The last vase of forsythia was thrown on the compost this week, and in came the first of the cherry branches. Their flowers hang in little pairs, compact, pale pink intensified into fuchsia buds. A day or two in the warm and they’ll be out: silly, frilly, and gorgeous. We are on a roll, now: forsythia, cherry, lilac and may – the spring blossom which spreads itself over the full three months of the season. It doesn’t matter that I can’t bring myself to cut the apple or the pear; plenty else is coming out.
Things are coming up, too, as I had hoped they would. It’s an act of faith, putting tiny seeds into the vast brown earth and trusting that they’ll emerge, days later, to dodge the weeds and the slugs and the violent rain and hail. Yesterday: bare earth. Doubt creeping into my mind, and a vague plan to sow more peas indoors, where I can control the process in a length of guttering. Today: a neat row of shoots, with not a single one missing, quarter of an inch high. Yesterday: weeds where the swedes went in, and worried consultation on how long they should take to come through. Today: gentle weeding and then a moment of recognition as, crouching and looking hard, the first tiny heart shaped leaves were spied. Yesterday: a lonely red onion, uprooted by the birds, pushed gently back into its hole. Today: fleshy shoots sketching out the rows in the vaguest of dot to dots.
After the warmth and light of last week, the past few days have been sullen and prone to angry outbursts. I wear my sunglasses and my waterproofs, pulling the hood down and glasses on as the quarter hour demands. Then the sun is hurried out of sight, and my hood comes up again. This is the sort of weather I find hard: when I’ve had a taste of what it could be and then: this. When I’m glad and disappointed all at once that I left the woollens out. The sort of weather when the garden simply doesn’t appeal, yet I know I must get out there as the weeds are growing and the only sunny things on the horizon are a multitude of dratted dandelions. So I rug up in my macintosh and head on out, and within ten minutes I am having a lovely time scrabbling around in the dirt. I welcome the new growth and shoo away the ever curious hens, before starting on those pesky yellow heads.
It’s a sign of how spoilt our hens are, that when they are put on the lawn they ignore the dandelions and nibble instead at the clover. They crop the grass like geese, and peck excitedly at insects. Yet when those selfsame weeds are pulled and put into my basket they become a delicacy, so that my progress around the garden is marked by a trail of nibbled remains, like a green-fingered Hansel or Gretel.
At last, after an hour or two, I know I ought to do those other things which are waiting for me: the wash with Mrs P, or the lunch which must be started, or the pile of rolled and ready ironing. By now I am so enjoying being out that I don’t want to go back in. So I pause for a moment, to see the bigger picture, and notice how the maple has come on overnight. The leaves are unfurling fast, still in their youthful shade of pink, offering shade to the hens below. It is the most colourful of all the trees in the garden, this little maple which stands before the chicken shed and softens that side of the garden. Over the next few months it’ll change from peach to mint to green to yellow to red, and then stand bare again the whole long winter. I’m so pleased to see it back in leaf once more: out, just as we all should be, at this time of year.