Spring surprises and April flowers
With Fool’s Spring having come and gone several times already, our ‘Guernsey gardener in London’, Paul Savident, is trying to remain optimistic...
APRIL – the month where the sun’s strength begins to take reign again in our skies and our bodies, yet cool breezes and sudden showers remind us that summer is still some time away.
Like other years, we’ve already had a few periods of Fool’s Spring – heady days of sunshine and short-sleeve shirts giving us the promise of warmer days and sun-blessed skies, only for the temperature to plummet and the sky to darken, causing us to rush to our wardrobes and pull back on a woolly, a cardigan, or a traditional Guernsey to keep us from the end of winter’s chill.
While March saw the start of meteorological spring, and the solstice saw the start of astronomical spring, April continues to surprise in our homes as it does in our gardens.
For our family, April was always a busy birthday month, with Dad’s on the 7th and Mum’s on the 19th – cards, cakes, flowers, plants, and smiles all around. The 19th was also important for another reason. It’s long forgotten that this date used to be known across the UK as Primrose Day, and in the first four or five years of my life this day gave an opportunity for mum to make a few extra pennies for her bottom drawer.
Just down the lane from Martyndale, our old home at Rue du Lorier, there was a high-hedged small green lane that wove between the fields and opened out onto Route des Paysans. In the winter months it was a tad muddy and fit for only fools and horses, though when dry underfoot, and certainly from early April, it was a shortcut in our daily walk with Mum or a neighbour to and from St Pierre du Bois School, which sat halfway along La Route du Longfrie. As the warmer weather unfolded across the fields, the hedgerows of the green lane would start to glow with delicate celandines, primroses and violets which would eventually give way as the weeks progressed to sturdier bluebells, red campion, bird’s-foot trefoil and valerian. However, it was always the primroses and violets that were our prize.
In early spring, primroses always draw the eye – with little else showing colour, their pale cream flowers glow within a backdrop of myriad shades of greens and browns, and then every now and again there’s a quiet punch of purple as violets rustle to show their dainty bobbing heads to passers-by. These jewels of the hedgerow were what Mum and I would be foraging for. Carefully picked while still in bud, Mum would make up mini posies of the primroses each nestled within a circumference of their leaves, and the tiny violets would be made into miniature bunches – almost fairy-like in their beauty. While the primroses would end up in Covent Garden, by some magic and majestic journey that I can’t quite fathom today, I seem to remember the violets were for making into sweets rather than flowers to enhance a home. These walks with Mum were always an excitement and a treat and with them came the dawning in me of the benefits to us all of living with nature. Simply being out and about and watching the seasons change, and the flowers and hedgerows with them, was always something I treasured, as I still do today. Of course, the act of picking wild flowers is greatly frowned upon these days and illegal in many territories (and rightly so) though I still remember fondly the days of walking up that green lane and learning how things grew and when, and why they benefited the environment around us.
At our allotment, the early spring blooms are the pale pink of lungwort, regal yellow of King Alfred daffodils, and faded cream of four different types of brassicas that are now going to seed. Once these blooms are nearly done and dusted, they give way to the showiness of pockets of rich gold-faced dandelions. Though the bane of many gardeners’ lives due to the endless number of blow-away seeds on their delicate seed-clock heads, the humble dandelion is a vital and rich source of food for bees, early butterflies, and many other pollinators. These vibrant buttons of yellow that emblazon themselves wherever they wish are a delight for the eyes and for nature – I also love that as night falls, they close to open afresh the following morning as the sun casts its first rays across the plot. Though be cautious to not let too many go to seed or you’ll soon have a resplendent carpet of deep tap rooted golden faces taking up nutrients instead of the plants you want to grow.
As gardeners and growers, we need be timely in our activities – and we’re also a hardy bunch, never more so than in these first months of early seed-sowing and hopeful wishes. We’re ever optimistic – optimistic of the days being warmer and sunnier, even as we’re swaddled in winter clothes sowing seeds and tending to fragile seedlings. We’re also gamblers – gambling on the weather being good enough to let our plants grow and develop into tamed monsters that will give us the best harvests ever.
However, so far this year my optimism and gambling has proven to be a tad too confident as activity in our seed trays has been a bit hit and miss. At best seeds I’ve sown have been lackadaisical in their germination and at worst downright curmudgeonly. Seeds of red and green salad bowl for fresh cut-and-come-again leaves sowed over four weeks ago should now be healthy two-inch seedlings, though they’ve steadfastly refused to germinate; a myriad tomato seeds of different varieties have been marvellously erratic in their germination, with only the robust Red Oxheart giving 100%; and of the four yellow courgette seeds I sowed only two have so far shown their desire to grow.
At first, I thought it might be down to hinky compost, though other seeds, admittedly more sturdy ones like Dazzling Blue Kale and Portuguese Cabbage, have shown no signs of dislike of this growing medium. I’ve now decided this lack of interest from seeds to germinate is down to the cold snaps we’ve had and them not wishing to show their young shoots above the compost at a time which is just too cold. I avidly tell viewers of our YouTube channel to be patient, to not sow too early, and to be sparing in early sowings, though this year I have myself been caught out. This year, Fool’s Spring has come and gone several times already, and as we returned from Guernsey last week having visited Mum for her 90th birthday, catching up with family as one does, the grey skies were back, and cooler nights had rolled in again.
On Sunday I bit the bullet on the slow germination and sowed seeds of Outredgeous lettuce and Lobjoits Green for salad leaves, and resowed Amish Paste, Black Krim, Pink Bulgarian and Guernsey tomato seeds and four more yellow courgettes. My hope? That as we head out of April and into May, the sun will reign in our skies again, bringing warmth and light to our soil, our seedlings, and our souls.
Paul Savident and his partner Richard Leighton-Hammond live in Hanwell in west London. As YouTubers they produce two weekly shows, Sunday Chat and A Week at the Plot. www.richardandpaul.com