As I sit here typing the rain is falling heavily against the windows and night has fallen, ending a wet and misty miserable day. Just yesterday we were basking in record temperatures for February and I was painting a gate in the blinding low winter sunshine. Today, I came home soaked through and covered in mud after spending a day in the dull light above a valley shrouded in mist near the town of Llangollen. It is easy to get carried away by the heat and to imagine that Spring is finally here, but winter still has a sting in its tail. This time last year it was beginning to snow.
However, there are sure signs that Spring is getting closer. Catkins drape like golden icicles from the hazels, birdsong has filled the orchard and the first crisp bright green leaves of the Hawthorn are slowly unfurling. The prunus are also beginning to be lightly frosted with various shades of pink and white flowers, a welcome burst of colour amongst the dull green and browns of winter.
The winter overall has been very mild and plants have continued to send out the odd flower and the grass has slowly crept higher. The Verbena Bonariensis, which we usually lose in the depths of winter in our cold clay soil, are still alive and well. In the orchard the frogs have been making the most of the good spell of weather and have begun spawning.
I had imagined that because of the warmer winter the frogs had begun spawning earlier than usual, but looking back at photos from last year it was at pretty much the same time.
Spring is also a time when big decisions are made in the garden, the bareness of winter allowing the main structure to be more clearly understood. The garden, just like the coming year, is full of potential. While wandering around the orchard seeing what changes I could plan, my attentions turned to a white poplar that had seeded itself over 30 years ago. Chopping down such a mature tree is not a decision I take lightly, especially one as established as this. During summer the leaves which are white with furry down underneath, and darker green on top, shimmer in the breeze; it is a nice looking tree. However, it was outgrowing the space and we liked the idea of replacing it with a flowering cherry which would have more seasons of interest. I fired up the chainsaw and a minute later it was down.
The logs won’t go to waste but will be placed in the small coppice at the bottom of the field to create a habitat for bugs and creatures and be recycled back into the garden ecosystem.
The loss of two apple trees has also created a new gap in the orchard. Late last year gale force winds split ‘Hoary Morning’ down the middle. While we could allow the stump to regrow (there was enough stump left to be sure of the variety and not the rootstock sprouting) and train a new leader we have decided the clearing created would make a nice position for a bench surrounded by wildflowers. Another tree just a few meters away was a John Downie crab apple, originally planted as a pollinator for the rest of the orchard. What I hadn’t realised 10 years ago when I planted it, was that the variety is very susceptible to apple scab. An attempt to graft it over to another variety has failed and the remaining tree has become sickly, so we have decided to replace it with the variety ‘May Queen’. Whilst all of the most recent additions to the orchard have been Welsh heritage or local varieties, ‘May Queen’ is an old Worcestershire variety chosen because it is reputed to be a very good keeper, and if stored correctly can be kept until April.
I will be taking delivery of this new variety and several others next week, destined as an experiment to be trained into a ‘Belgian fence’, a sort of diamond patterned espalier fence. All the trees are supplied by Tom Adams whose nursery is run organically and is led by the principles of permaculture. If time allows i will run through the varieties in my orchard in a later post.