Wintry Showers and Sunny Intervals

Benbecula-over-the-Sound

Looking north across the sound to Benbecula with the hills of North Uist beyond

After the storms came the rain, hail, sleet and snow; today we have wintry showers, sunny intervals and an icy northerly wind of about 40 mph. However, there is sunshine and I am planning to cocoon myself in as many layers as I can and stagger down to the vegetable garden to retrieve some our few remaining root vegetables. Now the polytunnel has been repaired we’re ready to plant our early potatoes and sow the first of the early spring vegetables, unfortunately the weather has intervened again. In the sunshine the temperatures are hovering around 0ºC, it is warmer undercover, but I shall wait for the soil to warm to around 10ºC before I start planting.
I am thinking about sowing some of the seed collected from my hardy herbaceous plants, but I’m being wimpish and waiting for a warmer day. I re-planted some of the bulbs from pots that had been blown over or broken by the wind last week and working in a very draughty polytunnel with cold compost was enough to induce hypothermia.
At this time of year I am should be beginning to think about sowing the tomato and pepper seeds, but I am always too hasty. Although the heated propagator is empty, every spare inch of windowsill in the house, cottage and porch is full of plants evacuated from the greenhouse leaving no room to grow on the young seedlings. I know that if I wait until it the days become longer and warmer when I can keep the seedlings in the polytunnel, I will end up with stronger and healthier seedlings. Experience does not always temper impatience!

After-the-stormsI am obviously suffering from the “January intemperate gardener syndrome”. The days are lengthening and I want to start getting ready for the spring. It is a more acute attack than usual as we have fences to repair and restoration work in the cottage garden to complete before we can begin to think about real gardening. The storms eroded most of the topsoil from the cottage garden which should be replaced sooner rather than later. I suspect this cold weather may have been the fatal blow for the surviving plants where the protective mulch has been blown away from the dormant crowns. Unfortunately, I will have also lost the seed dropped by the plants in the autumn. In many respects losing the seed bank is more serious than the loss of mature plants, as I rely on the self-sown seedling to repopulate parts of the garden.
jonquillsPrimroseJanuary is always a difficult month, the garden looks bleak, although in sheltered corners there is often a primrose in flower or a small group of snowdrops struggling to emerge. The narcissi, particularly the jonquils, are surprising robust, and their green shoots seem to withstand the stormy winds and wintry squalls. It will be March before the cottage garden emerges from the winter hibernation, so I will have to wait and hope. I am quietly optimistic, but will be busy sowing seeds in February “just-in-case”.
Until then there are the refugee plants and seedlings to nurture, and although I had hoped that the new greenhouse would be overflowing with flowering bulbs, I will have to be content with just one or two doing their best. The repairs to the greenhouse are “in-hand” but as ever we’re waiting for some settled weather before the greenhouse repair team will risk a journey north.

Iris-Katharine-Hodgkin

Iris reticulata Katharine-Hodgkin, hardly a prize winning display, but a treasured survivor

There have been times this winter when even my optimism and resolution have been tested and I have wondered whether I am just too ambitious in my gardening aspirations. I probably push the boundaries too far, but then I have had some small triumphs and if I can do it once I can do it again. However hard I try to suppress my inner Pollyanna she has an irritating habit of bouncing back.  I’m beginning to think she is the alter ego of my muse.
It is now time to go dodge the squalls, and go and look at the garden to admire my very ragged collection of primroses. My reward for endeavour, cold hands, stinging cheeks, running eyes, renewed optimism and finally a cup of coffee and a quick look at the latest seed catalogues!

Good Vibrations

wintry-morning

A wintry morning at Ardivachar with snow on the hills.

It has suddenly gone quiet, the house has stopped creaking, groaning and shaking, the chimney has stopped rattling and the only noise is the gentle hum of the boiler, the swoosh of the dishwasher and the rumble of the washing machine. Radio 4 is back and I can listen dulcet tones of the Shipping Forecast announcer without speculating on whether it is going to be storm force 10 or violent storm force 11 for the Hebrides. The weather demons have departed leaving a trail of wreckage from Ness Point (northerly tip of Isle of Lewis) to Barra and beyond. We are now enjoying an icy blast from the north with wintry showers, but at last we have some sunshine.
I do not wish to experience such a prolonged period of storm force winds ever again and I’m not sure which sent my adrenal glands into hyperdrive, being hit by winds of 110 mph or watching the lightening strike outside the window. I hid under the duvet with my head below the pillows wondering if I’d be safer under the bed and concluded that even extra strength, double reinforced Hebridean Zen wasn’t going to calm my fears. It is not an experience I would recommend you to put on the “things to do before I die” list, as for anyone of a nervous disposition it may hasten the end. Fortunately the house and the cottage are undamaged, although the greenhouse and the polytunnel are a little battered. Plant evacuation plans were not on part of my extreme weather strategy, they are now!

Storm damage

I told you we needed to improve the ventilation in winter!

The damage to the polytunnel looks serious, fortunately it only requires rebolting of some of the end struts and up to four new roof sections. We’re not sure how the polythene was torn, as it is so strong that you can walk on the roof! I had to rehouse some of the more tender overwintering plants, but everything else is still growing.
The cottage garden is on life support in intensive care and I hope the prognosis is not as bad as it appears. I won’t be able to assess the casualty figures until the spring, but previously I have always been surprised by the survival rate.  However, all this is fairly trivial, as some islanders have seriously damaged houses and outbuildings. Fortunately Hebrideans are resilient and although everyone looks tired and careworn, they still have time to stop and ask how you are before moaning about the weather.
I’d like to thank everyone who was kind enough to enquire as to our welfare and apologise for not reading and commenting on everyone’s posts, but I have been a little preoccupied and the electricity has been intermittent. However, I’m back, at least until the next storm and power cut.

And the award goes to…….

Cows on the machair by Loch Bee

Cows on the machair by Loch Bee

It is that time of year when the media are full of the great and the good babbling incoherently over bits of bling awarded by their peers for “achievement”, whether lifetime or transitory, in their industry. You may be relieved to know that I intend to act like a Nobel Laureate rather than a D list celeb and will not be prattling my thanks to everyone from Postman Pat to Saint Jude (the patron saint of lost causes and desperate cases) when accepting my blogging award from Julie.
In the past I have refused blogging awards, but this time I decided it was perhaps churlish to decline even politely; after all they are awards from fellow bloggers and expressions of appreciation. I’m a little too remote to go in the “Yellow Book” so my garden appreciates virtual visitors and I gain so much from having a chat over the garden wall about everything from plants to philosophy.

According to the rules I have to link to and thank my nominator and then answer 11 questions. Then select 5 blogs I’d like to share and ask my nominees 11 questions. Choosing young blogs with less than 200 followers is recommended.

So here are my answers to Julie’s questions:

 

1. Do you encourage wildlife to your garden?
Yes, I do everything I can to attract insects, especially pollinators,  and birds to the garden. Rabbits are tolerated, as are voles and mice as long as they keep out of the polytunnel.

2. Do you grow organically and use natural methods?
We use organic fertilisers, make our own compost and don’t use pesticides.

3. Any tips for recycling plastic?
I use plastic cartons for seed trays and for storing odds and ends in the shed and polytunnel.

4. Any recommendations for flowers to arrange in your home?
I’m not much of a flower arranger, more of a simple posy in a jam jar type. Sweet peas are a great favourite as are spring bulbs especially daffodils and grape hyacinths (Muscari)

5. Have you tried edible flowers?
I use nasturtium, chives, borage and violas in salads. it is probably cheating, but my favourite are courgette flowers.

6. A favourite fruit recipe?
This is difficult, but it has to be a rhubarb crumble with stem ginger and a very oaty crunchy topping, served with thick yoghurt.

7. A favourite vegetable recipe?
Anything that includes lots of wild mushrooms or something simple such as some freshly picked very juicy tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil and some basil or….. I could go on and never finally decide.

8. Do you like to create anything other than flower arrangements using natural materials?
I’m an enthusiastic beachcomber, so around the garden and in the house there are arrangements of interesting stones, shells, bones, drift wood and anything else that takes my fancy.

9. How do you feel about growing natives or non natives?
I grow native plants, cultivars derived from natives and non-natives too. The growing conditions are quite challenging in the Outer Hebrides so I have a limited choice of plants which will tolerate the climate and soil. So alongside the British natives, there are plants from South Africa and New Zealand. I would encourage everyone to grow some native plants for the insects, but otherwise grow what you like as long as you ensure it doesn’t escape over the garden wall.

10. Any recommendations for an unusual fruit or vegetable that is good to eat?
We have grown Cape gooseberries Physalis peruviana in the polytunnel. The flowers are beautiful and the fruit is delicious.

11. Do you have a good view from your home?
The view from the house is stunning – a panoramic seascape, with the islands of Barra and Mingulay to the far south and St Kilda and the Monachs to the north west. To the east there are the hills of South Uist (Beinn Mhor and Hecla) and the Cuillins of Skye (on a fine day).

Choosing five other people to nominate is very difficult, some of my favourite blogs have been nominated fairly recently and others would prefer not to be nominated.  I could list every blog I follow and more whose posts I read from time to time. So I’d like to nominate:
Welsh Hills Again
The Hopeful Herbalist
The Garden Deli
Edinburgh Garden Diary
Beangenie
If you are devastated about being excluded, send me an e-mail and I’ll slip you in the edited version. It will be our secret, I won’t tell the others, promise.
You may, of course, curse me roundly and then sweetly or politely (or not) decline or just ignore me. I promise I won’t be heart broken, grief stricken or even faintly miffed, well may be just a bit.
So here are my 11 questions which you may answer in our own style:

1. How would you describe your gardening style?
2. Who or what has influenced the design of your garden?
3. Is this your first garden or just the latest in a long line?
4. Do you fall into temptation every time a gardening catalogue lands on the mat?
5. Are you seduced by the glossing pictures in magazines or books and then despair at your own efforts?
6. Do you wear gardening gloves, carry a trug or wear designer wellies?
7. What is your favourite gardening task, apart from sitting on the bench with a cuppa?
8. Do you have a “wish list” of plants  or just get carried away when you see something new?
9. Do you propagate your own plants?
10. Do you try to grow something new each year?
11. Why do you read gardening blogs?

So over to you and if you decide to participate – have fun with the questions, and thank you for reading to the end.