Spring is Stepping Up
When Spring steps up, offering spells of warm sunshine, the familiar harbingers of the season begin to show themselves. Russian snowdrops, as white as the driven snow not quite yet behind them, are peeking quietly from under potted shrubs, or showing off on mass beneath woodland trees. Yellow daffodils are already lining the edge of the roads into town here in North Wales, announcing their presence with a show of brightly coloured trumpets, heralding a sign of things to come.
A season of re-birth, marked by tradition and the anticipation of a fresh new start, Spring is on its way and everything in the garden is beginning to demand my attention. Tentative green shoots and bright green leaves are laying waste to last year’s swathe of copper-coloured Beech leaves; left to cover flower beds, along with straw, to protect precious plants. These blankets have provided shelter for small mammals and catered for birds trying their luck for bugs and worms.
Although tempted to get out there and tidy up, I’m conscious that my enthusiasm may cost me dear. Clear, starry nights or heavy rain still threaten the survival of the occupants of the flower beds. Whilst the most delicate penstemons have hitherto managed to get through the frosts thus far, as I write, snow flakes are floating down in a silent reminder that we’re not out of the woods yet. So, perhaps, I’ll sit back a while and be patient.
Other jobs have been done, however. For the first time since its purchase three years ago, the wisteria has undergone its winter pruning, and has been re-housed in an over-sized pot in order to train the plant as a standard specimen. Alas, not blessed with loamy, easy to manage soil in our garden on the mountain side, this Grand Dame of the more stately gardens of England has struggled to put on growth, let alone flower. Ever the optimist, I am hopeful that this new strategy will encourage better results in the coming months. They say that in order to have success in the garden, avoid trying to bend the needs of a particular species of plant or tree in order for it to survive, and that is certainly sound advice. However, I am of the mind to try and try again, despite the handicap that goes with gardening on heavy clay, a large clump of which would not be out of place on a potter’s wheel.
Against all odds, and the advice of the very learned expert at my local plant centre; two Passion Flowers (one of which started off as a cutting on a kitchen window ledge in Devon, the other from a specialist grower in the New Forest) have survived hard frosts, blankets of snow and howling Easterly winds. And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s the added impediment of competition for water during the summer months from the elderly conifers on the other side of the garden fence.
Some characters who visit the garden have lofty intentions, indeed. Large crows will head-butt a fat ball off its anchor until it hits the ground. Only to appear almost too afraid to try dining out on it once it's in reach; preferring, instead, to dance around it as if to pay homage to his achievement.
Squirrels are even bolder and no less a stranger to the art of the perfect heist. A generous helping of peanuts strung up for the birds had got a particular squirrel's attention; but, his first attempt at a sting operation to acquire them didn’t go well. The net bag split and the contents spilled onto the ground. Not to be put off his ambition, he rocked up the very next day with an ever more determined air. After negotiating safe passage past two peacocks putting the world to rights on top of the garden fence, the squirrel took a deft leap into the Beech tree, lightly skipped along its branches, and was soon within range of his target. If I hadn’t looked up at this time, I would have undoubtedly missed witnessing an uncanny removal of a generously packed bag of peanuts from a hook on the washing-line post. Managing to lift the bag off the hook, and tuck it under his belly, this laudable thief was off like a Jack Rabbit with the haul of the season.
On stepping outside of late, I am greeted with a symphony of bird song as our feathered friends go about their business. Theirs has been a chilly winter, indeed, and they look forward to the sprinklings of seed and berry flavoured meal worms laid out on the patio. Blackbirds bob around finches and blue tits whilst the resident robin looks on, waiting for a less frenetic opportunity to take his share. Beware the sparrows. No matter how humble they look, they have a gang-land mentality where food is concerned and will fight for the last tiny morsel. Not afraid, in the least, to see off unwanted competition, loudly backing younger contenders into a corner with all the finesse of a football hooligan. But what of the peacocks? Their celebration of springtime means spending more and more time in the garden. They fly in after lunching on posh digestive biscuits and the best cat food money can buy, offered by our neighbour, and bathe in the last vestiges of any perceivable presence of afternoon sunshine before taking a stroll around the lawn, or settling down on the fence. Or, if the mood is right, and with a distinctive call to attract everyone in the village, let alone a prospective mate, they will raise their tail feathers in the grandest show of magnificence this side of the Tatton Park Flower Show.
And so it goes, Winter’s cloak is slipping further away with each new day and springtime in the garden is slowly stepping up. There’ll soon be new-born lambs gamboling in the surrounding fields before we know it, not to mention the advent of a solar eclipse courtesy of a Supermoon* on the same date as this year's Spring equinox. What better way to celebrate the coming season.
*News about the impending Supermoon and solar eclipse can be found at earthsky.org