Snapshots from spring
Spring is a joyful season, propelling us out of the winter doldrums and into warmer days and longer nights. After months of slumber, nature’s flora and fauna are bursting into life. On nippy spring morning walks we find the hedgerows in full bud and spy ferns waking up from their winter sleep and slowly unfurling in the undergrowth.
Foraging for plants to use as natural dyes and to help decorate our easter eggs one afternoon, we found alder catkins, nettles, wild garlic and cow parsley in abundance, and walking back through the village we came across the most magnificent magnolia.
And as the soil warms, it’s all go in the garden, too. I cleared my tiny potting bench in late March and started preparing trays and pots for briza grass, larkspur, stocks and bunny tail grass. The children have brought home sunflower seeds from school that sit in pots lining the sunny kitchen window ledge and I feel as though I can almost see them growing in real time.
I’ve found so much happiness in nurturing all these tiny plants. Although I probably left it a little later than I should have, most of them are ready for planting out now, but I’m going to give it another week or so, just to give them the best chance of survival amongst the more established, light stealing plants they’ll be nestled beside. I was lazy and, although I had intended to do so, I neglected to lift my brand new dahlias last year. I was a bit annoyed with myself about it, since they were a happy experiment that yielded the most perfectly wonderful and colourful blossoms right the way through last year’s summer.
But, joy of joys, every single one has come back this spring and they appear to be thriving. According to an experienced gardener friend, the dry winter helped - dahlias hate being soggy apparently. Before I knew they would be back again this year, I ordered some more dahlia tubers online back in January (the cafe au lait collection from Sarah Raven) and I have these growing in pots outside my shed. I’m not sure now where I’m going to find the space to plant them out, which is, admittedly, a nice problem to have.
As the days lengthen, evening walks along the coast have been our favourite way to spend time as a family. One sunny late afternoon we arrived at Seaford Head to find the tide completely out, exposing great swathes of rock pools that we and the kids had hours of fun playing in, discovering sea urchins and snails and then climbing over the bigger rock formations (the kids, not us!) - I struggled to keep up as I ran behind them in typical mum fashion shouting, “be careful, it could be slippery!”
The easter break gave us a good chunk of time to relax and spend time as a family. The weather was kind to us too. We travelled to Scotland, via York, to visit grandparents, arriving completely unprepared with woollens and wellies, only to have to run out and buy shorts and sunscreen!
In the balmy evenings we took long walks up the hill behind my mum’s house to get the best view of the sunsets, standing under the huge beech trees hung heavy with fats buds fit to burst and listening to the song of the skylarks and they rose against the crimson skies.
The garden had only been abandoned for just over a week but on our return it looked almost unrecognisable compared to how I’d left it. At the front of the house, the wisteria was just beginning to blossom. At the back, euphorbia, geums and some particularly virulent climbing clematis make the space look almost jungle-like. The forget-me-nots are taking over, but they’re still so pretty and vibrant - and the bees love them - so I decide they will stay for another couple of weeks. And, of course, where there are plants that you’ve nurtured growing at this time of year, there are also weeds - lots of them. And huge green clumps of grass are happily growing up through the cracks between all the paving stones. It can feel a bit overwhelming and sometimes I struggle to know where to start, but once I start methodically working my way through the jobs, all is calm once more. For now anyway.
If I had to call it, the viola would be my favourite spring flower. I’m a sucker for anything teeny tiny and, although I love pansies, for me the viola is its more elegant cousin. I’m constantly deadheading them - and the pansies - to encourage more growth, but I’d been wanting to play around with sugaring some edible flowers for a while, and I like the idea of preserving these tiny purple and ochre viola flowers. I whisked up an egg white, added a splash of water and carefully painted them with the mixture front and back. After some experimenting, I found that holding the flower and sprinkling them with caster sugar gave a more delicate, frosted effect. If I dunked them in the sugar and tried to cover them they came out looking a little clumpy, which meant that the delicate colour of the flower became almost completely covered by the sugar. A success story I’d say. One which has encouraged me to try more once the roses are in full bloom (which wont be long now) and make some cakes to decorate them with. But more on that next time.