Category Archives: Spring

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…

 

What a difference a few feet makes – tree following, June

I’m about to go away – garden sitters have been briefed and shown where the watering cans are – so I’ve been rushing about. We’ve also had some seriously odd weather, as have most of us, so what with that and the rushing, I’ve not been near my hawthorn.

I had hoped to get up there and catch the opening of the blossom. I thought, you see, that it would be fading by 7 June, and anyway I’ll be away then. But I only made it up there yesterday, and I found this:

hawthorn

Not exactly covered, is it? Was it, perhaps, over? I walked round to the other side and approached the tree. No, not over – many buds were still to open. Some flowers which had opened were damaged, but most were still firmly shut.

blossom

The ones which were open were attracting attention from flying things which zipped past me, helped no doubt by the sudden increase in temperature (from single figures to the giddy height of 14 degrees, mind – I was still in my fleece and walking boots).

hawthorn blossom

Those flowers which were open were also a bit battered, or looking rather hesitant and fragile.

I turned round and was really surprised. Though ‘my’ tree is the largest and oldest of the hawthorns up here by the dolmen, it is surrounded by others. It is also a tiny bit higher than the others, and that – I assume – is probably the main reason why the others looked like this:

another hawthorn

Is it snow, or is it blossom? While mine looked like this:

where's the blossom?

It’s not age, or I don’t think it is – because my followed tree has plenty to come. It’s just not doing it yet. It’s waiting, still doing the equivalent of wearing  fleece and walking boots. It’s not casting a clout either.

And in the meanwhile its neighbours are amazing:

hawthorns

It’s supposed to be warming up significantly this weekend, so I am hoping that the venerable hawthorn I’ve decided to follow will catch up – but the only significant difference between it and its fellows is a few feet in altitude. And when I say ‘a few feet’, it’s maybe two feet – just as exposed, but that little bit higher. And the trees on the landward side of the lane, which are another couple of feet higher up still, are in the same state as my tree. It would never have occurred to me that such an apparently insignificant difference could have such an impact among so close a bunch of neighbours.

Wildlife? Well, no goats this time, and no sheep either – they’ve been moved higher up. The usual ravens shouting their heads off, buzzards circling high above and calling … and the deeper call of, could it be, a peregrine? Then I spotted the peregrine’s unmistakeable flight pattern and shape, and watched it for a few minutes before it shot downwards like a guided missile and disappeared out of view, Rabbit, possibly. Plenty of those about.

And the wildflowers are benefitting from the sheep move too. The bluebells are still out up here; yellow tormentil is starting to speckle the grass; the foxgloves are heading skywards and there are some small umbellifers. I get almost as confused with umbellifers as I do with ferns, so I’m throwing this one open:

any guesses?

Could be any one of about twelve things, I think. Short (could be the conditions), small – flowerhead about 5cm across, max, generally less. Pretty, undoubtedly.

Keep your clouts on (tree following, May 2015)

The old verse / proverb / saying / whatever is something like ‘cast ne’r a clout till may be out’. It doesn’t mean ‘don’t throw clouts at people’ (clouts are clothes anyway) and it doesn’t refer to the month. It refers to the flowering of the hawthorn – or the may tree – and instructs you not to remove a single garment until it blossoms. I’ve been putting on garments rather than casting them off, and also lighting stoves, filling the oil tank, etc. It’s been cold.

We had a warm spell about three weeks ago, and I took myself off to the hawthorn I am following to make sure that I wasn’t missing out on blossom time. I wasn’t; the blackthorns were covered, but the hawthorn was just beginning to show a green haze:

tree and gorse

and the gorse was amazing. The whole area smelled heavily of coconut, rather like a hen party in Spain – a mixture of suntan oil and Malibu.

That was then. A couple of days later the weather shifted and a lot of things seemed to go into a sort of suspended animation in which they changed only slowly. But nothing stands still for ever (OK, arguable, perhaps) and things are shifting again:

hawthorn tree

The tree is now well covered in young leaves. Some, however, are showing signs of damage – I suspect that is from the terrible gales we’ve been having and, particularly, from one which was accompanied by hail. I’m fairly sure that was the culprit as most of the damaged leaves seemed to be on the landward side of the tree – and that was the (less usual by a long way) direction of the freezing gales.

However, it’s definitely picking up – and the newest, freshest, baby leaves have a beautiful red-pink colour as they open, which I have never really noticed before:

baby leaf

and that’s despite us kids snacking off them on the way home from primary school. They were called ‘bread and cheese’, and I’ve found that this is a remarkably common name across huge parts of northern Britain. Some people think it refers to their use as food in times of dearth (which would fit with the timing – this is the ‘hungry gap’ – but seems a bit far-fetched), and others just think ‘it’s a nickname’. Well, dur – nicknames come from somewhere… but where?

almost there

The flowers, however, are still very tightly in bud.

Around the tree, life is going on. The lambs are bigger, more adventurous and a lot less likely to gallop off hysterically as you approach; instead they look you straight in the eye and either stay put or get up slowly and deliberately and wander off as though they were going in that direction anyway. The road surface holds the heat, and is a favourite place to sit and snooze:

road lambs

When I left London, way back in 2002, I opened the window on my first morning here – I was staying at a friend’s place up the hill because the house I’d just bought was uninhabitable – and saw loads of sheep sitting contentedly on the road outside the farm buildings. I instantly realised that I had not made a rash decision, that I was back where I ought to be, in the hills and the countryside and away from all that city stuff. I grew up avoiding sheep resting on the road – not a hazard you encounter very often in south London – and it felt instantly right. Still a sight I enjoy!

This, on the other hand, was something of a surprise in amongst all the sheep:

wild goat

Just the one wild goat, aka gafr wyllt, officially the feral goat. There is a substantial population here (well, on what the Snowdonia Mammal Group describes as the Rhinogydd uplands), but I’ve never seen one this low down – higher up, yeah, loads – or this close either; generally in the distance, moving in flocks. As a child in Scotland we used to go out ‘wild goat spotting’ on summer evenings, and it was something of a result when we glimpsed one in the distance. The population here has somewhat exploded in recent years (there’ve been selective culls), but I’ve never been so close. Never. Amazing.

However, it’s not the tree. Here is a small montage of ‘my’ may tree in, well, May (click on an image for a slideshow):

And thanks to Lucy at Loose and Leafy for hosting this meme – without it I’d never have been eyeballed by a wild goat. Bet that’s one of the more unusual results of tree following! (Do check out some of the links to other blogs on her site, tree addicts – people are following a wide range of trees and it’s really interesting.)

Epimedium enchanting!

I have a bit of an epimedium weakness (I like erythroniums too, and many other things beginning with e but not… well, let’s not get distracted). However, my garden eats epimediums, so this year I got a bit radical.

epimedium

My one remaining epimedium – and I’ve been given epimediums which are an invasive menace elsewhere but which disappear chez moi – is this precious pearl, Epimedium grandliflorum ‘Lilatee’.  I love it, but I didn’t want to see it go the way of all flesh – um, the way of all epimediums – and so I marked its position carefully and let the leaves die back.

And when they did, I potted it up.

epimedium

One of my friends said ‘I didn’t know you could grow epimediums in pots’, and neither did I. But it’s a tiny one, despite the name, and I thought it might be OK. It came through the winter fine, nice and dormant, snuggled below the soil. Then this spring I began to notice signs of life. I moved the pot to near the back door where I could enjoy it, and sure enough – pow. A really healthy plant. Flourishing, in fact.

Then we had a really chilly night – I had to scrape the windscreen of frost – and I thought it looked a little pinched and surprised, so I moved it into my unheated greenhouse.

I think it likes it.

epimedium

It’s supposed to be warming up a little, so I might try reintroducing it to the outside world. But while it’s sitting on the potting bench (oh, I’ll come clean – the old picnic table I use as a potting benchette), it’s at just the right height for some epimedium worship.

epimedium

Those flowers, by the way, are a max of 2.5 cm from spur tip to spur tip. I’ve got another flowering stem to come out, and I’ve never seen it look so good.

Maybe I might invest in a couple more…

Free plants, free plants

There is something deeply satisfying about this time of year, especially if you are a cheapskate gardener like me. For now is the time when friends decide to clear beds of things like extra hardy geraniums and grasses and give the excess away, when divided plants reveal if they have survived the savage process of separation, when cuttings take like a dream. So while I’m not actually offering free plants (the huge number of black cow parsley seedlings I have are not yet hardened off enough),

black cow parsley babies

I am celebrating their existence.

Some things come about as a result of insufficient deadheading, or of deliberate lack of it, and I defy anyone to keep up with removing the seed heads of nigella, aka love in a mist, or eschscholzia, aka Californian poppy. As a result they are everywhere, and as far as I am concerned, they’re staying put:

free seedlings!

I did wonder if the recent dip down into semi-Arctic conditions, especially at night, would destroy them, but no, thanks, they’re fine. Last year my random seed bed was a little disappointing – though only really to me, and only to me because it became dominated by wild carrot, which are brutes. Pretty brutes (bit like some men I could name but won’t, hee hee), but thugs nonetheless, and difficult to eradicate completely (er, ditto…). This year I’m hedging my bets. I’ve sown some seeds directly, as last year, but also sown some in trays and they’re currently germinating nicely in the greenhouse.

(Hm. Some of them are, but I won’t be buying from Plants of Distinction again. Grumble. Nor will I be getting shallots or garlic from Marshalls – doubtless I’ll have a separate rant about then when I get onto veg at some point in the future. That will also take in PoD and their **%£1@Z@ tomatoes, double grumble.)

But my favourite freebies are probably the gifts and swaps. I’ve still got a verbascum which I got from Sara Hillwards (who is also celebrating a gorgeous freebie at the moment, incidentally). Then Karen at Artist’s Garden gave me this lovely hardy geranium

hardy geranium

and a great big chunk of her phlomis,

phlomis

in exchange for a giant garden bucket/trug full of osteospermums (they like it here, but a bit too much, so I had the odd one, er, odd hundred or so, which were surplus to requirements).

Some garlic chives and a tray of baby black cow parsley went to Janet aka Plantaliscious, as she said she’d swap them for some Stipa tenuissima. Some stipa. Just the ‘odd one’, you understand:

yikes

Of course I should have known, given the great Offloading of the Osteospermum. ‘Some’ equalled eight big ones.

I know exactly where they are going (once we’ve dug up some dandelions and snowberry) – round the side and back of the greenhouse. Self-sown foxgloves (another freebie) will stand up amongst them, and with a bit of luck I should have a river of stipa and foxgloves instead of a river of dandelions, valerian seedlings and flipping snow flipping berry, stupid flipping ineradicable thing. Flipping. Ahem.

P. also did some perennial splitting this year, and not before time (I did try, but I wasn’t strong enough; that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). That’s also very satisfying, but I am clearly going to have a garden full of agapanthus:

agapanthus

I am toying with an idea: breaking up the iris bed, which will need to be dug out and refreshed this year anyway, and replacing it with agapanthus. White agapanthus. Which one of my neighbours has said she will swap for some black cow parsley… and so it goes on!

(PS: I’ve still got some osteospermum, by the way…)