Spring can’t be far away. Never mind the buds breaking on the japonica, or the snowdrops giving way to the yellow croci. Almost every day a new garden catalogue arrives in the letter box. And of course, they are a delight to drool over, particularly the “nouveautés”, though, these days, I find myself ticking off the many varieties I already have in the garden, or those that I took a chance on, but really didn’t have the right conditions for.
Mostly I prefer to see what I’m getting, buying from plant fairs, “trocs” or garden centres. I’m also a soft touch for rescuing disgracefully unwatered, neglected plants from supermarkets. But I have bought plants by mail order before – with mixed results – and once you get on a couple of mailing lists the catalogues multiply like a tenacious virus. It’s also salutary to find that the target market for seeds, bulbs and plants of all kinds coincides with the customer base for sensible underwear, wide-fitting shoes and ingenious gadgets to aid those of us whose strength/eyesight/hearing are on the wane. Hello, add-in waistband expanders and battery-operated nose-hair trimmers!
Another unfailing sign of spring is that white patches, like isolated frost pockets, appear on the field. The Pie, (see pic. in “Introducing the Horses”) whose mainly white coat in winter resembles a flokati rug, is luxuriating in extravagant rolling sessions to loosen the deep pile!
The early mists are giving way to gorgeous pale sunshine and, in impatient expectation of treats to come, most of the garden has been cleared of the brown old sticks and chaff from last year. The tips of hemerocallis are peeping through and the daffs are showing some nice fat buds. We do need to get some compost onto the beds, but have been diverted during this gorgeous fine, warm spell by clearing the undergrowth and saplings in an area of woodland long neglected (with a view to extending the pasture). Most of the scrub, pre-treated with a systemic weedkiller, that we are slashing and burning consists of brambles, juniper and blackthorn, of which there is no shortage.
All three shrubs have fantastic attributes. Stand close to a straggly Christmas-tree’s-skinny-sister juniper in fruit and the instant desire for a gin and tonic will remind you that juniper contributes its distinctive perfume to a favourite tipple of Brits everywhere.
Brambles, like roses, have the cruellest thorns to remind you that succulent blackberries and beautiful flowers make you pay for gathering their bounty carelessly. And blackthorn – ah, blackthorn. The white froth of its blossom is one of the earliest harbingers of spring and the indigo fruit, pierced and added to gin with a dieter’s nightmare of sugar, will in due course mature into the rustic delight of sloe gin.
But a scratch or splinter from a blackthorn bush will turn septic in the blink of an eye, as we and the horses have found to our costs before now. Even dead blackthorn is dangerous! The day before yesterday I must have scratched my nose on a sprig of blackthorn because yesterday I awoke with a blood blister on a swollen nose, and tender, raised lymph glands in my neck (glad I didn’t have to go out!). I wonder does that poison go into the sloes as well? Something to ponder as you down a glass of sloe gin!