This time last month we were clearing snow and ice from our pathways. However, since then the season has most definitely changed. The first signs were the emergence of snowdrops, nosing through icy ground and illuminating bare and barren soil with their beautiful, bright and pendulous white blooms. The delicate snowdrops were quickly pushed aside by their bigger and brasher cousins, the daffodils, which in East London we see all across our parklands and in borders and pots across the city. They are then joined by a cacophony of colour erupting from once frozen and featureless soil.
If you have the chance to take a walk through the Cemetery Park in Mile End, you might spy dog’s mercury, violets, winter aconite, iris and the first sign of bluebells making their presence felt. Before long, these early bloomers – taking advantage of a lack of leaf coverage from the trees – will have colonised the ground, flowing over tombstones and spilling onto pathways like a duvet made up of dark greens and vibrant colours.
Our avian neighbours are making themselves heard once again, as males mark out their territory warning rivals not to step into their turf. The hedgerows you might see in the green spaces around the area are becoming as busy as Stratford Mall on a Saturday, as gangs of sparrows, finches and tits hang out in very unsocially-distanced groups, checking out the local talent and scouting for the primest of real estate where they plan to build the most MTVest of cribs.
As I look outside my window at the imposing London Plane tree, there is definitely a episode of Keeping up with the Joneses at play, as a couple of thrushes try to furnish their nest with the most choice discarded candy wrapper or smooth and sensual bit of moss.
If you are lucky enough to have a pond, or water feature in your garden – you might notice the arrival of great gelatinous blobs of frog spawn – something in my childhood that always brought an excited, delicious shudder. Blobs of frog spawn will be seen in the canals and a great spot for amphibian watching now is the Ecology Pavilion in Mile End Park. But you are just as likely to see frog spawn appearing in a discarded bucket under a hedge in your back yard, as frogs don’t seem to be overly fussy where they leave their children at this time of year.
It’s also the time of year where trees emerge from the slumber they put themselves into back in October, and their roots start mobilizing water and nutrients from deep in the earth and converting them into materials used in the construction of leaves, blossoms and fruit.
You’ll know when spring has eventually sprung when you notice your first bee or butterfly. Most bees would have gone into hibernation as a cluster through the winter, and late butterflies would have hid away in sheds and under eaves waiting for the temperature to stabilize at around 10oC. I always try and plant as many early bloomers – winter aconite, crocus, scarlet clover – so that these first responders have something to build up their energy with after their big sleep.
For us at RenewEL we too are kicking into life after a long winter slumber. We’ve been preparing our clients’ roses for the summer by making the hard prune. Personally, it hurts me to lop off up to two-thirds of a rose bush, especially when the first leaves are emerging, however we are being cruel to be kind, as the spring prune helps the rose flourish through summer by throwing all its energies into a few strong stems rather than a lot of weaker growth. We’ve also been preparing growing beds and borders, eliminating the weeds that have emerged, cleaning equipment and pots to remove pests and disease, skimming ponds and adding nutrients to the soil to prepare for planting. We’re about to do the first lawn cut of the year. I’m really looking forward to our first trip to the nurseries to buy plants for our clients. Enjoy the season, and I’ll leave you with a little bit of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy pear tree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
Picture: Presian Nedyalkov