Yet another grumble about the weather. This time it’s too dry, too windy and not very warm. The ground is rock hard. I’m having to water almost as often as in the height of summer and it’s not my favourite job. Some plants in the garden are showing signs of stress. I want to do some more planting but will wait. I’ve learned that I’m unlikely to remember where new plants are so they could wither away while my back was turned.
On the upside, the camassias are looking splendid. Rosa ‘Agnes’ has decided to be the first to flower this year and she is covered in her pale lemon scented blooms. The fresh green growth on all the trees and shrubs didn’t get caught by the frost (so far) so I consider myself to be very lucky. Maybe one of the bonuses of the dry weather is that the hostas haven’t been nibbled by slugs and snails …..yet.
We always kept the gate open, the one that goes through the pergola and into the garden. It was laziness and convenience especially when pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with compost (going in) or weeds and trimmings (coming out). But after much discussion about trying to get our garden visitors to put money in the donation box we thought this simple solution might make a difference.
This Easter weekend was our first open days this year and I’m delighted to say that it looks like we’ve taken more in donations than we would have normally. The gate is a definite barrier, it means people don’t drift or sidle into the garden without paying. Maybe they feel more exposed while fishing around in purses and wallets or maybe we’ve had a good bunch of people who understand how important it is to donate the entrance fee for the National Garden Scheme.
So, for now, we will try to remember to shut that gate.
Last year, in August the cover of the main polytunnel had a tear along the hoop just above the door. Philip went up the ladder and stuck sticky tape on and patched it for the time being. Over the next few months we had to repair the repair but it was fine until storm Doris came along and finished it off. We’ve had the new cover ready to go on but were waiting for the right weather. On Thursday it was calm and warm. With help from Chris, Archie and John it was covered and batoned down by early afternoon. It’s not one of our favourite jobs but this will probably be the last time we have to do it. Now I can move all my potting paraphernalia from the other tunnel to my normal place AND have the radio on while I work.
Meanwhile, the warmth has meant that many things are flowering earlier than last year and it is suddenly very dry. I’m having to water pots and am instantly reminded how much I hate this repetitive but necessary job. I noticed that an old Rosa Hansa is definitely dying and will have to come out. I’ve already cut out a few dead branches over the last year or two but there’s no sign of new growth so it will have to go. Now I will have the pleasure of deciding what to plant in its’ place.
The garlic is growing well. I’ve hoed the weeds which have inevitably popped up in the new topsoil. Mr Rabbit keeps having a dig and I keep pushing the soil back. Is this some kind of challenge?
The NGS, as it is known by the devotees, has had a new logo which is hoped will be more obvious and, in turn, will result in more visitors to the open gardens. The marketing will also be more visible in the hope that many more people will understand what a fantastic organisation it is. Maybe one day the acronym will be as well known as others such as the RSPCA or the NHS.
Our garden has opened to raise money for the NGS for about 15 years and over that time I’ve had to constantly explain that the money raised goes to a number of charities including Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie and Hospice UK. I feel sure that there can’t be many people who haven’t been affected by cancer either directly or indirectly yet we often have people go round our garden and then put pennies in the donation box. Our suggested entry fee this year is £3. During the last two days there were six people who went into the garden. When I emptied the box at the end of the day yesterday there was a one pound coin and a few small silver coins, approximately a tenth of what should have been donated. Of course, most people are very generous, but those who aren’t….well it rankles. I guess the solution would be to be much more rigorous and physically take the entrance money at the gate but I like to think the best of the general public and assume that they know that their donation is for a worthy cause and that they will do the right thing.
It’s that time of year again when my fairy godmother leaves a present of new varieties of snowdrops which I discover when I arrive at work. It’s a good way to start the day by opening up the bag to find carefully labelled bulbs. So I planted some in the woods and potted some up too, all with labels. The trouble is that sometimes these markers get lost or broken or the writing fades. The snowdrop fairy also encloses some photos so I have started to note where I plant the bulbs so, in theory I should always know what is where (if you see what I mean).
Some of the snowdrops which I potted up last year had grown well so I planted some of them and re-potted others. I’m getting quite a collection now but I’m keen to have more. I’ve recently been helping a friend in her garden which has many clumps of snowdrops. My ‘payment’ is in snowdrops.
On Wednesday we knew that there were due to be gale force winds the following day so we put more tape on the tear which happened last August. And crossed our fingers. The winds were extremely strong on that Thursday so we weren’t surprised when the cover on the main tunnel tore (in a different place). The coffee we were about to have got somewhat delayed. Have you ever heard a large sheet of polythene flapping in the wind? It is loud, in fact it is very LOUD. There was a huge pressure on the hoops which could easily buckle if we didn’t do something. So Philip got the Stanley knife and made a few cuts. Then attached the knife to a pole to reach the higher parts. Meanwhile I was grabbing the polythene to prevent it from taking off into the next county. The damage inside the tunnel was minimal, yes pots were blown over, compost and leaves were everywhere and the ground cover sheets became loose. This was so much better than the last time when strong winds took a sheet off. We were away at the time and the devastation in the tunnel was soul destroying. The ragged sheets of polythene had time to swish backwards and forwards knocking plants every which way and depositing small pieces of plastic everywhere. It took a very long time to clear up.
The preparation is ongoing for the new cover to be put on. We are waiting for a calm, warmish day when, hopefully with some friends helping, we can get the new sheet on.
I have checked daily to see if any garlic is sprouting. First to show through is Solent Wight but within days they are all showing signs of growth. We have had to put a spacer under the netting (in other words an up-turned pot or two) to prevent the new shoots getting tangled in the netting. In another few days I will feel fairly confident about removing the protection so when Mr rabbit comes along he won’t do too much damage.
Meanwhile. in the polytunnel, there is a very strong whiff of garlic. This is where we are trying to ‘cook’ some bulbs to produce the black garlic. The first two tries were unsuccessful, the bulbs dried out too quickly. Back to the drawing board. One batch is looking quite promising but it is a long process and not one which anyone would want to do at home because of the pungency of the bulbs. As soon as we have some ready to taste we will be offering samples so you can try it for yourselves.
Over the last three years our sales have dwindled. There have been many plants which haven’t sold leaving me feeling bewildered and uncertain about the future. Watering the same pots day in day out in the summer is demoralising. Normally at this time of year I would be growing and potting plants for the coming season but my level of enthusiasm was more or less zilch and there seemed little point in continuing to grow plants which may not sell.
I might be getting on in years but I’m not ready to give up and retire. Gardening and producing plants is in my blood and I have no wish to stop doing what is important to me. Luckily my lovely daughter came up with an idea at Christmas which caught my imagination and I’m putting it into action. She asked if I’d ever heard of black garlic? Huh? Since then I’ve ordered some online and sampled it and decided its the thing to go for. I offered some to a number of friends (not one of them has tried it before) and the feedback is very positive. It is slowly (over a number of weeks at a low temperature) cooked. We are trying to work out the best way to achieve this. The first batch dried out but now we have a thermostat so that should help.
The garlic as you know it changes dramatically. It becomes gooey, caramelised and sweet. It can be eaten as a snack without lingering odours on ones breath. It is apparently much sought after. The two prepared bulbs I bought were quite expensive and are not always easily available.
My next step was to order some garlic bulbs to plant. Initially I ordered 7 kilos. Two days later I increased the order to 20 kilos. Topsoil was delivered. So in the last week or so and with some help from Tom we have filled half the sale beds with topsoil and planted all the garlic. We’ve put netting over to stop George using the area for a convenient cat litter tray and to stop the rabbits digging them up. There are 5 or 6 different varieties of garlic. Approximately half are hard neck (so we get the ‘scapes’) and the rest are soft neck. Inevitably there will be weed seeds in the soil but it should be easier to weed than our heavy clay soil.
So, for customers coming this year to buy plants there will be a much reduced selection but there will be a happier nursery owner. Watch this space!
Guess what? I didn’t work on Christmas day. But I have done something at work on all other days in December whatever the weather. I’ve done a lot of cutting down of the perennials and a lot of plants have been relocated, some to different parts of the garden and some to the bonfire pile. New plants have found their way into new spaces so there will be (hopefully) more cohesion in some of the borders. I’ve realised that I still think like a person with not much space and have tended to plant a single item rather than clumps or (fashionable word) drifts.
Maybe one of the reasons for wanting to do as much as I can right now is that I’m increasingly conscious of my advancing age which in turn means that I can’t do as much as I once could. So it seems wise to do little and often and, anyway, it is winter and we could get some snow which would stop me. Right now though, I am possibly a bit ahead of myself which is and unusual state of affairs.
Speaking of bonfires……it’s one of my favourite things to do and with all the spoil from the garden there has been every excuse to burn it. I’ve even managed to burn a mass of hawthorn trimmings which was quite satisfying. I do wonder how George avoids standing on the thorns.
Buds of chaenomeles and lonicera fragrantissima are poised to open. Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is in full flower despite the frosts. Snowdrops are beginning to peak through and the hellebores will soon follow them.
Winter might not be as colourful as other seasons but there is pleasure to be had from the structure of the plants and shapes of trees. There have been some wonderful sunny days and I often wonder if other people are missing out.
After all the heavy rain on Monday, I was keen to get into the garden and remove some plants. The first victims were Verbena bonariensis which were/are looking bedraggled and dank. There’s a lot of them and but the end of that session I had pulled out two trolleys worth.
But then I came to a place where some Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ were which had not been happy since being planted about 4 years ago. At the same time I took a dislike to some planting under a rose. The reason this bit of planting wasn’t working is due to the two established clumps of Stachys on either side. So, I dug up the Persicaria and dumped the plants then added some compost before digging up the aster and a ground cover plant to put in the newly created gap. Then I used that gap under the rose to add in more lamb’s ears to make a more continuous line of the same thing. It does look much better.
That was yesterday. Today I started off pulling up more verbena but then got distracted by two things. The first was a miscanthus which has been dwindling for the last few years and looked rather a waste of space. I dug that up and moved a Nandina which is getting a reprieve, just hope it starts to grow well or that will get put on the bonfire. Across the way is a good clump of some sedums. To try to give some balance in that border I dug one plant up, divided it than planted it slightly further along that bed. I’m toying with the idea of removing the solomon’s seal which is in the same bed and putting more sedum there as well. One thing always leads to another…..there was the kniphofia which had couch grass growing in it so I dug that up and teased out the white roots before replanting it. My beady eye caught sight of several bramble seedlings which are now on the bonfire pile.
The days may be short at this time of year but I do like gardening now mainly, I suspect, because I can get my head down and think things through without any interruptions. Who knows what will get dug up tomorrow?