The beauty of spring in Britain makes the lockdown infinitely more bearable as many make the most of their time at home, says Country Life's mystery columnist, Agromenes.
‘Nothing is so beautiful as Spring’. As April opens out in this bleakest of years, it is Gerard Manley Hopkins’s simple statement that fires us with hope and confidence. The strident daffodil yellows that celebrate the end of winter, the burgeoning trees, the crowning blossom — the sheer fecundity of it all. And the sound! In a countryside with few motor cars and heavy lorries, we can again hear, with the clarity that Hopkins heard, the unmistakable song of the thrush bubbling over with joy.
It’s that sense of sheer abundance that so lifted the poet’s heart. The world awakes in full measure and overflowing: ‘All this juice and all this joy.’
What good fortune for us that it’s April and not November. How much worse it would have been if lockdown had happened as winter began to bite, with the prospect of dark, gloomy weather and celebrating Christmas on FaceTime.
‘We should concentrate on the present: celebrating spring and delighting as, one after another, the fresh green leaves unfold’
It reminds us how lucky we are here in Britain. The days are opening out, the soil is warming and the results of the first of our plantings are beginning to show. Even with all our natural concerns, particularly for those trapped in flats in crowded cities, we cannot but thrill at the onset of spring.
The sap is indeed rising and it’s clear that huge numbers of us are determined to make the most of the stay-at-home opportunity.
In gardens, planting has been going on at a feverish pace. Agromenes has managed potatoes, beans and root vegetables, with more to come as the season unfolds. Indeed, so widespread has been the enthusiasm that those who have left it until now to order plants and seeds will find that many of the direct-mail houses have run out of stock of popular items and almost all are warning of delivery delays.
Worryingly, an overall shortage of vegetables in shops is likely and, within the next few days, we will almost certainly be seeing the effects of lockdown on the supply of imported fresh produce. The long period of wet weather in the UK has reduced the availability of home-produced stock and the loss of migrant workers means that farmers fear even some of that which has grown will not be harvested, although schemes to recruit a new Land Army of field workers are under way — you can see several of the options to sign up in this news article.
‘If, at this time of trial, we learn to value more what we have, then, when we emerge, we may have become more determined to protect it’
Shortages in the shops; rotting vegetables in the fields; retail garden centres throwing plants away, as mail-order suppliers run out; huge numbers of workers furloughed and not enough people to pick the fruit — these are the contradictions inherent in a situation that none of us has faced before.
We will get through it and emerge stronger and more resilient. For now, however, we should concentrate on the present: celebrating spring and delighting as, one after another, the fresh green leaves unfold. ‘Oh to be in England/Now that April’s there’ — Rupert Brooke, amid the First World War, captured it exactly.
Throughout history, particularly in times of war and pestilence, it has been the round of the seasons and the new life of spring that has given humanity the courage and fortitude necessary to survive. Now, when we again need that as much as ever, we should also reflect that the way we have lived over the past century has threatened the certain round of the seasons in an unparalleled way.
Human action is changing spring itself, bringing it earlier, altering the relationship between flower and pollinator and making extreme weather more common. If, at this time of trial, we learn to value more what we have, then, when we emerge, we may have become more determined to protect it.
Country Life's mystery columnist Agromones finds the silver lining in self-isolation.
Country Life's Rosie Paterson and James Fisher are, separately, in isolation at opposite ends of the country.