The end of March can be one of those wonderfully useful times of year, for gardeners. The first, tentative steps towards the autumn’s harvest are about to be surpassed by a veritable stampede as life in the garden leaps back into motion. Everything is starting to grow: the early seedlings, the spears of broccoli, the tops of the parsnips still waiting in their bed. The beginning and the end of the cycle of life in the veg patch, all mixed up.
I found myself, on Good Friday, with two rows of new potatoes to plant and a bed still full of brassicas. Not to be deterred, I decided that it was time to use them up. We pulled them all and picked off the smallest, most tender leaves, which yielded enough for several meals. The rest we hung from the top of the chicken run for the hens to peck at. They laid an egg each, over the following days, including the odd double-yoker. A brilliant exchange, in my opinion.
Spuds in and brassicas munched, it didn’t take me too long to spy another garden job. It isn’t only my veg which are growing again; the weeds are making their presence felt, too. I attacked them with strategy this time, seeking a return for my labour. As a result, we have had what some are politely calling an experimental week in the kitchen. It turns out that Hairy Bittercress is aptly named. And that Ground Elder doesn’t really taste like spinach – a truth which I feel the need to test every year, for some reason.
I blame optimism, and the fact that I really don’t like waste. We eat everything up, around here, emptying the larder into a pot of soup almost every week, and seeing what colour it turns. We save empty treacle tins to plant seedlings in, and toilet rolls to start off our tomatoes. Pamphlets are cut up for collages and decoupage. Bottles go back to the shop for half a penny, and the remains of each Sunday roast is minced into shepherd’s pie, before the bones are boiled to make a nutritious stock.
Edible weeds, then, just beg to be eaten. Some are disappointing: we’ll stick to proper cress from now on. But others are just waiting to come into their own. There’s a little patch of nettles behind the tree house which I insist aren’t weeds at all, given that they are growing in the right place. They bring in the butterflies, yes, but before then they have other uses. I’ll be pulling my gloves on before long, and taking my gathering basket down to that end of the garden. The time for nettle soup is nearly upon us, and with a dash of nutmeg and a swirl of cream it’s as good as any other.
In the rush of this time of year, between the sowing and the weeding, I usually forget the little bit of pruning that’s required. That of the odd thing which is meant to be left to flower on last year’s growth: the forsythia, for instance. I was in no danger of forgetting this year, though – it is a beast of a shrub, eight feet tall and almost as wide. Luckily we all approve of the use I put those prunings to. They’re on the kitchen table, in the living room, and in front of the little window at the end of our hall. Anywhere I can tuck a vase, really. Daffodil-yellow, twiggy and fresh, ready to welcome April into our home.