Technically, I’m jumping the gun somewhat. For the last three years, today would have been the first of March. This year, the universe has conspired to thwart my blogging efforts by being ungracious enough to offer an extra day and thus confound my attempt at honest truth-telling.
So, with last year being the first of March today, and next year being the first of March today, to all intents and purposes, I will declare that I have been working today, in March, and not the rump end of February.
But with the mild winter and early arrival of the bulbs, I feel that I have the world on my side. And this time of year, slightly earlier than usual, has seen me get out the lawnmower, (or a ride-on!) and make the first regular cuts of the year. For some clients, that has seen me take charge of a mower and load it up into the trailer to have it serviced and the blades whetted, which, for some of my customers like the Lawn Tennis Association, is an absolute must. Try cutting with a blunt blade on the thick grass that is still damp and you won’t get a fine finish that such a client requires.
Today also gave me a pleasant surprise as I navigated a client’s ride-on off their lawn and down to their compost area. I turned the engine off and removed the sledge that carried the bulk of the cuttings, and as I emptied it I perceived a great beat of wings pass over head, and a hundred shadows blur across the landscape in the low sun. A flock of Redwings alighted in the bare thin branches of a small gathering of ash trees, calling to each other in constant orchestra. There was that frisson of energy that nature suddenly exudes at unexpected intervals this time of year, as the birds declare their territory and a quiet lawn or hedgerow can suddenly become the place of a life-or-death struggle between two males.
Indeed, I had just finished the lawn at my client’s house, and was inspecting the rest of the property in making a list of my chores over the coming weeks (a bit of tree surgery to allow more light through to the pond from the south, a walnut that was growing too close to the house, still only in its first year, and the state of the patio and the moss that had grown up in the cracks of the brickwork – a job for Roundup), when the battle of two Mallard drakes upset my tranquility.
With a great deal of splashing and wing beats and shrieking, the two male birds fought over an attentive female who paddled nearby. It’s a vicious thing to witness, as they peck at one another and try to get their nemesis by the neck with their beaks. At one point, one even bestrode the other, and I feared he was attempting to drown the life out of his foe! Fortunately, after two minutes of exhaustive combat, the gladiators broke away, with one of them moving off at a dignified pace, beaten yes, but not yet broken.
I remember last year, when I was amongst the hedges, cutting back Hornbeam and the Leyland Cyprus that has become so common over the last half century, when two male Blackbirds burst from through the hedge, locked in mortal struggle. So engaged with each other were they that they paid me no heed at all, even though I was a bare metre away.
And it was off to the hedges of Worcestershire that I was next, and this time, fortunately, there were no warring Blackbirds to distract me. At this time of year hedge cutting and trimming has to be carried out with an eye to nesting birds, or those that are building a nest: for as any reader of my adventures will know, it is an offence to intervene with a bird that is preparing to nest. Also, last week, it was my pleasure to finish off the Wisteria at SME Solicitors, a commercial client of ours in Worcester and for who we maintain the grounds. It’s a lovely shrub, one we estimate at fifty years of age or so – and you can see a photo of it on our Twitter feed.
With the afternoon upon me, I lunched in the van and enjoyed the peace, trying to keep my mind off the fact that I had forgotten to put any mustard in my ham sandwich that morning, as well as pondering the worthiness of getting the van valeted. Stealing the words of a decorator friend of mine, in the job of a landscape gardener, being clean and mud-free is, I imagine, similar to being a skinny chef: it’s simply not a good advert for ones product!
After that, I was off to visit a new client of ours who had been recommended by an existing customer and who, having recently moved house, wanted the garden and grounds tidied up and made ready for summer. There’s potentially a lot to do: the gravel on the drive has been weathered away under rain and tyre, and pot holes are appearing in the courtyard’s ground. The new owner wants it redone, and that means we’ll have to take the old surface off entirely, flatten it out, and apply a new layer of fresh gravel to ensure it lasts. No one said landscaping was easy!
Finally, as I am about to plot my course home, I receive a call from my old school: the prestigious Pershore College (even if I do say so myself!). They are building a list of those students who have shown interest in my apprenticeship scheme and wanted to update me on their progress. I have to admit, I find this exciting. It’s a new step for me, to pass on what I know as well as to discover more together, as I do every day in this job I love.
Perhaps, in the next few weeks, I’ll be able to introduce you to a new member of the team!