Garden notes: tender

Raising plants from seed is much like raising children. You begin by catering to their every need, but gradually push them out of their comfort zone, hoping they’ll flourish. Our plants are at different stages just now, all needing different kinds of attention, all so very young and tender.

The smallest seedlings are still nestled in one bay windowsill, catching as much sun as they can. Each day a few more announce their arrival, displaying their sturdy seed leaves with pride and trepidation. This week Seb’s globe artichokes emerged, and the second cucumber, and the first of the courgettes. Nurtured and safe, far from harm, we’ll keep them there until they are ready for the wider world.

The tomatoes, though, and the brassicas, were outgrowing this little nursery. They spend their days in the greenhouse now, although I still bring them in to the warmth of the kitchen each evening. The days are warm, but the nights are still so very cold, and I wouldn’t be any more surprised by another heavy frost than I was by the sudden hail which fell on Saturday. Spring weather, at once tentative and bold. Baby blue skies which can be sent scurrying away by the sharp words of some arctic wind, or a towering bully of clouds. They try their very best, but aren’t to be relied upon just yet.

They are putting on leaf, these little plants, the second and third and even fourth leaves in some cases. I think they think they’re bigger than they are. They’re staying with me, just a little longer, until April ends and they really can fend for themselves. And I think they like it, really, being carried in and out. Having a gentle hand brush over their leaves to get them ready for strong breezes. Hearing a few words of encouragement each morning – and a few idle threats from Seb to hurry them along.

All these plants are visited before breakfast, before the rounds of toast and frying of eggs and general scramble for shoes and blazers and bikes. When I’ve kissed them all goodbye, I make another cup of tea and set off on my morning round of the garden, seeing what’s new, deciding upon the day’s tasks. The rocket is up, and needs netting against the pigeons. The carrots, which I thought had failed, are making an appearance. And overnight the radishes have popped out of the ground with almost comical enthusiasm. Under their cloches, the lettuces have settled in and are beginning to put on leaf. The patch looks so painfully empty, but I know that underneath the earth good things are stirring. White, thread-thin roots are pushing into the tilth. The husk of seeds are brushed aside, releasing their vulnerable cargo. On a sunny day there is a gentleness about the place, as though all things will grow, all will succeed. Even the pigeons, the bane of my gardening life, coo gently to me as they fly around in pairs. Then the sun goes in, and the sky turns ashen, and rain and ice pelt the tender seedlings.

Today, though, is a good day. Washing is flapping on the line. I couldn’t paint a clearer sky. Under the apple tree, the bulbs are thriving, tulips and bluebells forcing their way up and past the gentle hellebores.  The pesky dandelions wink cheerfully from the edges. And when I look up, I see the beginnings of leaves, bright green against the blue. Tiny, and tender, and stronger than we think.


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