Last month the seeds were jiggling to be let out of their packets into the warmth of the propagator. There they lazed in the tropical heat and only germinated when threaten with a blast of cold night air. This was followed by an unseemly rush to relocate from the minimalist cells of the plug trays into luxury accommodation in a self-contained pot. Now there is now hustling and bustling to be let out into the garden to sunbathe! My serene polytunnel has been transformed into a kindergarten, with young plants demanding to be let out or be fed and watered at regular intervals. Meanwhile the poor old gardener labours to defeat the encroaching armies of chickweed, dandelions, docks and buttercups which threaten to engulf the garden.
In April if the weather is good, the croft gardeners appear to be trapped in a perpetual motion machine, a continuous cycle of weeding, grass cutting, potting on, planting, seed sowing, planting out, more weeding…… However, when the sun shines, the wind is temperate, and the air is filled with serenading larks and the rippling fluting call of whimbrels there is no better way to fritter away one’s time. Amongst this incessant activity there is always time to watch a bee lazily investigate a thrift bloom or watch the garden wagtail bob along the wall.
We may be slow starters but when the plants finally decide that spring has arrived you can almost hear the grass grow. The garden is still not as verdant or floriferous as its more southerly neighbours but we are rapidly moving from the spring bulbs into the early summer herbaceous. Every year I am still enchanted by the way the fern croziers slowly unfurl and the plump buds of the hostas’ burst into broad whorls of leaves. As the sun comes, round shady corners are infused with light and the various shades of green glow with vitality. You can hear the chloroplasts exuberantly vibrating with energy. This part of the garden is about form and texture and later it will draw the eye from the unconstrained exuberance and riotous colours of the main herbaceous beds.
There is a similar green corner at the other end of the border. Its planting scheme is not as mature as I have struggled to establish a mix of hostas and heucheras in a particularly draughty part of the garden. It flows into a very narrow dry border which is so exposed that it needs a stone mulch to stop the soil being blown away during the winter. It is now slowly reviving and very soon will become a tapestry of sedums. These thrive in poor soil are content to bask in the sun and retreat in the winter a leaving a brittle mesh of mahogany seed heads. Each year I nibble away at the grass and add a few more stones and a few more plants. The expanse of scrubby, weedy grass diminishes every time I have a spade to hand.
The main herbaceous borders are still threadbare, but in a short space of time they will fill as the survuving clumps expand and the winter causalities are replaced. Narcissus poeticus is that last of the spring bulbs and it’s delicate perfume turns weeding into a sensual delight. The aquilegias and astrantias vie for the honour of being the first to flower ahead of the giant alliums, but this year, once again, it is the kniphofias which are supreme. Such an exotic bloom for early May and not ever a hope of a passing sunbird!
We are already into the second week of May and I’m beginning to wonder whether we will have the stamina to get through the approaching season of white nights.