Warm days and cold soil

Three warmish days in a row have seen me out in the garden, of course. There is so much to do. Most of it should have been done in the late autumn. I am not the best at ‘putting the garden to bed’; as the gardeners describe it. Although I like the idea of having everything cut back and tucked up under a mulch, I also like leaving the twigs and stalks of the perennials, grasses and shrubs for whatever might choose to see out the cold weather inside them. This means that now the snow has gone, and after a week of wind and rain, the clay soil is slick with surface water and everything looks battered and bleak.
I fall between the mood of wanting to do everything, right now, to ‘get set for spring’ (another gardeners’ motto) and of looking around in despair at the weeds, the bare soil, and the plants that look not so much dormant as just plain old dead. I have the compulsion to clean out, to make everything good before the gardening year gets away from me. So on these warm days I scurry about like a bower bird trying to get the forest floor neat and all the pretty things assembled just how I want them, and then waiting for the spring to turn up and approve of all my preparations, my offerings of seedlings and bulbs and buds.
But then the weather turns and all my gardening resolutions wither and curl up along with the buds and new leaves, and the garden shakes me off. There is nothing to be done but look around and head back inside. Not so much a bower bird as a hibernating hedgehog.
How can I reconcile these two states of mind? I know that the flower beds will look much better in just a couple of months, when they have some actual flowers in once more – or at least some things with leaves. And I also know that ‘getting set for spring’, or worse, ‘getting ahead of spring’, is never going to happen. . It is not a race between nature, in lane one, and the gardener, in lane two. Nature and I should be wandering through the garden together, arm in arm.
My tentative solution, which I hope may work for other bower-bird types, is to throw away, cross out, refuse to write that ‘jobs for the garden’ list. Don’t click on links that will take you to long (but very helpful) lists of seasonal activities and things that must be done right away (or else what?). Instead, I will go out in the garden aimlessly, stopping to look at the bits that interest me. If I see something I can put right in a moment or two, I will do it. My secateurs will always be in my back pocket, after all. If I am overcome with a desire to prune something to the ground (it has been known) I will do it. But I will not start in one corner and work round each bed systematically, because if I do that I will get overwhelmed, the bower will never get even half-way built and nature will have wandered off to do its thing.
Will I be ‘spring ready?’ Yes. spring is a process, not an event. It’s already happening.

This beautiful painting ‘Spring Garden Patrol, Eynsham’ is by my talented and lovely friend, Jane Tomlinson. (Click to go to her gallery) It shows her two cats inspecting the gardens in the relaxed way that I hope to emulate, and it also includes an old apple tree.

Spring garden patrol, Eynsham

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