There is something truly wonderful about this time of year. Living in what can only be described as a field halfway up a hill in the middle of nowhere has the effect of bringing the seasons in general (and the weather in particular) into sharp focus, so you will imagine what striding out into the fields in a t shirt and a pair of training shoes does for morale around here. Whether it feels so good because we are leaving the miseries of a particularly ghastly winter in our wake, or whether it just is genuinely marvellous in its own right is to some extent moot; at this very moment, everything in the Huxbear garden is excessively lovely.
The view from the open door is much the same as it has been for a number of months. The vines remain dormant, the trees are bare, the grass is still short and there is still probably rather more wreckage from last month’s storms strewn around the place than I’d care to admit. If one looks harder, it’s possible to see some clues about what is changing from the absent puddles, the catkins on the trees and the ominous looking yellow orb that has been floating in the sky for a protracted period for the first time in months. Once one has stepped through the front door to ensure that the sun is actually hovering in its appointed place and confirmed that it isn’t an hallucination or that Lucy isn’t attempting to lift my spirits by sticking a picture of the sun on the window and turning the heating up, the changing seasons are palpable.
Leaving the house, we immediately trip over one of the dogs doing a serviceable impression of a solar panel in her appointed place, directly behind the front door. We notice another dog keeping a vigil underneath the handrail for the decking as a chicken, resplendent in its new season’s coat of gorgeous iridescent feathers, aggravates it by strutting along the top of it. Turning toward the vines, one gets a whiff redolent of long summer holidays and unmitigated excitement, of picnics, of beaches, of, of the supermarket own brand factor ten sun tan lotion that Lucy has just assaulted me with. Amongst the vines there are signs of movement, the freshly pruned bleed their sap and the buds have swollen dramatically and appear ready for action. The ground is so firm that there is a car parked upon it with impunity, and one may venture onto it as sure footedly as at any time of year. The birds are singing, the bees buzzing and the rabbits hop across our quiet little idyll.
Logically there are many other exciting signs of spring, but as Lucy blundered into my day dream brandishing a rolling pin and gesturing frantically at the remaining pruning, I stopped taking mental notes at this point. And in fairness, Lucy and her rolling pin had a point. The vines really are seriously starting to have a think about growing – the furthest along will almost certainly be showing the smallest amount of green by the time that you read this – and one should really have the pruning in the rear view window by the time that this happens as the tender shoots are very delicate.
That the winter has consisted of a string of the sort of low pressure events that suck the warm and moist air from the south – while the cold and dry air has resolutely hovered above the north of America, freezing it solid – has shrunk the off/pruning season by at least a couple of weeks this year. Needless to say, that low pressure has disappeared now that it might be of some use in delaying the start of the growing season and has been replaced by sky high pressure and gin clear skies that are currently giving the vines an unceremonious shove and me palpitations and the sort of early season sun tan that usually necessitates a pricey skiing holiday.
Which in turn means that it’s probably time for the annual vineyard spring frost panicathon, with extra emphasis this year on account of the early growing season. But I’m going to save that until next week, as the vines haven’t actually started growing yet and Lucy’s rolling pin still very much remains in the cocked position. No matter, by the time that the rugby kicks off at the weekend, I intend to be parked in front of it nursing something cold, with a field full of neatly pruned vines looking on and the rolling pin back in the drawer.