Crocuses oot! And a trip to Homebase

I spoke too soon about the crocuses! Last week they finally came out and I was so delighted. They are much more delicate than the boisterous crocuses on the Meadows, but I put that down to this being their first year, having been stuck in by an overenthusiastic amateur at possibly the wrong depth. Once they have had time to properly settle into the soil they should start to flourish and do better year after year. This delicate look is rather pretty actually, but they could do with being a little stronger and less like fainting come the merest breeze. IMG_0158

In my last post I mentioned how keen I was to invite bees to the garden, and last Saturday I went to Homebase with The Brazilian in tow to pick up some seeds for flowers attractive to bees. The Brazilian didn’t come voluntarily; we were on our way from somewhere to somewhere else, and Homebase just happened to be en route. Otherwise I would probably have chosen to go to an independent garden centre because choice and quality in Homebase can be quite limited.

Having said that, having limited choices is ideal for speedy shopping, especially if you have a bored non-gardener tugging at your sleeve. ‘Can we GO now,’ said The Brazilian about fifteen seconds after we’d walked in to the store. A minute later he came back with some sort of ultra-hot weed killing blow torch thing. ‘This is the only interesting thing in this shop,’ he said. ‘Can I buy it?’ ‘Sure,’ I said. He mooched away and put the ultra-hot weed-killing blow torch back on the shelf, then came back. ‘Can we GO NOW?’ Under this duress I selected two types of seed, cornflowers and night phlox, both of which promised on the packet to be nice for bees and other insects.

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I initially thought I’d come home with more than two types/packets of seeds, but in the store I had a quick rethink as we don’t have that much space, just two medium-sized ceramic planters and no bed space to speak of.  Secondly, I am using these seeds more as a cautious experiment as I have never grown flowers from seed before, so two packets seemed enough to be interesting but not so much as to be overenthusiastic. Also, I had to choose seeds that could be sown where they are to flower, as I have not yet organised a way of propagating seedlings indoors. These two, the cornflower and night phlox, fitted these requirements, as well as fulfilling more basic ideals of being calmly pretty as I’m not a fan of the more unnatural-looking overbred flowers of implausible colour, plus the night phlox promises to produce a beautiful scent in the evenings which will be gorgeous when it’s warm enough to sit out in the back garden.

Once home, I dragged the unused ceramic pot out from its hiding place behind the tool shed in the front garden, which was going to become a home for the seeds. This pot, about a foot in diameter, once contained a small tree of some kind that had died and been cut back to just a short stub of trunk sticking out above its ornamental pebbles.IMG_0058

It had clearly been dead for a very long time. I removed the pebbles one by one, revealing some anaemic and startled wormy things. The stump looked as though it would come out quite easily, so I grasped it confidently and tugged. That was a mistake. The damned thing exploded in my hand, spraying out a toxic and evil-smelling red liquor. I went inside and washed my hands, then proceeded more cautiously with a small fork to dig out the root bole. The soil itself was of unexpectedly good quality, fresh and nice feeling, quite rich. I don’t know much about soil and compost, but somehow without any formal teaching or experience you can easily tell the difference between poor, indifferent soil that won’t hold much water, and rich, fertile soil that will be moist and life-giving.

I made sure no obvious root parts remained, and turned all the soil over with the fork before patting it down. Now for the sowing. I made sure I read the instructions on the back of both packets; there didn’t seem much to it. Water the soil first, which I did, then sprinkle on the seeds (I used about half the seeds from both packets) and cover them with half a centimetre of soil. Keep the whole thing moist, and in two to four weeks (four, I’m guessing in Edinburgh, given that it’s still below zero some nights and not much more than six or eight degrees during the day) the seedlings should start to appear.

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Then I did the same thing with the unused ceramic planter in the back garden. I was more cautious digging out the soil in this one, because it had clearly recently had something growing in it that was now just brown stalks, but might have been something that would come back. However, there was almost no root structure, and no bulbs, hidden below the surface so I took a chance and cleared the pot out completely, then refilled it with soil and planted the seeds, leaving it in a spot that gets quite a bit of sun. Hopefully the nice couple who are our landlords won’t read this and yell that I’ve dug up and killed their priceless perennial whatsit.

Bumblebees

Last weekend I went to visit my friend Tessa who has just moved to a new house in Kent. Tess is the luckiest girl in the world as far as I am concerned because her new house comes with the most splendid garden, a really large one filled with wonderful plants of every kind.

It was a good weekend to visit too as the South East was bathed in gorgeous sunshine from a cloudless sky, and we spent a good while wandering about enjoying the warmth and admiring all the various plants, trees and shrubs. I put on a decent display of general botanical ignorance, at one point mistaking a lavender for a rosemary (although I did correctly identify a camelia; my mother has two and I remember them because they are only allowed to drink special water) and it was a relief to find that Tess also did not know many of the plants’ names, although she was a few steps further ahead than me. The plant that particularly baffled us was a vicious-looking spiky shrub six or seven feet tall with branches of ox-blood red. When I say spiky I mean thousands of extremely sharp thorns of varying lengths like stalactites, no leaves yet. It had an identical sister a little way off in another bed. Why anyone should want one such a plant in their garden, let alone two, is a mystery, and shall remain so unless come summer these fascist-looking shrubs develop an unexpected marvellous feature, such as huge blowsy flowers that attract thousands of bees and butterflies.

Speaking of bees, doesn’t love the sight and sound of bees on a summer’s day? As Tessa was showing me around her sunny and flourishing garden (notably more flourishing than mine 400 miles north and 10 degrees colder) we were delighted by the rare sight of several bumblebees zooming about. Hairy and corpulent, the bumblebees were sunning themselves on the warm wooden fence and bombarding the flowers, in particular the droopy purple and white flowers of a group of hellebores under the shade of a tree. I didn’t know they were hellebores until Tessa told me so, and I’ve remembered the name hellebore for two very good reasons: one, because they flourish in shade, of which I have plenty in my garden, and two, because they seem so attractive to the bees, of which I have none.

After the disease, pesticides, famine and death these poor creatures have undergone these past years, bees have become shockingly rare. I remember how many we used to see buzzing around my mother’s garden when I was kid (I’m making myself sound about eighty years old), and if I remember correctly, bees were certainly relatively common at the end of the nineties.

There are many other flowers that you can plant to attract and encourage bees, and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust has some advice on how to choose bee-friendly flowers to plant in the garden, which plants to avoid, and of course a reminder never to use pesticides in the garden as all pesticides have potential to harm bees. I am sure I will have plenty to say on this blog about natural pest control in due course. Ensuring that various bee-friendly plants are in flower throughout the season is an excellent way of keeping bees happy and well fed. My absolute favourite tip is about finding out which flowers the bees like best by going to a garden centre and looking to see which plants have the most bees flying around them.

There are several unused plant pots in our garden, and I think that planting bee-friendly flowers in them seems to be an excellent way for me to them to good use.

Marching On

Spring is definitely here as far as I’m concerned! I mean, in a botanical and meteorological sense, even if not officially by the calendar. The sky is blue, the trees are budding, the birds are singing.

It seems I was too pessimistic too soon about the snowdrops… here is a picture of what they eventually looked like when they did come out. Aren’t they glorious! Not quite as majestically prolific and widespread as Left Neighbour’s, but much better than I thought they were going to be.IMG_0132

On the other hand, my crocuses have been most disappointing. I was greatly surprised when walking about the glorious, springy green meadows of Edinburgh to see that Edinburgh Council’s crocuses were out. The reason I was surprised was because my own crocuses still look like small shoots of grass. One or two have feeble, almost diseased-looking yellowish flowers, and not a pretty pale or delicious custard or vibrant taxi yellow either, but the yellow of ageing paper in a dusty attic.

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I don’t know what special touch EC have applied to theirs, but the edges of the meadows are awash with great thick swathes of the most healthy, gay, preposterously, obscenely tumescent purple, yellow and white crocuses you have ever seen. In some parts you can’t even see grass among the great blocks of colour. My mother says that sunshine is the key, and I’d agree with her but for one factor, that my back garden is south facing and gets plenty of sun, and what’s more, there are flowering crocuses across the grass of the backgreen by a wall that shades them  from most of the sun. So I reckon it was just a bad batch, or else I planted them to the wrong depth. If we are still living here next spring then we’ll be able to see if more time to settle in a bit more, talk through their problems, that kind of thing, puts them more in a flowering mood.

On a more positive note, look what my mother gave me for my birthday:

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Did you know that it is bad luck to buy rosemary? So now I shan’t have to. I’ve wanted a rosemary plant for ages, as it is so perfect for salads, roasting and foccaccia. Rosemary is a Mediterranean plant and likes lots of sunlight, again not something my garden can provide much of all year round, but it is also quite hardy so I am hoping it survives any late frosts we have. Speaking of which, I have no idea how late a late frost can be in Edinburgh. Perhaps something I will learn this spring, especially if it catches my potatoes out when I plant them later on.

Where are all my birds?

I was hoping by now to be able to show you photographs of birds feeding from my bird table, but sadly this is not to be. I even had my camera set up with its long lens by the window in hopes of capturing the envisioned hoardes of sparrows, tits, blackbirds etc. fluttering about my homemade bird feeders and snatching at the much appreciated morsels of goodness. But since that one robin I saw taking food the day after I’d put the first lot of food out, I’ve seen no more birds whatsoever. I can’t imagine why not. Perhaps they just haven’t discovered it yet, or it’s the wrong kind of food, or they just don’t like me. Who knows? I can hear birds twittering away in other peoples gardens across the backgreen, but as far as our garden is concerned it’s Silent Spring.

Having said all that, I did discover one particular problem with my birdfeeders that I should have foreseen: they are not rain proof. I have now rehung the wee jug so that rain is much less likely to get inside; as for the little dish, this is harder, and I am just trying to put small quantities of food out more frequently and empty the dish whenever it fills up with rain, until I can think of what to do about making a roof for it. Another problem is the difficulty of unwiring the wires to take the feeders down to clean and replenish them. I have now rehung them with a more practicable arrangement of wires, and am just hoping they stay up now as it has been pretty windy.

My mother read a letter in the paper from a man who put nyjer seeds out for the goldfinches and it took three years for the goldfinches to discover them. I wonder if I might have more luck with attracting bees instead.

I Say Potato

The weather was recently quite cold and grotty, with an earnest flurry of snow a couple of weeks ago. It has still been too dark/cold to do anything in the garden on weekday evenings, so most gardening activity is currently confined to my imagination. I have been imagining growing potatoes.

Potatoes can be grown in a pot or in the ground. My grandmother grows potatoes every year, some in a large tub and others in a big bed, where they spread about and get lost, and it’s the devil to find them all again.

I think it is interesting that potatoes are the only starchy carbohydrate one can reasonably grow in a garden. Think of all the staples: potatoes, bread, rice and pasta. Think even of couscous, polenta and barley. All come from grain, except potatoes. Clearly as a gardener you are unlikely to be growing wheat, oats or barley unless you own a field and a scythe. Rice requires paddy fields, which again the average gardener does not often have, except people currently living in South England. But potatoes? Anyone with outdoor space can grow potatoes.

Before we had pasta and rice, Britain lived off potatoes (except Scotland, which lived off Scott’s Porridge Oats). When the potatoes failed, people died. And before the 1500s when Sir Walter Raleigh pedalled back to England with his new-fangled potatoes, we had… bread. Just bread. Probably not very nice bread. Somehow the idea of growing such a vital energy supply in the back garden feels reassuring, as though I were better equipping us to survive an apocalypse.

It turns out The Sister has grown potatoes in a pot in her back green. ‘It’s easy,’ she tells me. ‘You just bury a potato in a big tub of soil and in four weeks you have a tub of potatoes.’

I am entranced by this. I later find out it’s too good to be true. If it were really like this, everyone would be growing their own damned potatoes and all potato farmers would cease to exist.

For a start, you’re not supposed to use spuds from the greengrocer as you risk introducing potato diseases to your garden. (We should also avoid putting potato peel onto our compost heaps for the same reason. Who knew this? I’m sure our communal compost heap is riddled with potato peel!) Secondly it takes at least three months, not four weeks, for the potato crop to mature.

The tub needs to be in a warm, sunny place. Bad luck for mine, then! I wonder if planting them slightly later than recommended (which is end of Feb for new potatoes) might be wise. Potatoes do not like frost.

Does this mean I will have to wait before getting cracking? No, thankfully (I’m not great at waiting), because for four weeks before planting them outside you are supposed to ‘chit’ the potatoes, which means putting them in a cool, light place, say on a windowsill, until they have strong green shoots. This will help get them off to a better start when you plant them, and give me something gardeny to do while it’s too cold to garden.

Here are my potatoes quietly chitting away to themselves.

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Everything I Know About Gardening

I know that plants need light, air and water for survival. They have roots in the soil and grow towards the light and against gravity.

I know that vegetables generally appear in summer, fruits in summer or autumn, bulbs in spring. Except autumn crocuses, which are bulbs that come out in autumn. Flowers can appear at any time of year, depending what the flower is.

I know that most plants and trees die back in winter, then reappear in spring. Except Christmas trees, which appear in November, flourish in December, and are afflicted by a selective and vicious pestilence that disgorges them all over the pavements in January.

I know that different plants like different temperatures,  quantities of sunlight and water, types of soil. They like to be sown, pruned, repotted at different times. But I don’t know which plants, or which times.

I know that certain plants that will never grown in Scotland, no matter what. Plants originating from the jungles and deserts of the world will turn their noses up at this lovely land. But I don’t know which of the plants that grow contendedly in the gardens of Southern England would not like to grow here.

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So you see, I have a decent handle on the general stuff. More of a handle, at least, than the imbecilic office worker one too often meets who simply cannot understand why the office spider plant/swiss cheese plant/african violet left faithfully in their care has gone brown and expired. (‘Plants just die when I go near them. I don’t know why.’ These people should not be allowed to have children.)

But as we know from the splendid Alan Bennett, knowledge is not general, it is specific. I don’t know the names of most of the plants in our garden, nor their characteristics or tendencies. I don’t know what extra attention, if any, each one would like by way of feeding or pruning. I want to grow tomatoes, courgettes, peas but I don’t know which varieties to buy nor when to plant them. I don’t know when to fertilise the roses, when to deadhead the hydrangeas (at least I know they are hydrangeas), nor what best to plant in the unused plant pots that are loitering about the garden. I don’t even know what I don’t know, only that there is a lot to know and a lot to do, and I may struggle to keep up.

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But I am going to learn it all. I suppose it comes down to why I am gardening in the first place, which requires a whole essay of its own. I have already learned all those interesting things about the snowdrops. I am about to learn a whole lot more about the bulbs I planted myself and which are poking their curious noses out of the soil at this very minute.  It’s one thing to read on the packet that a bulb comes up in February, another to look out of your window on your birthday to see crocuses and thus learn that crocuses mean February.

And I have splendiferous teachers. The internet, of course, which can provide any quick answer I need. I am also blessed to have The Cousin living round the corner because quite splendidly he actually gardens for a living, and has already been round our garden telling me what everything is (I forgot plenty of it quite shortly afterwards). Then there’s The Sister, who also lives nearby and though doesn’t have a garden of her own has grown tomatoes and various herbs successfully and speaks with a great deal of confidence and authority on most subjects which is morale-boosting if not always accurate. There’s my mother, a veritable horticultural guru, hundreds of miles south, and her siblings, my aunts and uncles, all hugely experienced gardeners each with their own beautiful garden filled with flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees of wondrous health and variety. On the top branch of this tree of knowledge is my grandmother who despite being 92 years old and mostly blind has the prettiest and most fragrant English cottage garden one could ever wish to have the privilege of wandering through.

After one or two initial ventures in my new garden I feel no longer afraid of what I don’t know, only impatient and keen and courageous, and wryly grateful of my garden’s restrictions and limitations, the low, slanting, fleeting light, the cold and damp, and the late frosts, knowing they will help to focus and structure my development as a gardener just as writing to the rules of a sonnet disciplines the poet.

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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.