gate where the Tenby daffodils are handing over in a perfectly timed dance to the marsh marigold. For the weeks that they have been in flower, the narcissus have claimed the gold in the spectrum of spring yellows, but the marigolds are king when you see them together. Petals with a sheen to reflect the light and complete saturation.
We unwittingly planted two varieties of Caltha palustris from different sources in the wet mud of the ditch. A small-flowered form and its large, more exuberant cousin, which is double the size in all its parts. For the first time this year, eight years after planting, we are beginning to see self-sown seedlings, which let us know they are happy there. It must be a question of quantum mass, the parents reaching a certain size and perhaps providing the optimum conditions in their shadow. The next generation, and what I always hope for in terms of pattern-making, is now extending their range. The gardener’s hand overwritten by the spontaneity of plants showing you where they truly want to be.
Walking now into the gloaming to follow the primroses, because it always takes longer to look when the looking takes over. Perhaps at their very peak this week and shining like nightlights in the gloaming, they dance the length of the ditch. When we first cleared this watery ooze of brambles and discovered the mother colony sitting quietly in their shadow, there were just a handful, but over the years we have been splitting the plants that are dividable and moving them into new territories. There is a perfect moment to lift and split as they begin to go over in a week or so’s time and just before the rush of spring eclipses them. A mature plant can divide into ten or so new plants which, if pushed into damp ground, will be the start of a new colony. They too take time and the mature plants can reach a considerable age. After a year or two to settle in they then start seeding. The sticky seed moves quite some distance when carried by ants and other insects. We follow the water as it descends to the stream and try to spot the plants we moved and the new offspring finding the places that they really like to be.
Up the hill again from the dark water of the pond and towards the bright clouds of plum blossom. I planted the plums up the slopes to deliberately avoid the frosts which loiter in the hollows. Last year we had a week of frost which coincided with the plums flowering and left us with just three of the dozen varieties forming fruit. We were unable to protect the plums, but netted the pears trained on the walls and won a bumper crop of fruit there for our labours. A close inspection at the pears on the house, the last look before heading in to make a late supper, revealed a week to wait in the buds. My last task of the day had been to clear the spent stems of the fennel that suddenly felt redundant alongside their returning promise. March to April and spring well and truly sprung.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 1 April 2023