I remember my first southern Spring. I had moved to Victoria from Queensland in my mid-twenties with a small suitcase containing what I thought were suitable clothes. I had at least three long sleeved tops, shoes that weren't sandals and even a cardigan for goodness sake. Really there is nothing that can prepare a born and bred Queenslander for the Melbourne Winter. It hit me like a slap.
Still, after I survived some months of shivering inside my rapidly growing wardrobe of hats, scarves and gloves, a wonderful surprise came - blossoms.
In Queensland the seasons lazily drift into one another. The only reason one might notice Winter has arrived is that everyone has stopped drinking beer in the bath with a fan on. Spring there is no more than tepid water to a lobster, until you suddenly notice you are being cooked and that it is Summer.
Down here (yes, I still call it that), the promise of Spring blasts out like a fanfare. It's the bare branches of trees suddenly gaudy in tufts of pink blossom like six-year-old girls in tulle at a fairy party. It's the almost offensively cheery daffodils lining the streets and gathering in clumps under wizened trees.
Now that I have my own garden, of course, Spring holds all sorts of treats that I watch and wait for to come and go in turns.
At the moment all of my Winter hellebores are still flowering. I've been dutifully feeding and mulching them and this year, have been rewarded with a bumper crop of the most blousy and decadent blooms: double bruised purples, pea-greens flecked with maroon, a true single black with cadmium yellow stamens and variations of dusty pinks and soft yellows. Hellebores love to have babies and they freely cross-pollinate with one another, but their seed never falls far from the parent plant so if you have a shady patch with lots of leaf litter under a tree in your garden, you can cultivate a little piece of late winter paradise in just two or three years, and they won't get out of control.
The next treat that I anticipate every year is the bud burst of an outrageous pink mollis azalea that gracefully sweeps to the ground just outside the glass doors of our lounge. The flowers always come before the leaves, which means that I can still see through the cascade of blooms to the view beyond.
Daffodils have popped up everywhere. I don't love them ( I think I have admitted that in one of my previous columns), but they are a heartening sign that Winter must eventually end. I have noticed that the local cockies seem to have even more of a vendetta against daffodils than I do. At the first sign of a flower they beadily snip it off at the ground. Nothing is safe in my garden at the moment from these local hooligans. They hate: leeks, broad-beans, snow peas, asparagus shoots (!), plum blossom, and have recently taken out every seedling in my new drought tolerant border. I had lovingly planted euphorbias, sedums, phormium and other dry garden perennials to complete a project that had been two years in the making and the next day not a single plant remained.
Since then I have netted all of the new beds (thankfully I had a few plants in reserve and some kind friends donated divisions from their gardens). As well as netting to protect my plants from the birds, I'm also netting any trees in fruit to protect the surrounding bush from the seed that wild birds will drop.
I got a call the other day from a local who had devoted decades to protecting our local forests from those other pesky invaders: weeds - in many cases our own garden plants gone feral. It was a great conversation to have, especially since it is only through sharing local knowledge that any of us get wiser.
I'm older and a little wiser this year than last, although there is something about this time of year that can make me as giddy as a baby on a swing. As the old song goes "I haven't seen a rosebud or a crocus, or a robin on the wing..." but it might as well be Spring.
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