Rites of Spring

Each season presents the gardener with a set of tasks – some more urgent than others – to perform. Spring’s to-do list can be exhilarating, as it often highlights work that allows you to contemplate future horticultural pleasures; jobs done now will, with luck and some diligence, result in beauty, bounty, harvest. How exciting!

But on Spring’s list (if you’re the organized type to actually keep a list in the first place) are also tasks that you don’t relish but that have to be done. For me, the need to clean old plastic pots in advance of sowing seeds is one of those less-rewarding Spring jobs that I tend to put off until the need to sow cucumbers, courgettes, corn – all those vegetables that require a long growing season but can’t take any touch of frost – becomes too great to ignore.

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So I force myself to tick it off the list, good for another year. My little plastic greenhouse at home is now filled with tomato and bean and squash seedlings growing in those cleaned out plastic pots. But already the plants are demanding to move on to larger quarters and another task looms – the dreaded “potting on” – and I find myself once again falling short. Surely they’ll manage until they can be transplanted into the ground, I suggest to myself. (Don’t kid yourself, lazy gardener!)

Now, the activity on my Spring to-do list that I look forward to with anticipation each year, and that probably brings the most delight, doesn’t actually involve my own garden. It is a particularly English pleasure that we have come to cherish: walking in a “bluebell woods”. A stroll through a bit of woodland in May feels magical, like you’ve entered a fairy story. Flowering wild hyacinths, vividly blue, carpet the ground in profusion. It makes a nice diversion from all that potting on I should be doing…

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N&I.bluebells.2017

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Spring up

The sight of asparagus spears poking up from the earth is a wonderful moment in the gardening year. The tips emerge looking like something prehistoric; reptilian heads covered in overlapping scales tinged purple, sniffing the air.

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After finding the light, they tend to grow quickly, each day rising higher. Sometimes, its path impeded, a stalk will curve and curl like a fiddlehead fern, but most reach straight for the sky.

To harvest asparagus you should use a sharp knife and cut the stalk slightly below the surface. With mature plants over three years old you can keep cutting the spears as they appear for a month or so. By June, however, it’s time to stop, allowing the plants to succeed in completing their mission of developing tall airy fronds. By doing so, you allow asparagus to store the energy supply they require to come back with vigor next year.

We’ve had two miserly servings from our little asparagus bed so far. We are hungry for more and eagerly watch for new eruptions. I keep saying we will “do it properly” and buy new crowns and plant them in a large, perfectly prepared bed – soft and deep, dark with manure and free from weeds. But since I haven’t arranged this yet, we are left with our few, hand-me-down plants. Perhaps the spears taste so exquisite because we know there will be no glut to work through, just a brief, delectable spell of ultra-fresh, verdant deliciousness.

 

 

Elegant Celebrations

Spring accelerated sharply last week when the weather produced an unseasonably hot and blue-skied summer’s weekend. In response, many flowering trees and shrubs erupted in floral jubilation.

At the allotment, my little pear tree’s buds were the first to burst into white blossom. The Morello cherries followed its lead and today are also smothered in beautiful white blooms.

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Our old apple, fighting disease and recently festooned with amazingly symmetrical woodpecker holes, is taking its considered time, as is its relative, the young Bramley. Both are just now beginning to reveal vividly pink buds.

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I can’t help lingering on the gorgeous flowering trees that seem to be everywhere now – from blackthorn in the hedgerows to magnolias in the front gardens. It is their moment in the limelight; in the blink of an eye the show will be over as the season advances and less showy foliage follows.

Perhaps the tree that has most captivated me this April is a cherry growing on the edge of nearby Abbey Fields. How old must it be to have such a thick trunk and branches with such impressive reach? Despite its obvious age, it still greets the season with stunning abandon.

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cherry.blossom

Summer’s lease

Late summer flowers line the path to the old apple tree. Welcome back to the allotment!

Late summer flowers line the path to the old apple tree. Welcome back to the allotment!

After a month away, the garden has transformed. Sun and warmth have worked their magic (and friends have deployed the watering cans). A proper summer at last.

Bean tendrils reach for the sky.

Bean tendrils reach for the sky.

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We’ve been gorging ourselves on green and purple and runner beans.

Peeking through a  wall of climbing beans.

Peeking through a wall of climbing beans.

Rudbekia, cosmos, dahlias, and sweet peas tangle together along the border, inviting bees and butterflies to visit.

Rudbekia, cosmos, dahlias, and sweet peas tangle together along the border, inviting bees and butterflies to visit.

And the garden grows

4th May, 2013. Sun and clouds punctuate our al fresco lunch on the allotment with Jonathan.

4th May, 2013. Sun and clouds punctuate our al fresco lunch on the allotment with Jonathan.

Spring at last. Despite the drought of allotment-themed blog posts since we celebrated the rhubarb’s emergence, the garden itself has not been neglected. We’ve taken to the seasonal tasks with some diligence and even gusto: digging over beds, weeding, harvesting over-wintering crops, planting seeds both indoors and out. In fact, at this moment, the allotment is probably in better shape at this time of year than ever before. (Though there’s still the issue of several flower and fruit beds overcome by creeping couch grass that must be tackled soon. Not to mention the weed seeds biding their time, waiting for some warmth to begin to colonize those neat patches of bare earth.)

Some things that make my heart rejoice:

Asparagus! Our transplanted crowns have survived the winter and seem to like their new location. We'll have more than four spears this season.

Asparagus! Our transplanted crowns have survived the winter and seem to like their new location. We’ll have more than four spears this season.

Peas grown in the gutter begin to climb up their twiggy supports and begin to flower. Behind them you can see the broad beans and, further back, autumn-sown spinach.

Peas grown in a gutter at home, then transplanted outside, climb up their twiggy supports and begin to flower. Behind them much-anticipated broad beans assert themselves. And behind these, rows of autumn-sown spinach continue to produce.