After weeks of grey skies, or so it seems, we have finally had a few bright days, when the sun has warmed the cold earth, and encouraged some early flowers to open at last. I was beginning to wonder where the snowdrops were, when a couple of days ago I realised that they were hidden under drifts of autumns leaves. Now I have brushed some of the old leaves away from the borders, clumps of snowdrops have opened to the sun, along with a sprinkling of yellow crocuses and a pink blushed hellebore. And this afternoon I was surprised and heartened to see a solitary miniature iris, its vibrant blue petals flung wide like arms to greet the sun.
Spring is on its way.
The wisteria in my garden is in full flower. It climbs across the pergola, with long, pale-lilac racemes reaching down to gently touch my face with delicate, purse-like flowers. As the air around them moves, like dancers the racemes drift together in slow-motion, first one way and then another.
My wisteria is beautiful during the day, but at night, when I stand and behold the muted colours and drink in the faint perfume that hangs in the air, it is truly glorious.
Wisteria at night
I’m back again; not that I’ve truly been away, but ‘life’ has happened, as it so often does, and I’ve been away from my blog for far too long. Now I’m back again, no doubt over the next few posts I’ll put into words some of the things that have happened over the last couple of months.
In the meantime, autumn has come and gone. Winter is here, and what a strange winter it has been so far. Over shadowing, depressing greyness, rain by the sky-full, very wet, very muddy, and unseasonably warm. Before Christmas I spotted an urban roundabout completely covered with confused daffodils that usually don’t flower until well into February; had anyone told them they were a full two months early? I’ve spotted snowdrops and hellebores – not quite so seasonally out of kilter. And I have a sprinkling of pale purple anemones splattered across the sunnier borders in my garden.
Last week we had hail, like ice marbles, clattering and bouncing on roofs and pathways, enough to almost bury the patio. Then we had a couple of mild frosts, that have taken us by surprise, and unaccustomed as we are to the cold this year, made us feel that we’d been dropped into the Arctic! Then finally this morning, we awoke to a world dusted with an inch or so of snow – the first snow of a very peculiar winter. It’s almost completely gone now, and who knows if there will be any more.
At this time of year I would usually be looking forward to spring, and eagerly watching out for signs of growth, but this year I really feel that we haven’t truly had any winter yet. So over the next few days I’m hoping for some cold, frosty mornings, with a crackle underfoot, a bite and a sparkle in the air, and with bright clear blue skies; then I can start looking forward to spring properly.
As summer turns to autumn, the squirrels are becoming very active in my garden. More often than not, they have acorns in their mouths, ready to ‘plant’ them into my pots and tubs, or anywhere the rain dampened soil has become soft enough. I realise the squirrels are only following instinctive patterns to hoard food for the barren winter months, but in hiding their cache of acorns, they usually manage to dig up and destroy my carefully planted flowers. Even if they don’t disturb the plants, the squirrels inevitably forget where they’ve planted the acorns, and next spring little oak trees will shoot up in my tubs and in my flower beds. As soon as I notice them I have to pull them out before they begin to take over.
After sending the dog out to chase yet another acorn-wielding squirrel off the patio, I got to thinking. And I wondered how often other people dig into our lives, and leave behind them seeds such as anger and resentment or discontent, that begin to grow and take over our thoughts and attitudes without us actually realising they are there. I kept thinking, and I began to wonder what seeds I plant into other people’s lives. Do I plant negative, hurtful things, or do I plant encouraging and affirming things, such as love and acceptance. I know which I would rather have planted and nurtured in my life, and I know I would also prefer to plant good things in the lives of others.
I visited Shoreham-on-Sea last Saturday, situated on the Sussex coast, and had a lovely walk along the Shoreham Beach Nature Reserve. It is a shingle spit naturally created over many hundreds of years, that runs adjacent to the River Adur estuary. It consists of mainly flint pebbles, washed down after the last ice age. The pebbles were moved along the coast by long-shore drift, and then combined with the action of the river at its mouth, piled up to form the shingle spit.
In among the pebbles grow surprisingly large clumps of vegetation, creating a striking display of shape and colour. On our visit we saw purple Mallow, bright pink Valerian, little spiky balls of pale pink Thrift, and white Sea Kale, with foliage that looks just like cabbage. Almost 90 different plant species have been recorded on the beach. In 2006, Shoreham Beach was unsurprisingly designated a nature reserve, in order to help preserve and protect this area of unique vegetated shingle, and the wildlife it encourages.
Unfortunately Saturday was very windy, and we didn’t see the variety of birds and butterflies that frequent the area, although there were plenty of seagulls overhead, and a few bees buzzing around the flowers. Despite the wind that made my ears ache, it was an interesting and enjoyable visit, and to be thoroughly recommended.
Spring is springing, and my hellebores are in full bloom. With the common name of Christmas Rose, or Lenten Rose, unsurprisingly most variations are in flower sometime between Christmas and Easter. They are ideal in shady areas, and their bright faces can enliven a dull sheltered spot. I have some lovely plants in a bed where I can easily see them from the warmth of the house, and it is difficult to say which is my favourite. The almost black Niger is very striking, while Pirouette is covered with masses of veined candy pink flowers, and Ice Breaker has large open, pale green and white flowers.
Which is your favourite?
Walking back from the beach to my friend’s house in Littlehampton last week, I spotted this hydrangea growing in a front garden. I only noticed it when I was right up close, and then I realised that it was growing completely inside the hedge. The flower heads were perfectly formed and not stunted in any way through lack of light, and the colours were truly glorious. A bible text popped into my head: ‘Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick;’ (Matthew 5:15 AV). I have adapted it a little: ‘Do not grow your hydrangea inside a hedge where no one can see its beauty!’