The cusp of spring Posted on March 17, 2010

A weekend in North Wales (let’s say Merioneth, for the poetry) to see how the winter has treated the woods. Kindly, is the answer. The grass on the hills is still sere, snow hangs in the high gullies and dusts Cader Idris again in the night. The larches, pines and spruces stand impassive, a few leaning, a few prone, but no mass casualties in a winter with no strong gales. It is catkins that provide the excitement, close up where the hazels are clouds of yellow down-strokes and here and there pussy willows flash like shards of mirror, and in the distance where they begin to paint the hills.

The brilliant colours of massed twigs always surprise me: the oaks pale buff, the birches purple, ashes the colour of bone and hazels en masse, as their catkins ripen, bright orange. Spruces are dull green with silver flashes if the wind shows you their petticoats. European larches are pale custard colour, Japanese larches pinky-orange. In forest land the colours are laid on in random brush strokes. The silver slash of a waterfall (there is very little water after a long dry spell) hangs from a hill top.

The ponds and puddles are fecund with frogspawn and loud with froggy noises, sharp croaks above a long soft purr like a contented cat – the sound of spring warming its engine.

Home to a quite different scene from the one we left. What unit of energy do you use for a spring garden getting going? Kilojoules? Megatonnes? The energy driving the buds on every bush and tree, driving the crocuses and daffodils and fritillaries, driving every blade of grass (not to mention every weed and bramble) is immeasurable. If knotweed can split concrete, the concerted force of this garden could reach the moon.

Hugh’s Gardening Books


Trees was first published in 1973 as The International Book of Trees, two years after The World Atlas of Wine….

Hugh’s Wine Books

Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book

I wrote my first Pocket Wine Book in 1977, was quite surprised to be asked to revise it in 1978,…

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