I wasn’t entirely happy with May.
I’m sure May couldn’t care less what I thought of her, but I felt let down.
I’ve always thought of May as the most perfect month in the UK garden. Lush, fresh growth expanding at an inordinate rate, everything abundant and perfect ahead of any heat exhaustion, senescence or much nibbling kicking in.
But as I glanced around the garden in mid-May, that wasn’t what I saw. Everything seemed so bland. Lots of green, yes, but virtually no colour, no interest. All just a bit blah. This wasn’t how May’s supposed to be.
Was I just in some strange, grumpy, Covid-19 mood? Or was I having withdrawal symptoms from the Chelsea Flower Show this year? Perhaps the (often forced) early interest there had clouded my perception and left me craving a false reality.
But no. It turns out I just have the memory of a goldfish and intelligence of…well, I won’t insult any other species here.
It was the pond that finally came to my rescue. I visit the pond a few times each day and I’d been getting impatient for the plants to burst into flower and the tadpoles to grow legs.
But on 21st May, my first visit lasted most of the day. A bit naughty really, but I just couldn’t pull myself away. The dragonfly nymphs, by the dozen, were climbing the bush rushes for the final shed of their exoskeletons, ready to dry out in the sun and enjoy their inaugural flight.
Watching this for the very first time, it’s impossible to feel anything but elation. It’s like magic and happiness and wonder and awe, all wrapped into one. And as I sat, watching this spectacle unfurl in front of me, of course I noticed all the other little creatures and plants and flowers that were all there under my nose.
It wasn’t just the emerging dragonflies, but the damselflies creating red love hearts as they mate and the sparkle of delicate gold-framed wings, gleaming in the sunlight.
When I looked closely, the raged robin seeds I’d sown last spring had finally germinated and were starting to spread a haze of pink about the margins; the bird’s foot trefoil was lighting up every little nook and cranny and even the Potamogeton pondweed had pushed up little baby flowers across the water’s surface.
Why on earth had I been so dismissive of my ‘dull’ garden? All I needed to do was stop and look. How can I possibly forget this, over and over again?
Suddenly, so many non-dull things jumped out at me. The pink Cercis flowers emerging directly from the woody trunk; the hairy, vivid green unfurling fronds of a male fern; the burgeoning bunches of plums in the orchard; the easily passed by exquisite drapes of Robinia pea flowers with their surprisingly beautiful brown sepals.
It had all been there all along, if only I’d looked.
Of course, the animals have been here too. They love the wildflower meadow – it’s a great hiding place for so many creatures. It tickles me so much to see a head poking up to survey the world, before retreating back down to lunch again. And watching mammals and birds strut along the curving mown paths as though parading along a catwalk makes them seem so conforming, thoughtful and human.
Harry’s even been extra specially compliant on the hand washing mantra this month: not just hands but feet too, morning, noon and night, it seems.
All with little fear once some cover emerges, wandering so close to me as I garden.
We’ve had not a single drop of rain this month; it’s been wonderfully sunny and warm and summery. It’s drawn me to the dappled shade by the woodland stream: such a peaceful, calming, reassuring place to be. Natural springs ensure the water never stops flowing; such a delightful sight in dry times.
Sitting by the stream I noticed a strange phenomenon: the water curving up high, creating a permanent wave-like feature, despite no apparent obstacle in its way. I’ve become quite fascinating by the life of water, not just the creatures in it but the power and personality it has to find and shape its route along the land. Over lunch I described it to Paul, who informed me it was a ‘hydraulic ramp’. Who’d have thought chemical engineering and gardening would ever overlap so happily?
This very dry weather has probably held growth back a little, but the contrast between the start and the end of the month is stark, proving my theory that May really is the month of abundant growth. You can almost see the ox-eye daisies now reaching their limbs, stretching to get as close as close they can to the sun.
And the veggie garden has come to life. It’s 100% Paul’s baby – I can’t take any credit for it whatsoever – but I love the contrasting neatness of the uniform lines against the backdrop of a naturalistic garden.
We’ve been cropping beans and lettuce and have been jumping up and down with joy seeing our compost reach 50 degrees C. Little things!
But perhaps the absolute highlight of the month was meeting Sammy for the first time. The farmers had told us the area was full of grass snakes and we were certain with the pond we’d see them slithering about all over the place.
But no, 18 months after the pond was recommissioned and still no Sammy. Until last week. I only saw his head – he didn’t think much to seeing mine – and I almost thought I’d imagined it, but no, Sammy it definitely was. Just by the warming compost pile. Oh, he was beautiful. I am a little scared, but in a happy, excited way. My real fear around the compost is directed at rats and whilst I’m not sure grass snakes really eat rats, it’s a convincing story to reassure myself with. I’ve just got to be faster with my camera next time.
At the end of the month, most flowers are just starting to show that first fleck of colour. I love that tantalising first glimmer of fresh pigment in the buds. Full of hope and promise and another reminder of the awe plants instil in us.
I’m sorry, May, for ever doubting you. I promise to do better in 2021!