It’s a lovely day… and I feel soooo virtuous!

…and what better to do on a lovely day than finish clearing out the greenhouse, and get those seeds in?

On Monday I went into the greenhouse cum log store and realised that my scented geraniums were beginning to flower, and not just the scented ones either:


Ideally, they’d be going out about now but we’re still having some very cold nights and the wind can be sneakily chilly, so they’re staying in for the moment.

But it is time to get on with the planting – and I’d already excavated the shed which made me feel virtuous, spiritually cleansed and a little bit nauseous (mummified mouse, flat mummified mouse, I must have put something down on top of it at some point). My shed isn’t really a shed as such, mind. It was once the outside lav, though happily the hole has been filled in and there’s no seat to take up space. It makes an ideal garden store - or will until the roof collapses under the weight of Old Man’s Beard which rampages across it each year. Er, except for the fact that it’s not exactly mouse-proof.


Inspired by the Great Shed Clearing of Fate I decided to do the same thing to the greenhouse, and about time. It was fine enough for everything to be taken out, at last. All the old leaves were removed from the geraniums, all the old bits of bark were removed from the floor, all the old manky bits of string and other rubbish were retrieved, assessed for recycling possibilities and then thrown out. I was exhausted, but revived after coffee and planted tray after tray of climbing beans – Abundance, Cosse Violette, Cherokee Trail of Tears, Neckar Gold -  as well as mangetout (yellow podded ones, sound good), squashes (Crown Prince) and some wallflowers for next year.

greenhouse 2

The tomatoes (Gardener’s Delight), salvias (Blue Angel), parsley and dill are already doing well, even though they’re going on nightly trips back into the house. As is the radio…

Then, then, after MORE coffee, I got the broad beans out. They were desperate, poor things; they’ve been well hardened off now in the cold frame (lid up), so I thought they’d be fine. They certainly got through last night OK, so I’m sure they’ll survive. I’m not quite sure, however, why I grew quite so many:

broad beans

I like broad beans, which is probably just as well as I’ve got 29 plants. And if you grow your own you can get them at the sweet and tender stage. In fact, my mouth is watering as I think of baby spinach and bacon salad, dotted with broad beans; broad bean paté on home-made bread, baby broad beans in an omelette… that’s the trouble with me, I tend to forget about all the cultivating in between. Perhaps I was inspired by the thought of the Great British Allotment Bee Bake-Off Challenge Thing, which starts on BBC2 tonight. I’ll give it a go, but I’m not sure it has the same appeal as cakes or fabric.

I just had to share some shots of all my hard work. Click on one for a mini slideshow and gasp in amazement at all the space on those shelves – room for more stuff! (No shots of ex-mice, BTW.)

Given that it’s probably three years since I cleared out the shed (due to illness/injury), you can understand why I’m so chuffed. Even if it did lead to the Rodent Unpleasantness which is now in the brown – compostable stuff – bin. Well, it is compostable.

Wonderful wallflowers!

I’ve finally done it. Every year I forget to buy wallflowers in autumn, or I buy them and they’re disappointing - I am on acid soil, after all - or I buy them, forget what they are, and weed them out (ahem). A few years ago I bought some seeds and planted them carefully, snug in sectioned seed trays. They sat about not doing a lot and I kept forgetting they were there. But they thrived. So the autumn before last I planted them out, thinking I would have a lovely display come the spring.


I nearly, nearly rooted them up. But something stopped me, and I’m so glad it did. I walked round the corner in February, and this is what I saw:


They’d suddenly decided to flower. And what is more, they’d suddenly decided to smell. No, that word’s evocative of pigsties and adolescent boys’ trainers. They scented the air for metres around. And they’ve gone on, and on, and on.

wallflowers 2

They shouldn’t be doing this – acid soil, remember? I can only assume that the bed in which I planted them – below the gable end of the house – isn’t as acid as the rest of the garden, possibly as a consequence of repointing the gable end ten years ago. I’d not tested it, but I will do so now, because if it is a bit more alkaline there are other plants which might flourish. Apart from the ******* Geranium macrorrhizum album and the lemon balm, that is. And always supposing I can shoehorn something else in beside those thugs (yes, I could move them, and yes, I have tried). It would have to be yellows, pinks, oranges – the wallflowers are bang on for the later colours of this bed. Er, apart from the hollyhocks which are supposed to be black. The first one flowered pink, so maybe the others will fit in too.

But for the moment, I’m enjoying the wallflowers.

wallflowers 3

They are proving surprisingly tough little bs, as well. They were blasted by the storms – they are slap bang in the line of fire, on a direct route between the sea and the hills, sitting just where the wind is funnelled down the side of the house. Many of the leaves shrivelled or went brown at the tips and edges, but they shrugged that off: fine now, thanks.

My one regret is that I didn’t plant more, but I’m rectifying that for next year – and, of course, I’m hoping that these will self-seed. Of course there’s a risk that they’ll revert to yellow, but I don’t mind that: it’s such a rich, generous yellow. Really lifts the heart and brightens up a gloomy day.

wallflowers 5

And then there’s the scent. It’s extraordinarily strong – I could smell it in the greenhouse the other day even though the wind was in the opposite direction, and that’s well away from the wallflowers. But I think the real reason why I love them is the memories they evoke. I remember them growing out of the top of a farmyard wall in France, where they fascinated me; my pockets were always full of popping seedheads and my mother used to complain endlessly about them getting everywhere when she took my coat off. And they grew under my window at college – not such a positive memory, that one, as it always meant the run towards exams and the scary realisation that I’d spent too much time in the bar and far too little in the library.

And, of course, they are such a fabulous splash of colour early in the season.

wallflower strip

Looking at this shot I think I may have another key to why they’ve done well: unconsciously, I seem to have recreated some of the conditions present in those farm walls. Very dry. I know the languages are similar – Breton and Welsh are the same branch of Celtic, along with Cornish – and perhaps the underlying geology is too. I must look it up (anything to stop me from continuing to muck out the garden stores – pigsty next, home of the biggest ant nest in Christendom).

Wonder if I can remember what this blend was called? Wonder if I kept a record? Hm – think I know the answer to that one, but perhaps searching would delay the cleaning up even more…

A followed tree gathers no whatsits

Sorry about the title, I’ve not had enough coffee yet. And I’m trying WordPress’s sort-of backtrack on image editing, so let’s see if it works…

As part of Loose and Leafy‘s tree-watching meme, I’ve been watching the smallest of my three birches, the one I usually walk past, the one that is (literally) overshadowed by its bigger cousins. Predictably, things are happening. Last month the leaf buds were showing not a hint of anything other than tightly folded covers; there were catkins, but they were short and stubby. First, the leaves began to peek out of the buds, starting a few days ago, and the catkins began to bend down…


and then the leaves suddenly unfolded completely, like so many bright green butterflies emerging, but it wasn’t just the leaves. There were flowers too:


In case, like me, you’ve not studied a birch tree this closely before, the two green spiky things are the flowers. I’m not using any of my gardening books; just my Collins’ Tree Guide, and I am learning quite a bit. I thought I knew trees. Hm…

Last evening the weather suddenly improved (it’s gone off again now), and the sun on the leaves made me realise just how much leaf the tree has put on.

sunny leaves

I’m afraid, however, that where the leaves come the catkins cannot be far behind. In preparation I have checked my asthsma puffers and got them up to date, because as I looked up and saw this,

eeek for asthsma

I realised I didn’t have long. Usually I’m OK – meadowsweet doesn’t grow much round here and that really brings on the wheezing – but there’s always that feeling of suspense. Especially as friends around me collapse in heaps. Birches are supposed to protect people from problems, not cause them.

I’m hoping I escape again this year, so that I can continue to enjoy the astonishing green of the baby birch leaves without pretending I’m on the Tokyo subway…

sweet leaf

(My iPhoto library is already packed with about 50,000 shots of leaves. I really must do some editing – but maybe what I really want, as a fibre person, is some fluff or wool in this colour. I wish I could achieve it with natural dyes, but I can’t. Khaki, I can do; bright, vibrant, fresh green I might actually want to wear – nah.)

This project is proving really interesting, making me shift my point of view. Normally at this time of year I concentrate on the meadow beneath the trees. Yes, I stop to appreciate the splendid green of the leaves, but it’s the daffodils, the primroses, the anemones, the fritillaries, the oxlips and cowslips which grab my attention more. Naturally I’m still admiring them, but flowers are show-offs – what was it someone said, Withnail‘s Uncle Monty I think, that flowers were just tarts for the bees?

long shot tree

My trees are no longer a backdrop. I am so glad that something is making me look up – and, after all, birches have flowers too.

Thanks to Loose and Leafy for hosting this meme.

Wordless(ish) Wednesday

WordPress are messing with the image formatting at the moment, so I’ll just hold on a post with more text and celebrate the arrival of spring (yippee!)

First, the chionodoxas are just going over a bit:


Really they are. They were better; they seem to have been enjoying the fact that the rowan was lost in the winter storms.

But that doesn’t matter because the fritillaries are starting:

frits 1

Now all I have to do is ensure that the Mad Dog of Dyffryn - actually Harlech, but couldn’t think of suitable alliteration other than the Horrible Hound of Harlech, and she isn’t horrible, she’s just young - doesn’t eat these too (ten daffodils met their end the day before yesterday). Or bounce on them. Or try and water them:


Hmm. Am rethinking my advice to P that he should get another dog.

Gardeners are mad

Oh yes we are. Quite clearly bonkers – because today was our garden club’s spring show, and I was out in the garden in wooly hat, quilted jacket, thick socks, jim-jams and light snow at 7.30 this morning. Before breakfast. Before even a cup of tea. The primroses I picked last evening, you see, weren’t quite perfect after their night in the house, so they had to be replaced.

competition prims

And, as I learned from talking to other exhibitors, I was not alone (well, I was in one sense – fortunately the neighbours were still in bed, otherwise the men in the white coats would have been summoned). But I was not alone amongst garden club members; at least two other people had been doing the dawn patrol in sleet. Think Fargo, with daffodils.

Oh, all right, I’m exaggerating the snowiness – but the sudden chill was enough to chap my poor amaryllis in the short journeys between house and car and car and hall. Even though I did try and protect it. When I got it into place I was rather embarrassed to see it had a Big Brother. I told it not to look but it did, and then it too sat there looking rather embarrassed which it continued to do throughout, especially when BB inevitably came first in the group:

poor waif

I was one of two stewards, which I found absolutely fascinating. Listening to the judge’s comments taught me an enormous amount, not least about the importance of removing anything that isn’t absolutely perfect. I think I’d have have been placed in the tulips if I’d removed the two leaves that were a bit damaged, though of course I kept my mouth shut at the time (and resisted the impulse to distract the judge and pull them off).

As it was, I got a couple of firsts, one for my small cup daffodils. My Poet’s Eye narcissus surprised me enormously by suddenly flowering, even if I did have to bring one of the blooms out by putting the vase by the wood burner last night.

poet's eye

Also warmed by the stove were my multi-flowered daffs, and I got a first there too – plus a third for another small cup. No joy anywhere else – even with the second attempt at finding the perfect primrose – but I was pleased. The standard is very high, particularly with the hellebores and camellias, and I was very lucky last year to get a second in the camellias. In fact the standard was so high this year that two judges worked together to establish the winners.

It was a great spring show, in short, despite the vagaries of the weather. Here’s a montage, starting with my own preparations – just click on an image for a slideshow.


Please last till the weekend!

It’s the garden club spring show at the weekend, and I’ve been neurotically monitoring progress of several things, especially


this, which I was given just after Christmas. It had actually been a gift to a friend, but she claims not have green fingers so much as brown fingers with yellowy bits and added rust spots.

So I got it. And its timing, I thought, could not be better.


I’ve been watching it like a hawk. I wasn’t quite sure what it was going to look like, despite the picture on the box (I’ve been fooled before), and the leaves are pathetic – about 5cm tall.

How can you stop an amaryllis from opening further?


I moved it to a cooler room, but all the buds are now open and it’s got to last another couple of days.

Next year I shall hedge my bets and get several, and not rely on the generosity of my weedy-fingered friends. Because I’ve moved it down again; I missed it too much.


Garden show, schmarden show, that’s what I say.

(I’ll change my tune by Friday night, especially as I’m helping with the stewarding…)

And in the meanwhile, I have a new friend in the garden. So far she’s eaten several daffodils, protected us from the Giant Hedge Monster, chased blackbirds, had a good go at the rhubarb until we shouted at her a lot, nearly strangled herself with her lead by jumping from a wall where she’d been tethered after the Rhubarb Incident, and killed a watering can stone dead after booting it all over the garden. And had a good shout at people who dared to walk past. Not bad for a couple of hours.


Her name is Jess, she’s an 11-month old red collie and she has more energy than anything else on the surface of the planet. She belongs to P, and will doubtless be appearing here regularly from now on. If her predecessor is anything to go by, that is. So far I cannot add using my garden as a toilet to her list of crimes, but I’m sure that time will come. I’d better get the dog treats in again…

Following trees

I’ve been meaning to join in with Loose and Leafy and follow a tree for a year, but I’ve been prompted to actually do it by Janet at Plantalicious (hawthorn) and particularly Elizabeth from Welsh Hills Again, who is documenting a year in the life of a rowan. I lost mine in the January storms, and I did love it dearly – but her post pushed me into taking a good look at some of the other trees in my garden. Which to choose? It has to be something that sustains interest, as the idea is to post about it once a month, around the 7th, thus documenting the way it grows and changes. Fruit trees would be obvious but – for me, anyway – kind of not the point (plus my fruit trees do not bear looking at closely).

So I took a walk round, and decided to concentrate on one of my three birches – predictable; I’ve rhapsodised about them before. Incidentally, I’m amazed at how the three birches sailed through the winter storms without turning a hair. But this time I want to look at the least assertive of the trio, the one which tends to get overlooked,


the one in the foreground here.

It’s also the smallest, which means I can get its whole height into shot without climbing the walls or leaving the country. Just.

baby birch

I won it. Well, I’d have won it whatever I did.

Let me explain – it was a competition at the library: borrow enough books, answer a simple question and win a tree seedling. I entered, but so did fewer people than trees available, so we all got one (and I suspect some people got two). At that time, about eight years ago, it was roughly three feet tall. And I’ve no idea what birch it is – any guesses? It’s got gorgeous orange bark,


but it becomes paler as it gets older, with the newer branches being quite bright and the trunk beginning to mellow to a runny honey colour in places. It could be a form of paper birch, which I guess would tie in to it being a prize from the library. I don’t particularly care – I love it anyway…

The very newest branches are grey and soft and fuzzy, which shows best against the light.

baby branches

There are plenty of buds but – despite the lovely warm weather – no sign of any leaf action quite yet. There are, however, masses of rather perky catkins:


I’ve never really examined the scaly nature of birch catkins at this stage before… birches, of course, are wind pollinated, and there tens to be quite a lot of pollen when they do go ping, but happily it never seems to trigger my hay fever.

Taking such a close look at this tree is something I hardly ever do, and it will be interesting to follow the its development and change over the year. I do take it for granted – it’s got neither the ridiculous height nor the shimmering bark of its compatriots – and it will be so good to give it the attention it deserves. And it’s set in the middle of the meadow (with a nicely cleared circle around its base; wonder how long that will last), so it will be good to lift my eyes upwards as well as concentrating on the exciting things happening at ground level.

birch in meadow

Maybe it’s not so surprising that the birches survived the storms. Their flexibility (in all sorts of ways) has served them well – the oldest known Betula fossils go back to the time of the dinosaurs, just, the Upper Cretaceous. They were probably most diverse about 45 million years ago but they’re not doing badly at present, quite at home in a huge range of habitats. And in my garden. It will be interesting to learn more about them, as well as appreciating this particular – baby – example as the year goes on. And it will also be interesting fighting my way through the meadow towards it as the grasses grow up… and up…