Over the last two or three weeks each day has begun a little earlier. Drawing back the curtains reveals an eddying mist with angled sunlight filled with promise. I am not entirely a morning person but the sunshine makes it so much easier to persuade myself that I should be getting out of bed. The dogs have no such reticence and are firmly convinced that I would love to take them out to the gardens for a walk immediately.
The sudden warm weather means that some of the early spring flowers and blossoms have appeared almost overnight. Brown boughs are filled with blossom and slopes of grass with ribbons of colour. Every day, each step is filled with something new.
Part of the joy for both Geordie and I at this time of year is that we can begin to see the effect of the several hundred thousand bulbs we have organised to be planted over the last 15 years. Initially, Geordie started ordering 1000 daffodils or 500 crocii at a time and then laboriously planted them by hand with the help of the gardeners. He then discovered a marvellous Dutchman, Michael Lubbe, who plants 10,000 bulbs in two to three hours with his machine.
Over the years we have become more confident, filling the machine with all sorts of bulbs to give us pleasure over a much longer time frame and planting in swirls and curves rather than our first, rather stiff, straight lines. As well as snowdrops, daffodils, narcissi and tulips, we have anemones, crocuses, early camassias and fritillaries. Having such diversity not only offers more options in terms of design and colour but also helps the wildlife.
For any home but particularly one like Highclere, how and where it fits into the landscape is as important as the decoration of any one room. It seems extraordinary that it is already a year ago that I was sitting writing about spring for my book “Seasons at Highclere”, trying to paint in words descriptions of the various gardens here, both current and past and listing the plants. Taking photos of both the sweeps of view and detail nooks to fill the book with light and colour for this spring.
This weekend the clocks went forward an hour in the UK signalling the official start to spring. The mornings will now gradually become lighter earlier each day until we reach the summer equinox, drawing us outside after the winter and inevitably lifting our spirits and helping us feel more energetic.
As spring develops, not only is there more colour for the eye but the sounds change too. Garden birds perch ambitiously on the topmost branches of budding trees. I find it rather magical that such tiny creatures, any of which could sit in the palm of my hand, produce such complex songs with different phases.
Apparently, it is mainly the male birds who sing in order to demonstrate how healthy and strong they are and thus attract a mate and begin to make a nest. For the rest of us, the dawn chorus is a reassuring alarm clock both for each day and the cycle of the year. Personally, I find it a relaxing, almost sensory experience in comparison to the stressful cacophony of our everyday lives where even the washing machine seems to shout and beep too often.
Sadly for the birds and ourselves, I gather the rather lovely weather will not last. This is England after all but I hope it is just showery rather than regressing back to winter conditions. We need to prepare for spring visitors of our sort, not just the feathered residents of the Castle and Sally from the gift-shop’s reminder that it snowed on her wedding in April is not helpful.