Edging, Rubble and Hedging Trouble: Resolve and Realise February 2015

cropped-img_0145.jpgThank you to Jen at Duver Diary for starting ‘Resolve and Realise‘, in which we share our gardening to-do lists for the month ahead. I do hope you’ll take part too. I have to admit that while I enjoy reading gardening memes on other people’s blogs, so far I’ve had to be realistic about joining in with them. Given the current state of my garden, there won’t be anything ‘In a Vase on Monday’ for a while to come, and the dark evenings seriously impede on my ability to produce photographic blooms for ‘Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day’. But lists are something I can join in with and even excel at, no matter how dark and miserable it is outside. Our new garden consists of piles of dirty gravel and rubble so there is no shortage of jobs to be done. I’m desperate to get it into decent form in time for summer, and these lists will be perfect for focusing the mind to the task ahead. Furthermore, being relatively new to gardening, I’m not confident about when certain gardening tasks should be done, so following the Resolve and Realise lists of more experienced gardeners will undoubtedly give me some much needed guidance. My list for February: Paint coldframe a lovely shade of white. Start compost heap, mainly for burial of privet remains (see below). Tame horrible privet hedge and rescue the wall it is attacking. Sand and paint garden bench so I have somewhere to sit and admire the bare soil. Mark out and prepare beds for planting so that eventually I have something other than bare soil to admire. Plant honeysuckle, hydrangea, hellebore, sarcococca, hosta. Sow sweetpeas in new root trainers. Buy pear tree for far corner. Lift, divide and replant crocosmia corms. IMG_0220Half the fun of lists is ticking items off. Although I did not make a Resolve and Realise post for January, I made a mental to-do list and this is what I achieved. As you’ll see, I have mainly been shopping: Buy coldframe too late for plants that the frost has already killed. Order garden edging and keep quiet about how much it cost. Paint garden shed in duplicitous shade called ‘Concord Grape’ (AKA white. Was supposed to be stone grey). Order sweetpeas and root trainers which will be the first inhabitants of the coldframe. Buy hedge trimmer. Mend the terrifying bit of wire the seller cut through and ‘soldered’ together. Remove concrete rubble (one final car load for the tip tomorrow morning). Dig out root stumps (four down, three to go).IMG_0300

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

I used to work with a lady who said that all the time. I think she sort of meant, ‘anywaaaay’, or perhaps it was just her way of reserving space on the crowded verbal airwaves of our department.Garden plan

Anywaaaay… to say that I’ve been thinking incessantly about our new garden would not be hyperbole. I think about it when I go to sleep. I think about when I wake up. During my lunch break at work, when everyone else is chatting or reading magazines, I design garden layouts on quadrant paper. I spend my weekends hauling cement blocks to the tip, levering root boles out of the ground, hoisting soil and sand and gravel about, in short doing a lot of the type of gardening that constitutes hard labour rather than the pretty sort of gardening that involves dividing, cultivating, deadheading, and planting seeds. That’s why I’m not showing you any photos of the new garden today. It still looks like a building site.

I think about the new garden so much that I have been forgetting that ‘back at the ranch’ I have a perfectly good garden that is doing all the delightful things that gardens do in early spring. So this morning I went out with my camera to pay them homage.

My esteemed hellebore ‘Winter Moonbeam’ is coming into flower. I have cut back the old leathery leaves as one is supposed to do, to allow the new growth to shine forth in all its Neapolitan glory. IMG_0003I planted the hellebore in March 2014 and it has done pretty well in this corner. There are few advantages of having to stay in this flat for an extra few months while the renovation project goes on in the new flat, but one of them is that I may have time to divide this hellebore before we leave so that I can bring it with me.

Now, what on earth is this snapdragon doing out at this time of year? Is this normal? Yes, the garden is sheltered, but we’ve just had two weeks of a steady minus two degrees and there it goes still blooming away like it’s July. I’d like to divide this too, but I’m not sure that’s kosher for an antirrhinum (chime in if you know).

IMG_0005The crocuses are coming up. This north-east-facing front garden doesn’t get a lot of light at this time of year and I recall that last year these didn’t come out until a good few weeks after everyone else’s.

IMG_0006The snowdrops are coming out too, along with new shoots of the rather bossy Spanish bluebells that are simply everywhere in this garden.

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Here are more snowdrops together with a charming primrose (and more bossy Spanish bluebells). I have divided this primrose and potted it up for the new garden.

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The lobelia goes on and on, although it’s starting to look less sure of itself…

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And here is one of my drum primroses stalwartly surviving the cold. I divided and potted these up for the new garden too.

 

IMG_0018And the roses, which I brutally pruned in Autumn, are also coming freshly in to leaf.

IMG_0008The hydrangea is too.

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While watching it from a nearby window is a vaseful of its dried hydrangea flowers.

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And the Skimmia japonica ‘Fragrans’ is budding, although the only fragrans I could smell was the laundry powder on the sheets that a girl was hanging out on the back green washing line as I took the photos.

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Finally, tonight is Burns’ Night, so,

‘Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,

And dish them out their bill o’ fare,

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware

That jaups in luggies;

But, if ye wish her gratefu’ pray’r

Gie her a Haggis!’

Tool Reconnaissance

Gardening is one of those hobbies that can be as cheap or as expensive as you make it. What makes a hobby expensive is very often its specialist equipment. I love digital SLR photography, but have you seen the price of lenses? And don’t get me started on skiing, whose cost to enjoyment ratio is, in my opinion, questionably high (especially when you are stuck sideways on some hideous icy slope at 4pm and your friends have vanished and all you desire is to be safely back at the chalet, or better still on the flight home.) Gardening, on the other hand, though it requires specialist equipment, you can easily pick this up on the (very) cheap or even for free. As for the plants themselves, well, I have already raved at their obliging ways of dividing, seeding and growing from cuttings, at no cost to you. Of course, you may need pots to grown them in, but who doesn’t have a few pots lying around? If you don’t, have some of mine; I’ve millions, so many in fact that sometimes I wonder if these too don’t divide and multiply when I’m not watching.

Since I started out with nothing tool-wise, I needed to find a way of inexpensively equipping my (non-existent) shed. For this I used a combination of Gumtree, eBay, and Begging. Gumtree has by far proved the best place to pick up used tools. From the man round the corner giving away his shovels and edging tool for free, to the couple desperate to get rid of everything before they moved house, I have hopped from bargain to bargain. You have to be on the constant lookout for stuff though, the selection can be quite random, and it has helped enormously that I am able to drive to pick stuff up. eBay has been helpful for buying whatever I cannot find on Gumtree. My greatest find here was a cast-iron-ended garden bench for £16. It cost me three times that to have it shipped, but I was still pleased as the cast iron ends alone can sell for much more elsewhere. As for begging, one should never be too proud to ask around. Have your neighbours, friends or family members any old tools they don’t want? The Cousin, who is a professional gardener, generously donated a very good fork, shears and some loppers to my cause, while Earth Mother gave me a whole stack of old gardening books (if my garden starts to channel the 1970s you’ll know why).

My garden tools have been gathering in quite large numbers in our new flat, socialising among the DIY tools like the accidental mixing of two like-minded conventions. One snowy dark evening I undertook a reconnaissance of the tools I’ve collected so far. (The things we do to make us feel as though we’re still gardening when we cannot garden.)

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Nobody needs this many spades and shovels. The two shovels were free on Gumtree, one spade was among a job lot of other tools, and the last spade (quite a good one too) was buried under some leaves in the garden. I’ll wait a year, see which of these I use the most, then give the others away.
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The rake and hoe were in a job lot with one of the spades. A couple who were in a hurry to move house sold them to me for £8, and threw in a very good stainless steel barbecue, which they refused to take money for. The fork came from the Cousin, and the edging tool was free with the shovels. It has no handle, but they’re a doddle to replace.
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The secateurs were a birthday gift from the Cousin to the Brazilian; the Cousin also gave me the shears as part of a clearout. They needed sharpening, which was easy with a sharpening stone and some teak oil. The pruning saw came from B&Q, as did the crowbar. The latter is not strictly a gardening tool, but it has proved so useful in heaving up root boles and concrete slabs that I thought it deserved a special mention.
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This garden shredder was £30 on Gumtree from a man in Perth. Shredders in general make a racket and tend to clog up or spit the stuff out half chewed, and this one is no exception. I may sell it on and just let my garden waste rot down in its own time.
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Finally, I would like to introduce Galadriel, a living vision of that which has already been left far behind by the flowing of Time. She cost £3 from a guy in Davidson Mains.

There are a few items I haven’t shown in the pictures, including a pair of hedge shears from the moving couple, which I keep forgetting to bring in from the car. I also bought a rusty but perfectly good incinerator for £10, currently full of wood ash that I can’t wait to spread on the garden.

Tools I still need to get hold of are: trowel, handfork, transplanter, geared anvil loppers that work (I’ve had to return TWO pairs that broke within an hour of being used), decent broom, riddler, hedge trimmer, kneeling pad. I’d especially like one of those whatsits that has a long handle and four or five twisting prongs on the end for muddling the soil with.

Flower Focus – How To Grow Sweet Peas

An inspirational and educational post from Julie at Peonies and Posies on exactly how to produce the perfect sweetpeas, a plant I thought I might try for the first time this year. I’ll be following Julie’s tips closely and will report on my results.

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As promised this is the first in my new series of Flower Focus posts, where I am planning to share my growing experiences along with lots of photographs of the flowers in focus.

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Today I am taking a look at sweet peas. Although it is a long time until we will see the first blooms, January is a good month to order seed and start to sow sweet peas in a cold greenhouse or on a windowsill in a cool room.

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Sweet peas are a flower that take me right back to my childhood. My father always grew the very best sweet peas – long stemmed and sweetly scented. He was rigorous about cutting the flowers regularly, so our house was full of posies in the summer and his plants always seemed to continue producing for far longer than mine ever do.

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Sweet peas are an early summer staple in…

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Bulbs in!

If ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing,’ this was the weekend to test it. The Gods of Weather put all their talents to display, often simultaneously, and gave us blue skies, blizzards, sunshine, 80mph gusts, demented yellow clouds, steady rainfall, the lot. I was outside for around 4 hours each day, but did I get I cold or wet? Heck no. I wore thick boots, jeans, waterproof trousers, two t-shirts, a jumper, a quilted jacket, a sailing jacket, a scarf, a lined woolly hat, and on my hands gardening gloves over marigolds over woollen gloves, and I was as toasty and dry as could be.

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So… did I get those bulbs planted? Hang on a sec, here we’ve got the architect, inside the flat taking measurements for our renovations, now requesting to take photos of the rear elevation of the flat. That means rapid deforestation of the jungle of shrubs and saplings on the back green that have grown so close up to our bedroom window that it seems they are trying, like underdressed teenagers outside a nightclub, to actually get inside the building. So I went outside with the loppers and cleared a three-foot gap, then picked up the rubbish that had accumulated on the ground during the time the flat was lived in by students. The things I found! The usual plant pots, crockery, barbecues, planks of wood and plastic bags, but also a decent tarpaulin, a mouldy folding seat, an unopened bag of grass seed, and a spade in near-perfect condition. I think I also found every snail in the universe.

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Finally, back to the front garden. So, did I get the bulbs in? Hang on a sec, first we have a rhodadendron root bole right where I want to plant the bulbs. So with trowel, crowbar, fork and sheer bloody-mindedness I got that root bole out of the ground. Then the blizzards came…

So, did I get the bulbs in? Hang on a sec, it’s now 5pm, it’s snowing, and I’ve had nothing to eat since breakfast. I hot-footed it to Victor Hugo, and ordered a late lunch.

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Sunday, and it’s raining. No matter, I’ve got my quadruple layers on, and I’m back in the garden. Now, you’ll recall that much of the soil in this garden has been under concrete paving slabs for the past twenty years, and elsewhere it is under gravel, and as a result it is sticky, compressed, full of little pebbles, and devoid of organic matter. There is quite a lot of sand covering the soil too, which they’d used as a base for the paving slabs. I’d previously thought I’d have a job getting rid of all the sand, but now saw that it was a blessing and could be mixed into the sticky soil to improve it. I also had five bags of excellent well rotted horse manure courtesy of the obliging Emily.

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The obliging Emily

Having turned the manure over the soil, I now had a small bed ready for the bulbs. I also prepared a large terracotta pot using compost from a bag I found under the hedge.

So, did I get the bulbs in? YES!

Using the handheld bulb planter that Earth Mother urged me to buy (she was right, everyone should have one), and liberally dousing the planting holes with bone meal and slow release plant food, I planted my lifted white tulips and white narcissi from last year, plus some dwarf tulips T. greigii ‘Toronto’ and some Late Single ‘Menton’ that I had spotted going begging on the shelves of Homebase when I nipped in to buy the bulb planter. I also planted a small pot of Galanthus nivalis because I saw them going begging too; a happy garden has to have snowdrops. The bed is only about the size of a kitchen table, but it’s enough for now. Doesn’t matter that the rest of the garden looks like a building site; this tiny rectangle is going to dazzle with bulbs.

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Where were you/when you oughta been plantin’?

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I have a confession. You will not be impressed, my fine fellow gardeners. I have a guilty secret hidden away in some brown paper bags in our hall cupboard, and I hardly dare look or think about those brown paper bags. For inside those bags are waiting…. Oh, how can I tell you this? Inside those bags are my spring bulbs which I still haven’t planted.

All right, all right. In my defence, November was tricky. We had just bought our flat and were hellbent for weeks on stripping out the hideous decor. Then when I finally got round to doing the same thing to the garden, a five-hour session of incinerating the shrubbery in the December rain while inhaling copious amounts of thick smoke led to a nasty cold with chronic cough which I’d just about got over by Christmas, when horrors, I caught a second dose of it on Boxing day, this time with ensuing chest infection and more unsightly coughing.

‘I told you not to spend so much time outdoors in the cold,’ says the Brazilian at smug intervals as I hack my pleura up into a handkerchief. ‘When will you learn?’

I resent this. Why shouldn’t I go outdoors in the cold? I’m young and sprightly, not a geriatric at all. Being from Brazil, the Brazilian thinks that anything under about ten degrees is highly dangerous. Still, I feel utterly pathetic, a sort of cross between King Theoden withering away on his throne while his wicked advisor whispered caution in his ear, and Proust who died of a cold (how just like a man).

Oh, but the guilt about those bulbs. ‘Oh sinner woman,’ I sing to myself, ‘When you gonna plant ’em? Oh sinner woman, when you gonna plant ’em?’ All on that day, of course. But which day? At last, almost cough-free, it was going to be this Saturday. The Brazilian will be at work all weekend so I could just slip outside unnoticed and shove them into the ground somewhere, anywhere…

Well, we all know what happened to the sinner woman:

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She ran to the weekend, it was SNOWING, she ran to the weekend, it was POURING, she ran to the weekend, it was FREEZING, all on that day. All on both days, in fact. I can’t see myself planting bulbs in this sort of weather, frankly.

So she ran to her duvet, it was waitin’, she ran to her duvet, it was waitin’, she ran to her duvet, it was waitin’, all on that day.

A blank slate for the New Year

A blank slate of a garden, a bare patch of earth, is a complicated dream. On the one hand it provides a rare and satisfying opportunity for planning, pure creativity, experimentation, and the pleasure of transforming an unattractive area of land into your own personal Eden. On the other hand, transforming said land is time consuming, costly and hard, physical labour.

Last month the Brazilian and I took possession of a small front garden of eight by five metres. It is attached to a small flat on the Southside of Edinburgh, which, through a similar transformative process, is to become our home, once the right walls are knocked through, the dust has settled and we’ve worked out why the north west corner is so damp.

I’ve long had daydreams about what I’m going to do in this garden, but in my daydreams the soil was already lightly tilthed, the earth root- and rock-free, the paths laid out without breaking sweat. Needless to say, it hasn’t been like that in real life. Firstly I should explain that the blank slate wasn’t blank in the beginning. It was edged with a path of concrete slabs and had two dwarf rhodadendrons, an ancient rosemary, two cotoneasters, and various sad looking plastic pots of dead things. More concrete slabs had been laid to create a diamond shape in the centre, and the in-between bits had been filled with gravel. The whole thing was surrounded on three sides by a huge privet hedge that was far too large but at least gave a rare feeling of privacy and quietude for a street-facing garden in the city centre.

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The garden as was. The hedge is overgrown, the concrete ugly, and the rhodadendrons unwanted. A huge cotoneaster near the gate has ideas above its station…
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Sad looking pots of empty soil, self-seeded grass and a single lackadaisical rose stood about.
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The enormous rosemary sadly also had to go: a path is destined to run right over its spot.

It all had to go. First out were the rhodadendrons. Forgive me if you like rhodadendrons. There’s nothing wrong about them, except for being invasive, but I just can’t bear them. There are so many more interesting things to plant in a garden, especially in Edinburgh where just about every other garden for miles has these grinning, shining things bursting across their iron railings. Next were the cotoneasters, a pity because I loved their red berries, as did the practically tame robin that tweeted volubly at me as I decapitated its prickly hideouts. Finally the rosemary, which though venerable was right in the path of my scheme. All this took a lot of lopping, sawing and an iron will pitted against tangled branches and steadfast roots. Then it all had to be dragged through the passage to the backgreen and incinerated on a rainy December Saturday, five hours of chucking branch after branch into the reluctant flames.(Lord, did the burning rosemary smell gorgeous.)

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Stage 1: The slabs have gone, and a pile of cement rubble remains. The plants have also gone and the hedge has been trimmed. The pots are waiting in a corner to be put on Freecycle, save one or two useful ceramic pots which I’ll keep. The sacks contain horse manure courtesy of Emily the Haflinger.

 

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The bench came from eBay and cost £16. It will go under the window where once the enormous cotoneaster flourished.

As for ridding the garden of the concrete slabs, I had a brainwave. ‘Concrete Slabs: free to anyone who can uplift and remove them,’ was the advert I put on Gumtree. The response was quite amazing; I didn’t have to lift a finger. Several different parties came and took what they wanted, and soon every slab had gone. Finally to go was the cement that had fixed the slabs. This was easier for me to crowbar up. A few trips to the tip and it’ll be gone (it’s half done already).

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These cement pieces are heavy but manageable. There are about 4 carloads left to take to the tip.

 

Next task: to lay out the plan!

Behold the Fowls of the Air

For they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns.

And in the Scottish winter, you can supplement whatever meagre rations the Heavenly Father sees fit to provide them with by putting out tasty seeds, fats and grains in your garden. And lo, you will be rewarded by an influx of pretty, chirping feathered friends.

We always fed the birds when I was a child. It didn’t cost anything. Our bird table was an old white melamine cupboard door flat laid flat on a large flower tub, and the food was the crumbs from the bread board, old coconut shells filled with  dripping, snipped up bacon rind, anything that seemed suitable.

We loved watching the birds from the kitchen window. Blue tits, starlings, sparrows (spadgers, my father calls them), great tits, robins, and rarely something more exotic-looking, a small yellow or green bird that we would have to look up in the bird book. They all came and fed happily from the scraps that we put out for them.

Now it’s February, and I have a garden of my own for the very first time, and I think I would like to feed the birds.

But bird feeding has developed in to something more complicated during the past two decades. A quick look at the internet shows that modern and superior knowledge now prevails where such matters are concerned. Such-and-such birds eat only this type of seed, hanging. Such-and-such other birds prefer fat balls. Others feed from the ground, and eat only steam-rolled oats harvested under a full moon. Feed them anything else, and you’ll be held personally liable for decimating the local avian population.

I have also have another important concern: not attracting rodents. We already have mice; I don’t want to encourage them by leaving food lying around outside. I haven’t seen a rat, yet, but I detest the thought of  inviting one along.

So, I set about educating myself from the internet, and learn several things.

Firstly, bird feeding is no longer just for winter, as it was when I was a child. You can, and should, feed birds all year round, say both the RSPB and the British Trust for Ornithology. Food shortages can occur at any time of year, and current thinking is that it is not harmful to continue feeding birds in spring and summer. It is advisable to provide different types of food at different times of year. Some foods, such as certain fats, can be harmful to nesting chicks.

Standard acceptable year-round offerings include sunflower seeds, pinhead oatmeal, mild grated cheese, and seed mixes. Mealworms look nasty but are exceptionally tasty to birds. You can even grow your own, an idea I am tempted to try in the interests of disgusted fascination, but one I may have trouble selling to The Brazilian.

As for rodents, the obvious precautions apply. Place the food up and out of reach, and offer only limited quantities to prevent excess food lying about for a long time. This latter is also important to prevent development bacteria and toxins on the food that will cause disease in the birds. I suppose it’s the old Hippocratic principle, first do no harm. Better that the birds go hungry for a day than your eager, well-meaning intervention spreads some kind of avian gastroenteritis.

I take a look at some online bird feed suppliers, and am dismayed by the prices. Why should bringing birds in to our garden cost upwards of £20 for a bird feeder, £15 for a bag of seed, £25 for a bird bath? It shouldn’t have to, that’s what.

I decide to make my own bird feeding equipment. Several gardening blogs have bright ideas about recycling household waste, plastic bottles and the like. I am generally keen on reusing waste, and an investigation of our recycling bin reveals the following items of potential interest:

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Am I enchanted to think of this plastic litter hanging in my garden? Decidedly not, no matter how honorable its function. Anyway, I am not broke, I am merely resistant to wasting money on unnecessary and cynically expensive commodities. I put the plastic back in to the recycling, and think a bit more.

I want my bird feeding equipment to fulfill my ideals of aesthetics, suitability, durability, putting to good use, value for money. On a Saturday of grey and spluttering sky, I go to two nearby charity shops and buy these things:

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And now look. This is my bird bath: it cost £3.80. (I hope the birds don’t find the orange too startling.)

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This is my bird table: it cost £2. I filled it with cold leftover rice and an apple, past its best, chopped in to small pieces.

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This is my bird seed feeder: it cost £2.60 and contains wild bird seed mix.

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The perch is a wooden hair pin that I never use. Everything is tied together strongly with green garden wire.

I know that the birds won’t come immediately. They will take some time to notice the food, and then even longer to trust that it is not a trap. Let’s face it, my constant, interested presence at the kitchen window is probably as off-putting as anything, but I can’t stop myself. The next morning, a breezy, mild Sunday, a single brave robin takes rice from the bird table, thereby validating the arrangements, and it’s going to be all right, the single robin is the beginning; other birds will come soon, in time. Our garden has become a better garden.

Snowdrops

Did you know that snowdrops do not have petals? Instead, in an interesting reordering of letters, they have tepals. One of several snippets of pub-quiz information offered by Wikipedia’s Galanthus page. The distinction is subtle, vital for botanists, unlikely to make a huge difference to gardening practicalities.

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It’s gardening practicalities I’m searching the web for, an explanation as to why my snowdrops are looking unhappy. They are inherited snowdrops. This is our first winter in the flat, and they have popped up as a surprise. I’m terribly glad about this, as I love snowdrops and thought of planting some in the autumn. However, my mother warned me not to bother: ‘They don’t do well planted as bulbs,’ she said. (How then? Seeds, apparently.) So it is delightful that these snowdrops were hiding away below the soil all this time.

Trouble is, the snowdrops are crowded, and small, and stressed. For all the hundreds of shoots shooting up, there are only a handful of flower buds. Today, Sunday, is a beauty of a day, clear blue sky, mild. A bold slant of sunlight blesses the front garden. (I was wrong: it can’t be north-facing. Must get a compass.) A perfect day for a garden spring clean, and I am clearing dead leaves, litter, cigarette butts, the latter an unfortunate consequence of living beneath four storeys of students. Some of the snowdrops are choked by brown leaves. I remove the leaves. Some enterprising shoots have punched their way through one papery leaf so it resembles lace.

The thought passes my mind that I should leave the leaves where they are. Isn’t leaf-mould nutritious for soil? But then again, is not the bulbs’ nutrition contained within the bulb itself? Finally, I decide, the dead leaves are not attractive, and attractiveness is the point of a garden. Gardens are for beauty — and food. I have not graduated to food production yet, so today I am concentrating on looks. I clear the leaves. The garden is not beautiful, due to the winter, and the concrete, and the dead-ish roses and hydrangea, but at least it is clean and neat.

The following morning, on my way to the bus stop, I nip into the Left Neighbour’s garden to drop back an ice tray she kindly lent us, and am left agape by the swathes of fat, healthy snowdrops lolloping about her garden. That evening I email her. ‘Have you been feeding them anabolic steroids?’ She proudly replies that her snowdrops always turn out well and she has no idea why. Lucky her. Probably she tends to her nutritious, weed-free soil and other plants in a way that incidentally benefits the snowdrops. I want a garden of nutritious, weed-free soil and bouncing snowdrops too. I ring my mother.

‘Yes, you can separate the snowdrops if they are crowded,’ she says. ‘But you must wait till the flowers are over and the leaves are looking tired.’

She also tells me to feed them with plenty of potash (tomato food will do fine) and as an interesting aside, that bulbs will self-adjust their depth by pulling themselves down through the soil to where they want to be. So it doesn’t matter too much if you don’t plant them deep enough.

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The Kew Gardens website tells me that snowdrops need dappled shade and well-drained soil that does not dry out in summer. That’s all right: I am quite confident our soil will not dry out in summer, especially not at whatever depths the bulbs will pull themselves down to.

Kew then goes on to promise that ‘large and impressive drifts’ can be obtained after some years of planting. Exactly as I have witnessed in Left Neighbour’s garden, then. Only, this happy eventuality is highly unlikely in our own garden thanks to the anti-weed netting that lurks below the soil. (More about that evil netting later.) I suppose this is why the wee snowdrops have crowded in on themselves: nowhere else to go, poor souls.

1st February 2014

Wake up to another spring day. Winter has been mild so far, barely a fleck of snow. I have found this surprising, and pleasing.

This morning the sky changes colour rapidly: expressionless grey to yellow to blue to grey again. Sun shines through our kitchen window, and  shines through the window of the spare room and makes the linen curtains yellow. The sun is ignoring the front of the house, and the front garden, but it strikes a corner of the back garden, and the corner looks glad.

We hardly ever open the back door because it means disturbing the arrangement of old socks and tights that stops up the gaps between window, door and frame. To open the back door one must lift the window sash right up, collecting socks and tights as they fall, then unbolt the wooden half door and push it open, collecting more tights. I have not been in the back garden for months. Not since planting the bulbs. This morning I undertake the kerfuffle with the sash, bolt and tights, and step outside. It’s milder than it looked, and breezy.

It is odd to be standing in the place I have been only been able to observe  through the window these past months, rather like being on a theatre stage looking down at an audience when one is more used to being in the audience looking up.

IMG_0027   I can see in better detail what I have been straining to see through the window: the bulbs I planted in October. They stand erect like clusters of soldiers at the edge of the grass where it meets the concrete. There is a bulb-less patch where I can see that something, a bird, a mouse, has dug up some bulbs. Some you win, some you lose. IMG_0038Other things are growing too: a few buds here, a tiny red premature flower there. Some vigorous bulby things that are nothing to do with me are thrusting themselves up through the cobbles by the back door: the gifts of a previous tenant.

The sun goes in, and it begins to rain, big blobby spring rain that falls leisurely and doesn’t get you very wet or last very long.

I take some photographs, then take one last look around the garden, pleased to be out here again, pleased things are growing, though I don’t know what they are and I don’t know what to do about any of them. The wind is chilly, and I feel an abstract dissatisfaction that may or may not stem from the grey sky and the concrete slabs and the distorted old table and the woodchips and the ragged edge of the grass, and not being able to do anything about these either.IMG_0036

I step back through the window and close it, using a kitchen knife to wedge the tights back in to the gaps. I look out of the window at the garden again, happier to be inside looking out because from here it is just a garden doing what gardens do in February, while outside I felt responsible and inconsequential and helpless.

For good measure I inspect the front garden. I walk through the front garden every day, but usually in the dark, the details invisible. The front garden, though North-facing and much less sunny, puts me in a better mood. Here I feel more in control, though there is no reason why I should feel any more control here than at the back. A band of snowdrops is bursting up near the front door. I didn’t plant these, and I thank whoever did. IMG_0047

The roses look pretty dead to me, all mouldering black-spotted leaves and bare twigs; and yet, looking closer, here are some new shoots that I hadn’t seen before. And down under the sitting room window in the rectangle of stony soil where the strange plant lived before it dramatically died, some fresh red tips are appearing. I can’t remember what this plant was, only that in about October it spontaneously fell over flat, looking so much like someone had trampled it to get to the window that we warned our neighbours about intruders.IMG_0043

Later that morning I walk across the meadows towards the old town. Some way off stands a motionless group of seagulls, all facing this way. At this distance they look like white tulips against the green grass. A stiff breeze blows the grey scudding clouds and the leafless cherry trees. Students walk past, files, bags, tartan scarves. A thin, grey dog barks for a ball, and the white tulips lift up into the sky.