Early each year comes that single, magical, joyful, often unexpected day when winter turns to spring. It doesn’t come when the astronomers or meterologists tell us so, but when nature decides the time is right. The first day of spring can come as early as February and as late as April, but gardeners know it’s upon them the moment they wake up that morning. So do the birds, bees and flowers, all hard-wired to leap into action on the precise day when the sky clears and the white-gold sun sends temperatures into double figures.
Those that can’t sense it instinctively should know the first day of spring by when the birds change their tune and the earth starts to smell rich and comforting again. It’s when it’s warm enough to garden in a t-shirt but the air is still chilly in the shade, and when your plants seem to start growing before your very eyes. Spring is here when subtle perfumes you had to enjoy at close quarters suddenly fill the air like a fragrant cloud; when the atmosphere in the greenhouse becomes intoxicatingly tropical. It’s when you find buds forming on plants you hadn’t expected to be awake yet and when a gardener’s mind swells with ideas for the year ahead. (The latter is hard to spot, but is given away by a wistful look and a sudden urge to pot, sow, graft, mow, write plant lists or simply gaze intently at various parts of the garden.)
The first day of spring arrived today in Broadstairs. I knew it before the sun even rose. It began tentatively; a haze in the sky, a remnant of the previous day’s fog, thinly veiling the sun. As I opened the front door I was greeted by cool rather than cold air, and stillness, and birdsong, and a softness of light that’s been absent since autumn. On the beach the storm bank had gone and it could have been 5am on a summer’s day, the sun climbing high over the harbour arm. I took my first walk on the sand this year. It felt warm, and good. Up on the cliffs pied wagtails darted manically through the faded flowerheads of Cineraria maritima, whilst the first wild wallflowers began to scent the air with their unmistakably old-world fragrance.
As someone who wishes it were spring all year round, I look forward to this day more than Christmas and my birthday combined. It means that soon the garden will be flooded with delicate blossom, elegant tulips, fragrant roses and fresh green foliage. But, gardeners beware, the first day of spring does not mean that spring is here to stay. It can disappear again without a trace, leaving us in suspense as to when the second, third and fourth day might dawn. Put down that trowel, hang up the secateurs and sit a while, the sun illuminating your pale complexion, and consider all the fun, happiness and opportunity your garden will reward you with over the coming months. The first day of spring is here. Enjoy it whilst it lasts.
Has spring arrived in your part of the world yet? (I assume some while ago in the case of my readers from the Southern Hemisphere!). What tell-tale signs announce the first day of spring where you live?