March 2020. Where to begin? I’ve been wondering that for a couple of weeks now, hence my tardiness in writing.
I’ve wanted to say how much these times accentuate the need for – and illuminate the enormous gift of – nature. But what a cliché that is.
I wanted to relay a beautiful poem, ‘Spring didn’t know’, by a very talented Hayley, that seemed to capture everything about this time, both the horror and the wonder.
And I wanted to continue just as normal, picking out all the little details in the garden that have made March March.
But these are not normal times and something held me back. We can’t ignore the elephant in the room and yet more than ever we need some normality in our lives. And after two weeks of feeling quite out of sorts, with a cough and slight fever in tow, yesterday I had my first day back in the garden. Some kind of normality was resumed for me and today I feel clear-headed enough – freed – to write once again.
The end of March saw me view the garden from behind a pane of glass. The old Georgian windows letting in the soothing sounds of myriad birds singing their signature tunes as they collected up bedding for their young. Too numerous for me yet to identify them all.
The visual accompaniment to the soundtrack was equally special. A one-year-old deer stretching up to munch a cherry blossom, jumping out of its skin when ten thousand soft, pink petals fell like confetti. He composed himself before reaching up once more, seeing if the same thing would happen.
There have been times where the roe deer have been playing, the muntjac nibbling, a couple of pheasants strutting and two mallards fighting, only for Harry the hare to race past the kitchen window, just a metre from me. I don’t know how to put into words the feeling this spectacle brings.
Seeing the congenial co-existence of all these species – sometimes watching each other, but mostly oblivious – happening in front of my eyes, in my own little piece of paradise, makes me feel the luckiest person on earth. I can’t imagine why so much life has chosen our little piece of land in which to make its home, but I’m oh so grateful it has.
Earlier in the month everything was at micro level: the diametrically opposite experience to the window view. Tiny little wonders appearing as if from nowhere.
Peering closely into the pond, the water boatmen first showed up, but then both toads and frogs appeared in pairs. One afternoon I noticed a new patch of toad spawn, wondering how I’d missed it that morning, only to discover a male and female right there, laying long double chains of eggs right in front of my eyes.
Each spring, more and more ephemeral plants take their chance to germinate and set out in the world, presumably as we clear the monocrop of nettles and give them space to breathe.
Wood anemones and corydalis have popped up where no colour was seen last year. I find these surprises a million times more rewarding than anything I’ve planted myself; the wonder of them having sat there so patiently all these years and deciding that right now was the exact, perfect moment to appear; always in the perfect spot, for their needs and my superficial aesthetic ones.
The occasional morning frost highlights this increasing biodiversity. A mild morning and a sheet of green is all that’s seen, but icy white margins pick out so many shapes and forms, a huge array of life which has found its way there.
One thing I did plant myself, were fritillaries this autumn, a first for me. I carefully inserted them into the ground at the damp end of the orchard and they have rewarded me this spring. Success though, will be if they are happy enough to multiply – if they do, they stay, if not, we move on. I love letting plants themselves do the designing for me.
Looking back, I feel as though March was a very gentle month, somehow soft and embracing. The colours are soft, the light too and perhaps the diminutive scale of life a further dimension to this.
But I can’t help wondering if my perception has been influenced by broader happenings this year. The contrast with the harsh realities of life, making the softness shine through all the more. It’s very hard to calibrate right now.
I’ll just have to wait until March 2021 to see everything anew through a clearer lens. In the meantime, I’ll wait and I’ll wonder, with anticipation and hope. Isn’t this exactly the magic that gardening perpetually brings?
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PS A heart felt thank you to everyone who emailed me in my writing absence to check I was OK. I was incredibly touched and will try and reply to everyone individually now I’m well and truly back to my old self.