We departed with snow on the ground and returned to a tropical paradise. Time to hunt for the sun hats, t-shirts and factor 50+. However, the weather was not the only surprise. The rabbits had being doing what rabbits do and there were micro-bunnies nestled in the grass in the orchard. Fortunately they were too small for the pot and were gently deported into the field and given a stern warning about trespassing.
I try to garden in a wildlife friendly manner, but sometimes the other inhabitants of Ardivachar Headland take advantage and squatters’ rights. One of our local pairs of Oystercatchers decided that my new gravel garden was the perfect des res in which to start a family.They are sitting very tight, and we are having to dash out to the greenhouse or compost bin to try to minimise the disturbance. However, the incubators seem unperturbed, they just waddle off quietly and hide behind the fence until we’ve gone. With an incubation period of 24-27 days, the garden is going to get very weedy while we wait for the egg to hatch. Normally 2-3 eggs are laid, so it is either a second attempt or one or more of the eggs was predated while we were away.
The garden was looking very sparse at the end of April, reluctant to spring into life as the strong northerly winds brought cold arctic air and clear skies. However, as soon as the wind direction changed and the north-easterly winds immersed us warm continental air, the herbaceous beds took on a bright green, lush tropical hue. It was the start of the annual chickweed wars and it was growing faster than I could remove it. Underneath this all enveloping green duvet, my plants are struggling for light and air. This happens every year, and despite my best efforts, I never seem to gain a semblance of control. I have tried mulches and various planting strategies, but with no success. It seems that I’m destined to spend most of my summers on my hands and knees weeding and cultivating Hebridean Zen.
Although it has been a cold start to the growing season, in the polytunnel the plants have benefitted from the sunshine and the protection from the chilling winds. We are eating spinach on a daily basis with lettuce, rocket, radishes and beetroot in various combinations for lunch. Can one have too much of a good thing? One of the delights of this time of year are the first green vegetables and I’m watching the strawberries in anticipation. We’ve already sampled the first new potatoes and picked the first peas. Our winter peas have been an outstanding success and I am amazed that they produced a crop at all. For the first time we are able to eat small, sweet home-grown peas before July! Fortunately there are plenty of pods as the temptation to eat them straight from the plant is almost irresistible.
Outside the vegetable garden remains stubbornly empty (apart from the weeds) with just one bed planted with onions and shallots and one with celeriac. The weather is still very unsettled, the temperature oscillating by 10°C or more as the wind direction changes. The soil is just about warm enough for the carrot and parsnip seeds and I hope that by the time the peas and beans are ready to go out that June will be warm with balmy breezes rather than wet and blustery. It can’t be as bad as last year and the omens are good as my tomato plants are all producing flowers. Wishful thinking, no just an optimistic gardener.
The world was very quiet and still; during the night the north wind had rested and its breath had spread across the grass leaving each fragile stem festooned with diadems. A series of whistles announced the arrival of the first visitors – attired with copes of gold, velvet black waistcoats and carnival masks they alighted and looked for the other guests. The resident pair of oystercatchers looked on with disdain at these exotic migrants while the pipits chattered with nervous excitement. Needing no encouragemnt to perform the skylarks rose in serenade while the lapwings tumbled and swooped to provide a cabaret of welcome.
The plovers are the latest group of travellers to seek a refuge from an icy April storm, but within the of the cottage garden only the hardiest will survive.Tucked away in sheltered nooks and crannies, only the tough natives withstand the harshness of a cold spring. The warmth of the sunshine is cut by the sharp icy edges of a wind which tumbles off an arctic ice cap. As the skies darken squalls rush across the horizon and aim daggers of hail at the delicate petals of the spring flowers.
During quiet interludes the perfume of jonquils drifts across the garden to entice the bumblebees with the promise of nectar. There is no buzz of bees on these cold afternoons, they sleep on and dream of the arrival of May or even June when the warmth of the sun does not flatter to deceive.
Alas it is just a myth that Spring has arrived when you can put your foot on seven daisies.