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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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!’

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.


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.





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.


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.

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.