Though we're bound to find the ground hard with frost again in the coming month or so, there was enough warmth in the air last week to feel optimistic about the arrival of spring. The Daffodils are making their first appearance above ground - bold, straight shoots with palest yellow-green bulbs, waiting for the right moment to display their glory. (That said, has anyone else noticed an absence of Snowdrops this year?)
With the merest hint of spring - a single day of limpid light is enough - my attention is drawn to the garden. I have just moved house, from a tiny top floor flat where we gazed wistfully down at otherslawns, to a slightly larger ground floor one with our very own patch of outdoors. It is a delight to know that this small stretch of earth, almost entirely surrounded by trees, is ours to do with as we will.
But it's currently a soggy mess of over-long grass and ill-defined borders. I'm keen to get on, but am told I must not start in earnest just yet - wait until the spring proper they say - and so I bide my time, and I plan instead...
Tools seem a fair point of beginning (we wouldn't get far without them after all) and those that tempt me most are surprising for their loveliness - beauty not being a thing one associates with trowels and spades. But these are. Those I've found are handmade in Austria. The handles by an artisan turner from European hardwoods - Beech, Ash and Lime. The blades by a coppersmith from copper alloys, mostly bronze. Their blades are what seem so extraordinary, with their rich, glowing pinkish gold hue.
The copper has a practical purpose too. Crucially it doesn't rust, so the blades are guaranteed a lifetime, and stay sharp for longer than those made of steel. But more magically, copper has become known to deter slugs and snails and to invest the soil with trace elements, providing nutrients for growing plants. A gardener's saviour! Egyptians are known to have used copper gardening tools, and valued the metal for it's antimicrobial properties (in 2009 copper became the first solid material to be registered as such by the US Environmental Protection Agency). In the late 1940s, Austrian forester Viktor Schauberger(whose son founded the company that now makes these tools) conducted an experiment to grow eight varieties of crop, he cultivated half of each with a copper-plated plough, and the other half with a conventional steel plough. Over fourteen trials the results were consistent, the crops cultivated with the copper plough had higher, healthier yields and fewer pests.
So, I think I'll begin with a spade, and perhaps I'll allow myself a trowel too. There is plenty of digging to be done in my garden. For those that require more advanced tools, British company Implementationsstock every kind imaginable, from dibbers to mattocks, riddles to hoes. A little ahead of my grade for now I fear, but hopefully not for too long...