PHIL CALVERT: Great weather means the gardening season starts early

WE have been enjoying some quite extraordinary weather recently that, so far, mirrors our experience in 2010. A very long, cold, hard winter followed by a dry spring. Indeed, not only has it been dry, but very warm indeed.

So much so that many of the spring flowers on our trees and shrubs have appeared at the same time. Some of the early flowers appeared late, while the plants which come into flower that bit later have appeared early. The display from the daffs was good but seemed to fizzle out pretty quickly and now our front garden already has the cherry blossoms in full flower with May still more than a week away.

All this means that the gardening season has got into full swing rather early at the garden centre and I’ve had to burn a considerable amount of midnight oil to keep up with pretty much all trees, shrubs, perennials and pond plants being in demand. Perhaps more than anything, however, it has been the interest in grow-your-own that has shown most momentum with pots of vegetable seedlings seeming to fly out.

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We should not be surprised by this. There is plenty of evidence from times past, that when there is some twitchiness and unease in the economy, many people like to experiment with growing their own food, both out of curiosity and as an inexpensive hobby, but also to check they can do it – just in case things get really bad! It is highly unlikely we will become dependant on what we are able to grow in our little plots but with security of supply and rising food prices in the news it is certainly a comfort.

Surely though, keeping your hand in and knowing how stuff grows is good in itself. It is all too easy to pick up a packet of stuff from the supermarket that has been flown in from say Kenya and not have a clue how it has been produced. Any doubts can be dispelled and air miles eliminated by sourcing stuff locally and there is nothing more local than your own back garden. When you grow-your-own, you know the life history of that vegetable from the seed to your plate.

For me, however, the gardening experience is not about air miles or food security, it is about being connected to the natural world. There is a simple pleasure in sowing a few unpromising seeds in some compost, adding a little water and waiting for life to emerge. Our greenhouse is packed with seedlings, but even though we have seen it a thousand times before, there is a buzz when that first tiny green shoot appears. Some take just a few days to appear, others two or three weeks, but the sense of anticipation is the same. You feel like you are creating life.

It is the same when you plant seed potatoes (there is still time). You bury that little tuber several inches under ground, water the soil and walk away. For two or three weeks there is nothing and then the first shoot pushes its way to the surface and then another and life returns to the soil. All very satisfying. Not so for little Monty.

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Keen on staying in bed on his cushion, nevertheless, he always has one ear cocked ready to leap into action and ambush me at that front door if I try to leave the house. He has no idea where we are going or what I have planned. Are we off to work? (The norm at the minute). Are we going on a nursery visit? Or perhaps best of all going on a walk. Whatever the day holds, he wants to be part of it. It is, therefore, a severe disappointment to him if the adventure of the day is simply to walk across the road to the greenhouse and sow some seeds. After sniffing around for a few minutes, invariably he just lies down and goes to sleep

At work he has much more freedom and trots around for the best part of the day so that by teatime he is tired out. Nevertheless, if we are passing by the canal or twoods on our way home then he is definitely up for it. But it is the canal he seems to favour at the moment, or at least I do. His white fur is going grey from lying around on the dusty ground all day and he needs a regular freshening up. Always keen and excited, he dances around on the towpath thinking about that swim, but rarely making that leap. It just needs that little nudge and encouragement to launch him into one of the highlights of his day, a quick swim then home for dinner. And if I do then pop out to the greenhouse during the evening this time it will be alone. Monty will on his cushion snoring away after another busy day. I don’t think he’s much of a gardener really.

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