10 Feb 2021

And the garden slowly wakes

clump of snowdrops lit from behind

Regardless of the number of years that I’ve been gardening, I still thrill to the sight of the garden starting to emerge from its winter inertia. Psychotherapist Sue Stuart-Smith (wife of garden designer Tom) has written (*see below) of how pathways in the human brain respond to green nature by releasing feel good hormones such as endorphins (pain and stress relief), serotonins (happiness) and the love hormone, oxytocin. It’s not too strong a claim to say that the sight of a clump of newly opened snowdrops will literally lift my heart. 

The cycle of the seasons, nature waking and seeds sprouting gives us hope for the future; we feel grounded, safe and calmed. Our connectivity to nature is fundamental for our health and wellbeing which is why gardens provide such effective therapy for mental and physical trauma. 

I find walking across the untamed nearby heath stimulating but it’s the smaller signs, pictured below, of nature waking in my garden last week (before the snow came!) that I find so reassuring.

A few bold colours crept into winter’s dull palette but mostly I sensed a tentative start to the gentle segue from winter into spring. That said, with the weather veering from sunshine to -5°C, I’m inclined to favour the March Equinox rather than the end of February for a more realistic start to spring! 

Red ladybird among hyacinth leaves

I was astonished to see not one, but two ladybirds last week which, on the face of it, seemed promising. But I’m not forgetting that February sits firmly within the bounds of meteorological winter - as the weather this week has proved. I hope the bugs found somewhere warm to wait out the weather!

Deep blue and yellow dwarf Iris reticulata

It was a rare dry and sunny day when I walked the garden so there were moments of startling beauty ... hellebores, primulas, a self seeded Erysimum starting to flower ... and this Iris reticulata. I recommend looking out for Iris bulbs in late summer and planting from September onwards for a show next spring. It pays to plan ahead!

But the veg garden also awakes ... 

Purple shoots on broccoli plant

Now this one is an oddity because this purple sprouting broccoli plant is left over after last year’s harvest; and it’s behaving like a perennial.  After picking the sprouting stems off last spring, I left the plant to feed pollinators with its lovely yellow flowers - fully intending to uproot it in good time.  But then the bean trellis went up and I couldn’t reach the psb without disturbing other plants.  And now it looks like it might start the cycle all over again. How exciting ... and strange. 

New pink buds emerging on blackcurrant shrub

In among the fruit shrubs, this blackcurrant has buds! I’ve not grown blackcurrants before - but hope that this little bush will change all that. It's time to expand my fruity horizons and put blackcurrant jam, tarts and crumble on the menu this summer.

Brassica leaves with tiny cauliflower floret growing

This is another brassica that has surprised me. Grown in 2019 and given to me by a friend who didn’t have space for it, I was unsure exactly what it was as it simply grew .... and grew ... and grew. It was a magnificent beast of a plant with huge beautiful blue green leaves and quite a statuesque presence. It didn’t sprout or heart up as a cabbage, so I let it be for its handsome good looks. Now though, two years after the seed was sown, something is happening - and I’m watching with bated breath. Could it be a cauliflower? The garden always has a story to tell and the moral of this one is to have patience.

New leaves of Black Tuscan kale growing

Just in the nick of time, fresh new Tuscan kale leaves appear ... it’s a winter staple in my kitchen.

buds of rhubarb starting to grow

And deliciously reliable rhubarb - although this Red Champagne plant needs to be moved. Living in the shade of the apple tree, it has never fulfilled its promise of providing me with more rhubarb than I can handle. Obviously when I was told that rhubarb tolerated shade, they didn’t mean that much shade.

And last we come to the thrilling sight of my wild garlic patch breaking through.  It was almost a decade ago that I bought a small pot of this from Jekka McVicar’s herb farm in Bristol as I wanted a patch of my own to harvest. I planted it under the cherry tree where it’s been fairly slow to spread. But that’s okay; I have a generous couple of square feet of leaves to pick from each spring, more than enough to satisfy my culinary needs. (It's delicious in pesto and unobtainable in the shops.)

wild garlic leaves pushing up through soil

What signs of spring have you noticed in your garden... 
or are you still under snow or water?

* Published in 2020, Sue Stuart-Smith's A Well Gardened Mind is a timely book illustrating how we are at the start of understanding nature and its restorative effects in the modern world. This quote is from the dust jacket:
"In a powerful combination of contemporary neuroscience, psychoanalysis and compelling real-life stories, The Well Gardened Mind investigates the remarkable effects of nature on our health and wellbeing" 


  1. Do love all those signs of spring. We just need to get past this cold spell now...

    1. It's still early days - luckily we don't get much snowfall or sub zero temperatures in London but I'll be glad when I can start gardening again. Hope your urban jungle is safely tucked up for winter!

  2. I have Sue's book in my reading queue and am looking forward to it immensely. Perhaps now is a good time to promote it to the top!
    It's wonderful walking around the garden now isn't it, almost something new to see every day. As ever I have overdone the seeds (mostly ornamental for now) and if they all come good I will be racing to catch up, and running out of space, long before March is out. But how I love it. Serotonins flowing freely here. :)

    1. Likewise serious reading awaits here, am currently reading the Book of Trespass - inspirational for any walkers both real and armchair. (I'm mostly the latter.) I need to put aside an afternoon to sit and read.

      Also have succumbed to too many seeds - is there even such a thing? I did rigorously clear my seed box of even slightly out of date seeds, and then gave loads away, but nature abhors a vacuum, as we know. As usual I will grow a variety of tiny tastes rather than serious gluts, which is probably a good thing!

  3. It really is a lift to see these little signs of hope for the coming year. The iris are stunning and we too have spotted our first rhubarb leaf emerging

    1. It's the thought of winter being nearly over and all the goodness of summer to come - I'm already looking out my rhubarb recipes and watching the stems grow!

  4. How lovely seeing those spring bulbs and lovely buds and veggies. What an odd cauliflower!! I am really enjoying my kale this winter along with my leeks.xxx

    1. Ah yes, Leeks ... I didn't have much success with my leeks last year, probably didn't sow them early enough. Every year is a learning curve, isn't it! My odd cauliflower has now turned purple so it's now potentially going to be a purple sprouting broccoli - but two years wait!! Waaahh! :) x


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