I love May. I love its greenness, vivid and enchanting, and I love the way things are growing practically as you watch them. The force of new life is fountaining up in fronds of fennel and lovage climbing to the sky in the herb garden. In two or three days both are putting on inches, the fennel all feather and frond, the lovage deeply cut and sculptural. All the trees but the walnut are in leaf. The framework of the big oaks in the field below the kitchen garden is disappearing now into the blur of new green and the finely cut foliage of the ashes bursts out of the dark and stumpy buds, unexpectedly delicate.
In the garden it is impossible to keep up. In winter the city lures with its lighted streets and coffee shops. Then the view from the window is of relentless rain and going for wood for the fire requires a fleece, a waterproof and a pair of rigger boots. In spring and summer I can hardly bear to go. I got up early this morning to have an hour or so in the greenhouse, potting up dianthus and butternut squash, inspecting the French beans now easily big enough to go out with a cloche close by in case of late frost.
Then I wander around the kitchen garden. The early potatoes, Winston, are bulking up fast and at the other end of the bed the delicate frill of carrots stands in the stillness. A line of parsnips sown about a month ago is obstinately failing to germinate. Perhaps it has been too dry. I have beetroot and turnips growing in lengths of guttering in the greenhouse ready to go out too and lots of tiny celeriac plants given to me by a friend which I need to separate and grow on a bit before they go into the ground. The combination of poor soil, even though hugely fed with well rotted manure, cold winds and foraging chickens means that things do better if started off under glass and moved outside when they are big enough to fend for themselves, even things that traditionally are sown straight into the soil.
The next raised bed is ready for courgettes and squash. They too are in the greenhouse, muscling up by the day. The bed is deeply manured and lies waiting, like a newly made hotel bed with the covers turned down, chocolate on the pillow, ready for its occupants.
Up another level and the garlic and shallots are sprouting in their neat lines. The red onions too are just starting to show and here and there shoots of bindweed are sneakily twining and twirling. The whole bed needs hand weeding before it takes hold. It is this garden’s most pernicious weed, leaving me tolerating nettles, trying to ignore dandelions and drawing the line at thistles. There is a whole day’s weeding to be done just here in the kitchen garden, never mind out in the field or on the bank by the quince tree. Both of these have had hours of my time but will have to wait their turn when I come back. The kitchen garden needs it most.
Just outside the greenhouse is the bed for peas and beans with broad beans, mangetout and Hurst Greenshaft peas, each with one row transplanted from the greenhouse and a second sown into the soil as an attempt at the Holy Grail of vegetable growing, succession sowing. There are lines of rocket romping away too and a trough with a stir fry mix which is supposed to be harvestable within twenty one days of sowing already showing a fine fuzz of green.
An empty bed, not yet ready for planting in, is waiting for broccoli and curly kale and some leaf spinach which is only just now showing shyly in the guttering bed. And everywhere the fruit is getting ready to perform. The strawberry bed is full of flowers and the apple trees are so thickly covered in blossom it is easy to forget that their crop is hard and sour, good for jellies but not for eating from the tree. There are early signs of a huge gooseberry crop and of redcurrants by the bucket load. The blackcurrants are too young to crop this year and the raspberries are not yet in flower but the rhubarb bed which we supplemented with additional crowns last year is full to overflowing with pale pink stalks under the arching umbrella leaves.
I turn my back on everything reluctantly. I need to pack my bag and shower and put on my city clothes. The cats are sunning themselves on the cobbles and the swallows are swooping in and out of the big pigsty. As I drive away down the hill I try to persuade myself that the needing to leave is part of what keeps my love for the place so keen, like a love affair rather than the steady beat of a marriage, but I am not sure I really believe it.