Since April arrived, we have been thrust back into winter. Those balmy February days which turned my head and had me harbouring thoughts of an early spring seem a long way back.
As I sit down to write on this first Friday of the month the thermometer barely reaches 4 degrees. Were it warmer, I might describe the view from here as dimpsey: that soft misty hue that so often characterises west country weather. But it’s too cold for that and frankly, the word that comes to mind is gloaming. It may only be late afternoon but it is almost dark already.
It is suggested that the name of this month derives from the Roman aperio which means ‘to open’. Lia Leendertz’s Almanac tells me that there is an inscription on the fragments of the Fasti Praenestini concerning April which reads: ‘Fruits and flowers and animals and lands and seas do open’. Thus far in April, for this year at least, it seems merely the heavens that have opened for I should also add that as I sit here writing, outside the rain is streaming down without mercy.
So who am I fooling with notions of dimpsey? I consult Melissa Harrison, since I’ve just finished her slim volume, “Rain: Four Walks in English Weather”. Here we are: 100 words concerning Rain. In Lincolnshire perhaps it would be described as juggin – ‘raining steadily’. No, here’s a better one, still from Lincolnshire: kelching – ‘raining hard, worse than juggin’. But, we’re in Cornwall so a Cornish term it should be. Henting – ‘raining hard’. Outside, it is henting. And I’m glad I’m indoors.
But it will pass. Indeed, as I return to write here, on Sunday afternoon, we have had an April Saturday bright with sunshine and buoyant breezes, followed by a mild and overcast but thankfully dry April Sunday. Not a sign of a shower – heavy or light – for almost 48 hours. Things are looking up.
March, true to folklore, came in like a lion, bringing storms and gales which battered the daffodils until they conceded defeat. Unable to withstand the frenzies of the wind, the long stems snapped. Shredded golden flowerheads lay sodden on the ground.
Equally exposed to the wind, the waxy pink blooms of the camellia, so beloved by the bees, merged into a pink stain on the grass, petals bruised and torn.
The wind whistled and roared for a solid week mid-month, whipping itself into a fury with one storm following another until finally calm was restored and the predominate sounds were once again the blackbird’s song, the cheeps and chirrups of the ever-busy tits and the raucous call of the pheasant marshalling his hens.
There are several signposts in March which point the way towards spring. The solstice has passed; the hours of daylight are now longer than the hours of darkness. We are well into Lent; the clocks have sprung forward; Mother’s Day has been and gone. Officially, whether I choose to use the meteorological or the astronomical calendar, there is a date in March which is declared to be the start of spring. Winter bows out and spring bounces in.
In reality of course, nature is never so neat. This year we seem to have been dancing back and forth, dallying between the seasons on a daily basis. Nonetheless, within these ever-changing weather patterns have been small but steady signs of the seasons turning and not all the travails of the garden have been disasters. The early loss of the daffodils has enabled the smaller, paler and altogether more bashful primroses to come to the fore. It seems like a good year for primroses, so plentiful they appear. But perhaps they are always here in such numbers; perhaps this year their gentle lemon flowers are more evident without the brash golden daffodils towering above them.
On a day when there was warmth behind the sunshine, I watched a solitary orange-bottomed bee busy herself in the viola pots. And our single camellia may have lost many of its waxy pink blooms to the winds but enough have remained to attract great quantities of bees. On calm days the bush is alive with thrumming and buzzing and humming.
In a neglected sunny corner of the garden I discovered honeywort. A self-seeding annual, it’s not the prettiest or tidiest of plants but I like it for its easiness and because, as its name suggests it is also beloved by bees. What surprised me with this discovery was not that it has spread to an area some distance from where I’ve ever sown it but that it was up and flowering; officially its flowering season begins in May. An early bonus for the bees.
On the boundaries, the creamy blackthorn froths and foams, seemingly impervious to weather conditions. Closer to the house, I watched daily as the amelanchier buds swelled. The slender twigs and branches appeared to be turned upside-down every night and dipped in white paint until the day that they finally opened and now we have two young bushes smothered with clusters of creamy-white stars. An abundance of springlike celebration.
The purple-leaved acer has begun uncurling its palmate leaves. Not too soon I hope, because the final days of March brought a series of bright light days, starry skies and sparkling ground frosts. Last year the tree was too confident and burst into leaf only to be decimated overnight by a rogue air frost. Yet this year it is back, resilient.
On the balcony the tubs of yellow lilies seem impervious to the weather. They receive no attention from me and have withstood snowfall and drought and winds which have tipped them over and sent their heavy tubs skidding back against the house walls. Undaunted, they are sprouting once again, strong green stems which will be a riot of showy blooms come July. These I can rely on. Others are more capricious.
Last year, after three years of failure, I dug up and threw away my Cornish lilies. Planted soon after we first came here in a rush of hope and anticipation because surely all Cornish gardens should have nerines, they refused to thrive. Inexplicably, one seems to be growing where I am certain that it was removed. I won’t know for months yet if it has finally established and will flower. I’m watching it carefully and it appears to be growing strongly. I’m happy to watch and wait. Fingers crossed.
I realise that as I’ve been writing, outside the weather has changed again. At least twice. It had darkened and I envisaged ending this post as it began – with reference to the rain. But now it has brightened again. The sun is shining strongly, this is the nicest it’s been all day; we may be lucky with an April sunset later.
We were lucky. And I was also able to resume a habit which always fills me with quiet joy. A matter of moments standing quiet in the very last vestiges of daylight, looking across the valley as outlines merge, smelling the soft air and listening to the muted sounds of evening. Gentle murmurings of water from the leat in the valley bottom; ducks chatting contentedly and a solitary blackbird offering evensong. The sky was the purest of blues and hanging above the place where the sun had just set, a scimitar new moon, crystal sharp.
The view from here is alive with snatches of spring.