To honour the start of spring, on paper at least, here’s a snippet from Daffodowndilly by AA Milne.
It’s a poem that not only reminds us of the beautiful constancy of nature, but also shows that the author didn’t give all the best lines to Winnie the Pooh.
“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
‘Winter is dead.'”
The tiny snowdrops in my garden defied Storms Corrie, Dudley, Eunice and Franklin, but the huge holly tree sheltering the log pile did not. Looking out the kitchen window after the first storm, we initially thought that the damage was just a few fallen branches, but on closer inspection we found that our massive, tangled old holly had cleaved at the roots and taken out a drystone wall and three log piles in its clattering death throes.
Should we weep or cheer? Three smashed log piles and a ruined wall isn’t great but, once cut up, we’ll have tons of extra firewood for months.
A rallying call was made to the Chainsaw Masochists, my husband’s somewhat niche WhatsApp group who occasionally give up their weekends in service of their friends for a chainsawy, garden-blitzing bonanza, featuring hard hats, bacon rolls and top banter, as the young folks say. Come Sunday, a cheery gathering of dads had assembled and a noisy morning commenced.
I’d made a rhubarb and custard traybake from a recipe I found on the internet because I wanted everyone to have something lovely to eat during their tea break. I didn’t want to feel guilty letting them get on with the hard work while I stayed cosy indoors.
I’m as capable as the next person of dragging a twiggy branch towards a chipper, barrowing logs, or bumping a bough along a sawhorse, but I was fairly sure they would have far more fun without me. The kittens, watching from afar, found it all very odd.
First settle on your vision
Anyway, as my trashed garden reels from the storms, I’ve begun thinking about what direction to take it in this year, now that the sowing season is within reach. What is our vision? Our ethos? Our concept?
It’d be nice to think that, this year, we can go one step further than keeping on top of the weeds, hacking back branches, wondering who on earth planted that clump of alarming, knicker-pink hyacinths, and actually do something different and beautiful.
So, we’re going to grow more flowers. We’re good at fruit and veg, but the colour in our garden disappears when the rhododendrons die back in May.
A friend of mine has taken courses in flower farming and sells her gorgeous blooms locally; you have to move fast to snap them up. Her inspirational arrangements are the sort of bouquets you dream about but never see: fragrant, fresh and gloriously homegrown.
We went to the garden centre – excited that, this year, our flower-filled home will reduce Elton John to tears, should he ever pop in
This summer, I hope to waft out into my garden, wearing a huge hat and carrying a wicker trug, as chirping birds dance around my shoulders and fat bumblebees look up gratefully from their lunch as I cut armfuls of blooms “for the house”.
I wanted a vision? There it is.
So, we went to the garden centre, did exhaustive, back-of-the-seed-packet research and came home laden – excited that, this year, our flower-filled home will reduce Elton John to tears, should he ever pop in.
Now there’s just the small issue of getting them to grow. Winnie the Pooh, usually so wise, said: “Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.” But, in terms of getting flowers to flower, he dropped the ball.
Baby steps towards a dream garden
I admire those passionate, celebrity gardeners, but they do seem to communicate in code. They’re all about rooting powder, sharp sand, leaf nodules – say what now?
Then they’re pricking out, potting on, hardening off, grafting, splicing… Watching them is like watching a brain surgeon at work and deciding: “Yeah, sure, I’ll give that a go.”
I grumble that you need a PhD in horticulture if you’re going to have any success at all, and this notion makes me unwilling even to make a start.
New to gardening?
Ignore advice about 'starting with a pot' and grow in the ground for by far the best results.
— James Wong (@Botanygeek) July 9, 2017
I’m easily discouraged by small setbacks and dislike not knowing what I’m doing. Others must feel the same way about trying cooking, music or art; that they’re for different, cleverer people who’ve put the work in.
Enough gurning. I’ll sow the seeds, try not to weed out too many by mistake in a few months’ time, and even if this summer only yields a marigold or two, at least I’ll have a bunch of knowledge for next year.
Erica Munro is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter and freelance editor