Monthly Archives: April 2013

All at once…

Spring has come suddenly, excitingly and enthusiastically. Last weekend the sun shone, warm and bright, and green became the dominant colour within hours. It is always amazing to see Spring emerging, every day looking newer and greener than the day before, but this year it has been like watching a time-lapse film. And all the more thrilling for having been made to wait so long. Plants are tumbling over themselves to put up new growth, to bud, to burst into leaf, to flower. In the garden, as I look out of the study window, I can see tulips, daffodils, primroses, anenomes, Chionodoxa, marsh marigolds, magnolia all flowering together, all at once. Successional planting has been triumphantly gazumped by the need of individual plants to get going. 

There is a day in May, always just one day, when the full, broad palette of greens in the garden reaches its wonderful zenith. It won’t be long before it is here – and it will make my gardening year.

Up at the allotment, the soil remains a bit on the chilly side in spite of the sun we have been enjoying. So I haven’t sown any seeds directly into the earth yet. Courgettes, broad beans (‘Red Epicure’), and pumpkins (‘Atlantic Giant’) are all straining to get out of their pots, but the weather forecast suggests a bit more cooler weather over the coming weekend, so they will have to stay in the greenhouse a little longer. 

It is pleasing to know that the Courgettes sown by Molly’s birthday party guests, 10 days ago, are all doing well. I am urging people to keep them indoors, and repot them if needs be, until things warm up a bit.

Yesterday I sowed three pots of Sunflowers for a Which? Gardening trial. Known only as A, B and C, it will be interesting to see how they turn out. I also planted out some Heucheras in the front garden – ‘Spotlight’, ‘Georgia Peach’ and the ubiquitous ‘Palace Purple’ – all of which had been brought on from plugs: lovely plants the lot of them. 

William had been tasked by his teacher to establish the meanings of annuals and perennials, so I sent him off to school this morning with chapter and verse (as well as complicating matters with hardy and half-hardy, and biennials). I am meant to be going into his class to talk about plants soon, so maybe I’ll have to arrange a test!

Finally, eagerly awaiting the imminent delivery (yes, Amazon – sorry) of two long-awaited new books. Monty Don’s The Road to Le Tholonet will doubtless be beautifully written, and will build on my appreciation of French gardens and gardening, as his recent TV series did. It also gave my wife the term ‘jardin ouvrier’ as a passable translation for ‘allotment’ – where hitherto ‘potager’ had to serve, and didn’t quite do the job.

John le Carre’s A Delicate Truth will also be wonderfully written, and will absorb my waking hours for a few days if I can eke it out. I firmly hold that le Carre is one of the great, truly great, writers of the past 50 years: that he is still treated snootily as a ‘genre’ writer says a lot about the worst side of English literary culture. Le Carre has created as vivid and unflinching a picture of our country in its fading post-imperial grandeur as any writer could have done, and his world is every bit as arresting as ‘Greeneland’ or any other author’s imagined realm. That le Carre – by his own admission – gets angrier with the passing years only adds to his astonishing achievement. Having read extracts from the new novel, I look forward to it – as to every one of his books – with boyish excitement, and a gnawing regret that it will be over all too soon. 

To have two great books on the bedside table at once is almost enough to make one wish for rain, or a really bad cold.

April and yellow

Apologies – as ever – for my failure to blog lately. No real reason, just a combination of things. One of which was Easter, and a lovely week in the Lake District. We stayed, with two other families, at YHA Windermere: which is a slight misnomer, as it is actually in Troutbeck and about 3 miles from the village of Windermere itself. However, its position several hundred feet above Lake Windermere, with amazing views west over towards the Coniston Fells, is fabulous. The terrace, bathed in some long-awaited late-afternoon sunshine, pint of Jennings’ Bitter in hand, was the place to be at the end of a cold, bright Cumbrian day, with snow glinting on the distant tops. The bird table was consistently thronged with Great, Blue, Coal and Long-tailed Tits – along with Robins, Dunnocks, and Blackbirds – just six feet from where we were sitting.

Everyone at the Youth Hostel was great, and the children were treated to the run of the wonderful grounds – extensive, hilly, wooded and full of wild den-building opportunities. This is definitely a venue to recommend.

Back in Wiltshire, the gardening year continues to move at a lethargic snail’s pace towards something that might properly be called ‘Spring’. There are a few flowers showing in the garden – pots of Tulipa ‘Purissima’ have opened in the past day or two, a beautiful pale creamy-yellow.


There are some ‘Queen of the Night’ in the same pots too, which are later into flower, and a fabulous deep maroon. They should, in due course, pick up the colour from Heucheras and Ajuga in the adjacent border. Otherwise, the front of the house is full of creamy-yellows and deep blues at the moment.

But generally this season is a very slow affair. Forsythia, which would normally have been and gone, is still coming, and Daffodils are still in full bloom. Nevertheless, it is warmer, and wetter, than for the past three months or so – and there have been some spells of warm sunshine.


Other people’s gardens are moving equally slowly, of course, so it’s sometimes a question of finding ‘maintenance’ jobs to do once all the ‘seasonal’ stuff’s been deal with. Lawns are getting some extra care this spring – though cutting remains a hit-and-miss business, entirely dependent on the vagaries of the showers (which seem to have a sixth-sense for me getting the Mountfield into the van).


I have seen Swallows this week in central Salisbury, and there was a Chiffchaff calling loudly when I visited the allotment early this morning on the way back from the school run. The allotment is yet another scene of delayed activity, the ground still too cold for sowing. A fine crop of rhubarb is flourishing though, on the edges of the manure heap dumped back in the autumn. It’s salutory to notice how the soil levels in the raised beds, which were brim-full after a pre-winter mulching with manure, have dropped over winter. They will need bringing back up again before plants start to go in: I just hope that not too much of the goodness from last autumn has been washed away.

There is a definite sense of spreading green in the borders after each new shower, so we are moving forward, albeit about three weeks behind a ‘normal’ year, we are at last.