Hyacinth, Delft Blue, April 2002

Above: Hyacinth "Delft Blue"

Garden diary: March

17 April 2003

April is best symbolised by unfurling hosta leaves in pots on the ground and unravelling horse-chestnut tree leaves above. I don't have a horse-chestnut tree in my garden, so have to be content with admiring those in the local streets. But I do have hostas, and lots of them. I'm watching the fantastic new leaves unrolling and already wondering how - when the leaves are fully opened and the girth of those plants doubled - any people are going to fit into the garden around the hostas.

The weather has been excellent, not at all like the usual English April. In a previous year I remember having to run outside in a hailstorm one April day, as the icy hail shredded the leaves of newly-emerged seedlings. That evening, I remember, I was heading for an event to be held in an outdoor marquee - so maybe that's what did it. Asking for trouble, hosting any kind of outside or almost-outside event in April. On that principle I'm also bringing in the wicker garden chairs every evening, despite the fact that it hasn't rained for weeks, as I'm sure that if I do leave them outside, complete with cushions, torrential downpours will occur.

So, no April showers yet, just days of hot sunshine and the necessity to water some of the garden with a hosepipe - something I don't remember having to do in April in any previous years. Plants that have been moved recently have been wilting under the strain, as the earth is dry not just on the surface but for several inches down.

In the pond, the frogspawn that appeared on 1 April and seemed to stay as mere black dots for weeks is now black dots with tails - the beginning of tadpoles. These are moving around. Like most people I studied frogspawn when at school, watching the development of tadpoles. I don't remember being as excited and impressed by it as I have been by watching the progress of the frogspawn in my pond. Having seen fully-grown frogs it does seem truly miraculous that those black dots in the jelly-like mass are already changing shape and will develop into those sophisticated creatures with legs and eyes.

The cherry blossom has opened over the last day or two. A brief show of fluttering white against the perfect blue sky.

The Akebia quinata that I thought I'd pruned too drastically last year has reacted like nothing happened and seems to have already filled the space up again with its delicate green leaves and small purple flowers. It's sending out long tendrils in pursuit of something to cling to. I will try, again, to stop it climbing so far into the branches of the cherry tree that I have to do that dangerous over-reaching wobbly-ladder pruning thing again.

The wallflowers and hyacinths scent the garden just now. The hyacinths I bought last autumn have flowerheads that are so full and heavy the stalks bend under the weight, and they're flopping about extravagantly in their pot by the kitchen door. On the windowsill is a pot of hyacinth "City of Haarlem", a fantastic lemon-yellow colour, a new variety for me.

A most exciting development is three flowerstalks on my clump of irises. The iris has never seemed happy, and over the many years I've had it has produced only one flower, one summer. So three stalks full of buds is obviously an improvement. I love plants in bud, sometimes more than the flower. The iris buds are beautifully-formed things, greyish like the leaves, but turning purple at the tips as they prepare to open. Tulips in bud are particularly fine - near the iris are a clump of the tulip "Queen of the Night". Elsewhere, "Apricot Beauty" and a pink lily-flowered tulip whose name I can't remember (and if I try to find it now, in my enormous envelope of plant labels, I won't get anything else written).

It's a fantastic time of year, all new green and birdsong and blossom.

29 April 2003

The swifts have arrived! Yesterday evening the familiar screeching call of a lone swift made me look up from the computer, though the swift, as its name suggests, had moved swiftly past and out of sight. The fast-moving blob on the horizon could have been a swift or a swallow or any other bird, so I had to wander in the garden for a while staring at the sky. A few dark arrow-like shapes were careering around busily up above, and after a few more screeching calls (that's them, not me, though I was rather excited) I could confirm that they were indeed swifts.

This is much earlier than last year - several weeks, I think. Usually it's during the first week in May they arrive, but last year I remember looking for them anxiously as they were so late I wondered if they were coming over on the English rail network.

So, I guess it was something to do with the fine warm weather, and possibly winds blowing from the right direction. They certainly sounded lively enough, like the journey had been easy. (Obviously hadn't travelled on the English rail system after all then.)

Today two swallows sat on the phone wires just outside here, the ones that used to attempt to carry all my data up the line to this website you're reading, before we switched to cable. More of this later. Anyway, maybe the lines weren't as hot as they used to be with me trying to squeeze all of this website and others down their paltry copper wiring, but whatever it was, I've never seen swallows sitting on phone lines in our street before, and what a nice sight it was. All these birds arriving that are symbols of summer.

April showers at last

In the last week or so this strange wet stuff has been falling from the sky. I remember - it's called rain. We hadn't seen rain for weeks and weeks, and the ground was dry for many inches down. This is highly unusual for an English April. Back to normal now, after heavy rain that has at last topped up the garden pond - in which lots of newly mobile tadpoles are busily swimming - and soaked the previously parched earth.

Blossom and big fat buds

The cherry blossom has gone over now, and bits of it are all over the garden. The apple tree has begun blossoming to take its place, this blossom not the pure white of the cherry but white buds tinged with pink on the outside of the petals before the buds open. Below the apple blossom the garden is full of tulips in several shades and electric blue corydalis. In Woodland corner the dicentras are flowering splendidly in both pink and white varieties. In the sunny border the clump of iris I mentioned in the last entry on here are now open fully, with the Tulip "Queen of the Night" nearby. White honesty is dotted throughout the garden. I also seem to have a lot of red tulips - I hadn't realised how many I'd bought last autumn. They're a very bright orangey-red, with that yellow and black central marking. Certainly striking.

Dove approaches

I think I mentioned elsewhere how the collared doves that came to the garden in recent months weren't as tame as much-missed 'Colin Dove', how they would fly away as soon as I went out of the door into the garden. Then two visited recently as a pair and were fairly relaxed about my presence, but still not showing any signs of having the slightest inclination to fly down and land on my head like Colin used to. In the last week however one single dove has been visiting regularly to see if there's any food available. As there isn't food lying around for the birds in case it attracts the enormous flock of local pigeons, this dove sometimes has a long wait. It may therefore be simple desperate hunger that has made the dove let me get closer than 6 metres, but whatever it is, I'm glad. It looks like it might one day fly down and land on my hand. At the moment it can tolerate being as close as a metre or two, which is certainly an improvement.

Spike the cat is trying really hard to get on my knees while I'm typing this. Possibly trying to point out that I shouldn't be so bothered about a mere bird sitting on my hand when there's a fine Yorkshire tabby available to sit on my knee.

The blackbird is perched somewhere outside in the street, singing to greet the dusk.

Back to April highlights and diaries


Tulip Queen of the Night

Above: Tulip "Queen of the Night"

Garden diary: May