Spring is here and Sue has been making the most of the warmer weather.

One my favourite things about having an allotment is that each year is different.

Over recent weeks a spell of mild weather has brought everything on early and encouraged some creatures out of hibernation, including slow worms, toads and ladybirds.

Elsewhere the blackthorn is flowering and cherry and plum trees are covered in blossom. It brings to mind those beautiful lines in AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad:

“Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

 Is hung with bloom along the bough, 

And stands about the woodland ride

Wearing white for Eastertide. 

Now, of my threescore years and ten,

Twenty will not come again,

And take from seventy springs a score,

It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs are little room,

About the woodlands I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow.”

Stand and Stare

With these words in mind, I made it my business to take W.H. Davies’ advice and ‘stand and stare’, for a while at the beautiful blossom on a plum tree, together with the industrious honey bees that visited each flower in search of nectar. A few days earlier I watched the same insects on some pussy willow, filling the pollen baskets on their legs, and dropping in on some tulips growing in pots in the garden. 

Yet while the allotment has been bathed in sunshine for much of the time, the weather has had a few surprises up its sleeve, not least a dramatic drop in temperature and a significant amount of hail and snow in early April. The French caution against getting too carried away in the garden until the feasts of the ‘Ice Saints’ – St Pancras, St Servatius and St Mamertus – on May 11, 12 and 13, which are often accompanied by cold weather and the last frost of the year.

It made me feel guilty to see birds gathering around empty bird feeders during the cold spell and I made it my business to fill them as quickly as I could to provide them with food during their ‘hungry gap’.

Nevertheless I’ve made the most of the generous run of sunny days, getting my potatoes into the warm soil by mid March and sowing carrots and lettuce in my compost-filled dustbins - growing carrots well off the ground protects them from carrot fly, which can be a problem where I live.

Colourful spring display in the sunshine

Strawberry season cometh

The autumn-sown broad beans are in flower and seem to be coping with the colder snaps, while all around the fruit bushes and strawberries are putting on fresh growth and should be fruiting by June.

The tulips and daffodils moved from the garden borders to the allotment are putting on a glorious display, obviously benefitting from the extra space and nutrients they’re getting, and I’m trying to repeat the exercise this year. They fill me with cheer every time I see them and provide early sources of nectar for bees.

While it’s too early to sow my squash, courgettes and pumpkin, I’ve been out collecting bags of manure to make ‘hot beds’ on which the young plants will eventually grow. At the same time these heaps will attract plenty of worms, which will provide a feast for visiting hedgehogs, and possibly even the odd dung beetle or two.

Garden inspiration

When I’m not on my allotment I can often be found visiting other people’s gardens: a new addition to the National Open Gardens Scheme in Gloucestershire is Green Bowers, a lovely hillside plot in Dursley that’s full of wildlife.

Keeping its steep slopes looking lovely is not a job for the faint-hearted and owner Amanda Songer has come up with a clever way of dealing with garden refuse in situ, chopping it up and leaving it in neat piles on the ground, where it provides a moisture-retaining mulch along with homes for reptiles, beetles and a wide variety of insects as it rots. Meanwhile fallen leaves are used on pathways, the edges of which are marked out with lengths of branches. 

Over time Amanda has created a garden that’s filled with colour and the song of a wealth of birds, all combined with some wonderful views.

See it for yourself when Green Bowers opens on April 20, 21, 22, 27 and 28.