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"He who plants a tree, plants hope.." Lucy Larcom

24 March 2009

We’ve suffered a setback. Just when we need the spring most, the weather decides to hit back. It’s so easy to forget life’s little annoyances. I consult my 10-year diary (I think everyone should keep a diary – it’s then possible to go back and see what the weather was like during this season and that). Here, in the south of Stockholm, Friday 20 March marked the spring equinox. A few days have passed since then and, as I said at the outset, we’ve experienced a setback with freezing cold and ground frost down to about 1 metre. It’s certainly no laughing matter.

Nevertheless, spring is beginning to assert itself. Although I’m not an early riser, I like to keep a check on what’s happening. And despite the setback, spring finally IS here: in the Stockholm area today, 24 March, the sun rose 05.42 and will set at 18.10.
Now, in March, it’s noticeable that the days are growing longer, and things are beginning to happen so quickly. I go out, take my rounds in the garden and see how everything is beginning to grow.

The cold isn’t particularly pleasant, but one has to put up with it. Our garden is a few weeks behind the normal “schedule”, but the sight of the small buds and the plants that everywhere are beginning to push through the ground makes me stop and think: “What masses of bulbs I planted in the autumn.”

Now, we’ll finally see the result we’ve been waiting for throughout the long winter.
The light has returned, finally, and the birds have begun to sing. They’re chattering in the bushes and, where we live, it’s a question of feeding them; migrating birds are also passing by on their long journey just now, and they’re all equally hungry. At this time of year, it’s so easy to forget that there’s still very little for the birds to eat in the garden. Nature is waking up, and everything is beginning to move.

One can really see how people literally have a spring in there step and, quite suddenly, a smile on their lips which they haven’t had for a long, long while in our cold climate.

A lot of things happen in the garden in March. It’s a case of going around the garden respectfully and considering all the expectations one has for the coming garden season. For my part, at the moment I’m involved in planting seeds. I’ve already dealt with the sweet peas — they’re still in the pre-planting stage in their planting soil and, when they begin to grow a bit, I’ll cut them at every second or third pair of leaves so that they’ll branch out. That way the plants will become thicker and finer. It’s the same with Dahlias. In our neck of the woods, they too can be pre-planted in the middle of March in order to obtain an earlier flowering. It’s possible to plant directly, but then they bloom a little later. It’s just a question of choosing what’s more convenient.

I see the snowdrops in our garden. I stand and admire them, conscious of the fact that a garden gives rise to so many memories. Think of all the memories that a garden carries with it: plants shared with people you know, people you’ve loved, people you remember. Just imagine if we could all share our small plants with each other; every life is a life. I look at a clump of snowdrops and my thoughts go back to when we had the good fortune to be in Hungary in the month of February, many years ago. We were driving past a forest when suddenly I screamed:
– Stop the car!
There, before us, was a wood filled with snowdrops –the first time in my life I’s seen such a thing: I was entranced. We drove on a bit and I went into a restaurant and requested a knife and fork. We then rushed back to the wood to dig, dig… That’s my personality; I would never go into a private garden and dig up plants, but I believe in taking a few garden memories when out travelling. Now, many years later, we have in our garden a small group of Hungarian snowdrops which return faithfully year after year – a wonderful sight and a wonderful memory.

As I’ve said previously, I’m postponing pruning the fruit trees since I’m so busy with planning and planting. I like to plan a little ahead. Soon it will be time for me to reach for paper and pen and begin sketching my autumn planting for 2009; I do so when the crocuses have come up and the earth is coming to life. It’s a very good idea to make a sketch — I really recommend doing so. It might sound crazy but believe me, in the long run you save an enormous amount of time and energy; otherwise, it’s so easy to forget things as the seasons pass by. So now, in March, take pen and paper and go round your garden and ponder, consider, and see what’s coming up. Out with the tape measure, measure centimetres, think what you can plant here, what will fit in there. There are always patches in the garden that can benefit from a few new plants, but when you stand there in the autumn it’s easy to forget what was exactly there earlier in the year.

I started using the hosepipe last week. In retrospect, that was a mistake since the Big Freeze has since returned. Where we live, it’s common to add lime to the lawn this time of year, and we also give our hornbeam a good dose of fertiliser. Similarly to many others hedging trees, hornbeam need a little nourishment in the springtime. In the past few days there’s also been quite a bit of snow, so I’ve taken the opportunity to sprinkle Chrysan fertiliser over the entire garden, so that our beloved small bulbs obtain all the nourishment they need.

Dear friends out there in the big world: the seasonal mantle is passing from winter to spring. The light has returned and, where gardens are concerned, hope is revived. There will be a spring this year, too, I promise.

A Gentleman Gardener