Spring colours Posted on April 9, 2013

To Tuscany, and my brother’s garden in the hills above Argentario, in the hope of a preview of spring. By April the legendary lilac-scented nirvana should be up and running Not this year – or not yet. The trees are bare, the furrows full of rain, and the wind is cold. There are touches of brilliant green on the elm and field maple but the oaks are not even fattening their buds. I hoped for irises; not yet.

Only the hedgerows and ditches are coming alive with wood anemones in dense clusters or desultory sprinkles, mainly white, then suddenly predominantly blue. The occasional one is even pink: a Guardian reader? Cyclamen are putting their heads up to look tentatively around. Here and there sudden dark blue dot marks a grape hyacinth breaking cover.


In the garden rosemary blue is the one celebratory colour at this time of year. You could take it for ceanothus in the distance, in tone and

volume, with some bushes, particularly the common trailing kind, almost matching the periwinkle creeping under it. Others are merely the colour of the sky where you can just see a patch of blue dimly through the low cloud.

I have sometimes picked all the blue flowers in sight and laid them out in line to reconcile them with the accepted terms. It never really works. The borage is just opening, startlingly bright blue, but which? The Italian for blue, of course, is ‘azzurro’. What is azure in English? The sky? Not this one.

There is a sprinkling of Honesty, a dowdy magenta, and a deadnettle with long bright white flower-tubes. Overall, though, it is the white of laurustinus that shows up in gardens and nearby where it overspills into the countryside. Its sheer mass is important – but I think of its dreary green and catty smell in summer and feel less exhilarated.

We are perched high here, at 1700 feet. Forty minutes’ drive away, at Porto Santo Stefano, the lilac is in full swing and the buds of the Judas trees are opening. Pink? Purple? – or the colour Goethe christened magenta? He called it the eighth colour, between violet and red, linking the two ends of the rainbow.

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