Laughing With the Land

I had an inkling this might happen.

A  rush and a push and a simultaneous explosion of blackthorn, peach, almond, gage, pear and apple. Never in a month of May Days have the bees got up to such a heady cocktail. Similarly the seedlings, sat in two-month sulk on the staging, lurch suddenly into becoming: all wanting to get outside now.

Any minute now. Even in years of steadier defrosting, spring’s emergency is a moment of nervous excitement, a brinking of stress and joy, for the gardener. Right now, this urban market gardener is chasing his tail and the only thing keeping things together is the amazing, steady work being done by the sowers, potters, cultivators, planters and grocers at Hawkwood. Somehow Hannah seems to find happy homes for not just the mixed salad and rhubarb, but also the endive, wild rocket and nettles, whatever fits and bursts they put on. Clare’s maternity left a gaping hole in the crucial plant stalls portfolio, but Marlene has jumped into her veggie biker boots: everything’s gonna be alright.

Every week Jo& co. play seedling tetris, bravely attempting to wedge in trays and pots whose combined surface area exceeds that of the sought-after hot bench. Nights are still cold. Late frost hunches in the peripheral like a pick pocket. Plants are trollied out of the glasshouse, then back in a day later at the drop of a centigrade. Fleece still rolls back and forth across the beds. Late Friday evening, venturing out after the coop meeting to re-cover the chervil, asparagus shoots peeped at me over the soil surface parapet.  More rummaging in the dusk for rolls of fleece. Sane people would be driven to distraction by all this to-ing and fro-ing. But you have to laugh, the sky was a picture.

The deep winter mulching of the asparagus beds now seems a myth-like memory. At the time, feeding organic matter to beds showing no signs of life – death beds – seemed as much a faith-based ritual as a horticultural task. Of course, it’s both. Miracles are a fact of life. Kneeling before the soil, the spears of Gjimlin (our Dutch cultivar) point straight up, directing your eyes to the patient sky.

Early London asparagus on the stalls at the weekend, we had the last laugh. Out loud. With the land.

Seems Like Years

“Little darling, it’s been a long, cold , lonely winter,little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear”

(The Beatles, Here Comes the Sun)

Oli, our Building Development Worker, reckons it’s been an eighteen month winter: only a mild exaggeration. Nature the teacher, though, doesn’t sit around feeling sorry for itself, but is patient and resourceful. Flower buds wait; seedlings go-slow; and, as the  leaves do not register on the trees , the wood pigeons show surprising cunning in getting through the brassica netting, and diversify their diet to include our red clover, and wild sorrel. It was beginning to look like we might have to follow suit, until this blessed week.

You can die of patience. The winter may have already dragged on too long for some gardeners’ friends: many frogs, newts and hedgehogs will have slept too long to wake up; bees’ supplies, too, run dry. Clare and Cathy have done what they can, and called an emergency wildlife gardening workshop at Hawkwood this Sunday, so local gardeners can take action to save some small souls as they rise exhausted. Maybe there is such a thing as society, after all.

After the burst of shine at the weekend, some souls are starting to stir. Woodpeckers are rattling around the adjacent woodland; a few bumbles, butterflies and hoverflies have waved at us in the glasshouse. Yesterday the soil thermometer in the Entrance Field struck six degrees, heralding the start of the growing season.

Some three months after we first began mapping the site, in 2009, Sean cantered into the building with an amazed expression on his face, claiming to have stumbled upon “the magical realm”. It turned out that this beautiful and mysteriously hidden hollow within the wildlife area had, in 1985, been dug out as a pond habitat for the endangered Great Crested Newt, with a small grant from the GLC and the blessing of their newt-loving leader, “Red Ken” Livingstone. Ken’s Magical Realm, as it has since became known, now homes the cob oven and fire pit; and is where Jonny has spent many a winter Wednesday, magicking the most elaborate compost toilet.

The dramas of London’s history echo even through its gardens. If you stroll down the hill from Ken’s Magical Realm, you soon reach the newly developed and freshly named strip at the top of the West Bank terrace. On Tuesday, we sowed  clover and planted early potatoes at Thatcher’s End. Tamped the dirt down.

Here comes the sun. Doo doo doo doo.