Spring forward: my garden year starts here

My garden story begins in August, when the plum trees blossom

“I have been on holiday for the past fortnight. I told everyone that I was going to Norway, which was a surprisingly effective means of closing the conversation down. In fact I stayed at home and gardened, blissfully … ”—Monty Don My Roots: A Decade in the Garden (2005)

My first memory of this garden is touched by autumn sunshine. Fast forward—through dilapidation, a weedy wilderness, interminable expense—to the last weekend in July. July slipped into August, and the plum trees slipped into blossom. My garden story begins in August; July is its blank first page.

I wanted, every year, to watch the garden wake up. Every year, the story rewrites itself. I wanted to grow food, and plant trees. A thicket of them filled my head.

I became a weekly pilgrim to Judy Blank’s garden centre. Judy Blank specialised in heirloom fruit trees. When the flowering plum (pink) and almond (white) show their frilly knickers outside my bedroom window, I remember how it was, stumbling upon such prettiness.

I indulge in a little ritual, in memoriam, planting chives, dill seed, and curly parsley. The herb garden was the first garden that I planted, the day the land transferred. It was a gesture of ownership, and intent.

I watch daily, hungrily, for asparagus. Once, a bellbird chimed from amidst plum blossom, while I collected coffee- and cream-coloured eggs, and found what I was looking for.

The plum trees have battered limbs, and wind-twisted corkscrew trunks. They are halves of a heart-shaped whole, and the soul of this garden in spring time.

The wax-eyes work themselves into a twitter of delight, burying their faces in plum flowers. A kereru comes every day, to munch on unfurling leaves. After a hard night’s rain, he risks the top-most east-most branch. It is a twiggy branch, and he is a dignified bird. He puffs his cream waistcoat towards the rising sun, cartoonishly, like a fat man. Sometimes he brings his girlfriend. They will relocate in summer, a few wing beats north, to the wild cherry tree.

Last week, on holiday, I snatched moments from the weather. Torrential rain followed gales; a balmy morning segued into hail that lay on the ground in drifts. Seduced into planting lettuce seedlings, I was out that night under a freezing moon, rigging a greenhouse from ex-windows.

My house is on a flight path. On tranquil spring nights and summer dawns, Canada geese honk overhead. They were on the move that night, and again this minute, as I write this in bed in the dark.

I mowed the lawn. I planted peas. I laid potatoes out to sprout. I pruned trees, and excavated the compost bins. There might have been some pernickety fussing with baby hedges and a pair of secateurs. Hours evaporated in the sunlight, doing nothing useful at all. The sun dappled shade, and stained new leaves like glass.

What was I doing this time last year? Well, I was mowing the lawn, sprouting potatoes, pruning the passionfruit vine and the avocado tree. And day dreaming about hedgehogs:

This was dual-purpose fruit tree pruning. I read about a man who, every year, stacks his apple and pear off cuts in a quiet corner and, every year, has a hedgehog come to hibernate amongst them. I am charmed by this. For years I have longed for a resident hedgehog, and, I now realise, I have the perfect piece of real estate: a snug otherwise-unusable little triangle, fenced on two sides and sheltered on the third by the trunk of the sycamore tree. I filled it with my pruningsa gesture of invitation and hope.

Not long after that, I met a hedgehog hurrying home in the dawn. I was on my front porch at the time. It disappeared beneath my feet. There was momentary scuffling, and then … silence. It didn’t come out again. Evidently our real estate tastes were shared.

I thought for a long time about how to describe the rhythm of this garden. In the end it was simple, like breathing.