April is the month of puppies and this year we shall have three; a pug each for Beatrice, Florence and Celestia. Whilst this might sound like canine excess it is actually carefully thought through. After years of lobbying they are finally at an age where we feel (under our supervision) they are capable of investing maturely in little pug-lets. In return, they will receive that mysterious blessing only a canine – appropriately loved and cherished – can bestow. As my wife Sybilla said, what is the point of living in the sort of setting we live in, with all the additional work that it brings (vs a townhouse, say), if you can’t go long on dogs. I imagine our family has had a better than average lockdown, for which we are grateful, but it still tells, albeit subtly, on the children. Dogs are our oldest evolutionary partners. Evidence for the partnership pre-dates the appearance of homo sapiens itself, so I could think of no better medicine. The love I had for my first dog had a certain sweetness to it that I can still catch in the air when I think about it.
Now is a good time to look to your herb garden, if you have one. You could try layering something woody like rosemary or thyme (it is not as hard as it sounds) or simply divide your chives to make a yet bigger, healthier clump. Make a rule to grow one new herb each year. The true joy of a herb garden, however, is its olfactory impact. Last year I deployed a lovely citrus pelargonium in clumps here and there. Passing and idly rubbing its leaves for their perfume became a great joy. I increasingly enjoy stuffing jugs of cold water with rosemary and making fresh mint tea too.
I am terribly excited about tree lilies. This exceptional bulb ought to grow to four or five feet and flower in the first year after planting (there might still be time if you are quick, otherwise make a note for next year). From their second year they can reach truly gigantic proportions (taller than me) and they are festooned with a great number of magnificent flowers, but the very best thing about the one I grow is its scent.
Last July, late one evening, I slumped exhausted into an armchair in the nursery. To my delight a warm breeze rushed the scent of the lilies into the room through the open windows. The room filled until I could concentrate on almost nothing else. It was an exquisite moment with an intimate, devotional quality. Such moments are why I bother gardening in the first place. Nectar for the soul.
I have increased my stock of tree lilies in the garden this year, planting at least another 20 bulbs immediately around the house. I think the one I grow is Pretty Woman. I say “I think” because I hope I have correctly identified the ones I bought a few years ago despite, as is so often the case, having lost the label. You must engage in a frenzy of murderous killing when the lily beetle emerges about now (squishing between thumb and forefinger is a sure method) and, apart from that, everything about them is easy. We all know the symbolism vested in a white lily and of course it is perfectly possible to grow the Madonna lily itself in an English garden or pot. Gardening on clay, I tend to plant on a few inches of horticultural grit.
This month will witness not just blossom but the great unfurling. The moment when the leaves come back and as they do so offering their very crispest and cleanest green, unsullied by sun or rain. At this moment my garden lifts and is once again cloaked, like a gigantic green island. But we have also found ourselves at the very summit of the church calendar; the beacon for the rest of the year and for the time when time itself will have no concordance. As our gardens start to truly rise around us, let us ensure we keep the happiest words, He is Risen, pinned to our hearts.