Spring discoveries

16/3/2017 I always put off the first lawn mowing of the season. It is a fine balance between the joy of welcoming in the new season and banishing the garden’s winter scruffiness, and the danger of mowing too soon when the boggy areas around the pond will be turned into a muddy mess by any attempt to drive the ride-on mower over them, even without using the cutter or sweeper.

But I don’t deceive myself: laziness plays a larger part in the delay. There is preparation work to be done, clearing fallen branches and twigs, removing mole hills and attempting to flatten the endless tunnels under the grass so as not to slice off the surface altogether. And one or two false starts are usually involved: always a flat battery, sometimes a flat tyre, and sometimes I have forgotten to fill up the petrol cans.

Now that having guests makes a tidier garden an imperative, I seem to have finally learnt my lesson and remembered to prepare the mower in good time. A few days of mild and sunny weather have dried out the lawn sufficiently, and the large fallen cedar has just been cleared, so I choose this afternoon to begin my battle with the industrious moles.

I don’t usually consider lawn mowing a recreational activity, and I am reluctant to frighten off all the animals. But once it is underway, I enjoy watching the gradual transformation of the garden, despite the noise which keeps the goats at a distance, looking on suspiciously and occasionally bleating nervously.

Today, however, is a new kind of revelation. As I take my tour of the garden accompanied by the glorious perfume of the pink viburnum, even more striking this year for having delayed its blossoming until March, I start to look out for further signs of spring.

I become increasingly excited: after my initial enjoyment of the usual snowdrops, daffodils and primroses, first I revel in the large area of purple violets at the top of the garden which I discovered the other day while weaving a live willow fence behind the solar panels. Then a patch of white violets… then another, and another, and another. Everywhere. Then – a lone purple crocus, the only one I have ever seen in the garden, bar two that popped up by the driveway a few years ago and have flowered every year since. Up near the moat, I notice a number of lesser periwinkles, and shortly after am surprised by a bright blue shining out from the opposite side of the shady path. I get off the mower to take a closer look – at first I think it is a bluebell, but that’s impossible – in March! After closer inspection I realise that the flowers are differently shaped to a bluebell, and there are fewer of them on each flower stalk, only one or two. Although I am certain it is a bulb of some sort, it is not a bluebell. Identification will have to wait until I get indoors.

After I finish mowing, I crouch down to inspect the rough area under the mulberry tree where I saw some tiny cyclamen for the first time last autumn, and discover more and more of these blue flowers. Around them are also more violets, white, mauve and purple. A metre or two away on the bank of the pond is one of many patches of lesser celandines – which, in my ignorance, I originally mistook for aconites.

(Click any photo to start slideshow)

Can this really be the first year that all these little flowers have appeared in the garden? Or could I really not have noticed them until now? I could swear I’ve never seen them before, except for the celandines which have always been around. But it seems highly unlikely they could have all suddenly appeared at once. The crocus I am almost certain has not come up before; at least, not for decades, since my father planted them year after year only for the moorhens and pheasants to eat them all, until he eventually gave up.

Though I find this hard to believe, I think it more likely that it is my observation, rather than the flowers, that failed in previous years, and it is gradually becoming more acute. The better you get to know a place, the more you start to ‘see’ its seasonal changes and its tiny jewels…

Indoors I start my search for the blue flowers. My flower guides provide no enlightenment – it cannot be native – and I have to appeal to the internet. Finally I discover its identity: it is a spring bulb, a Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), probably the truthfully named ‘Spring Beauty’.

A blackbird sings out the sunset, bringing my surprising and joyful afternoon to a perfect conclusion.

(Download audio file here)