May 19 2005

A Cold Spring


Lambing has finished. Fat sturdy little lambs have moved onto the higher fields with their mothers, now I can turn my attention to the garden once more. How the years vary. I look back at this time last year and read with incredulity of a heat wave, of meals in the garden, seeds frying in the poly tunnel and fruit and vegetables racing away in the garden. As I write the rain pours down. The cairn looks out of the window and grizzles, the lurcher and the sheep dog are curled up on the blanket at my feet and the old labrador, crammed into a too-small basket like a giant brown dormouse, paws over face, is dreaming, I’m sure, “of delphiniums blue and geraniums red.”  I wonder whether to switch on the fire.


The hedgerows are only now bursting into flower, bluebells pushing through despite the cold, mixing blue with red campion and the still standing, white ramsons. Apple blossom opens reluctantly in the cold air and little plants recently taken from the safety of the poly tunnel shiver in the cold ground. How the years vary and yet the cycle is the same.


Despite the vagaries of the weather I revel in the wonderful reassurance of the rotating seasons. The cold spring this year has put this in such sharp relief for me. Each day as I work in the garden I wonder if summer really will arrive and change the valley into a lush green bowl again. Will the twigs disappear behind fresh green leaves; will vegetables grow in the cold bare soil? Will the roses flower; will apple blossom really turn into fruit?  Of course it will and the momentum will gather as always, all be it a little slower, maybe, this year. There will, I know, be the usual July/August crescendo followed by the gradual fading into autumn, then winter yet again. As I dig the buttercup invasion from the asparagus bed, wondering crossly why I let it get so bad, I realise that I too will, God willing, be doing the same in the garden time and time again, for all the years of life and good health I have left ahead of me. It is an addiction, a relentless and yet life-fulfilling thrill to watch the bleakness of winter turn to the lush abundance of summer year after year.

This year has seen such a huge reshaping of the garden. For the first time in twenty three years I have help, expert help, and two and two makes so much more than four. In just three hours a week Alison has helped me turn the garden round. We’ve re-landscaped here and enlarged beds there; we’ve done away with this and planted that. We’ve moved trees, dug up shrubs and replanted boarders. We’ve pruned rigorously and hacked back undergrowth ruthlessly. The result is astonishing. Ali is a hard task master, thorough and skilled with the drive of a perfectionist. She has taught me so much.


The vegetable garden is taking shape as I apply her standards there as well. The ground is so cold it is giving me time to clear and thoroughly clean each bed before planting out.  Some time ago now I divided the whole area into fourteen eight foot squares. Some are filled with herbs, others I rotate with herbs and vegetables. Bind weed and buttercups are a recurring problem and a few years ago I made the mistake of tipping a packet of nasturtium seeds all over the place. They are now a menacing colourful curse choking everything if I let them, a real example of the importance of the right plant in the right place.


Broad beans already fill one square. They are in flower but small and cold. Sweet peas and runner beans stand still in two others. I pray there won’t be a late frost to wipe out the early potatoes in another. I will use potatoes once again to “clean” the ground in the four central beds which surround the cherry tree. Actually I think it’s the harvesting that does the cleaning not the spuds, all that digging to find the crop. I will plant Charlotte, Pink Fir Apple, Rocket and Anya.  And next year I promise myself these beds, at last weed free, will be filled with herbs and edged with the dwarf box, Buxus sempervirens, “Suffruticosa”


Life is a little warmer in the poly tunnel and the greenhouses. Geraniums wait nervously in one wondering when they will have to face the elements. They will soon replace the tubs of tulips which have given us wave after wave of colour for weeks. I planted them in layers for the first time and watched in wonder as each colour pushed through to replace its fading predecessor.


The other little glass house is full of tomatoes and dwarf Tagetes patula, the latter to deter white fly, I hope. This year I lost seedlings inside the poly tunnel for the first time, it was so cold. But Golden Sunrise, Pineapple, Green Zebra and San Marzano survived together with something mysterious called Marshalls’ “Experimental.” Big pots of tiny basil seedlings help me dream of warm days and tomato and basil salads drenched in unctuous, sweet smelling, green, virgin olive oil…. 

The poly tunnel is housing the strawberries this year. The fruit cage is full to bursting with raspberries, gooseberries and black, white and red currants so this is another experiment. Not only will it give us an earlier crop but will also protect the fruit from the birds. We’ll see.


My tomatillo verdi (physalis ixocarpa) are in the ground in the poly tunnel too and growing fast. I saved seed from last years’ crop which were such a success. They made such delicious salsa and added a new twist to those tomato salads And, of course, we have had green salad all year round. Rocket and chicory (cichorium intybus and grumolo verde) stood through the winter and now the new mixed salad leaf seedlings are ready to harvest. I will continue to sow small patches of seeds on fresh, peat free compost all summer, cutting the young leaves with scissors rather than thinning and planting out.  To the various lettuce leaves I add mizuna, mustard leaves (brassica juncea, Red giant), rocket (eruca vesicaria subsp sativa), parsley (petroselinum crispum) and land cress (barbarea verna). Then, from the herb garden, I add the fern like fennel leaves of feuniculum vulgare, chives (allium schoenoprasum), tips of marjoram (origanum vulgari), French sorrel or rumex scutatus and at this time of year the wild garlic leaves, allium ursinum. I always add a few flowers too, nasturtium (tropaeolum majus), majoram, chive and the sweet smelling rocket petals. Unwashed, chilled and sealed in a plastic bag in the fridge these salads last for several days, crisp and fresh.


The rain is still falling washing petals from the ceanothus, the Forget-me-Nots and my precious mecanopsis, their big blue faces sad against the grey sky. Sometimes I think I would like to turn my whole garden into a mass of just blue and white and green. And maybe the sun will shine tomorrow.


One response so far

One Response to “A Cold Spring”

  1. A+Ron 18 Jul 2005 at 12:42 pm

    Garden looks great !!!
    No weeds in sight !!!!!!
    I think summer has come and now GONE again !!!
    Keep up the good work.

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