As a gardener and farmer I prefer the simple way that meteorologists assign the seasons: three months each, with Winter consisting of December, January and February; Spring: March to May; Summer: June to August; and Autumn: September to November. So using this system, last Sunday, March 1st, was the first day of spring. It was very cold and clear, with that bright March sunlight that seems to lift everything. So I grabbed my iPad and took four photos that I thought would characterise the day, and the early spring season. We’re told that 2014-15 has been an average British winter: December was much warmer than normal; January was normal and February has been colder than normal. And early March is no warmer than late February. In fact the forecast warns of snow showers tonight, spreading down from Scotland, where I gather the late winter has been pretty dire.
On Friday I attended the annual Current Archaeology Conference, as my book HOME was short-listed for the Book of the Year. Sadly we didn’t win (my books never win such prizes, but people continue to buy them. Odd that). I met another short-listed author (and sadly, too, another runner-up) there, the great Brian Fagan, who was over from the States. Brian and I go back a long way. In my opinion he is by far and away the best writer of popular archaeology and history. Nobody can hold a candle to him. We first got to meet, back in the early 1990s, when he was over here researching a piece for the National Geographical Magazine. Shortly afterwards I was flatteringly portrayed in a chapter in his excellent book (Simon and Schuster, 1995) Time Detectives. Then in 2010 Maisie and I were deeply honoured when he dedicated his superb CRO-MAGNON: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans (Bloomsbury Press), to us both. I couldn’t think of a suitable book to dedicate to him until The Lifers’ Club happened. So I mailed it to him, and it arrived in California (he is a Professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara) on the actual day of his birthday! And I had no idea when that was. So perhaps, after all, God does exist (I don’t think).
Earlier in the winter we had offered Brian lunch at the farm. He had been in London, then at Cambridge, attending conferences and knew he would be in dire need of home-cooking. And that’s what Maisie gave him: leeks in wine sauce, carrots, potatoes (roast and boiled), rare roast beef from the village butcher’s, with, of course, Maisie’s Mum’s recipe Yorkshire Pudding and home-made onion gravy. That’ll teach him to dedicate books to us!
The photos I took before I set off to Ely station to collect Brian showed the wonderful Crocus sieboldii poking up through the thick layer of grit that we spread across the surface of the Arts and Crafts jardinière, which I wrote about last year. The grit is designed to thwart slugs – which it does very effectively. But it doesn’t deter grey squirrels and mice – both of which love crocus bulbs. Still, they didn’t get them all!
I then moved into the vegetable garden and took a picture of work I was doing to prune-back old wood on our overgrown red and black currants. In theory you should do this every year, and I’m ashamed to confess that it’s been at least four years since they last had a good hair-cut. I’m determined not to let things slip so badly in the future.
Moving further into the vegetable garden I came across the row of dwarf early peas (the variety is Meteor) I planted the previous week. If the weather warms up, they should be germinating soon. I’ll probably plant another row of maincrop peas (Hurst Greenshaft, which I train up much taller hazel pea-sticks) in April (see blog post). I soak all my seed peas in paraffin to deter the mice – and, touch wood, it seems to work.
Finally, the cold February has held back the broccoli, although mercifully the cold winds and frosts haven’t killed-off any plants. Normally the purple sprouting is ready to cut first, but not this year, when one plant of white has already given us a small, but deliciously succulent dish for supper. The photo shows the pale white flower-buds nestling deep within the protection of the main outer leaves. White broccoli spears are particularly good lightly boiled, or steamed, and served with butter and freshly-ground black pepper. Bliss! And with luck there’ll be plenty more coming soon. Although officially here, the real spring, like love in the old song, ‘lies just around the corner’…