I’m always surprised by how quickly spring comes on. It’s not quite the explosion of life that you find in countries further north, but even so. One week it’s cold winds and bare trees, and a couple of weeks later the daffodils and wild garlic are out, and the trees are covered in bursting buds and spring blossom.
An alternative way to track the seasons is to monitor the activity in the modest concrete back yard of my flat on Caledonian Road. You can tell when spring is well on the way by the northerner in dirty clothes frantically try to do all the winter gardening jobs that he has been putting off since Christmas. My ‘garden’ is not much larger than some of the more elaborate mausoleums in suburban graveyards, yet it is stacked full of pots, containers and poles covered with greenery and flowers in various stages of their valiant struggle against poor soil, overcrowding and pollution.
The beautiful pink flowers of a camellia are usually the first signs of life, though this time round my housemate’s mum did a little stealth planting in the dark late autumn, and I peered out of the glass doors sometime round St David’s day to see an abundance of daffodils crowding my makeshift vegetable patch and leaning out of window boxes and plant pots round the corpses of last year’s dead bedding plants. Quite a lovely surprise.
Returning to the camellia, it is one of my favourite plants. Aside from its romantic and biological associations with tragic prostitute heroines (I’ve never read the Dumas novel, but I did play 2nd violin in the opera, crashing in with my final chord only about a third of a second after the rest of the orchestra had finished theirs), its early flowering means that its bold blooms are bright splashes of colour in a world that still hasn’t quite woken up from winter. I have fond memories of a trip out with Christian six or so years ago to see the camellia collection at Chiswick House, back when I was living in a squalid little bedsit in Lower Holloway and feeling pretty run down. We finished the afternoon with a stroll down Chiswick Mall and chips and beer in the Dove, and by the time we got back to north London all was well again.
For those less horticulturally minded, there is also another method to gauge the onset of spring.