Emma Townshend: Instagram is giving me spring-planting inspiration

Search the app using the term "spring flowers", and the heart rapidly quickens, says our gardening correspondent

Emma Townshend
Saturday 27 February 2016 23:54
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Emma’s blue hyacinths give her faith that some things at least will remain the same
Emma’s blue hyacinths give her faith that some things at least will remain the same

I've got a really, really first-world problem, which is that they're shutting my gym. "Your gym's shutting," I hear you guffaw, "But you should be DELIGHTED. You can stop prancing around in those west London standard-issue fluorescent trainers and ludicrous Lycra running tights, for a start."

But I can't, because I love my gym. Scruffy, smelly, often a bit broken, and mainly populated by people who look as though they have never done a day's exercise in their lives, it has wormed its way into my heart. I am concerned about how all of us members will survive in the cut-throat, image-conscious gyms of the Real World. Where people pursue Actual Fitness by doing Actual Exercise.

Regular readers of this column over the past ten years might have noticed that I'm a massive sucker for the underdog, a principle I apply to gardening and football seasons as happily as I do to gyms. It does tend to handicap your aesthetic, though: for many years, in my front garden I had a mauve hebe I'd rescued from a B&Q bargain sell-off that was so purple it threw out every single thing I ever planted next to it. (I was strangely relieved when it finally died, despite having fought for years to keep it alive. Which did somewhat leave me questioning my own sanity.)

I also still possess a magnolia tree, in full fat bud at this time of year, which I think I was pondering chopping down in about column #7. And now we're almost on number 400. It's still there. As, much to my surprise, am I.

But things change, and some of us are better at letting go than others. The council has promised us a beautiful shiny new gym. In 2018. As previously discussed, I'm not that keen. I wasn't that keen when they chopped down the cherry tree at the end of the road to build more social housing, either. I'm not even good at dealing with desired change, let alone the kind I don't want. (Unenthusiastic about building new flower beds in my own garden, even though now I can grow my own salad; unsure what I thought of my new artificial turf, despite the fact that I was finally able to get rid of the lawnmower. And the shed I used to keep it in.)

But gardens can offer a strange and potent steadiness in times of change. OK, daffodil "February Gold" may customarily refuse to show its face during actual February, but my blue hyacinths (pictured) – one open this morning, I just noticed – give me faith that some things at least will remain the same. I'm not alone here: in 1939, while her husband, the MP Harold Nicolson, was in London preparing for war, Vita Sackville-West wrote to him, "It all seems so crazy as though the human race has lost its reason – then, irrationally I go out and consider the regale lilies and feel better or encouraged." Communing with her lilies was Sackville-West's way of reconnecting with the eternal; in the absence of church and long-established community, sometimes it's the best possible alternative.

Here's a lesson, then, that we can apply in a reading from that most modern of scriptures, the Holy Writ of Instagram. Search the app using the term "spring flowers", and the heart rapidly quickens: unusual china bowls of narcissi; tiny glass containers of grape hyacinths; the slim picked stems of snowdrops, held by an anonymous hand; cut branches of blossom, flowering on bare stems, and fancy hellebores in enamel-colours, in perfect vintage milk-jugs.

A sense of peace descends. Spring flowers in abundance. Consolation, beauty and continuity, all in one.

Four to view: Emma's favourite Instagram feeds to follow

TBFlorist

Thomas Broom, head of horticulture at the renowned Petersham Nurseries, pulls together camellias, hellebores and hyacinths for winter bouquets.

Candypop.uk

Mixes vintage nick-nacks with fresh flowers and tiny succulents, resulting in some odd juxtapositions of cacti and china dogs.

Thisisjules

Spring as viewed from the Yorkshire seaside. Flowers among cups of tea and babies, with some flouncy outfits and handbags thrown in for good measure.

Littleminnie987

Just to reassure you that teenagers adore flowers too, this account arranges fresh wild pickings alongside miniature bunting.

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