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!
I 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.
January 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.
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!