Category Archives: Spring

Daffodils for Dewi Sant

That’s it, it’s officially almost spring. It’s bitterly cold, there’s a sneaky wind off Cardigan Bay, but I can see the hills, an improvement on the last few days, and it’s not raining. And it’s Saint David’s Day, so it really is nearly spring.

Daffs

Rather than break into a loud chorus of Hen Wlad (too much coughing would be involved, due to the arrival of the jolly end-of-winter bronchitis), I thought I’d celebrate my daffodils.

But why daffs and Wales? Actually, nobody seems quite sure. Some commentators think it’s the confusion between the Welsh names for leek (cehinen, pl. cennin) and daffodil (cehinen Bedr, literally St Peter’s leek). Leeks, according to legend, were selected as an identifying symbol for Welsh troops – they were fighting the Saxons, no surprise there – by St David. What is surprising is that St David should be associated with a military context, though – a saint noted for his aceticism and restraint. Budge the legend on a few centuries, though, and leeks are supposedly used to identify troops, notably Welsh archers, fighting in France under Henry V (thanks, Shakespeare).

Leeks dropped out of favour as a national symbol because they came to be associated with odious stereotypes of the ‘Taffy was a Welshman / Taffy was a thief’ variety. So what could work? Well, daffs appear around the same time as St David’s Day – indeed, I’ve just picked my first fifteen and started the annual count – and Lloyd George (a local lad) wore the daff on this day and encouraged others to do so. It’s a recent tradition, and it’s pretty common. Unlike the general wearing of leeks, though several US commentators, including Wikipedia, insist we’re all going around today wearing leeks. Just consider practicalities. And smell. I know which I go for.

And here are some of my finest, from the meadow and previous years – natch; they need a couple more weeks to really get going (and, yes, of course some of them are narcissi… but then strictly speaking, they all are):

The winter list (and a spring surprise)

Every year (OK, for the last few), I get organised. After the great meadow strim P and I walk round the garden working out what needs doing, and draw up the winter list.

winter gardening

It’s all those jobs which have probably needed doing since the previous Christmas, but which have ‘somehow’ not quite been done. It inevitably includes things which didn’t quite get done last year (‘paint trellis’), or indeed the year before that, and things which are, frankly, optimistic (‘bramble remove’) or somewhat vague (‘move slates’  – which slates? – and ‘repair pigsty: ???’).

It’s divided into the three areas of the garden, and is followed by a list of plants. That’s because winter’s a good time to sort out what needs moving and work out where it can possibly go (quite apart from to the dustbin / compost / neighbours), and then there’s the problem of remembering exactly what ‘get rid of that horrible thing by the hedge’ meant. But it’s mainly the structural jobs which get done in winter, apart from weeding of course. We’ve rebuilt steps, dug new beds, erected standing stones and laid paths. This year it was repair time.

The rowan, which had to come down after the January storms last year, ripped apart the wall above which it grew. But we never quite got round to sorting it out – partly because there was a heck of a lot to do at the time, partly because the storms didn’t let up, and partly because once they did finally stop all the bulbs came up and started flowering. So all of last year I lived with a wall leaning outwards at a dangerous angle, entirely held in place by ivy – except when it wasn’t and stones came crashing to the ground.

Now I have this:

new wallwhich comes complete with a convenient shelf for a cup of tea or a pair of secateurs. And, yes, that is the rowan stump – it’s staying put. I can’t get a digger into the garden.

There was a heck of a lot of rubble, some of the little double daffs had to be replanted and I doubt that my chionodoxas will be as spectacular as normal this year, but it’s done. At last. And we found an old bakelite top for a Pan Yan pickle bottle (c. 1920), but that was the extent of the archaeology.

I’ve also now got  a dug-out greenhouse. I should explain – there is virtually no flat ground in either the top or the bottom garden, and the middle one is iffy. The greenhouse had to go in the bottom one, so P had to dig a base into the slope, which he did. The high side was held up with a mini dry-stone (OK, dry-sort-of-stone-brick) wall, which over the years has gradually slumped against the glass. At the back of the greenhouse a prostrate rosemary was so determined to get in that it broke the glass. It needed tackling…

greenhouse wall

So P demolished the old wall, cut the bank back, rebuilt it as a stepped wall – that should be much better – and dug out the back. I’ve now got what remains of the prostrate rosemary in a  pot, but it’s looking seedy. What a shame. Oh dear. Bechod.

What with all of this (most of which has been done with me watching due to bronchitis, but hey ho), I almost forget to look out for lovely things as well. Just round the corner, I have the first wallflower:

wallflower

Right, that’s it. It’s clearly spring; I can put the winter list away!

(Plus the garden is suddenly full of snowdrops and crocuses – watch this space…)

Allium addicts unite…

we have nothing to lose but our marbles. Especially if, like me, your garden may not feel the same way about alliums.

My London garden, my first proper garden, ended up stuffed with plants. As time went on there was less and less of it devoted to grass as I extended existing beds into the lawn or simply dug up huge parts. I had, and still have, a stone urn and pedestal combo (subject of yet more Chelsea haggling, and which knackered the front seat of my Mini transporting it home), and it had pride of place. It was backed by a bronze Cotinus and surrounded with alliums, and it was spectacular at this time of year. So when I moved it north-westwards I thought I’d try and recreate the look.

Hah.

My Welsh garden sneered at this example of metropolitan assumption, and – I suspect – ate the alliums. So I tried again, this time in another place. Nope, though one did grow (and continues to flourish) behind the greenhouse, where I know I did not plant it. Over time, I have come to understand that this garden has a pronounced personality, and that it will do what it wants to do and very little else, and that it will just not tolerate some things. When it comes to alliums, it has strong views.

Ramsons, yes:

ramson

no problems there. And completely independently it will produce tons of the other form of wild garlic, the one with the weedy straggly leaves, which spreads like b****** and which requires either major excavation or the use of Agent Orange to dispose of it. Dispose of it? I’m fooling myself again: control it. Slightly.

But I will not be deprived of my alliums, so I grew some in pots. That worked, and I was pleased with the effect:

potted alliums

which rather begs the question of why I decided to dig them up and plant them out. Admittedly, they’re in the new Capel bed – it backs against the wall of the chapel house next door – which is almost the driest bed I’ve got, and will give them the best chance, but I’ve still only had two of eleven produce flowers. The garden evidently noticed.

It hasn’t, so far, recognised these as an allium:

allium siculum

though it is their first year, and that might change as it realises that Nectarscodosum siculum is now reclassified as A. siculum (evidently my garden is using an old edition of RHS Plants and Flowers when it decides what to reject). I have been warned that these will join in the spread-fest of the wild garlics, but will they? I wouldn’t bet on it. Plus they’re so lovely that they’re welcome to spread wherever they wish, though I may regret this statement.

And, in defiance of the prejudice and in a spirit of wild optimism, I planted some A. christophii in the Capel bed. The stray back-of-greenhouse allium is a christophii, so I might get away with it. I do hope so:

opening...

I find myself stopping to adore these when I should be doing other things, like spreading slug pellets. The flower buds are so huge and fat and promising before they burst, and the individual floret buds seem rather improbable, almost as though they belong in some William Morris-style interior or on the set of a fantasy movie. They’re heraldic, but not a heraldry I recognise; there’s definitely an almost-alien elegance about them.

A.christophii

They look hard and spiky and odd, but they look good here. Which does surprise me, because generally the odd doesn’t work in this garden (Angelic gigas, while fascinating, was definitely a mistake). They’ve opened very slowly – the weather has been, and continues to be, not very good – but that’s just kept the suspense working, and I have found myself really enjoying their gradual appearance. I’ve got ten. What’s the betting that next year I have two, and one of them has shifted to behind the greenhouse all by itself? I don’t care; it’s worth it for this year.

And now it’s time to battle the slugs which, although they don’t much care for alliums, are really, really enjoying the irises. Who knew?

My followed tree and the wind…

My poor birch, the tree I am ‘following’ once a month, is blowing all over the place. And that’s although the storm we are having at the moment scarcely merits the description compared to those we endured over the winter, with 108mph gusts and floods and railway lines being washed away. I am amazed at how resilient the three birches are proving to be, even though the bigger two are now substantial. They just bend and lash about and hang on in there. It helps that there’s no direct threat from the sea – happily I’m on the 100m contour line – but they do cope extremely well with being in the direct route of Irish Sea gales.

The contrast between them and the evergreen trees can be seen very clearly now the birches are in full leaf. This is my followed birch, the baby one, zoomed up against the Western Red Cedar which is diagonally behind it:

the state of that...

It’s probably just as well that the other WRC was taken down a couple of years ago; this poor thing does look embarrassed at the state it’s in, and the other was in a much more prominent position.

The birches, on the other hand, are downright perky.

birches

Lots of lovely fresh growth, looking fresher than ever in the drizzle and wind – I’m taking shelter under the WRC here, and ‘my’ birch is the smaller one in the middle, the furthest from the camera. The meadow is growing up around it, and though I am managing to maintain a clear circle at the base, it’s getting more difficult to do so. Especially as I decided not to mow the path which ran beside it, almost in a straight line on from the central path here. It was bumpy and lumpy and there were too many fritillaries to avoid, so that path is history now. This can make photographing the Chosen Tree a little awkward, but that’s nothing to the problems some of the people blogging around  Loose and Leafy‘s tree-following meme are having.

And when I can get up close and personal, and when the tree isn’t lashing about like a demented Morris Dancer on speed, there have been changes. The catkins are now mostly over – thank heavens, I’ve been mainlining Ventolin – though there are still plenty of flowers:

catkin and flower

and though the majority of the leaves aren’t quite as sparkly and new as they were (dur, obviously), there are still some unfolding – much to my delight. I think the fresh green of new birch leaves is one of my all-time favourite  colours.

new leaves

This is the time of year when birch leaves were traditionally gathered, dried and eventually made into a decoction and drunk as a herb tea (not recommended, btw) or used as a skin wash for eczema. That was tried on me by my grandmother, and the spot of eczema did vanish, but then it was only a minor problem anyway; I was lucky. There’s more evidence for birches being used medicinally to treat arthritis, but I don’t think I was the only victim of skin-problem ‘solutions’. It seems to have been a rural French standby, judging by some other people I know.

The bark, of course, has traditionally had many more uses and, as I noted when I started ‘following’ this tree, this one’s bark is an appealing shade of burnt orange. However, it was suggested by several people that this would not last, and indeed… look what’s happening:

peel a tree

Beneath the burnt orange is a paler, more tawny shade, like a fine old sherry – and beneath that is a silvery colour. Maybe it will join its compatriots and shine in the evening sun. Oh, I suppose it does that anyway (when we get evening sun, that is); it’s just different.

Associated wildlife, I’m afraid, is not that evident. As yet; things will improve as the meadow grows up and the wind dies down. At present the tree’s only visitors seem to be the Upper Garden Robin, who uses it as one of his/her many shouting-at-other-robins posts, and some blackbirds. The crows and jackdaws avoid it – it’s probably not stable enough or high enough for them to use it as a lookout, or the robin is really threatening – and I haven’t seen much sign of insect life. Yet. Yet…

My very own standing stones

I have been a bad blogger recently; opening the garden to the local garden club meant I had to try and catch up with the weeding. Perhaps it’s just as well the NGS are not involved – can’t imagine how bad I’d be if they were!

Anyway, time to catch up with some of the things that happened over the winter, and which have made a real difference, giving the beds in the bottom garden a real point and focus. And not plants, either. Standing stones.

stones under construction

As you can tell from the lack of growth, we put them up a few weeks ago. I’d been hoarding some appropriately tall slates, but even so some were not tall enough as P assured me that at least a third needed to be in the ground. We were left with two huge ones and five smaller strips, maybe originally intended as risers for stairs.

Perhaps it’s not surprising I’d end up with standing stones of one kind or another; I am, after all, by training an archaeologist. And I live in an area littered with megalithic monuments, from the huge and unique double cairn behind the school to the lines of individual stones marking a trackway running into the hills. Aside: I know someone who farms up there, and one foggy morning he was driving carefully along when a woman loomed out of the fog, hugging one of the stones. He pointed out that there was a much larger stone hidden in the mirk just up the hill, but she said that the one she was wrapped around had the ‘power’. Evidently, as he said afterwards in the pub, size doesn’t matter…

Admittedly my stones are not 4,000 years old, admittedly they’re rather smaller, admittedly they are in the wrong material – slate. But we did spend ages fiddling about, getting them into some sort of alignment:

stone lines

and thinking about what plants they would frame and what would look best against them. Oh yes, and what might be already in the ground and hidden when P started digging (answer: weeds, so that’s OK).

Now that the plants are beginning to spring up and bulk out, I can see that the decisions were about right. One set, these big stones,

stones

will have an agapanthus in front of them (er, in front when you look at them from this angle, and the giant but dead pheasant grass in the bed behind them has gone now). Mind you, there was another agapanthus roughly here which seems to have vanished, so it may not only have been weeds which were disturbed. Tant pis ou tant mieux…

Overall, I’m pleased. They do exactly what I hoped they would, seeming to pull the middle bed and the bottom bed together and give them a focus – the other beds all have something, whether it’s a gable end or a stone wall, and I now realise that this was what these two beds lacked. Worth saving all the odd bits of slate from the depredations of people who thought they’d work better as steps.

garden with stones

And I’ve just realised they’re a bit difficult to spot here. Big ones, no problem. The trio are just behind the ginkgo (bright green leaves) and the others are in the shade of the acer. They’re even more difficult to see here because of the reddish cast of the tree. Slate comes in different colours,

slate colours

(thank you, the National Slate Museum, Llanberis – great place, fascinating), and while most of my scavenged stones were grey-blue local slate, some were the almost pinkish purple-red – ‘Vivian’ it says – of slate quarries further north. Completely coincidentally, they needed up closest to the acer, where they look just right. And in front of them will be the bright acid green Euphorbia schillingli (the stones will be visible through it from the most usual angle). Should work. Hopefully.

(And in the list of colours above, I’m not sure what to make of ‘green and wrinkled’. I guess that was a pretty accurate description of us once the slates were up. It’s done now. And so are various joints. Joints of the body, thank you!)

 

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:

geranium

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.

Ahem.

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.

Nah.

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:

wallflower1

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…