April 9. In the early stages of the crisis, I bought a walnut tree for a new space I had cleared in my garden. It was a bet on the future, as is all planting. There was little chance that I would get any walnuts for four years, and it would not reach maturity for ten. But I liked the idea of picking my own nuts, and was prepared to wait. I ordered a tree from an online nursery. It arrived looking less like a living organism, and more like a walking stick with bare roots. No side-shoots, no leaves. Just a metre-high pole, perhaps 3cm in diameter at the base, with very dormant buds. I planted it with appropriate care, scattered the roots with mycorrhizal fungi to stimulate growth, watered it regularly. And after a month, I still have a walking stick in the middle of my lawn. Nothing has changed. If anyone out there knows about the cultivation of walnut trees, do let me know.
Amongst all the grief, I continually give thanks that I live in the northern hemisphere. What we would have done if this pandemic had broken out in Britain in, say, early November, is beyond imagining. As it is, while we cope with the worsening health situation, every day is longer, lighter and warmer. In my third of an acre of God’s creation, the damson, plum and peach trees are now in full blossom. The tulips are coming out, as is the magnolia tree opposite the house. The vine is in leaf in the greenhouse. I begin each day walking the bounds of my plot, examining the changes since the day before, celebrating the alterations, occasionally mourning the setbacks (I planted two roses with the walnut tree. Within a week their abundant foliage had been stripped by a passing rabbit; now they recover surrounded by their own miniature fences). The fundamental pleasure of gardening is that it is a time-infused event. Whilst we are in complete domestic lockdown, going nowhere, everything is in motion. Whenever I think about what to plant, how to tend what is growing, I am contemplating a future independent of the political and medical crisis. And because of that crisis I have more time this year than ever before to give to the necessary labours of early Spring.
But you will have to take my word for this. There is no-one to show it to. By the time we receive visitors in Shropshire again, much of the spring and summer will be over.