The true start of the year

I’ve always felt that our calendar is a bit off. Because while the year starts all shiny and new with the month of January, it’s not until late March or early April that things begin to come to life.

It seems the early Romans agreed with me, because March used (apparently) to be the first month in their calendar. Winter didn’t get any formal months at all, just fifty-or-so days tacked on to the end of the ten-month year like something best politely ignored.

Which seems fair, given how the dark days at that time of year seem to merge into one long period of cold, damp misery.

Come this time of year, though, the garden throws off the shackles of winter and springs to life. Which, given that we’re currently pretty much confined to it (plus the house, obviously) due to the coronavirus outbreak, is somewhat of a relief.

Here, for example, is my favourite place to enjoy my early morning cup of tea, given that it catches the rays of the sun at that time of day like a charm. (To the extent that I feel – and probably look – very much like a gecko warming up on a rock.)

Bench

And here’s the view from the bench itself, which is guaranteed to lift my spirits as I contemplate what the day might throw at me.

Raised Bed

Spring also means planting seeds, so that we have a decent supply of nice fruit, vegetables and salads to eat over the course of the year. I’m currently trying out some new leafy vegetables, such as tree spinach, which (as the photo shows) are currently in the very early stages. (Since I took this photo, they’ve started to germinate, which is reassuring…)

Seeds

My ‘little gem’ lettuces, on the other hand, are doing very well. I’m in two minds as to whether to pot them on into something bigger in the greenhouse or to plant them outside into one of the vegetable beds. I’ll see how the weather goes, but will probably end up doing some of each. And then planting some more seeds. (I like ‘little gem’ a lot, and when they’re fully grown one of them makes a perfect side salad for two.)

Lettuce

My chillis need a long growing season, so I sowed their seeds back in January and germinated them on the windowsill in my office. They’re now doing really well in the greenhouse. They’ve since been joined by a selection of tomato plants, which I’ve likewise been growing since February.

Chillis

Every few years, I decide that what we really need to grow is potatoes. To save taking up valuable space in the vegetable beds with something that is likely – on the basis of past experience – to yield about three tubers, I’m growing them in the old garden waste bags that the Council doesn’t collect since we moved to green wheelie-bins. The potatoes have yet to make an appearance, which is pretty much par for the course.

Potatoes

When we moved into our house just over a decade ago, among the first things we planted were two small-ish apple trees. They were a great investment, as they produce a decent amount of nice-tasting apples. And the blossom at this time of year cheers me up with both its delicate looks and its fragrant scent.

Apples

We also have a solitary hazel tree, which I thin out every year or two in a very basic form of coppicing. I burn the bigger bits of wood in our firepit on summer evenings and use the thinner stems as supports for things like sweet peas. This all makes me feel very outdoorsy, which can surely only be a good thing and justifies entirely the money I spent last year on a bow saw.

Hazel

Now that the evenings are quite light and – critically – warm, I take great pleasure in spending an hour or so after work pottering around in the garden, sowing seeds or tidying up a little. Here’s my ‘outdoor office’, which catches the sun at the end of the day now that my neighbour’s taken down his pigeon shed.

Table

You might be wondering, though, how I can sit here and write about my garden when the world’s falling apart around us. In fact, I’ve been wondering it myself. But to be honest, it’s things like the garden that help me to deal with the situation in which we find ourselves.

The ability – for a few fleeting moments, at least – to put aside my concerns for family, friends and future and to nurture the life that is springing up around me. To watch tiny seeds yield huge plants that I get to eat. To put aside my computer and shove my hands into the earth.

Especially now that the year has truly got under way and the world around us has come to life once again.

5 thoughts on “The true start of the year

  1. Fascinated by your post Simon. Can you suggest the best way to obtain lettuce seeds for a complete novice? I have a greenhouse and have grown tomatoes and cucumbers with some success but want to start on the lettuce….

    • My favourite lettuce seeds are from http://seedsofitaly.com (you get loads in a packet and they grow really well), but I also get some of my vegetable seeds from http://www.dobies.co.uk and various other online seed-sellers. Availability can be a bit of an issue at the moment, but I just checked both of these places and they still have a reasonable selection. You can also usually get seeds, compost, etc. at this time of year from the supermarkets. I tend to grow little gem (my favourite!), some kind of standard ‘head’ lettuce and various kinds of leaf salads. If you struggle to get lettuce seeds for any reason, let me know and I can let you have some of mine.

  2. Thank you Simon, very helpful indeed. I’ve ordered some from Seeds of Italy and they are on their way. Will have to rearrange the greenhouse a bit as the tomatoes have the monopoly on space but we’ll work something out. Assume lettuces like a little well rotted horse manure or is it a bit strong for them?

    • You’re welcome. I’ve always grown lettuce in regular compost or in garden soil, but I suspect they’d cope well with a bit of manure. (I grow comfrey and make the leaves into a comfrey ‘tea’, which serves a similar purpose). In addition to the greenhouse, I’ve found that leafy salads grow well on a sunny window sill in the house, too. And outside in the garden, provided I can keep the slugs at bay.

  3. Pingback: Every day’s a Tuesday | Simon Perks

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