How to wreck yourself in a single day

I know I shouldn’t have. But I’ve had so much work on, and the weather’s been a bit iffy / cold / wet / abominable / windy, and what with one thing and another… ow. Ow. Ouch.

Enough, already. I’ve been a bad gardener (I’ve been a bad blogger too, but that’s because I can’t face spending any more time in front of a screen when there’s gardening complaining about the weather to be done). But now things are different. Things are changing. Things are – shhhhh – flowering.

poppies

It’s warming up nicely; the seedlings have decided they’ll grow anyway; the rain has stopped and I didn’t get a manuscript when I was expecting it, so I had a day to garden. A whole day! A day with no rain / snow / high wind / sleet. OK, it was possibly too sunny, but I am most emphatically not complaining about that. Though I did end up slathered in sunscreen and wearing a ridiculous hat.

So what have I got to show for it? Er, apart from strange lopsided sunburn and a curious hunched posture, due to bending so much in one day and not exercising enough the rest of the time, you know, the times when it’s rainy / windy / sleeting / generally vile. Perhaps that should be ‘what did I do’, instead. I:

  • Tied in all the broad beans (Leidse Hangdown), hoed between the rows, removed any volunteer spuds on the way and pinched out the tops of those plants where the beans were already setting.

broad beans

  • Planted 32 climbing beans (Cosse Violette) up the teepees P had put up the day before.
  • Dug out the rest of the veg bed and planted 12 squashes (Uchi Kuri and Sibley), four of which are in huge pots instead, pending repositioning after pulling out broad beans / shallots.

veg bed - full

  • Finished digging out another bed and planted 4 anonymous celeriac plants.
  • Moved courgettes into the cold frame (they’ve been a bit slow, bit like me in cold weather).
  • Excavated the greenhouse, planted up the last of the tomatoes (Irish Gardener’s Delight), potted up the sweet basil and sowed some more radishes (Cherry Belle) in a trough.

tidy greenhouse

  • Sorted the geraniums from the greenhouse ready for repotting and/or consolidation.
  • Sorted out the pot store – an old dustbin – and evicted a whole nest of woodlice.
  • Attacked the middle bed of the bottom garden.

bottom garden

Went a bit mad. Dug out and chucked a huge pulmonaria which has kindly donated many, many, many, many children to the entire garden. Removed many of said children. Removed huge Echinops ritro which has overgrown its spot but also infested the bed with couch grass (which was lurking in the Echinops when I moved it last time); split some off, cleaned it up and replanted it elsewhere because the bees love it. Weeded part of bed but so much more to be done. Planted wonderful Thalictrum (Elin). Transplanted not so wonderful score of Verbena bonarensis seedlings, plus several verbascums. Planted up a beautiful Dierama (Blackbird) and accidentally evicted a whole ant’s nest which had been constructed in the pot. Spent some time watching the ants sorting themselves out (not at all because I couldn’t stand up due to my foot going to sleep, but actually because I am such a keen naturalist).

  • Trimmed the old man’s beard off the boundary wall and threw it back into the wildy bit whence it came, ditto bloody bracken.
  • Found gin.
  • Drank gin while admiring effect of sun on acquilegias.

acquilegia

Annoyed? Think I’m being rather smug? Well, I may be, but remember I am a smug person with one side of their face bright red and so achy that every move has to be preceded by what we used to call a ‘Grandpa grunt’ (until Grandpa caught us saying that, of course; then it became the ‘Dad grunt’ – not so alliterative, and not true either, but more entertaining in its effects).

And now, natch, we are back to normal: socks, boots and thick cardigans.

 

I heart my meadow

I do, I really do.

Ever since I made the decision – inspired by laziness and a dislike of either floppy, browning dying back, chopped off or tied back daffodil leaves – to just let the top garden go for it, I have not regretted it for a second. OK, sometimes I might express the odd doubt (generally when the rain has flattened the grasses) and occasionally I might swear about it (either during the Great September Strim or when Next Door’s *?4£!!*%! Cat has created feline crop circles in it), but I don’t regret it. And this year the daffs have been great,

daffs

and I have – so far – picked or dead-headed just over 600. If you’ve followed Beangenie for a while you’ll know I’m a bit sad and count my daffs; if you’re newish… well, welcome to the madhouse, but I’m not as bonkers [IMO; they’re so small] as some people I know who count their snowdrops.

As of now, most of what I group together as the ‘big yellows’ (even though some of them aren’t that big, really, and they do come in several varieties) have finished and it’s the turn of the whites. Somewhere I have a list of all the ones I have planted, but I also inherited many and, as a result of not knowing what half of them were in the first place, and having lost the list in the second place, I cannot name every single one (bad gardener). But I love them all.

gorgeous

The weather has had some very strange effects; the dampness brought out the snails and slugs earlier than usual, and I lost many daffs to their slimy unpleasantness before I really realised what was happening. But I can’t slug-pellet an entire meadow, even a relatively small one, so I have to rely on the thrushes doing their bit. To date I’ve only seen a couple, so they’re not making much of an impression. And now the little flies are out, though I daresay the current cold snap might kill them off. But at least they don’t do too much damage.

fly on top

(Can’t spot it? It’s balanced on the top petal.) They do seem to enjoy basking like the one below; I’m sure the paler petals reflect the heat.

basking

It’s not just daffs (oh, all right, narcissi) which brighten the meadow. I seem to have a lot of white fritillaries this year, more than in the past. This is curious, though it could just be – as it were – a sampling error: some of my predominantly purple clumps didn’t appear this year or were blind (and some have been eaten). I don’t think they liked the hideously wet December. But the whites are stunning too and, as a bonus, I do seem to have some new clumps forming.

white fritillaries

The primroses, as always, are amazing; they have shrugged off damp December and don’t give a stuff about threatened snowstorms in late April – I can see it snowing out over Cardigan Bay, but happily that seems to be where it’s staying, fingers crossed. The bay tree isn’t bothered, either; it doesn’t even seem to have suffered from storm damage. The odd brown tip to a leaf, but hey.

bay flowering

I’ve got another one in a large pot that needs to go out. Since they seem to shrug off the weather so effectively, I think it can be an addition to the top garden / meadow boundary. We keep the existing one in trim, but at about eight feet; the ex-pot bay can join in.

And there are some more changes afoot, with more of my grass/moss/creeping thyme/sort-of green stuff in the bottom garden being incorporated into beds. But not here. Here, up in the meadow and for a couple more weeks, it’s the realm of the daffodil. Oh, I know. Narcissus…

narcissi

Couch grass wars

Yesterday – Monday – the forecast was vile, but it also proved to be completely wrong.

primrose and ginkgo

So though both P and I started off gardening in 85 layers of clothing, they were gradually removed – until something more sensible was reached, cough, not until we were gardening naked. That would not have gone down well with anyone, even the Hell Hound of Harlech (who was being particularly hellish and had to be muzzled to stop her barking at the builders next door). But, boy, did we achieve lots!

Just as well, because the garden is open for the Garden Club in July. Not sure why I agreed to that, but hey. It’s good to focus the mind. There’s lots to do.

We got the windbreak up around the veg patch – a much more reliable sign of spring than the first fritillaries,

frit

and then we launched ourselves at something that’s been an issue for several years and consciously avoided for the last three.

Couch grass.

I know, I know, everyone has couchbloodygrass. But I have one bed that it particularly infests, and it’s slap in front of the house. I’ve been trying to find some ‘before’ pics in the archive, but there aren’t any because the bed was such a disgrace. Time for radical action. And for the remaining gravel… (and for temporarily abandoning organic principles, but cough, cough).

I dug out the plants I wanted to keep and potted them up in autumn. Then I threw them away because cough grass came up in the pots. I took cuttings, most of which died because by then it was a bit too late. Then I lost my temper, and bought chemicals. So yesterday we treated what remained, carefully trimming back the wall-growing potentilla and pulling the clematis montana out of the way beforehand, covered the whole bed in ten metres of black plastic, and spread tons – well, half a ton – of gravel on top. The clematis, which is just about to flower,  was carefully brought back up and tethered down with tent pegs; that should keep it in position. Come autumn we’ll remove everything and treat the f%2!!88er again, then put everything back for another year. So, for the next couple of years or so, there’ll be pots on here.

Now all I need to do is try and recover the ability I once had to plant up and maintain a stunning container. Er, in the teeth of the winds off the Irish Sea. That should be interesting, as should the fact that the couch grass is in the wall. Oh well, hopefully successive doses of Roundup should help. Hopefully…

 

Hrrrrrumpf

I am officially sulking.

Amaryllis

This magnificence is not mine. It could have been mine, but this is the one of the two Amaryllis bulbs I bought at a garden centre which I gave away, as a Christmas gift, to my ex-neighbour.

Mine was – well, not like that. it had a flower spike, oh yes, but on a five-inch stem. The only possible explanation I can come up with – apart from black magic, curses and pique – is that my ex-neighbout grows his in an exceptionally warm conservatory (average January temperature, sans heating, of over 80 degrees), whereas mine has to survive in my kitchen (average January temperature, er, not over 80 degrees). But I’m still sulking.

That may stop, though, because mine (like his) is throwing up another flower spike. We shall see. But I do maintain that this is an excellent argument for buying a specialist bulb and potting it up yourself rather than relying on Aldi. Maybe…and next year I shall see if I can get him to nursemaid mine for a bit. At least until the Spring Show. That’s not cheating, is it?

Oh, sod off, winter!

I don’t know, we have spring in November, a whole year’s rain in December and now, March, we have snow. Had snow. Had snow a few miles inland; here we had sleet. Oh, all right, I know, global warming, the scary though temporary ‘achievement’ of the 2% above normal temperature recently (that’s the target which is critical, ahem, and it will be back), melting glaciers – and here I am complaining about it being a bit chilly. But it is.

However, poo to glaciers, here in west Wales we have achieved peak gravel, even though it’s still bedding down and is about as stable to walk on as marshmallow (similar to some glaciers, perhaps). And there was only half a sack left over, too. (Who was right? Hm? Who would that have been? Hm? HMM?)

But it is revolting, cold, crappy, raining, drizzling, nasty, vile, horrible and therefore, in a spirit of generosity, I am sharing my blackberry whisky recipe, as requested on the #gdnbloggers twitter thing a week ago Sunday. Just make sure you know where the recipe is when it’s August or September. I spent so long looking for another scribbled recipe once that the elders I’d located were reduced to sticks and occasional dead leaves.

show

It’s award winning, too, if you count a first place at the village show as an award. I do. After all, if anybody and everybody can describe anything from black pudding to shirts as ‘award winning’ then so can I. Hrrupmf. (It’s the big bottle at the front, with the purple label. What, pray, is the point of a small bottle?)

Crabby today? Moi?

Anyway, you need a tribe of small children, and possibly you need to wear a snood and not be male (these pickers are foraging in WW2, so all the men were away),

blackberry picking in WW2

and end up with a kilo of ripe blackberries.

You then need a couple of huge Kilner or Le Parfait jars – other brands of airtight storage bottles are available – half a kilo of sugar and a litre of whisky. Cheap whisky is just fine; in fact, it’s better. Pick over the blackberries and wash any wildlife off; divide the berries between the jars. Divide the sugar between the jars too, and then slosh in the whisky. Seal the jars well, and then turn them over. Store in a dark place, and turn them a couple of times a week for the first month or so.

I know people who decant their whisky for Christmas, but I prefer to leave mine for longer; the 2015 crop is still in its jars and will remain so until late summer and the foraging of the next lot. I also know people who purée the sodden blackberries and make an ice-cream topping, but I’ve tried that and prefer to put them in the compost.

Drain the whisky carefully, preferably through muslin – and you may need to do this twice. Put it into clean, sterile bottles (an oven at 100 degrees is a good way to sterilise a bottle) and enjoy. It is fabulous over ice, drunk beside a roaring stove while snow falls outside. Just saying.

blackberry whisky

Tried to take a pic with the light shining through to reveal the gorgeous colour, but the light wouldn’t cooperate. Grumble, grumble, chunter. Again. Ahem.

And – if you have easy access to elderberries, which I curiously do not, there’s a recipe for a similar elderberry elixir over on my food blog, Twelve Miles from a Lemon. It’s great for colds, probably because of the high Vit C content. Or maybe it’s the rum.

And sometimes I do manage to forget the weather and the mud aka meadow, because the Viburnum bodnantense is flowering and I just have to go up there for a noseful… squish, squish, oh great, thanks, Next Door’s Cat, ex-mouse, squish…

Viburnum

Incidentally, I haven’t joined in with the tree following meme yet because I can’t decide what tree to follow. I thought it might be my apples, but they’re difficult to photograph. I’m currently auditioning the ginkgo. And grumbling.

There are winter jobs…

… and then there are winter JOBS. Jobs which deserve their capital letters. Jobs which you’ve probably been avoiding for several years, if you’re anything like me*.

And then one sunny day, when you don’t have a deadline for the first time in months, you suddenly find yourself down the builders’ merchants ordering three tons of gravel. Like you do.

gravel

You then get back, have an argument about the size of the order which you win by pointing out that gravel magically disappears when you start putting it down and that you have got two old paths, one new path and an area by the pigsty plus the log store / ty lawnmower to do, and then the guys delivering the gravel can’t get up the hill because someone has parked on it, and then they have to do a strange reversing manoeuvre to go the wrong way down a one-way street so they can at least see the main road they’re emerging on to, during which time the man moves the parked car, and then they get to the right spot by going round in an alternative circular route because they didn’t see the man move his car, then they have to crane three giant bags of gravel over an old stone wall, avoiding the pear tree, the greenhouse and the Hell Hound of Harlech – and then a friend calls round in the middle of all this…. that sort of day.

I’m never complaining about a deadline again.

Anyway, this is what is happening:

pigsty

This is the pigsty area, complete with old feeding trough which isn’t going anywhere, coal bunker which is where I store compost, and the side, hardly ever exposed, of the extension to the pigsty itself. That’s where chopped logs live in the winter, and the lawnmower lives the rest of the year. It is, essentially, mud. As you can see, there’s baler plastic under some of the old gravel, but it’s more and more baler plastic and less and less gravel.

Both of the existing paths have huge sections which are also mud, and which have – over time – gradually slumped so that all the gravel is either at one end or strewn around the garden. So they’ve been dug out

old path

(and, I am ashamed to say, weedkilled) and any plants moved, except for an old fern – I have billions – and a rotten stump which was previously interestingly shaped but which is now merely unpleasantly rotten. They are toast. Soggy, manky toast, but toast.

Then there’s the new path.

path

Well, it’s not exactly new as such. It was a path / death trap, because everyone knows that the way to create a path is to take some old roofing slates and miscellaneous rubble, stamp them into the soil, and shove some concrete in the gaps. (Removing the slates revealed one that was broken but carved, and I’m next door to a burial ground. Er…) So this now needs digging out, the edges tidying, and gravel laying.

And then you remember that your old wheelbarrow rotted through and went to the tip, and that you haven’t quite got round to replacing it because of the deadlines, and so you dash off to the farmers’ supply place, source of such delights, and they have two, both of which are broken, and so you zoom ten miles to Porthmadog and hooray, hooray, Wilkinsons have ONE left, and it’s the big one which you wanted. And then you get back and it’s dark anyway.

That sort of day.

I need some pretty flowers to remind me why I do this:

crocuses

That’s better. That’s mad, mind, because these don’t usually get cracking until well into March, but I’m not quibbling. For once.

*Who knows, this year I might even paint the trellis…

The winter of my discontent

Grumble, grumble, grumble. Guess what the weather is doing? Again?

Everything is wet. Even the logs stacked in the greenhouse are wet. I’m wet. The Hell Hound of Harlech got wet. P got wet, though despite this he still decided to go tree climbing with a bow saw and take a branch off the cherry. Next Door’s Cat got so wet that he actually went to his real home and has been looking at me smugly from behind a window.

And it’s been windy. First, wind off the land:

Llandanwg

and now wind – big wind – off the sea, as is more usual. Just retrieved one wheelie bin from near the car park, and the other from behind a lamppost. They were wet.

But I have done one thing: got the spuds chitting. They began sprouting quite lavishly, so I hauled them out, told them off, rubbed away the weak white shoots that always make me think of Gollum and put them in egg boxes on a windowsill. If it doesn’t stop raining in time I can always throw them at Next Door’s Cat. Or P. Or the HH of H (the most likely candidate).

A few things are out. They’re battered, but they’re out. My first daff, for instance, and some snowdrops, and some crocuses. And even…

yay

Oh, all right, I took this last year. The light levels are so low that all my photographs of the hellebores this year have been shite – but they’re there, and they’re flowering nicely. When you can actually see.

And I have been doing a bit of planning, looking at all the things that are coming up because it’s so unseasonably warm (we have had one good frost, but I wouldn’t mind more, honest). There are a load of Verbena bonarensis seedlings which I’m going to move into one bed, and there are foxgloves everywhere. Time, I think, for a little selective meadow-editing. A couple of years ago there were foxgloves in the meadow, so I was hoping they’d be back this year – but I can’t see any evidence so far. Time to do some moving, I think. I know this is lovely,

meadow

and, believe you me, I’m really looking forward to a seeing the meadow in its glory again, but I think a few foxgloves would be a good addition. They looked fab when they appeared spontaneously, so I’m going to give them a hand. Better that than throwing them on the compost (I have a lot of foxgloves).

However at the moment it’s a bit wet…