Getting down to business

Spring is undoubtedly here. There are cold winds, yes, but also beds of daffodils, tulips and emerging alliums, purple-pink rose foliage unfurling and lawn is littered with yellow forsythia petals. Heavy snow came the second week of March, pushing everything back, but now new life is springing.

A late fall of snow on 9-10 March
Plant supports with a bank of narcissus behind, at the Chatsworth maze

This Easter weekend I went asparagus hunting, that well-known April pastime, and was rewarded with an eye-wateringly expensive haul. Less than a week later I’ve cooked four rounds, I think, and I’m finally just about getting the timing right – no-one needs overcooked asparagus. Whilst I look longingly at the new season veg, the boys only have eyes for chocolate…

Annual picture of the first asparagus at Hillers
Easter cake

Whilst further south the spring bulbs are nearly all over, here we’re just getting started. In the garden, the bed of established ‘pheasant’s eye’ narcissus is just about out now, though the native English Narcissus pseudonarscissus that I planted last autumn have completely vanished….whether the squirrels or the weather did for them, who knows. I only did a few pots this year but they’re marvellous – Narcissus February Gold (which didn’t flower until mid-March) and the Sarah Raven white tulip collection are highly recommended.

Narcissus ‘February Gold’ didn’t bloom until March, alongside the Sarah Raven white tulip collection

Now that the clocks have changed, it is of course time to start getting down to business. On the allotment, the hopolisk has risen for another year, and I’ve put a deep mulch of compost over the dahlia bed. Harry and I planted a few rows of Charlotte potatoes in the Good Friday sun, alongside the broad bean seedlings that I sowed back in February. The black plastic covering the bulk of the beds will stay down for a few weeks yet, partly to warm the soil but mainly to keep the worse of the weeds away. It’s ugly, but it’s a life-saver.

Allotment is still mainly undercover, but the hopolisk is risen and the first potatoes are in
A lunchtime visitor

Incidentally, the autumn-sown cornflower and calendula that I planted out back in late February took a battering in that March snow. They may be hardy, but that doesn’t mean that they enjoy icy gales. It was worth the experiment, and in a more-sheltered southerly site they’d be OK, but I’m not convinced it’s worth the bother of autumn sowing in this chilly spot in the Midlands.

The autumn-sown cornflower and calendula are doing terribly, now joined by broad beans and (behind) a few rows of Charlotte potatoes

Back home, the sunroom is filled with seed trays, pots and seedlings. I started off the hardy annuals back in March (more cornflower, various grasses for cutting, scabious, phlox, kales, beets, chard, spinach) and this week it’s the turn of the more delicate sun-lovers: sunflowers, cosmos, dwarf beans, plus more kales. I still need to get the climbing beans going, and a few weeks later the courgettes. It’s all a question of space, which remains at a premium, and light: go too early and everything just gets leggy, which tends to lead to disappointment.

But thank God for this return to life. Turning one’s face towards the sun (literally and metaphorically), and stepping away from the fallow months, into the action.

Also this week:

Sowing and planting: Kales, dwarf beans, cosmos, sunflowers. Hardier plants were begun in March, including the grasses for cutting, scabious, cornflower, chard, spinach, amaranths. Planted out mustard mix leaves to sit alongside spinach and rocket. Planted out broad bean seedlings and Charlotte potatoes. Need to crack on with sowing the climbing beans, planting up summer pots and sweet pea pots.

Other jobs: Mulched and weeded dahlias. Matt cut back the brambles. Hopolisk is risen.

Cooking and eating: First asparagus! Slow-cooked lamb with cumin, paprika and chillies. Turkey and trifle at Grove House. Easter chocolate cake. Easter biscuits. Melon, strawberries and kiwi, because the fruit craving after a long winter has got too much. Many, many hot cross buns. Afternoon cream team at Chatsworth in the rain. Salmon and PSB quiche.

Also: Chatsworth garden and farm park; Easter trail at Caughton Court. Hillers for asparagus. First week of Easter holidays a stressful juggle but by week two we’d got into the swing of it.

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