Spring forward? (73 days to go…)

by Max Akroyd

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By any measure, spring has arrived. Typically, the demarcation “on the ground” is less certain. Beautiful, but frosty, mornings give way to sunny, but dry, day times and none of that is particularly conducive to rampant growth. Underneath a dusty exterior, the soil retains its winter stock of moisture for now – but we definitely need rain soon…

Oh well, it keeps the weeds in abeyance. And the working conditions are nothing short of glorious. Unimpeded by soggy ground, the days uncover a repetitive formula: a couple of hours digging, a couple of hours maintenance (mowing and/or strimming), an hour’s potting on or sowing in the greenhouse… add in an hour tending the animals, plus a bit of daydreaming – and that’s what a day’s work looks like. A steady cadence pervades every activity. You could be lulled into just going through these motions all year and not planting a single thing in the ground!

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I didn’t fancy my beer and chocolate budget disappearing on something as dull as bamboo canes. My present stock is all bleached and brittle from being stuck in a field in Brittany. But some of my scattered thoughts are already turning to planting out sweet peas and, later, climbing beans. If that seems a bit premature it’s only because I’m conscious that the season for cutting bean poles and pea sticks from our hedgerow is coming to an end. Instead of a defined silhouette of poles in the low spring sunshine, the coppiced hazel will soon be an amorphous, leafy mass.

It’s not just the money-saving aspect that makes this particular job a pleasure. Hazel seems designed for the purpose of supporting beany things. Having cut down a decent size pole, I cut off the side branches to make pea sticks and then all but one of the bits where it divides at the top – here I preserve the one that curves in a way that will help form the top of my bean structure. I then sharpen the other, thick end by hacking at it with a billhook. If you’re lucky you even end up with a the vestige of a side shoot in just the right place to assist in forming the apex of the edifice, and another one further down the pole that you can stand on to drive the thing into the ground.

When I do remember to put something potentially edible in the soil, it’s usually a potato. All tucked up snugly in a bed of grass cuttings. I’m tentatively filling the trenches thus, mindful of the wreckage that the May frost caused last year. Back-filling said trenches proved there’s heat in the sun alright – it was the first hot work of the year – but the wind is still too cold and withering to chance transplanted seedlings…

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The calm can’t last much longer. Soon the assault will begin. The tinpot plans of the gardening dictator will be flattened by nature’s show of overwhelming force. An inexorable tide of weeds and other shock troops of the wilderness will flow in and all we can do is hang on the best we can.

But hanging out the washing very early yesterday and I’m still believing it’s a beautiful world, despite everything. After all, the mean and dismaying plans of politicians and the like are slight and ineffective when compared to the seasonal change taking place right now.