Orpheus with his lute made trees,
And the mountain tops that freeze,
Bow themselves when he did sing:
To his music plants and flowers
Ever sprung; as sun and showers
There had made a lasting spring.
William Shakespeare (Henry VIII. Act III, Scene I)
WE WHO NOW IN ENGLAND LIVE have had the coldest winter in a decade, and the snowiest in about twenty years. Even Amble by the Sea, which tends not to encourage winter precipitation to linger, had hard frosts, ice, hail and considerable snow settling for days at a time. Fortunately, Cailean discovered that he liked the snow, taking great bites of it and flinging it over his shoulders as he ploughed across the courtyard.
My mood this past winter has been upbeat, sometimes a bit too "high" with nights spent unable to sleep for the rush of adrenalin and thoughts. At extremes or not, the cold weather season has passed quickly, quickly by the hour and day, quickly by the week and month. The bare courtyard, sometimes under a fresh, white cover-all, hardly had time to pull my mood down this year.
For the previous two years the garden furniture was stored inside, making the space really bleak. This year the table and benches braved the weather (and came out looking just fine having had a coat of varnish in 2008) and there's something attractive about furniture out-of-doors out-of-season: it becomes a kind of artwork, a sculpture, buffeted and coated by the elements and coloured differently in the dim winter light.
One might play music to welcome the spring, melodies that rise and songs that soar. The bulbs, in the courtyard and all over Amble, planted who knows when and by whom, started pushing through when frosts remained a nightly reminder that the winter does tend to follow the calendar. Snowdrops and crocuses, followed by tulips and hyacinths and daffodils, such a madness of daffodils that even a Wordsworth (and certainly a Midas) could tire of so much gold. The bluebells are starting to flower now, and will be fulfilled in about a fortnight, by which time the trees above them will form a thick, green canopy. There will be bluebell woods for people to admire. We have a small but lovely one just down the hill at the entrance to the Amble Marina. There are other more-wild flowers: dandelions, thistles, daisies. There are mushrooms (or are they toadstools?).
In the sunshine, I'm now taking Cailean to the Marina and we lie on the grass and watch the world wander past. Boats in the Harbour, people and dogs walking along the edge of the River, boys playing cricket on the meadow, RAF bombers down from Scotland doing dummy runs on Amble, microlight aircraft and the occasional antique aeroplane, it might be a Spitfire. Birds land and scatter. There are robins darting in and out of the pine trees, and songbirds in the hedgerows. Our geese are passengers on the way to Iceland and Greenland and Canada's Hudson Bay. The seagulls, so many varieties, linger.
This year I decided to invest about £100 in planters, soil and seedlings. It does not cost a great deal to put on quite a show by my kitchen door. My neighbours put hanging baskets in the courtyard and the pots and planters there have perennials that have not failed in four years now. There will be roses in the summer, clematis vines and sweet peas will scramble up the walls. Birds are already coming to the hanging feeders and once the flowerbeds are thick with growth there will be blackbirds nesting. Apparently we have no cats, the blackbirds have set up home only a foot from the ground for several years.
In my planters I have geraniums, nasturtiums, carnations, pinks, azaleas, vine petunias and regular petunias, marigolds and pansies, asters, cornflowers and cosmos. I also have three blueberry bushes: sticks at the moment, but one year they may be fruitful. The catalogue pointed out that blueberry bushes have lovely foliage in the autumn.
Last week the swallows returned to Amble by the Sea. Not all of them, we'll have hundreds by mid-summer, but a pair have moved into the ruined garage behind the flat. Might they be a pair that nested there a year ago? We had three tenancies in 2008. The new arrivals ignored Cailean as we sat outside and watched. Cailean is not a bird-dog, today we had four mallard ducks touch down near the courtyard entrance and Cailean yawned. I found some bread for the ducks (and dozens of gulls and jackdaws that suddenly joined them) and they were not at all concerned at the small dog sniffing around.
I've got a deck chair and a chaise-lounge, and I've already had a few late afternoons baking in the sun. It's a long-term tan-plan at less than 20˚C, but in the courtyard when the wind is reasonable, one can redden up quite nicely in a few hours. I like to read in the sun. Cailean lounges as well, usually along my legs on the chaise. I drink coffee outside just now when it's not too hot (I look forward to days with iced-tea). Coffee tastes so much better out-of-doors.
This being England, I'm writing my report on sunshine, flowers and birds on a chilly, rainy morning. There's a stiff breeze coming off the North Sea. The four mallards have moved on, bird-wise: only some damp jackdaws are sitting on the garden walls. It will soon be time for rough winds to shake the darling buds of May. Cailean has gone back to bed; he's burrowed under the duvet. Dreaming of badgers and bunnies, perhaps.
There's something very pleasant about having a dozen or more planters ready for any burst of sunshine. I can shift into High Summer at a moment's notice. My courtyard is a place of refuge from the Swine Flu, AIG Corporate Monsters, Recession, Euro-Politics and Hooliganism. Let there be sun on the face and notes by Orpheus.