Shirley Lanigan - Start small and enjoy what you take on

We have been so lucky with the mild winter and warm spring this year – and we know it. There have been of course been many as good. But the two most recent hard, cold, destructive winters and late springs made us appreciate this year and the wonderful roll of the dice it gave us in a way that we seldom appreciate a great spring. Two bad ones in a row seemed to have us thinking that the end was nigh. Between crampons and snow boots, bags of salt and a hundred different ways to insulate, warm up and defrost our poor frozen lives, everyone approached last winter in full expectation of yet another arctic freeze. In retrospect, we were very fatalistic. Thankfully we were also wrong. The big freeze thankfully failed to arrive and we are subsequently all surprised, delighted and I think more aware than usual of the arrival of spring. I have heard more people comment on the gorgeous winter and spring than I can remember ever hearing before. And the number that mentioned on how great it is for gardening is nothing short of stunning. The most satisfying part of all this, is that many of these are people not entirely aquatinted with spades, hoes and trowels., people whose general acquaintance with horticulture might be to flash past ‘Gardener’s World’ on the tv as they seek out some other programme. Does all this recognition of spring and growth mean that there will be a rash of new gardeners? Is 2012 going to be a bumper year for new recruits to the cause? It would be brilliant if it were. New blood is good.

We have been so lucky with the mild winter and warm spring this year – and we know it. There have been of course been many as good. But the two most recent hard, cold, destructive winters and late springs made us appreciate this year and the wonderful roll of the dice it gave us in a way that we seldom appreciate a great spring. Two bad ones in a row seemed to have us thinking that the end was nigh. Between crampons and snow boots, bags of salt and a hundred different ways to insulate, warm up and defrost our poor frozen lives, everyone approached last winter in full expectation of yet another arctic freeze. In retrospect, we were very fatalistic. Thankfully we were also wrong. The big freeze thankfully failed to arrive and we are subsequently all surprised, delighted and I think more aware than usual of the arrival of spring. I have heard more people comment on the gorgeous winter and spring than I can remember ever hearing before. And the number that mentioned on how great it is for gardening is nothing short of stunning. The most satisfying part of all this, is that many of these are people not entirely aquatinted with spades, hoes and trowels., people whose general acquaintance with horticulture might be to flash past ‘Gardener’s World’ on the tv as they seek out some other programme. Does all this recognition of spring and growth mean that there will be a rash of new gardeners? Is 2012 going to be a bumper year for new recruits to the cause? It would be brilliant if it were. New blood is good.

A mild year makes an introduction to gardening the enjoyable, easy experience that it should be. And it stands to reason that if the introduction is easy, the chances that the new recruit will stay the course are better.

Old hands have certainly found the past few months a pleasure. Heading out to weed and work has been easy and it has been possible to get a great amount of work done in the warm, fairly dry weather. The ground has been easy to work.

Digging weeds out, piling on compost, sometimes putting down layers of black plastic to further warm the soil in expectation of planting seed later in the month, it has been a wonderfully busy and productive time. And as the work goes ahead to get the ground ready for seeds and plants that will fill up the coming summer garden, the warm weather has seen all the spring bulbs grow faster and more enthusiastically than they might in leaner years. Surrounded by scillas and snowdrops, daffodils and hellebores, it has been no hardship to get out and do the jobs that needed seeing to.

About ten days ago, in what seems like a matter of hours, the little snouts of trilliums emerged from under the ground as I pottered around. They then went on to open into shiny, lush leaves in a matter of only a few days. The buds of white flowers on the Magnolia stellata went from grey dead looking things to imminent flowers. And primroses went from green rosettes of leaves to little floral gems. The bare ground under which there are clumps of paeonies was disturbed by salmon coloured bulges of serrated foliate, all wrapped tightly around each other and the dead branches of a tree paeoney burst out into similar knots of colourful, frilled wrapped foliage only on stalks rather than sitting on the soil. Flowering currants, previously desiccated-looking clematis stalks and the grey dried branches of a score of shrubs have all sprung to life with buds, some sticky, some shiny and all exciting. Anyone with a winter flowering cherry has had the wonder of those delicate white and pink flowers busting out on bare twigs.

These are all the sorts of images that fill us with the thrill of spring and growth and gardening. They get the blood rising just as the sap is doing the same thing. They are the reasons why starting to garden for the first time makes most sense in spring. They are the sights and smells that get us enthusiastic and gung ho. They give us the impetus to really get stuck in, keep working and achieve the best regardless of whether we have a big garden, a small one, an allotment, a balcony or even a window sill plot.

So get growing. Start small and enjoy what you take on. Grow what you want to, whether that might be flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruit or a few trees. Do a little bit of research and don’t spend money until you know what you need to buy. Borrow the tools if you are only starting out. Think out what you want to do and take it one step at a time. The internet, magazines and the libraries will guide you.

It’s going to be a great year. Enjoy it.