Spring

Japanese quince can be seen in Hill Top's garden

After a seemingly never-ending winter, new life is beginning to appear in the garden at Hill Top, and gardener Pete is on hand to spot the first signs of spring...

Countdown to warmer weather

I'm not a winter person. If winter consisted entirely of blue-skied, frosty days with the occasional dusting of snow I might feel differently, but up here in the Lakes winter is made up mainly of leaden-skied rainy days, with occasional snow to liven things up a bit. But as the poet Oliver Herford wrote in his poem I heard a Bird Sing, “we are nearer to spring than we were in September” and I for one am counting the days!

Spring is late to arrive to the garden after the recent cold snap
Beatrix Potter's Hill Top in the snow
Spring is late to arrive to the garden after the recent cold snap

New life awakens

The first plants to flower in the garden at Hill Top are clumps of snowdrops and a handful of brightly coloured crocus bravely facing up to the wind and rain.

Snowdrops are always the first to arrive
Closeup of snowdrops in the garden at Hill Top
Snowdrops are always the first to arrive

Daffodils start blooming in the middle of March along with my particular spring favourite the Primrose or Primula vulgaris to use its fancy Latin name (vulgaris means ‘common’ in Latin). Hot on their heels is the Lesser Celandine or Pilewort, so beloved by William Wordsworth that he wrote not one, but three poems about it!

The primrose is my particular spring favourite!
Primroses in the garden at Hill Top
The primrose is my particular spring favourite!

Keeping busy

There’s a lot to do in Hill Top garden at this time of year including cutting down the remains of last year’s plants in the borders, lifting and dividing perennials, digging over the vegetable plots as well as shrub, fruit and rose pruning.

As soon as winter has finally gone there are seeds to be sown in the greenhouse and the resulting seedlings to be potted up and grown on. When the first few weeks of spring have warmed the soil sufficiently they can be planted out into the garden to continue growing, always assuming the slugs and snails leave them alone!

Look out for the red Japanese quince over the porch in late spring
Japanese quince can be seen in Hill Top's garden
Look out for the red Japanese quince over the porch in late spring

Later in the spring more and more flowers appear including the red Japanese quince over the porch, the gaudy but oh-so-cheerful azaleas and the white and blue wisterias which provide a spectacular but all too short display towards the end of May. In the vegetable garden Jemima Puddle-Duck’s rhubarb unfurls its crinkly leaves to start another season. The apple, pear and damson trees in the orchard produce their blossom to be pollinated by the local bees with hopes of a bumper crop of fruit in the early autumn.

The damson trees in the orchard blossom in late spring
Damson blossom in bloom at Hill Top
The damson trees in the orchard blossom in late spring

With the warmer nights and longer days, the rest of the garden literally explodes with life, and every day brings a new discovery. Cowslips, lungwort, honesty and St-John’s wort all burst into bloom.

Not everything is welcome...

Unfortunately, along with the flowers, the weeds too awake from their winter slumber, shoots of bindweed and ground elder push their way through the stony soil and tiny seedlings of hairy bittercress appear, to keep me busy for the rest of the year with hand fork and hoe. Another troublesome weed is the Enchanter’s nightshade, of which Beatrix said “it isn’t a nightshade and it isn’t at all enchanting, but apart from that I suppose it’s quite a good name”. It’s interesting to think that this particular weed has been growing at Hill Top since Beatrix’s time but how I wish she’d managed to get rid of it when she was here!

And inevitably spring drifts into summer, the days lengthen and the garden approaches its flowery zenith. But more of that in my next instalment.