After the coldest March in years and weeks of grey, murky skies, this week sunshine and springtime has finally arrived here in Norfolk. Thank heavens!
For weeks I’ve been busy planting seeds in the greenhouse or on windowsills indoors with no end in sight to the cold winds and rain that have made it impossible to pot up plants and harden them off in the cold frame. Some days it has felt like winter would never end. But yesterday as the sun came out my greenhouse reached a tropical 26 degrees (hurrah!) and after a week of mild weather my timid little plant babies have been able to poke their heads outdoors and start to get acclimatised.
Its amazing how quickly nature catches up with itself. In just a few days the clumps of perennials have shot up in the cutting garden and suddenly its all hands on deck as I race to get the garden up to speed with weeding, tidying and planting. This time of year is always a bit manic as I juggle garden work with all my other jobs but its still a joy to be outdoors. Every day there’s something new to see as bulbs open up, trees suddenly bud into life and colour returns to the garden. I expect the next few weeks to be a bumper time for blossom and flowers as lots of species flower all at once – in my garden daffodils are still in flower while the bluebells and cherry blossoms are just coming into bloom.
Out in the fields there’s a haze of foamy blackthorn blossom in the hedges while some of the hazels still sport catkins that have been flowering since January. Blackthorn is one of my favourite plants and in case you’d ever wondered how to tell blackthorn from hawthorn, another hedgerow berry plant that flowers in late spring, there’s a useful link from The Woodland Trust here that can help you tell the difference. Come September I’ll be pulling on my gloves and battling the blackthorns – which have thorns like miniature daggers – in search of their juicy but bitter berries. A freezer bag full is all I need to make a Christmas supply of sloe gin.
Tidying up is probably my least favourite job, especially as a lot of the tidying involves sweeping up beech leaves. We have a magnificent tree next to our house which if it wasn’t so close would be something to treasure. As it is, this tree is the gift that keeps on giving – beech nuts in September, leaves all through the autumn, beech flower pollen in May, moss on the roof, bird poo on the cars…the list of jobs it creates is endless. This week alone I’ve burned and composted eight wheelbarrow loads. But during the leaf sweeps I have at least made some discoveries. First, tucked under the hedge, were some pots full of hellebore seedlings. Last year I pollenated my hellebores with a paintbrush, following Carol Klein’s advice. The seeds they produced were planted out then left to their own devices and amazingly some have finally germinated! I think these new plants should come in different colour variations from their parents so I’ll be potting them on and watching them closely in hopes they’ll flower next year.
My other discovery was a sad one – a tiny nest in the compost heap with two little eggs inside. How long it had been in the heap of twigs and branches I’ve no idea but as we’d cut back the shrubs several weeks ago and kept adding to the pile while we waited for our garden brown bin to be emptied it was clearly long abandoned. Poor little bird, having its work and home whisked away. I felt rotten. To make the best of it my youngest will take it in to school so his friends can have a look and appreciate the delicate little beauty.