Time to blossom!

Words by:
Steffie Shields
Featured in:
April 2021

Steffie Shields celebrates this magazine, and our blossoming county.

Witness the way April celebrates. Better light and longer days enable us to appreciate just how gardens, parks and our beautiful countryside awaken. Hallelujah! Easter, highlight of the Church’s year, is perfectly timed with the coming of spring. Despite the Covid restrictions still in place for all those attending church services in communities up and down the county, hope is on the horizon and prayers, soon to be answered, for a return to relative, yearned-for normality.

Give thanks especially for our families and close friends, but also all public services, especially the long-suffering NHS and the heroic roll-out of the vaccine uppermost in our thoughts. We now realise more than ever, green spaces do as much good for our mental well-being as a bucketful of fresh air and sunshine. Those of us who already love all things gardening have missed our uplifting visits to historic parks and gardens, nurseries and those gardens open so generously for charity. As I write, National Gardens Scheme garden owners are planning opening dates and times to welcome visitors once more.

‘Away days’ and family outings will again be possible – carefully – respecting and keeping safe distances. Soon we will be free to enjoy stepping out for fresh horizons, full of colour and perfume, feasting our eyes with quirky garden design ideas or unique plant combinations and collections.

Then there is this special celebratory edition for Lincolnshire Life’s 60th Anniversary! Congratulations to chief executive and editor, Caroline Bingham and managing editor, Geoffrey Manners and their whole team for this fabulous milestone: six decades of informative news about local cultural life, peppered with a plethora of local notions and events, fascinating stories of the beating hearts of the county. Looking back over the years, it has been both a privilege and delight to contribute to this family-run county magazine with features about ‘aspects of gardening and gardens past and present’.

Last year’s Easter Sunday morning 2020 was extraordinary. Rising early, breakfast was not an option. The most glorious, shimmering light, beginning to creep across the view, seemed extra special. Our garden was partying, in full celebration mode. Despite the fact Britain was in full lockdown, Mother Nature was far from depressed.

Something suddenly made me pause clicking away with my camera. I stood stock still, oblivious to my slippers already damp with dew. I had to listen. The only surround-sounds – birdsong and buzzing insects – filled the air, seemingly full-volume. That early period of lockdown meant no hum of traffic from the A52, no tractors in the fields, no cricketers warming up their bats on the village pitch. I grabbed my phone, turning its camera to video. Walking the bounds at snail-speed, to record nature’s answer to the ongoing, deepening health crisis, ending and beginning, as life itself, with St Bartholomew’s Church, framed in an awesome arc of wild-cherry blossom.

Here was an utterly serene spring tapestry, a lockdown rainbow in 3-4 minutes of video loop, ever-continuing, not giving up, a perfectly timed emotional and magic moment of perfection. Garden photographers talk of rising early to catch ‘the golden hour’: the fleeting glow when the sunlight has a softness, muting the mood and toning down the contrast. Check online for winning photographs in the recently announced 2019 International Garden Photographer of the Year at https://igpoty.com/garden-photography-winners. You will find simply stunning images if you scroll down and click through to various sections of the competition. I particularly recommend the selection found in ‘Beautiful Gardens’ for inspiration and the highest benchmark for all you local photographers to aim at for this year’s competition! Know that I too will be out there practising this month, early mornings, seeking out, and hoping for, that ‘captured’ split-second of golden, romantic harmony. Talking of which, I can think of nothing better to practice on than the pure simplicity of blossom.

As a girl, how I loved those two spring weeks when my favourite tree performed, a leaning old double cherry blossom spreading over the corner of the road on the approach to senior school. I always paused to look up, wondering at a shady canopy of myriad clusters of ruffled flowers. From bud to full-blown, double profusion, dazzling against cerulean blue sky, they attracted every passing pollinating bee in the neighbourhood. When, inevitably, the time came, thousands of ‘spent’ sugar pink flower heads made a massive circle on the pavement, waiting to be kicked up or tossed by laughing schoolgirls.

I will be reminded of this ‘first love’ again this year when the petals fall in our Old Orchard garden. ‘Apple Winston’ will be creating its own dotty Damien Hirst canvas on the lawn. Another memory, when living in Norfolk, on the outskirts of Norwich, I remember enjoying springtime bus rides into town. Every church in the city – seemingly hundreds! – had its blossom trees in joyous pastel hues, a pretty confection of pink and white. No wonder spring weddings are popular! When that, all too brief, season of blousy effervescence faded and blossoms fell, the east wind blew, zillions of delicate petals filled the entire city streets, skipping, swirling, tumbling, twisting, floating in the air like confetti, or vortex of snowflakes on the breeze.

Looking forward, I had already planned this month’s article and had already started trawling my photographs for suitable illustrations when the National Trust’s latest, and I must confess, much more positive, project hit the headlines. Odd coincidences such as this are fun – and sometimes useful! The Trust aims to create ‘blossom spaces’ especially in cities, starting in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Newham, London. This will be both a living memorial to many thousands of lives lost during the Covid pandemic, and a move to bring more happiness to communities, to look forward to up and down the country.

Besides a National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, USA, I gather Japan is also famed for its cherry tree tourist season. In their popular centuries-old tradition ‘cherry blossom represents the fragility and the beauty of life. It’s a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful but that it is also tragically short.’ Yet English poet William Blake wrote of ‘happy blossom’. Now study the variety of fruit-tree blossom in my selection of photographs. Treat yourself or your loved ones to your decided favourite. This cannot fail to make you happy.

Long may Lincolnshire Life magazine continue to blossom in coming years! Wishing everyone reading this the joy and happiness of Easter and a gradual, sensible ‘coming out’ of lockdown. Our families and children, our communities, relationships, and businesses all need a chance to blossom as healthily as our gorgeous gardens.

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