What a crazy spring this is turning out to be. I’ve never known a season quite like it. Plants that usually flower in early June, but have never, ever before opened a bud before the end of May are shedding their sepals. The first blue poppies are in flower, ferns are unfurling their new fronds, and Matteucia struthiopteris looks particularly good just now, filling the Round Garden with tender green. All is green – a thousand different shades of green.
Not only the flora is in a hurry, the fauna is joining in as well. Our first blackbird fledgling was on the wing during the last day of April, accompanied by its anxious mother. The pond fish, rarely fully active until well into May, already find the water warm enough for extensive evening cruising. The goldfish tally has risen to twenty-three and there have been quite a few feeding frenzies, whenever I find the time and don’t feel too cold on the “eastern front” to throw in a handful of pellets before I head for the house and my late evening meal.
Apart from the upright white ‘Mount Everest’, which always puts on a show in May, often repeated in September, shrubby potentillas never start flowering before July. All have put on several inches of new growth already and are beginning to open their first buds.
Embothrium coccineum, the Chilean fire bush, glows vermilion high up in its branches, a colour echoed in the Entrance Bed, where Berberis thunbergii artropurpurea forms the backdrop to a particularly good form of Euphorbia griffithii, darker leaved and more compact than ‘Fireglow’ or ‘Dixter’.
On The Ship, a long pile of sand, held in place by maritime rope and adorned with masts and sails, Rhodiola rosea, the native rose root is the star of the season, enhanced by a supporting cast of Tulipa batalinii ‘Bright Gem’.
The earliest yak hybrid rhododendrons are going over and that lovely species, Rhododendron oreotrephes is the epitome of spring freshness just now, its pale lilac trusses accompanied by new blue-green foliage.
Weigela middendorfiana is excelling itself this year. Sometimes flowering can be a little sparse, but this May every branch is wreathed in large cream foxglove flowers, beautifully marked with red inside.
My accumulated winter fat – caused by too many winter evenings spent on the sofa, watching movies, eating chocolates and drinking red wine – has melted as rapidly as the last snow and I had to buy a belt to stop my trousers from heading south.
The new part of the garden is now beginning to come into its own and I love to spend a few minutes standing by the gate of an evening, drinking it all in. Both the lime and acidic landscapes are filled with colour.
The decision to concentrate on the garden this year and to leave the nursery to its own devices was the right one. Springs, as far back as I can remember, were always one big rush and extremely stressful. Everywhere plants were crying out to be propagated, potted up, and shortly after, when they had outgrown their pots, begged to be potted on – all to “keep the customers satisfied”.
Potting on continues all the same. My “ladies-in-waiting”, large gatherings of containerised plants neglected for years, are getting a make-over. Quite a few have been smothered by self-sown seedlings of Jacob’s ladder or Geranium macrorrhizum, which meant pulling a few corpses as well as long-forgotten treasures from the undergrowth.
Re-potted in a mixture of loam, well-rotted horse manure and top-dressed with coarse grit, they look very smart indeed, but I’m fast running out of handsome pots.
No garden is complete without some spring-flowering clematis. C. macropetala is smothering the porch, while C. macropetala ‘Markham’s Pink’ is taking charge of a north-facing byre roof. C. alpina ‘Francis Rivis’ is a particularly beautiful form with long, blue tepals.
There’s been an influx of red admiral butterflies, also earlier than usual. Yet there’s one species at Lea Gardens which is bucking the trend. Our ewes were expected to start lambing at the beginning of the month, and concern had been raised regarding Bruno being up to the job, based on his unusually high voice for a ram. He came to us as a caddy (orphan) lamb a year ago, and had his first season with the ladies six months later.
Yesterday evening, at long last, the first bleating of not one, but two lambs, black twins, one with white ears. Somehow, since Bruno has become a father, his voice sounds just a tad deeper.