I’ve been spending time recently going through my box of seeds and – my favourite part – looking through seed catalogues to decide what I’m going to grow in my garden this year. My husband has been muttering that the garden has looked particularly neglected this winter, and it’s true – bare branches, bare earth, no sign of any life at all apart from one or two winter-flowering shrubs and now the snowdrops, suggesting that winter may be nearly over. I’m looking forward to the spring flowers that I know are resting just below ground level, to those flashes of brightness that catch the eye and gladden the heart.
Any gardener will tell you that winter isn’t over until the frost-risk has passed – in this part of the country it can even be as late as May – but the lighter nights and changes in the smell in the air are a sure sign that spring is definitely on it’s way. The dog has noticed the changes too. He spends his walks dashing into the bushes, digging at apparently nothing in the ground until he appears with something in his mouth (I don’t always look too closely at what that might be!). We see birds with beaks full of twigs and grasses, ready to renovate or build new nests. We’ve noticed more and more squirrels as we walk through the woods, rooting out the food that they buried in the autumn (although the dog may have got there first!). All around us are signs of life, and it’s wonderful to see.
As much as I love the winter, I do like this time of year. There’s a sense of anticipation that warmer weather and brighter skies are just around the corner. I love the envelope that arrives from the seed company, full of little packets of potential. These seeds will grow to be flowers and vegetables, a pleasure for our eyes and for our plates. Every year is a new opportunity to start again, to review what grew well and what didn’t, and to try out new varieties of plants. It’s an exciting time! I find it very hard to make myself wait just another couple of weeks before starting my seed-sowing until the light is just that bit better and my seedlings will grow strong and sturdy rather than tall and leggy. It’s hard because I’m an impatient gardener, but that’s why gardening is good for me!
In those few weeks, the first leaves on the trees will begin to blur the stark winter outlines and the whole landscape will become softer. Winter sowings in the farmers’ fields will suddenly spring to life and almost overnight, the fields will be full of crops rather than ploughed earth. It’s quite incredible that this is something that happens every year, and yet still has the capacity to make us stop and wonder at how nature knows it’s the right time to change the season. Clever, eh? Welcome, spring!