Spring promises: things to look forward to, from chocolate bunnies to flower-filled walks

Spring promises: things to look forward to, from chocolate bunnies to flower-filled walks

I love winter. Frosty mornings and dark days hold no fear for me, while summer means prickly heat and freeform anxiety, chafed thighs and bad fashion. But this winter has been… well. You know, you were there, we all were. We still are, it has lasted five decades already. With little to do and no scope for planning ahead, the 4pm sunset sends my mood into freefall. Mornings are equally bad: the duvet feels like a buffalo has died on my chest and getting out from under it requires an act of will and strength that seems beyond me. Instead, I extend a listless arm for my phone and scroll until rising cortisol levels and the dog’s bladder force me vertical. My diet is beige and brown things on other beige and brown things, and like those frogs that slow their metabolism to nothing in freezing temperatures, I am as inert as a stone.

If only we could press fast forward and skip over the next few weeks of wet greyness, just this once, pleading exceptional circumstances. Malmesbury has the right idea: the Hope Springs Eternal project dreamed up by residents of the Wiltshire town has seen homes and businesses erupt with evocations of spring: painted butterflies, fresh foliage, pompoms, brightly coloured bunting and plastic bunnies.

But what about the rest of us, looking out on pewter skies and slushy pavements where pigeons squabble over discarded burgers rather than crocheted chicks?

The days are getting longer and the world is reawakening, but right now, it’s hard to see or believe. My sap is not rising: it is thick, sluggish and quiescent, like treacle. What we need is a sense of continuity and renewal; the faith that the dark times are not stasis, but preparation. For me, the answer is in the natural world. Duh, you may say, more fresh air and forest-bathing cliches. But understanding I am an animal reacting to the inexorable roll of the seasons and seeing that mirrored in other parts of nature truly makes the dark times easier to bear. These are some natural remedies that work for me, both inside and out.

While staying indoors… Given we are stuck at home most of the time at the moment, bringing the outside in helps. I don’t want to sound like some unhinged Diana Vreeland character, demanding you fill your house with armfuls of expensive flowers, but colour and scent helps and a bowl of scented hyacinths or narcissi is pretty cheap from a garden centre or market. I have signed up for a bargain “mini-bunch” flower subscription from my local grower and the first has just arrived: burnished beech leaves, budding twigs, daffodils and tightly folded narcissi, gradually unfurling in the warmth of the house. I could look at them all day.

If fauna is more your thing, try wildlife webcams. I love nest cams; the quiet promise of a bird patiently incubating eggs feels calming and hopeful. It is still too early for northern hemisphere nests – give them another month – but Cornell Bird Labs is filming an albatross sitting on an egg on a blustery New Zealand cliff and hatching is imminent. I have just Googled “albatross chick” and, holy fluffballs, Batman, we are in for a treat. For fur rather than feathers, go to YouTube and look up “Romanian animal cam” for a fairytale Transylvanian forest populated by bears, boars, deer and even wolves.

Farmers online are also good for getting a sense of the reassuring rhythms of the natural world: 80% of my social media is shepherds and my life is better for it. On Instagram, I especially enjoy @herdyshepherd1 and his award-winning Herdwick sheep and beautiful photography; @theswissshepherdess for absurdly wholesome and optimistic sunny Swiss mountains, baby goats, lambs and giant dogs; and @theoriginalshepherdess, a one-woman hill farmer in a beautiful corner of the Yorkshire Dales.

If you can get outside… This sounds like nagging, apologies, but if you can get out, aim for somewhere vaguely green and go in daylight. I walk in the morning, but a friend suggests the hour before sunset: “It’s a way to max out on daylight for yourself, and also notice it’s getting longer.” I asked Emma Mitchell, author of The Wild Remedy – a diary of how the natural world helps her depression across the year – what to look out for in parks and verges now. Hazel catkins are already “fully-formed lambs’ tails”, she tells me, and “silky-kitten-fur” pussy willow is not far behind, its pollen feeding the earliest bees. “You might also start to see extremely early pre-spring flowers: primroses (some strains are already in bud), sweet-scented violets, snowdrops and aconites.”

It is also the perfect time of year to try to tune your ear into birdsong. Robins and wrens sing throughout winter, Mitchell says, but now you can hear other birds join them as they stake out their nesting territories. “You start to get great tits and in the last week I have heard, tentatively, the first blue tits. The choir is slowly waking up.” In a few weeks, there will be blackbirds, too: the loveliest of songs for me, full of the promise of balmier evenings and real spring. It’s coming, I promise. Just hold on. Emma Beddington

Get back to nature

Birds, lambs and green shoots to fill you with hope. By Emma Beddington

Young lamb isolated in field standing looking to camera. Perry Green, Much Hadham, Hertfordshire. UK2BC6HTP Young lamb isolated in field standing looking to camera. Perry Green, Much Hadham, Hertfordshire. UK

1. If it’s colour you are craving, catch exotically plumaged birds fighting over fruit in the rainforest on the Cornell Labs Panama Fruit Feeders cam (they even have toucans dropping in sometimes).

2. Try a hydroponic growing system to combat Brexit shortages and grow your own leaves months before it would normally be possible in our climate. My son got a space-age Akarina one for Christmas (akarina.uk) and is growing lettuce and herbs in it (the glow from its powerful light may mean the neighbours suspect he’s growing other things…)

3. Get involved in Lev Parikian’s Twitter Birdsong Project. The author of Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? (Unbound, GBP9.99; 18 February) has created a funny, evocative day-by-day guide with recordings and it is the perfect way to think yourself into spring. You don’t even need Twitter: it’s all on his website (levparikian.com). I have ditched podcasts on my morning walk in favour of trying to tell a blue tit from a sparrow.

4. Get bird feeders window-mounted (using plastic suction cups) work well if you don’t have outside space. My tiny concrete yard started out with nothing but a huge pigeon and a rat; now, thanks to my feeders, it attracts dunnocks, blue tits, robins and blackbirds daily. I have my eye on a burnished copper feeder from Sarah Raven, but absolutely no spare branches to hang it from. Rather than buying a feed mix, get the stuff that really brings all the birds to your yard: mealworms (Chubby Mealworms will send them by post) and sunflower hearts.

5. If you have room for chickens, I found mine the most rewarding and consistently cheering decision of my life: they are funny, curious and, unlike most pets, earn their keep. Currently and unhappily henless, I satisfy my cravings admiring gardener and ornamental fowl fancier Arthur Parkinson‘s beautiful girls on Instagram; and watching the Hungry Hens coop YouTube cam.

6. Start following the #Lambing2021 hashtag right now. Many UK farms have already started lambing and nothing raises the spirits like pictures of wobbly, knock-kneed lambs.

Sip it better

Give yourself a lift with a glamorous cocktail. By Richard Godwin

Cocktail hour: shake up the evening drink with something zesty.

1. Arsenic and tonic
Absinthe has a fearsome reputation, but its anise intrigue still cuts through even in tiny quantities, providing an extra smack of refreshment in a basic G&T.
gin
40ml
absinthe 10ml (or pastis)
lime 1 wedge
tonic 100ml
mint to garnish
Fill a tall glass with ice, introduce the gin and absinthe, squeeze in the lime and drop in the husk, then top up with decent tonic. Smack a sprig of mint to release its aroma and use that as a garnish.

2. El presidente
This Cuban classic is a great warm-weather martini alternative. You can make your own grenadine by dissolving two parts golden caster sugar in one part pomegranate juice. Orange liqueur is traditional, but I think it’s better without.
light rum 50ml
French (ie dry) vermouth 20ml
grenadine 10ml
orange liqueur 10ml (optional)
orange zest to serve
Stir everything over ice and strain into an ice-cold coupe. Garnish with an orange zest twist, taking care to express the oils over the drink, and then sip next to a radiator, imagining you are far, far away.

3. Spring green
A fresh aperitif, relatively low on alcohol. Use elderflower cordial in place of liqueur if you like – but use less, as it’s sweeter.
fino sherry 45ml
elderflower liqueur 15ml
green chartreuse 15ml
Stir everything over ice and strain into a cold cocktail glass. No garnish.

4. Camomile lawn
Camomile is great for infusions: leave two tea bags or (better) a handful of dried flowers in 100ml spirit for an hour or two, then strain and decant. Rye, bourbon and gin all benefit from this treatment.
camomile-infused blended scotch 50ml
honey syrup 15ml (honey loosened with a little hot water)
lemon juice 15ml
lemon peel to garnish
Shake everything hard over plenty of ice and then fine-strain into an ice-cold cocktail glass. Express the oils from a length of lemon peel and use that as a garnish.

Serve up some sunshine

Delicious ways to give your meals a spring makeover. By Gill Meller of River Cottage

Elderflowers on dark wood, elevated viewSerie: Selbstgemachter Holunderblutensirup, frische Bluten auf dunklem Holz

In the dark depths of January all we really want is the promise of spring. It’s easy to pick up some ingredients that remind us of more optimistic times – asparagus and strawberries are available all year – but that’s not the only way. Here are a few great ideas to brighten up our days.

1. Add zest to fish Some fish – like smaller white-fleshed fish – are at their absolute best during the winter and make a wonderful ceviche. Instead of cooking, boneless skinless slices of fresh fillet are transformed through citrus juice. The acid in the juice has a similar effect to that of heat – it appears to cook the fish, but not in the normal way. It’s a particularly lively, zesty way to serve fish; and one of my favourite approaches is also one of the simplest. Turn your prepared fish together with very thin slices of fresh, raw rhubarb, grated rhubarb pulp, diced red chilli, lemon juice, and a pinch of sugar and salt. Leave to marinade for 20 minutes before serving with lots of fresh coriander.

2. Keep your vegetables raw Winter vegetables don’t always need to be boiled and buttered; in fact lots of our more familiar seasonal staples can be served raw – and, as we know, raw veg is extremely good for us. Alongside health benefits, keeping things raw can offer exciting new textures and flavours, giving old favourites a new lease of life. Try thinly slicing cauliflower florets and tumbling them with slivers of preserved lemon, chopped parsley, olive oil, smoked paprika, honey, fresh thyme, raisins, toasted nuts and seeds and red chicory leaves. If you can get hold of some good-looking curly kale, simply strip the rinsed leaves from the stalk and toss them with cider vinegar, salt, tahini, yoghurt, honey and olive oil. Add thin slices of apple and some toasted sunflower seeds for extra crunch.

3. Make light and fragrant puddings Forget the steamed sponges, bread puddings, crumbles and cobblers that are synonymous with the colder months of the year. Something more refreshing can clean the palate and invigorate the mind. Elderflower sorbet is just such a thing. A decent cordial sharpened with lemon juice is all you need, and it’s easy to bring together. Warm 100g of unrefined sugar with the finely grated zest of 4 lemons and 100ml of water. When the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the juice from the lemons and about 300ml of elderflower cordial. Pass the mixture through a sieve and chill before churning. If you don’t have an ice-cream machine, freeze it in a container.
Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower by Gill Meller is published by Quadrille at GBP27

Don’t wait for Easter…

Chocolate eggs are in the shops now – and April is a long way off. By Annalisa Barbieri

Packet of M&S chicky choccy speckled eggs, milk chocolate eggs with a speckled candy shell open to show contents, ready for Easter on white backgroundHTM5J5 Packet of M&S chicky choccy speckled eggs, milk chocolate eggs with a speckled candy shell open to show contents, ready for Easter on white background

1. Lindt chocolate bunny When I was a child, the Lindt animals which appeared at Easter – kittens, bunnies (I think there was also a bear) – were my absolute favourite: solid chocolate shapes in a box that seemed almost unimaginably luxurious, and I thought they were the best chocolates in the world. You can still get them, but they’re not as readily available as the Lindt chocolate bunny, which is now my children’s (well, one of their) favourites. GBP2.50 for 100g bunny, lindt.co.uk

2. Eponine Fine Chocolate box The large box of these contains 36 chocolates of staggering beauty. You could also go smaller, but that’s only half the show. Take your pick from lovely buffed spheres to multi-faced pops of orange. What point would all these good looks be if the chocolates therein were substandard? Fortunately, they are amazing. From GBP17 per box, eponine.co.uk

3. Hotel Chocolat Pen Pals Not only are these super jolly, but there’s (almost) something for everyone here. Try a little chick, sheep and bunny in caramel, white or 40% milk, which have just gone on sale to get Easter going early. GBP10, hotelchocolat.com

4. Dormouse chocolate bar Dormouse has some of the best wrappers in the business. They are designed by a local artist. It’s easy to be swayed by the beautiful, bright wrappers rather than what’s inside, but fortunately the chocolates inside won’t let you down, either. I’m hard pushed to pick a favourite, but the Kablon 56% or the Bread and Butter bar or Lachua or… GBP6 per bar, dormousechocolates.bigcartel.com

5. Marks & Spencer Chicky Chocky Speckled Eggs I love these. Every Easter I try to resist them, but at around GBP1 a bag they are hard not to sling into your basket. The size is perfect – these are fairly big for mini eggs, which appeals to my greed. But the pastel colours are so pretty. An ideal combo of crunchy outer shell and sweet milk chocolate. GBP1.15 per bag, marksandspencer.com

Dress for a bright new season

Make like it’s spring with bold prints and a colourful wardrobe. By Kate Finnigan

Bethany Williams presentation, Spring Summer 2021, London Fashion Week, UK - 09 Sep 2020Only for use in context of reporting LFW 2020 Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ruth Ossai/REX/Shutterstock (10785289f) Models Bethany Williams presentation, Spring Summer 2021, London Fashion Week, UK - 09 Sep 2020

1. Spark joy on flat days with bright and bold feet. We love the pink-orange-maroon SL72 style from Adidas x Wales Bonner. GBP119.95, adidas.co.uk

2. Outside may be distinctly lacking in florals, so bring the garden much closer with Wilhelmina Garcia’s single earrings, featuring cute flowers and insects. From GBP50, matchesfashion.com

3. Molly Goddard, Christopher John Rogers and Bethany Williams (left) are all celebrating bright colours, clashing prints and vintage-inspired styles in this season’s Nu-Eccentric trend. Make like the art college student you always wanted to be.

4. Counter grey skies by thinking pink. Chanel’s highwaisted bubblegum trousers were a highlight of the spring shows. Too much? Try & Other Stories’ oversized knit. GBP95, stories.com

5. Fast-forward to sunny, hazy days in something tie-dyed. Gabriela Hearst, Dior and Sportmax are all into the hippy vibe.

6. Nothing lends un air de printemps like a silk square. Buy a job lot of 10 on Etsy for around GBP20. Knot round your neck and slip inside your sweatshirt for aspringtime-in-Paris feel. Silk printed scarf, GBP65, hobbs.com

7. Yoga with Adriene is not just for 1 January. Start your new fitness regime now and put energy into your chaturanga with colourful activewear from new ethical marketplace Talia Collective.

8. Yes, you’re going for another walk, but make it a Kaia Gerber for SS21 Celine walk by donning a logo cap and sunglasses before you head out.

9. February’s Vogue tells us that colourful handbags are in. What do you mean you’re not going anywhere? This is an investment in optimism, people. Try By Far and Wandler for bold and bright styles.

10. Find your favourite cottagecore dress from last summer and pull it over your trackie bottoms a la Gucci’s latest campaign film. Yes, it really is that easy.

Drama and delight on the screen

Stay clear of noir thrillers and murder mysteries. By Sarah Hughes

Programme Name: The Pursuit of Love - TX: n/a - Episode: The Pursuit Of Love - Teaser (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Fabrice (ASSAAD BOUAB), Linda (LILY JAMES) - (C) Theodora Films Limited & Moonage Pictures Limited - Photographer: Robert Viglasky

It might seem as though the film and TV schedules are dominated by dark, crime-inspired tales, but there’s plenty of lighter stuff to remind us spring isn’t too far off.

1. Winterwatch returns to BBC Two and while the initial focus is on the colder months, there are sure to be some new shoots of hope towards the series end. Chris Packham reports from the New Forest, Iolo Williams is bird watching in Wales and Gillian Burke is in Cornwall.

2. BBC One’s adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love should fulfil our desire for all things escapist, with scenes shot in Paris and Rome.

3. A pair of Fred Astaire moviesEaster Parade (1948) with Judy Garland and the wonderful Funny Face (1957) with Audrey Hepburn and a scene-stealing Kay Thompson – will put a bounce in even the most jaded of steps. On Amazon Prime.

4. On Sky, Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell’s glorious take on David Copperfield features bucolic country scenes even as our hero is buffeted by fate while Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women is also available on the same service and offers similarly rosy delights to convince ourselves winter is fading.

5. Adam Buxton records his podcasts from his home in Norfolk, often while out and about with his dog, Rosie. Along with the birdsong and ambience of spring, he offers an uplifting mix of interviews and observations. Available on Apple Podcasts and the comedian’s website (adam-buxton. co.uk) there are 145 to choose from. The most recent with writing partner Joe Cornish is a delight.

‘The trees are coming into leaf’

Five poems that capture the yearning we all feel for the end of winter. By Allie Esiri

THOMAS STEARNS ELIOT (1888-1965) American-born poet and playwright, commonly called simply T.S.EliotTHOMAS STEARNS ELIOT (1888-1965) American-born poet and playwright, commonly called simply T.S.Eliot

If TS Eliot thought April was the cruellest month, you have to wonder what he’d call an ice-cold January spent locked indoors during a pandemic. For the rest of us, spring is a time associated with hope and renewal and it’s never too soon for some life-affirming vernal poetry.

1. What better place to start than William Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud? Everyone knows the opening lines, but it’s the final stanza, “For oft, when on my couch I lie / In vacant or in pensive mood / They flash upon that inward eye”, which most reminds us that when we can’t readily wander through nature, we can always wonder about it.

2. Philip Larkin quipped that “deprivation is to me what daffodils are to Wordsworth”. But I’ve always found it touching that even his usually lugubrious self couldn’t help but be seduced by the optimism of spring’s approach in his poem The Trees, which has my favourite opening lines: “The trees are coming into leaf / Like something almost being said”.

3. AE Housman‘s Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now, meanwhile, almost serves as a lesson in mindfulness – don’t lament time’s passing, instead focus on the marvels found in the everyday – such as a cherry tree “hung with bloom”.

4. I have a penchant for the bittersweetness found in the likes of new Nobel laureate Louise Gluck’s Nostos, in which she is transported back to her childhood experiences of spring – the smell of cut grass, the sound of tennis.

5. But it’s Emily Dickinson who best captures our collective yearning for spring. Writing in her family home in Massachusetts, she speaks for all of us living in lockdown with her wonderfully imploring poem Dear March – Come in!

Allie Esiri’s A Poem for Every Spring Day is published on 4 February. Buy it for GBP13.04 at guardianbookshop.com

  • This article was amended on Sunday 24 January 2021 to correct a description of Lindt chocolate animals, which are solid rather than hollow.

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