The Return Of The Easter Bunny

I’ve always found Easter to be one of loveliest moments in the year – daffodils and cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the birds are singing, mostly we’re not wrapped in layers of thermals and earmuffs any longer… you get the picture, it’s Spring! As a child, I remember the egg hunts our mother used to organise in the garden for my brother and I. She also used to decorate the house with little chicks and painted eggs we would have made at school or with her. Fond memories… Of course, and as often with these celebrations, moving to England has been like entering a new dimension, as the Brits’ OTT attitude to festivals shines again:

First of all, it’s a 4-day week-end. In France, we work on Good Friday so the Easter week-end is not bigger than any other bank holiday week-end.

Secondly, a bit like Christmas starts in September here, Easter starts in January. If you think this is an exaggeration, this is a picture I took in our local Sainsbury’s on January 3rd! It definitely made me question whether I had fully recovered from our New Year’s Eve party!

Thirdly, because it’s a four-day week-end, it comes with a host of activities to cram into your free time, as well as a month-long build up for those of a rather impatient nature. Highlights for 2012 include:

The Big Egg Hunt: Over 200 unique two-and-a-half-foot decorated eggs created by leading artists are hidden in central London for the general public to find. It started mid-February and will be closing this week-end, with all the eggs first displayed in Covent Garden (The Grand Eggstravaganza), then auctioned off on Monday at 6pm. Aside from trying to raise about £2 million for charities Elephant Family and Action for Children, the hunt was also an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the most participants in an Easter Egg Hunt. Having missed out on the actual hunt altogether, I am quite tempted to pop in Covent Garden!

The Boat Race: No need to specify which one, it seems there’s only one and this year it takes place on Easter Saturday at 2.15pm, starting at Putney Bridge as has been the case almost every year since 1845. Oxford lead in terms of win and Ladbrokes has them as favourites again this year. They also have “Either crew to sink” at 16/1 although I wouldn’t bank on that as the last boat to sink was Cambridge in 1978. Anyway, I’ve been before and it’s a fun day out. For one, seeing all these (mostly) guys, pint of beer in one hand, team scarf in the other, getting excited watching 18 guys from the two most prestigious British universities paddling away like there is no tomorrow is one of those quintessentially British spectacles you can’t miss (well, it only lasts about 20 minutes so you might miss it if you’re not on time). Might go again this year if the weather is nice as my mother is visiting us for the week-end.

– Your usual key London attractions will also focus on Easter, with the London Eye organising Easter-themed family-friendly craft workshops over the week-end, and Kew Gardens sending you off on a Maya Chocolate Adventure as well as their annual kids’ egg hunt.

– I’ve also found traces of other egg hunts (Sutton House, Ham House, Battersea Park Zoo…), a bizarre Hot Cross Bun Ceremony at the Widow’s Son pub in Bromley-by-Bow in east London, Church services (I wonder how many people know that these days) and the little-known London Harness Horse Parade near Crawley.

Right, now I’m off to buy Easter eggs for Darling-Chéri, my mother and myself. After 6 weeks without the stuff, I might just make myself sick on Saturday – hot chocolate and Nutella for breakfast, ham & chocolate sandwich at lunchtime, a chocolate brownie in the afternoon, steak-frites with chocolate sauce (who needs ketchup?) and a chocolate fondant for dinner. Hmmm, sounds good!

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A Game Of Chess With Mother Nature

Patience is a virtue. Not one I’m very comfortable with, I’m afraid, but as a budding gardener, I’m having to learn anyway.

About 3 months ago we moved into our new house. After tending to my mother-in-laws garden for a couple of years, finally, I get my own! A garden where I can decide what goes in, and where it will go. No one to tell me what to do, plant or move things while I’m away. Well, not quite: moving into this new house, with this lovely garden, I am facing a harsh lesson in patience: I have just stepped into somebody else’s game of chess with Mother Nature. I walked in with my game plan, sure, but what’s on the board right now looks nothing like what I need to roll out my strategy: the previous owners certainly loved their garden, and it was put together very thoughtfully, with a little lawn, a pond, a terraced sun-trap with a pergola, and a couple of secret pathways at the back. Interestingly though, not many plants are, well, planted. Most of the garden is in pots. 53 pots to be precise, and as many plants that may or may not grow, that I may or may not be able to identify, that I may or may not want to keep. And that’s the problem: I could just hire a skip, clear the lot, and start with a blank canvas, roll out my ideas and get it over and done with. But what if, in one of those pots, lies a really beautiful flower that I would obviously keep if I knew it was there.

So here I am, sitting at the table, across from Mother Nature, waiting for her to make a move. As spring finally knocks on the door, we resume a game that was abandoned by somebody else a while back. I have to somehow adapt and enforce my plan (complete with the clematis, nerium oleander, fig tree, lavender, strawberries and all the other plants I had in mind) within a frame that was decided long before I sat there. Mother Nature plays a daffodil in a corner; I start removing a dead tree stump in what will be the herbs and strawberries patch. Buds appear on what looks like a cherry tree – bingo! I wanted one of those. Dozens of hyacinths show off rich bunches of leaves but fail to bloom; I’ll have to take them all out. As for that beautiful pink-flowering shrub, I have no idea what it is but I’m keeping it too. I plant three pots of tulip bulbs I had forgotten and wait for Mother Nature’s next move. For all I know, this game could last the best part of the next two years, as we slowly live through a whole cycle and discover what this garden has to offer.

Now I have to stay focused and avoid losing sight of what I want. Luckily, there is loads to do to prepare – getting my chessmen in place, I guess. I have sowed my new seeds in the greenhouse. I have also begun clearing the clutter of broken pots, empty compost bags, rusty tools and lose tiles and bricks that add to the unnecessary visual noise that overwhelms you when you look outside. Soon enough (i.e. as soon as I have bought gardening gloves) I will start weeding and cutting back some of the shrubs and trees that look like they just want to take over. Darling-Chéri will have to get started with the lawn-mower and probably help me dig out that reluctant tree stump. We’ll get to grips with the pond’s old-school complicated filter and pump system and maybe even replace it. We’ll also tackle the front garden, where more dead tree stumps very leafy non-flowering bulbs and invading weeds need to be taken care of.

So that’s the new plan – now let’s see how quickly I lose patience and decide to start doing everything at the same time in one go!

By the way, if anyone can help identify the flowers and plants in the pictures, I’d be most grateful!!