I’m not sure where I went wrong, but I seem to have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. I know that life isn’t fair and I didn’t expect my gardening career to be one of dainty trugs with some gentle dead heading; but why am I still shovelling hardcore or gravel, mixing cement, heaving rocks and barrowing soil from one part of the garden to another and back again? Alas it is all my own fault, first of all I married for better or worse and unknowingly committed myself to a lifetime of projects and finally I chose to garden in one of the windiest places in the UK.
So when March comes around, it is time to order the gravel, hardcore, cement, fencing posts and screws and as soon as we get a hint of a couple of calm, dry days out comes the concrete mixer. Usually it is just the start of another project, but this year we had a few maintenance jobs to perform. First the fence at the end of the polytunnel had developed a serious list after being belted by 100+ mph winds. So it had to be dismantled, and rebuilt with extra posts set in 2 tons of concrete. A small warm-up exercise in preparation for tackling the hedge.
After we had cut the hedge in December we were debating as to whether we need to radically reduce its girth and my prophetic words were “the severe gales and storm force winds forecast for next week may concentrate the mind”. The mature section of the hedge withstood the gales, even though it lost most of its leaves, but some of the very young plants were torn out of the ground or blown almost horizontal. Without the leaves it was easier to get into the hedge and reduced the overall height to about 4ft and radically cut-back some of the older branches. The width of the hedge was then reduced by about 3ft to enable it to be cut with the hedge trimmers.
This involved putting in a new fence leaving a 3ft wide strip along the drive to the cottage. My suggestion that this should become a grass verge or wild flower strip was greeted with derision and I was sent off to get the barrow and the shovel!
Some plants had to be removed and these were cut back almost to ground level and used to replace some of the young plants which had been blown away in the hedge by the polytunnel. I had been unable to cut through some of the bigger branches with the pruning saw, but Himself came to the rescue with the chainsaw! The result was not pretty and I was left wondering why I’d spent so much time with my careful trimming.
The great hedge is now rather a sorry sight, but it is shooting and in a few weeks will be clothed in new leaves and in October it will be time to cut it again!
Narcissus cyclamineus Jack Snipe
March roared in at 90 mph and eventually departed at a more sedate 70 mph, a little more than a roaring lion and no sign of the lamb. Even the most resilient of my “daffs” were beaten to the ground, the emergent alliums were shredded and the scillas were wishing they’d never left Siberia. That was last month and at last we have some good weather. The later flowering narcissi (Narcissus canaliculatus , Narcissus triandrus Hawera, N. tazetta Minnow, N. triandrus Thalia, and N. bulbicodium) are all in full bloom and filling the garden with colour and perfume. More importantly, along with the Muscari, are providing food for the young queen bumblebees. Small tortoiseshell butterflies have also been busy in the garden although they seem to be more pre-occupied with courtship than sipping nectar. It is too early to tell, but I hope that the emergence of relatively large numbers of this lovely butterfly after winter their hibernation may indicate that the populations are at last starting to recover.
Hawera, Minnow and Thalia and N. canaliculatus grow and proliferate in the cottage garden, although this year the latter have not flowered as well as usual. I usually have a few pots of spring bulbs scattered around the garden in sheltered corners, and although the leaves look a little ragged they have flowered profusely. This year I had to leave my pots of N. bulbicodium outside and their tender grass-like leaves were shrivelled by the harsh winds, so I was delighted to find a few flowers in the largest pots. I now feel confident enough to plant some of my spare bulbs in the garden and hope that they will survive and naturalise.
As the April days lengthen the whooper swans leave for Iceland, barely visible in the early morning mist alerting me with a bugle of farewell so that I can wish them bon voyage. On clear days there is a flypast of geese, skein after skein like a fleet of arrows in a clear blue sky. Nature abhors a vacuum so as the geese leave, the first summer visitors arrive, meadow pipits, wagtails and wheatears, chasing and dashing around the croft like a noisy playground full of children.
The spring bulbs are like small beacons of light that are a signal for the garden to awake. They are tough enough to withstand the equinox gales, which can wither the tender early shoots of the herbaceous perennials. Beyond the garden wall, the native wild flowers sleep on, too wary to appear too early. I watch and wait, their time will come.
May approaches and the frilled mounds of the aquilegias are producing flower spikes as the fat shoots of the hostas unwind to reveal delicate leaves – pale green swirled with white or glaucous, crinkled and pleated. Amongst the vibrant shiny leaves of the astrantias stands of dead twigs are revealing tiny shoots – some of the verbascums and agastaches have survived. The despair of February is replaced by the joie de vivre of spring as the warmth of the sun resurrects the garden again.
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.
– Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Sensitive Plant
The flowers that bloom in the spring tra la…… 14 March was the 130th anniversary of the first performance of the Mikado.