The skylarks have returned and at every glimmer of sunshine ascend in a paroxysm of delight. There are noisy gatherings of Oystercatchers speed dating in the field, and the lapwings are practising sky dancing aerobatics to advertise their prowess as a sign of their parental fitness. To earthbound mortals the song of the lark is a clarion call, time to finish the winter maintenance and start planting seeds rather than perusing seed catalogues.
March is a capricious and seductive month, a flirty chameleon capable of switching its wintry hues to reveal tantalising glimpses of spring green. Traditionally it begins with strong winds, torrential rain and squalls of hail and as the equinox approaches it can deceive with calm days full of soft spring sunshine before departing with a tail lashing of stormy days. Infected with the mania of “mad March hares” we rush around trying to squeeze in a little gardening between the routine chores of clearing the gutters, collecting the accumulation of winter storm debris and the endless task of spreading muck, seaweed and garden compost to replace the precious top soil swept away in the tumult of the westerly gales.
Tackling the rebuilding the fruit cages after two stormy winters has now become a priority. The side netting needs new and even bigger batons to hold it firmly in place and the roof netting, torn to shreds and hanging like Spanish moss from the rafters, has to be completely replaced. This will be the third redesign and repair of the roof, and as I’ve just ordered another 1000 stainless steel screws I hope it will last longer than the previous version. Garden projects designed and built by the Head Gardener have always been constructed to last until the next millennium, but here, however much we over-engineer and try to compensate for the weather, it is never quite enough. I begin to empathise with Sisyphus endlessly rolling the boulder up the hill and wonder how I had managed to offend the gods to such an extent as to be condemned to eternal repairing of storm damage.
The garden sleeps on, oblivious to all the activity as I clump around the garden trying not to damage any tender new shoots which may be lurking beneath the piles of wind-blown stems and old leaves. Carefully the winter debris is collected and the new growth exposed. The young, tender leaves are bejewelled with crystals of rain and are vulnerable to the cold northerly winds and the nip of a frosty morning. The power of the sun on a calm afternoon is just enough to stir a hibernating bumblebee, but they soon retreat as the garden has nothing to offer other than a few bedraggled primroses.
There are times when I am envious of the glorious displays of bulbs and blossoms in more temperate gardens, but for all it’s capriciousness March like the larks is a welcome harbinger of spring. There is the anticipation of discovering what has survived the winter, the gift of finding some self-sown plants and the joy of watching the new growth emerge. Best of all I still have the spring flowers to come and I’m anxiously waiting to see if one of the apple trees will produce a sprig of blossom.
This morning a perfect line of 21 swans flew low across the water, stark white against a dark indigo sky. Resolutely heading north-west, each wing beat perfectly synchronised, beauty in perpetual motion. The children of Lir are departing once more and now I know that the season has changed and spring has arrived.