Today is the Celtic festival of Imbolc, and also the Christian festival of St Brigit, celebrating the first day of Spring. So of course, the weather has turned bitterly cold, with east winds blowing dry freezing air from Russia. I walk up to the garden wanting to pick snowdrops to mark the day. The path, which has been softly muddy for weeks, is hard underfoot and glistens with ice crystals. I have to take my gloves off to find the key to the garden door, hid in a crack in the wall, and with freezing hands I find the padlock is stiff with the cold.

The garden is still in its winter sleep, although it has been a warm—we were still picking rose buds into early December. Now a few hollyhock stalks stand frozen at odd angles, last summer’s petals showing just a hint of red; two daisies huddle yellow and white in the frosted grass; everything else is still waiting. Is spring really is beginning to stir?

Most of the snowdrops are still hidden in tight buds, but a few under the box hedge are ready to pick. I break their little stems and, holding them carefully in gloved hands, careful not to drop or squash them, I carry them back to the house.

Snowdrops

I find the small flower vase I bought in Primavera on Kings Parade in Cambridge last week. Primavera is not just a shop, it is a whole memory. It is where I bought Elizabeth her first present, when I was courting her over forty years ago, a Scandinavian silver ring. Later, I found tall grey wine glasses there, and we drank Blue Nun from them from on her 21st birthday. She still wears the ring and we still have the glasses.

There are just enough snowdrops to make an arrangement in the vase. They droop for a while, then their stalks stiffen, and within half an hour the flowers have opened wide, showing the narrow funnel of inner petals, tinged so sweetly with green, that hide the stamen deep inside. They show off well against the simple matt grey pattern of the vase. I am pleased with my little domestic artistry.

Imbolc is the time when the cycle of the year begins to take off. Life is already stirring underground. With the next hint of warmth more early spring flowers will push through—crocuses next, then daffodils—and birds will start serious singing and building nests. We humans hasten to be ready for summer—jobs in the garden, cleaning up the boat, making plans for summer trips. Yet it is bitterly cold, we have February and March ahead of us, and April is of course the ‘cruellest month’…

Today, the cold winds from Russia bring thin sunshine and the palest of blue skies. Little fluffy clouds blow across from the northeast, decorating the valley below me with moving shadows. Blue tits cluster in the bare apple tree and dart across to grab some seeds from the feeder.

I don’t want another year to rush away from me. ‘Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’

And the wonder of the little white flowers too.