The Year Of The Blossom

They’re calling it “The Year Of The Blossom”, in hyperbolic fashion typical of the media makers. To be fair though, if anything on this earth has proven itself worthy of headline-grabbing hyperbole, it has to be the Spring Show. This April, the perfect match of dry warm days and cold nights has given us living bouquets both immaculate and long-lived. This in turn has meant that, for example, rather than cherry, pear and apple succeeding each other in a riotous relay, they are all out together, a blooming whole.

Theo and Nina with this moment's flowers.  Photograph: Martin Slavin

Theo and Nina with this moment’s flowers. Photo: Martin Slavin

It’s made me think about the Hanami – Japan’s “blossom festivals”. The population, having followed the sakura-zensen, or blossom forecasts, for weeks, flock to local cherry trees to picnic and party under their erupting canopies. My home county of Hertfordshire was once noted for its orchards of huge cherry standards of which the indigenous cultivars “Early Rivers” and “Archduke” we have at Hawkwood are a fluttering whispered echo. And I wonder if, had the Hanami custom appeared in the Home Counties as a result of some highly improbable nineteenth century cultural exchange, would these trees have been grubbed up so sharply in a sacrifice at the altar of Economic Margins, but perhaps this is fanciful. In any case, whilst our public holidays honour Banks not Blossom, Melvyn, one of our new Fruit & Vine Trainees, tells me that “Blossom Tours” of cider apples and perry pears out West are flourishing; and surely these are only the most modern manifestation of what we human have always done since the Dawn of Orchards: that is, hung around in them at the best of times.

Yet just as oranges, or indeed perry pears, are not the only fruit (and thank goodness). so fruit are not the only flowers. The site here is now awash horizontally as well as vertically, with the bright yellow swan songs of the winter brassicas. To say nothing of the colour kaleidoscope of our intentionally planted flowers – the blue borage, old gold calendula and tricolour pansies; or the unintentional drifts of weeds which we delight at in a rather conflicted way.

What nature gives with one hand, it often takes with the other. This colour crescendo is directly proportionate to the dulling of some of salad leaves: the chicories, red mustards and kale are being steadily drained of the vibrant tone and sweet notes lent them by cold snaps. Two of three Tom’s Diner restaurants we supply pulled their salad orders last week as the mix has become visually dominated by greens.

Edible pansy enters the salad bag, 24 April. Photo: Martin Slavin

Edible pansy enters the salad bag, 24 April. Photo: Martin Slavin

It’s unlikely that the upcoming general election will be dominated by Greens, though the colour is the perfect backdrop to most landscapes – cultural, political and physical – all of which we are, broadly and minutely, trying to effect. For example, the resurgence of edible flowers here should go some way to providing a dash of definition to our salads, that bring in much needed green stuff to keep us afloat; our bouquets of edible, and non-edible flowers, if bought, will see a tiny drop in demand for pesticide-soaked displays flown in from seized African lands; and they may start conversations about the price of beauty, the nature of beauty, the beauty of nature. All fitting tributes to the Year Of The Blossom.

The Perennial Issue

At the close of Wednesday, Gary strode into the glasshouse, after an afternoon spent fixing the irrigation on the Hardening Bay, and exclaimed, “this glasshouse is starting to look like it’s meant to”. This summed up the mood with precision. There is a base, minimalist comfort in seeing the stretches of staging stripped to bare sharp sand, like a deconstructed Zen Garden; a sense of space that comes when the climbers are raised to the ground, the winter leaves cut back to within an inch of soil life, the beans and garlic overwintering but barely emerged. But greenhouses are made to be green. Made to be, but not built so: the greening is the creation of the gardeners and plants here, re-embarked on every year. A patient, hard, tender process; small steps forwards and backwards, and in a great leap, we’re here.   The balance has been tipped decisively: after the steady weeks of sowing seeds, and this week’s first episode of Potting Up the World of Chillies, there is now more area on the benches occupied by seedlings than by desert. All the beds, too, are alive: the green manures – phacelia, mustard, clovers – rising tall and floating into flower; the once-poorly endives and rockets pushing out new leaves as fast as our hands can keep pulling them.   These are the days of Lady Bird Spotting, as we will these fierce and pretty predators to appear in the protected growing space, just as the booming aphid population begins to cause plant health problems. With a yelp of joy I spotted a procession of the dragon-like ladybird larvae emerging from the dead, dead wood of an old sunflower stem. Witnessing the principles of a “systems approach” to natural pest management manifested, first hand, doesn’t often happen: for one, wildlife tends to shake off our surveillance before carrying out its business; for another, the same wildlife “doesn’t always read the books”, as Jonny once remarked.

Honeybee on Gage Blossom, Outside Hawkwood Glasshouse, 11 April 02015 Photo: Martin Sla

Honeybee on Gage Blossom, Outside Hawkwood Glasshouse, 11 April 02015 Photo: Martin Slavin

Even the garden outside is starting to look not too shabby. The gage flowers have succeeded the peach blossoms to perfection – they, too, must have got the memo this time – and the Rhubarb, Three Cornered Leek, Ice Plant, Chives and Fennel are full of colour and vigour. All of these plants are perennials, and already being harvested twice weekly, well before the first flush of weeds or the planting out of our annual crops. April brings to sharp focus the importance, for body and soul, of combining annuals and perennials in the garden. This is a theme that has emerged with the latest crop of City & Guilds Level Two graduands, as we reach the finale of the academic horticultural calendar.   And this week, we finally, after much caution, introduce perennial plantings into our inner realm, the glasshouse: kiwis, clematis, chow chow, figs, lemon grass, lemon and licorice, are being brought in as “specimen exotics”. They will hopefully soften the firm functionality of the new seating area, transforming it from “conservatory” to “Kiwi Corridor” as Jen, our “in-house designer” is dubbing it. And they’ll provide a living structure, a skeleton of our protected garden that otherwise all but vanishes, come winter time. The picked bones of a huge pulsing organism that is just now bursting into being.