It’s new leaves unfurling that truly mark spring’s arrival

It is easy sometimes to get over-involved in spring being all about bulbs: the cheery daffs, quiet crocus, pristine snowdrops. And, yes, I am excited by the pots bursting out on my roof terrace: the elegant, though almost plastic tulip petals swooning in the sun, a dance responding to music I can’t hear. I am loving the bright new narcissi. The ‘lasagne planting’ appears to have settled down and everything is well behaved,

But during my recent quarantine I became most obsessed with looking out the window to the trees across the road. Was there a hint of new growth? The fat, fleshy buds of the horse chestnut pulled me back to my country childhood and a near obsession with ‘sticky buds’, as we called them. Now they are unfurling, precocious, almost over- developed. It’s all gone a bit Cider with Rosie.

On our first walk back on the Heath, I was, of course, struck by the frothy lipstick blossom, the more delicate hawthorn and others, and yes I have had quince blossom and prunus in vases inside, but most exciting has been the delicate baby green of an uncurling leaf, almost a mirage, as though not really there.

The rebirth of a skeletal tree is, for me, the most magical element of spring. From February on, I inspect the magnolia stellata for furry signs of life. The fattest, you know, will be flower: stark white-pink against the bare bone. Then the more reluctant leaf bud. It is the arrival of this that truly signals the arrival of spring.

When hedges shimmer, when hazel bursts, green leaf against the deep-rust branches of the copper birch. Perhaps best of all when the barest arms of larch send out its baby needle shoots. Then the season’s here, like the bumblebees, and we can relax until the next time.