As I write this, we are already in the 3rd week of February, and I think I can safely say we will not have an early Spring this year. I am on the north Norfolk coast. There is a thick frost on the grass and the wind coming off The North Sea has a bite like deep-frozen steel, ready to chop the fingers of an ungloved hand.
Around here, the only signs of life in the woods and hedges are the carpets of pretty white snowdrops, nodding before the cruel wind. Even the most optimistic naturalist has difficulty making a snowdrop into a harbinger of spring, but there are sign here and there of the softer season coming. When the sun comes out between the rags of windblown clouds, a dunnock sings on top of a hedge a beautiful melodious song we frequently hear in our London gardens. The dunnock and the robin I think have the prettiest songs of common London garden birds, but while the robin sings all through this winter, the dunnock saves himself for spring. And only at the end of February, if the sun shines, DOyou first hear the beautiful song.
Another early sign of spring is the catkins dangling from the hazel bushes all over Hampstead. These always seem to be first catkins to appear, and seem to suddenly spring from the bare hazel branches without warning.
Yet another spring sign is the green and white back of a frognal gardner bending over a rose bush as he or she carefully prunes out the dead branches and selects the most promising buds for a great summer flowering display. You may also see them this year happily snapping pictures with their phones of a lot of very unlikely subjects for photography, like dead branches, or a close-up of a damaged leaf, or a weed, or even just of the ground under a bush. They may then make a phone call. What you are seeing is our gardeners sending reports or asking advice from Noel or Caroline in the office, or to check on exactly how to deal with a particular problem newly discovered in a garden.
We are currently rolling out our new iPhone guided training programme, which has been very successful in trials during 2014, and promises to further improve our service going forward.