The extra daylight is very welcome, and even when darkness falls there’s a lot of monochrome brightness from the nearly full moon. Easter is coming – it falls on the Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring equinox (20 March).
A few days away, and the commitments which were waiting for my return, have interrupted the gardening flow somewhat. Yesterday there was no chance to do anything but grapple with a big dandelion beside the lawn …
… and marvel at the camellias now coming into bloom …
Today I managed 45 minutes of grubbing out the weeds in the next section of the border:
Then the heavens opened and the gusty wind was blowing the rain in under the back of my hat so I withdrew. And anyway it was time to take the cat to the vet. Of course in five minutes the blue sky returned and he decided to undertake an extended garden patrol as I hovered in the kitchen with the cat basket.
But across the patio the Spirea Japonica is starting to put on a show and the new Erythronium is looking good.
Sunday 29 Mar
Well, when I set out to do this Lent discipline and blog, it didn’t occur to me that I might not be here every day. But this week we have been up to Cheshire for a few days. Although our daughter who was house and cat sitting for us offered to keep up the momentum, that seemed too much like asking someone else to say your prayers for you, and we all know where that got us, pre-Reformation. So no gardening for four days.
In fact there were only two days that I didn’t see our plot, but in that time how much has changed! Alliums which absolutely weren’t there on Thursday are brightly pointing through the mulch, and likewise some hardy geraniums.
Up in Cheshire it was a thrill to see lambs in the fields, and verges thick with nodding daffodils. In private front gardens the flowering trees are turning the suburbs frothy and pink. And there was indeed a little gardening – in my father-in-law’s garden, less tended now that he is in a care home. I found a variegated Euonymous under threat from a sturdy solid green shoot, so I took the opportunity to nip it back to the stem.
It was very chilly overnight again, down to 2deg C, but then a sparkling morning followed and a warmish afternoon if you found a sunny corner.
I pottered about doing some rather unfocused tidying up, but it’s amazing the difference clearing away the dead leaves by the back door makes. Still I left some of them undisturbed because I have seen the odd toad nestling in there and I need all the help I can get to keep the snail and slug population down.
Meanwhile the sunshine has brought the Chionodoxa into bloom; these are one of my favourite spring flowers and they do look good peeping through the Ophiopogon Nigrescens.
And he who mows has done the first cut of the year, which always makes everything look much more presentable.
Once again not too much time to spend in the garden today. I went to see if the seeds I planted yesterday had germinated – but not so far. ‘ Mrs Cholmondeley’ is still looking a little shaken, but OK. The Erythronium buds are a little fatter. I did a bit of hoeing to catch weed seedlings already appearing through the mulch I spread a couple of weeks ago.
Then I decided to tidy up a corner full of dead leaves and the remains of some of the ivy I had previously cleared, including in old plant which had rooted right through the drainage hole in a stone pot. Sweeping up the leaves was easy enough, but it was a real battle to get out the old ivy which clearly thought it had squatters’ rights.
The pot, its former resident and the array of tools needed to remove it
But now I have a lovely ‘new’ pot waiting for something interesting.
Furthermore, I believe there’s a matching one on the other side of the garage door … it’s in there somewhere …
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
There are few things so exciting to witness as a whole plant emerging from a speck of seed. This morning I planted the Sweet Pea (Old Spice – hopefully not actually reminiscent of the eponymous aftershave) in some root trainer pots I bought on impulse at a garden show years ago.
I think Monty Don advised that they don’t need heat, so I have put them in the lean-to mini greenhouse that waits by the side of the house for its hour to come. I covered the vented window with fleece to make it cosier and popped the lid on the root trainer box. The nights are still so chilly, but I hope this arrangement will be frost-free.
I also planted the Radishes (Nelson) and a few of the Calendula (Art Shades) in various pots. So now it’s just a matter of sitting back and letting nature take its course!
Sunday 22 Mar
Lovely sunshine today and the season just ready to burst. ‘Mrs Cholmondeley’ survived the night and the other new plantings appear to be settling in. There was some pertinent advice on ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’ at lunchtime about planting in shade and the very Lamium maculatum I chose was specifically mentioned. I was also reminded of the need to keep them all well watered until properly established.
And then some wise words about the vine – Vitis vinfera ‘Purpurea’ – which perplexes me as it scrambles wildly over the pergola and anything else it can reach. Next winter I can prune it hard back to one vertical stem and one or two laterals and all will be well. I have always found it strange to think that the ‘vieilles vignes’ on French hillsides in their serried rows could actually be the same plant, but it’s just that they are kept to waist height by tough love every winter.
Anyway, back to my plot and for a change of pace I moved to a different corner and cut back another Cornus to the thick old wood and pruned a couple of Hebes drastically to lift them off the lawn. I may go back and give the ends of the remaining stems of these a light haircut to encourage some thickening up too. In between them was a self-planted sedge (Carex) which is another thing I would never plant again. Seedlings everywhere, and if they are allowed to grow there’s a titanic battle, such as I had today, to get them out of the ground.
This is actually the ‘after’ photo! I guess it’s work in progress
Then I was left with the Hebe and Cornus prunings to deal with. In a way it would be nice to have a band of minions to follow round after me and clear up, but somehow that’s not the point, certainly of the current Lenten task. It probably took me over 45 minutes to reduce the tangled heap of Cornus wood to a bucketful of six inch lengths, but really this is ‘the job’ as much as the exciting reshaping of the plant itself. Standing there in the late afternoon as the sun and the temperature dropped, with nothing but the repetitious doves and occasional crow to listen to, it’s all about re-calibrating the pace of life. Not rushing on to the next thing, but simply doing this thing – until it’s properly done.
More daylight than darkness today – such an uplifting thought, even though the clouds are massing thickly overhead.
This morning I mulched the just-weeded bed, leaving the hollyhocks, hardy geraniums and some self-seeded Malva moschata (musk mallow) emerging around the Rosa rugosa.
But I only have two more bags of mulch left, so I may need to re-stock. I shall apply to the keeper of the purse.
After lunch I planted the Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ and the Lamium maculatum under the recently lifted crown of the Pittisporum. I love the way the water droplets cascade down the thick leaves of the Erythronium, and it looked happy to be in the ground.
The Lamium are nearby, but didn’t photograph so well. Also I found that I have two ‘White Nancy’ and one ‘Red Nancy’, but I think that’s fine. I hope they will intermingle, eventually.
Finally I turned with some trepidation to Clematis ‘Mrs Cholmondeley’ which need a hole twice the diameter of the pot and 3 inches deeper. I managed the diameter and dug down until I encountered a drainpipe which was just a little deeper than a spade length. I added chicken pellets and some mulch to the soil and tucked her, in tipped towards the fence. The most nerve-wracking bit was to gently tie in the delicate stems without breaking them. I do hope I’ve done it right – and that the slugs don’t make a meal of her overnight.
He who wields the paint brush has been busy in this corner while I have been focused elsewhere, and now it all looks much smarter. I think the ‘dark oak’ will be a good foil to Mrs C’s purple-blue flowers – that’s the theory anyway.
The solar eclipse this morning was sadly rather a non-event around here because of the thick cloud cover. But I was reminded of the previous one in August 1999 when the leaves of the wisteria around the kitchen window acted like so many pinhole cameras and the kitchen floor was full of images of a partially visible sun.
Happily for the garden project, soon after lunch the fully restored sun got his hat on and came out to play. So I spent yet another session dealing with the weeds behind the garage. (The bed is behind the garage but also very much part of the back garden so this is not as pointless as it may sound).
I determined that this would be the last day in this corner, partly I’ve been a bit indecisive about it – should I dig it all over or work around the Fragaria and Ajuga? But they have very much the same growing habits as the cinquefoil that I am trying to get rid off, so this makes it a slow job. Also, somehow working out of a corner is disorientating and I keep changing my mind as to which way I’m going. Anyway what’s done now is done and it’s time to move on. I’m still only about a quarter into the back garden and I’m beginning to feel the season is about to get away from me.
The next landmark is a trusty old-ish Photini Red Robin, whose red leaves are beginning to make themselves known.
The weather back to grey with a sharp wind today so it needed a bit more determination to return to the big weed-filled border. It’s quite hard to tell if I’m making much impact but all I can do is keep plugging away at it, and keep turning over in my mind what I could plant there to make it a proper flower-filled bed. It’s south facing with rich acidic soil and gets pretty hot and dry in the summer – though that’s hard to believe at the moment. Further research required.
Anyway, a traffic jam in town this morning somehow obliged us to turn right instead of left and go to the garden centre for lunch. After a fortifying bowl of carrot and coriander soup I mooched among the plants and came away with a blue clematis ‘Mrs Cholmondley’ (worth having for the name alone, she will take up a position beside the back door),
three pots of Lamium for ground cover (I know some versions can be rampant, but I do want it to go quite far)
and a pot of yellow Erythronium just because it looked interesting and I’ve heard of it as being happy in a shady spot.
In between meetings, writing up the minutes of meetings, and more meetings an hour in the garden felt less like a Lenten discipline than everything else on offer today. Especially as after a chilly and misty start it suddenly turned into a lovely sunny day.
I moved the afrementioned Euphorbia Amygdaloides because I decided that in full swing in a few months it’s too squashed between the Hydrangea Paniculata and the Pittisporum. Then I continued with the hand weeding in the big border behind the garage, trying to leave some of the Ajuga Reptans which is acceptable groundcover while removing the couch grass and cinquefoil, which aren’t. Probably the sort of job which is best done in short bursts anyway.
I revealed a clump of Pulmonaria which while hardly exotic is now able to do its thing unimpeded.
And in the end it was so warm that even my fairweather gardening friend was moved to join me and catch a few rays.