Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The First Day of Spring

Tuesday, 16th March 2010

I'm officially calling this the first day of Spring up here, although technically it's not till Saturday. The sun is out and the temperature guage in the car went (briefly) into double figures (11.5 degrees) for the first time in months as I drove out of Buxton. I glanced at the vistas around me and there are still, unbelievably, pockets of snow to be seen in shady high spots and in front of dry stone walls where it had been blown into drifts. Yet the general flat dead browness of the landscape, the colours of vegetation which has been covered by snow, is lifting slightly. There is a hint of green to come, of new growth. The daffodils by the roadsides and in the gardens are just pushing through now and the drifts of white snowdrops are finally looking robust and abundant rather than stunted and cold.

In fact I have just been out in the garden to pick some snowdrops for our guest room and my parents' imminent arrival. I noticed that the tulips are poking their way up through the soil in the borders and tubs together with the daffodils and the crocuses. There are even some primulas finding a new lease of life and showing off diminutive heads of palest yellow. The hellebores have taken a pasting from the frost - just one has white flowers right now - as have other plants around the garden. I have lost many pots, burst apart by the consistently freezing temperatures - all of which have endured previous winters without trouble. Another sad demise is the tall yuccas we brought back from Milan in 1999. Against all odds they have battled their way through life in the frozen north, but I fear the ice that coated them while we were away at Christmas was their downfall. I was a little upset when I went out one day recently to find the green crowns scattered about the terrace - they had completely rotted off the stem. I was very proud of how these plants had resisted, to date, all that the Peak District could throw at them - and I am sad because they are a happy memory of our time in Milan and the birth of our first daughter (who loved them dearly because they made her feel 'exotic' and dream of white sand beaches, turquoise waters and palm trees - her idea of Paradise).

Meanwhile, I have turned, alarmingly quickly, from laughing at my mother with her (relatively) new found obsession with feeding the birds in her garden, to becoming exactly the same. It all started at Christmas when they were staying. She braved sub-zero temperatures to leave the warmth of the hearth and trip out into the snow in unsuitable shoes clutching plates of old crusts. She'd throw them on the snow and we'd watch the robin come to feed. It was all rather lovely.

I've always fed the birds but not with the dedication with which I have now taken on this duty. I used to collect crusts and stale bread and put them out on the old stone bird table; and a few years ago I bought a seed feeder which I hung on a tree near the terrace. Sadly, neither of these birdly banqueting venues are easily visible from the kitchen window so it was rather a thankless task. Then, a few weeks ago, I was round at a friend's who had a bird feeder stuck to her glass patio doors with suction cups. At first I inwardly winced and could barely suppress slightly unkind thoughts concerning style and ageing, but soon I was entranced by the numbers and varieties of birds which were literally flocking to feed. To see them up close and personal was actually rather wonderful. So wonderful that I went straight out to the pet shop and bought one for myself. I filled it with seed, stuck it on the kitchen window and waited. And waited. And waited.

In fact it seemed an eternity before the first bird felt brave enough to try it. Then one day my phone went while I had popped to the post office. It was Elena. I imagined she was going to tell me the friends we'd been expecting had arrived. But no, instead she said excitedly: 'Mummy, Mummy! A bird's just come to your feeder!' 'What was it?' I asked all a-twitter with excitement myself. 'A robin. But Louisa pointed at it and shouted 'LOOK!!' and it flew off again!'

We saw no more for another week or two. Then I put out some bacon and croissant and I noticed a few days later that these tasty morsels had gone. So, slowly slowly, they are becoming aware of this new source of food - but they seemingly keep sneaking up when I'm not looking. I hope that, bit by bit, they will gain confidence that all is safe and I will actually be able to see who comes to feed.

I have also moved some seed feeders which you stick in the ground. They were in the border by the stone bird bath but, again, out of sight. I have now moved them to the border in front of the kitchen window and it brings me much joy to see the little bluetits perching and pecking on the small cups of food.

So, you see? I have turned into a little mad old woman overnight. It is really quite frightening.


Maddie Grigg said...

Pouring with rain here. I sadly lost a young olive tree given to me a few years ago as a leaving present from work. It's like the Mediterranean has disappeared from my back yard.
Have a good weekend.

Mark said...

Not very spring like here - but then I'm going back home to wales at the weekend after 3 months enforced absence (renovation).

I bet you have a wonderful garden.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Award for you over at mine!

Pondside said...

It happens to us all - we turn into our mothers, bit by bit.
People here are always pushing things in the garden - some have banana plants, most have Yuccas and Pampas grass, and the new thing is any kind of palm. Really it's not that warm, and it only takes one bad winter to bring it all down - and I'm a bad enough gardener without that element of risk!

Working Mum said...

Get a niger seed feeder. In a few days you'll have beautiful goldfinches. I love them!

Sorry to burst your spring bubble, but snow forecast this week!


Hello everyone and thanks so much for your comments.

Maddie - I can quite understand that loss of the Mediterranean. Am so sorry. I adore olive trees - they sum up that whole wonderful Mediterranean atmosphere. Certainly not a hope of having one up here - I think it would be even too cold indoors!

Mark - it is true, I do love our garden. It has a tremendous sense of place. I fell in love with it as much, or more even, as the house. The photo at the top of the post is taken in 'dingly dell' - the wild woodland part of it between us and the hills behind us. Just a week ago the snowdrops were still beautiful, but now they have all gone over. The pile of wood is just one of many scattered about from some clearing and tree surgery we did the autumn before last. We've kept this pile for now - lovely hideaway for little animals.

Hadriana - you are too kind. I will go over and have a look now.

Pondside - people are silly aren't they? The golden rule of gardening for me is take a look around your natural environment to see what thrives - if you want to save yourself a lot of time, trouble and money stick with what's indigenous. I only had the Milanese yuccas (actually, I think it might be a form of cordaline0 out of sentimentality. As I said, it was amazing they lasted as long as they did!

Working Mum - you know, I think I may have seen a couple of goldfinches just yesterday hovering around the window feeder. They didn't quite make it in, but were certainly showing some interest! So what's a niger feeder, then? Will have to investigate...And yes, snow forecast up here for tomorrow - and I'm told it's coming up from the south of France! Mad.

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