Finally we made it. On the last day of the week Archibald managed to join his line of classmates on the frosty playground just before the bell rang. Fifth time lucky. I left him, tartan scarf dragging and knitted tea-cosy hat with its pompom shedding scraps of bright red wool in an incongruously festive trail around a sullen little face.
The whippet, however, once roused from her post-breakfast nap, was full of the joys of spring. She chose a patch of bergenias on the edge the lane for her first stop. The sky was bright, cold and clear, and the verges seemed to be full of interesting smells. The birds seem invigorated too – there has been noticeably more choral work in the mornings and quite a busy promenade along the beams of the de-glassed glasshouse and the bare trunks of the vine. The newly pruned fruit trees below the village look neat as a pin and ready to burst forth.
A curious robin came to watch me as I pruned the hydrangea down to the just-burgeoning lower buds, last summer’s petals falling like confetti. Already beneath my feet fat green shoots were pushing up through the mulch; I’ve forgotten whether they are tulips or hyacinths, but this mystery only fuels the anticipation. Something has tried to dig up the bulbs from a large pot by the door – last year’s tulips, which I found sprouting in a box last autumn. Squirrels or children…? I’ve been making regular tours of the hellebores I planted out last year, waiting for a show, but it has so far been muted – one or two slightly nibbled flowers. Perhaps they need more time to settle in. Or was I supposed to remove all last year’s leaves? This seemed a bit extreme when there is so little greenery left in the garden.
Inspired by all the pictures of frosted topiary and other exhortations to create structure in one’s garden I attempted to ‘shape’ a small holm oak that had seeded itself some years ago, aiming for a lollipop effect. I am fairly pleased with the result although only time will tell whether it thrives after its haircut. Likewise my efforts at training the espalier apples and pears along the wall behind the vegetable patch; since they were first planted and tied in professionally none of the subsequent twigs seems to want to grow in the direction I desire. At least I have gained – I hope – a head start on the aphids that decimated them last summer by applying a winter wash.
And then there are the snowdrops. Every garden magazine and Sunday supplement article is full of them, because to be fair there are only limited plants to rave about in February. We have a small crowd here – just the bog-standard Galanthus nivalis as far as I know – huddled under a hazel tree just to the left of the driveway. I made a half-hearted attempt to split a few clumps last year, hoping to encourage them to spread outwards under the canopy of the hazel; being the first time I had attempted this I thought it would be foolish to spend too much time on it if my efforts were simply to kill off the little chaps rather than multiply them. So I am delighted that they appear to have survived – there are numerous lonely singletons nodding their pretty white heads. I can understand why people become devoted galanthophiles. Snowdrops are so delicate, elegant and pure in their restrained palette of green and white – and their appearance amongst the frost and the brown skeletons of winter cannot fail to bring joy. However, I am determined to resist this new potential obsession, as the children would surely stamp on the most special of cultivars and I don’t need any more garden-related distress (the whippet’s violent pursuit of squirrels has been quite emotionally draining). But if I come across a Galanthus ‘Grumpy’ I might be tempted – I think Archibald would appreciate it.