It was only a week before the recent warm and sunny Easter weekend that I looked out of the window at the blue sky and the sunshine and thought that at last spring was here. In previous weeks the wind had been chilly sometimes and the gardeners shivered when the sun was behind the clouds. We have certainly had, over winter, a display of the “cold dim grey Manchester” Elizabeth Gaskell writes about in a letter from September 1857 (Letters 375).
Manchester can be dim and grey when you return from southern Europe and Elizabeth Gaskell wrote in 1860 (Letters 482) of dreaming, when in England, of the “amber sunlight streaming on the gold-grey Roman roofs”of Italy.
I had the same nostalgic recollections when returning to Manchester after some weeks in Spain during the winter months. My “amber sunlight” recollections were the mass planting in the parks of clivias and birds of paradise plants, the oranges and their blossom on the trees in the streets, foot bridges planted end to end in bright red geraniums (pelargoniums), the Alcazar gardens in Seville.
But then I saw on my return to Manchester a huge spread of daffodils along a road-side and I remembered the measly little patch of daffodils displayed in a small triangle in a botantical garden in Spain and I am reminded that if you want to garden, Britain is the place to do it. And if you want to garden then the garden that surrounds the house where Elizabth Gaskell lived is a good place to do it. It is in her “six novels (that) fifty different garden flowers, herbs or wild flowers are named, and apart from passing references, fourteen specific gardens are described.” (Jeanette Eve, The Floral and Hoticultural in Elizabth Gaskell’s Novels” The Gaskell Journal Vol 18, 2004.)
So when I saw the spread of primroses at the front of the house, the violets scattered among them, the blossom on the fruit trees, the amelanchier in flower, the paeonies starting their growth in the side bed and the freshly weeded soil of the new vegetable bed ready for this year’s seeds and plants then I could forgive the winds, rain and sleet of winter and look forward to a summer of growth and flower that Mediterranean countries will envy.
And now the roses are starting to bloom. It only gets better!
Chris Tucker, Garden Volunteer