The first sniff of spring in the air today; aconites opening, snowdrops unsheathing, tree buds showing signs of life. There is a growth scent in the air, despite the frost, that makes my spirits surge. It also makes me think how deep my hibernation has been these last two months, and how timely. The dormancy of the garden has given me a respite from the temptation of outdoors, time to sit and concentrate on the book I’m writing.
Or rather rewriting. I first wrote it half my lifetime ago, in 1973. How I had the nerve I don’t know. I was mocked in Private Eye. ‘Johnson admits that until he had signed the contract he had never seen a tree.’ Miraculously, readers don’t seem to have twigged that I was only one step ahead of them, if that, in my studies. What they could tell was that I was loving it. Not half as much, though, as I am loving revisiting my old state of innocent ignorance to bring myself up to date.
The solid elements I can add now are, first, experience. In 1973 I had planted a mere handful of trees and never cut one down. 37 years later I have planted thousands, some of them successfully, others no doubt ill-advisedly, and cut down almost as many. In other words I have turned forester as well as gardener. Decades of collecting, observing, calculating and just adoring trees have given me a lot, probably too much, to say.
Second new element: refreshed expertise from John Grimshaw, whose New Trees, introductions, that is, since 1970, was published by Kew last year. John is, unexpectedly for a tree expert and enthusiast, resident galanthologist at Colesbourne, the Gloucestershire estate of the Elwes family. Henry John Elwes was the (Edwardian) co-author, with Augustine Henry, of the monumental Trees of Great Britain & Ireland. There is a pleasing symmetry here.
I can handle the temptation while the ground stays hard and until we see touches of leaf. The counter-pull of books piled round me, the red fire and the cold hypnotic screen are holding their own for the moment. I must press on before my resolve thaws, too.