It feels warm for February. The mildness has kick-started my annual plant frenzy and the urge to be outside and doing is irresistible. Just as well, because the garden plants, including the weeds, have the same idea and are suddenly bursting into growth. Cleavers (Galium aparine) are growing fast just now, as is Dock cress (Lapsana communis), which is coming up in every bed and seems especially good at hiding close to the foliage of primroses (Primula vulgaris). As is the case in so many gardens, there are also ivy seedlings popping up in numbers.
Time for a tidy up! Cutting down of last year’s perennials, dividing congested plants, moving other plants that were in the wrong places, re-edging the lawn and weeding, weeding, weeding. The first bee of the year is seen, a red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius), which is sitting on the path. It has probably just come out of hibernation and it doesn’t look very lively, so I take it to a clump of Eranthis hyemalis, which is flowering gaily, and leave it to find the flowers. Ten minutes later, it is nowhere to be seen.
As we work, we find hundreds of ladybirds, clustered on old foliage or crawling over the soil, and it’s hard to work because there are so many of them. I transfer many to a pile of debris that will be dealt with later. A single earwig makes an appearance. I ignore it and it scurries away from my fork and back under the leaves of Cerastium tomentosum (Snow-in-summer). That may not be a safe place for long; I’m not keen on that plant, didn’t put it in and am thinking of removing it.
Beneath the soil, the worms are waking up and we unearth them with every forkful turned. It’s at this point that the highlight of the day arrives, when a lively male blackbird decides to attend us. Having noticed the soil being disturbed, it scuttles from one bed to the other, gathering up the worms and eating them as fast as we dig them up. Occasionally, the blackbird is very obviously 'buzzed' by a robin, who swoops overhead, just missing the blackbird and startling it. I've seen this behaviour from robins many times and guess it's connected with competition for the worms.
Every so often, the blackbird retires to a perch in the Pyracantha growing against one wall and sings the quiet, sweet, trilling subsong that blackbirds sing at this time of year. This one’s beak has not quite turned from the brown beak of a juvenile to the bright yellow of an adult and I wonder if it might be trying out its voice in readiness for defending a territory. It seems confident and looks plump and healthy, so we may have its company and be charmed by its songs for a while yet.
Listen to a blackbird's subsong
A useful guide to weeds with plenty of photographs