Garden writers often call Spring the start of the gardening year. This makes sense if you live somewhere that is cold enough in Winter to stop all plant growth. In such places, the ground is frozen hard and is often covered in snow. The world is white rather than green for a while. The tools are cleaned, oiled and put away. Then the green starts to come poking through, the snow melts, the ground unfreezes enough to be dug, and the gardening year begins.
But in the place I live, the garden year never really stops. The ground doesn't freeze in Winter. It's cold, but there are still plenty of jobs to do.The tools don't get a rest and neither does the gardener. There are weeds to pull and plenty of winter pruning to be done.
So Spring to me isn't really the start of the gardening year, but still every Spring feels like a new beginning. Bare branches suddenly become clothed in green. Shoots push up out of the ground everywhere.The garden is renewed. There is an energy in Spring that is inspiring and contagious. But just when does it start?
I know - let's consult the calendar.
Here in Australia, the calendar says that Winter ends at midnight on the 31st of August. So we go to bed in Winter and wake up next morning in Spring.
Regardless of the weather.
It's an astronomical thing, you understand.
So when I woke up on the 1st of September this year, I opened the curtains and looked out of my front window to greet the Spring. I saw fog and frost and bare, black branches. Did I feel as though Spring had begun? No way.
I realised that, to me, Spring doesn't begin when the calendar says so. Spring isn't a just a season; it's a feeling: a feeling of warmth, growth and new life. So I started to wonder: what signs do I look for to convince me that Spring has started? I was sure that whatever the signs were, I would find them in the garden. So, on the 1st of September, I went to look for them.
Read the signs
First, I searched for flowers. I found Snowflakes, Jonquils, Daffodils, Violets and Hellebores. But it still felt like Winter to me.
|Snowflakes, Leucojum aestivum.|
|Helleborus orientalis hybrid|
Next, I considered shrubs. Deciduous shrubs look bare and dead in the middle of winter. So perhaps Spring begins when they start to bud and flower?
But the Chaenomeles japonica begins to push out its gorgeous red blooms in August, with frost all around. By the first day of September this year it was in full bloom. But it didn't feel like Spring to me, even when the sun came out in the afternoon.
So I thought about trees. Perhaps Spring rises with the sap in deciduous trees?
On the 2nd of September I gazed up through clusters of almond blossom to a clear blue sky, trying to sense the Spring. It still felt like winter to me.
I was beginning to get a bit intrigued. What would it take to make me feel that Spring had arrived?
Your mission, should you choose to accept it...
I was determined to catch that elusive first day of Spring. So, every morning I woke up at my usual time (6.30 am) and pulled back the curtains with a flourish. I even made notes.
3rd September: Rain overnight. Frost followed by sun. No sign of Spring.
4th September: Cloudy all morning. Cold wind. Spring-like feelings still delayed.
And then, on the 5th September, I noticed something new. A thin stripe of golden sunlight was shining on the wall next to the closed curtains. I opened the curtains and ... it was Spring!
In the end, it wasn't about what the plants were doing at all.
It was all about the sun on my face first thing in the morning and the way that made me feel.
So now I know.
Spring begins on the very first morning I see the sun shining in my front windows at 6.30 am.
A very idiosyncratic way to look at it, I know. But one I'm happy with.
So, when does your Spring begin?