Slow Starters

The garden is reluctant to wake up this year.

In the fitful sleep of a mild, wet winter, some plants never even reached dormancy. Teasels and ox-eye daisies lingered under the thick grey skies either side of the solstice. A few geraniums clung close to the earth through the short January days, and, in February, limp foxgloves began to bulk out enough to get themselves noticed. With the first bright sun of March, stems lengthened, and leaves stretched, but, as if enfeebled by their lack of rest, growth was intermittent. An inevitable response, perhaps, to the stop-start, stop-start, of weak sun and heavy rain that marked our winter months.

Now, in April, birds sing all day and when I dig, the damp soil is full of worms. Ladybirds sunbathe while bees hum and we are visited by butterflies; brimstone, orange tip, speckled wood, holly blue. Only ever seen one at a time, I treat these lepidoptera as the same four individuals (we are, after all, on first-name terms).

In a quiet corner by the pond, a self-seeder emerges. Secret and slender, it is the daughter of the daughter of my daughter’s tree. Three generations of silver birch in twenty years. I feel delight and awe in equal measure - could this be the start of a wood?

Back in the patchwork flowerbed, undulating grasses link to splaying ferns. Long thin blades of crocosmia nod down to crisping curls of heuchera. The sleepyheads – rudbeckia, aster, persicaria – stretch and yawn, still nothing more than baby leaves. Forget-me-nots and vinca, meanwhile, have been awake for ages; blue eyes and purple stars peering timidly from the safety of the undergrowth. Above them, confident geums and aquilegias lift their faces. Their indiscrete orange crowns and elaborate pink bonnets are far too tempting; they become our first cut flowers of spring.