Regular visitors to the croft garden know that I go AWOL from time to time. This is usually because I’m busy with other activities, which can range from being chained to the desk as a serious paperwork deadline approaches or being press-ganged to work on a building project to coaxing a reluctant muse to provide the impetus to write. I have not been sitting with nose pressed to the window watching the rain fall like stair-rods or the all-enveloping mist roll in, nor sitting by the fire watching the tennis or even challenging the muse to think of new phrases to describe the colour of the sky (I’d better not use the description used in an infamous book title, it would boost my blog stats for the wrong reasons). So I’m not going to mention the weather or the fact that the average temperature for May and June (so far) is 10°C and that I’ve been gardening wearing numerous layers and a wooly hat. There has been no gardening up-date because once I’ve described a garden where only the weeds and grass are growing, and photographed the best bits from the most flattering angle I can manage, there is really nothing to say which would not deserve the epitaph of meaningless, trivial dribble.
As promised in my last post I decided to be positive and plough on regardless, unfortunately I am probably guilty of plant genocide. Although my plants had been hardening-off for weeks, most were either decapitated or desiccated by the wind, grazed into oblivion by molluscs, drained of life by aphids (isn’t it too cold for aphids?) or disappeared without trace (probably on the first ferry to Oban). The rest have survived but do not appear to be growing. The old hands, those that have survived rigorous natural selection over a number of years, are looking a bit battered but are producing some flowers and a little food for a very small band of insects.
The vegetable garden remains dismal. To be positive the broad beans and peas are diminutive, but are at last producing flowers. This could be a final desperate act, which may be in vain as there are very few insects, so I may need to get the paint brush out. There is rhubarb, of course and plenty of chives, mint and loveage – a combination to challenge any inventive chef.
Fortunately the polytunnel is keeping the proverbial wolf from the door. We have harvested the garlic and new potatoes and have been enjoying carrots, beetroot and various salad crops. The rate of production is slow, but the results are phenomenal. The new potatoes look like a late season main crop; the flavour is acceptable but the texture is very floury. I’m beginning to wonder whether I was sent the correct variety.
The French beans are thinking about flowering and at long last the courgette is producing flowers. This may the year I feast upon stuffed courgette flowers. The tomatoes have just produced their first flowers and the peppers and cucumbers are growing strongly. We are, however, going to need a radical change in the weather to get a decent crop of fruit. Could be a good year for green tomato chutney.
I know we don’t have the monopoly on the poor summer weather, and to be fair we have had the odd sunny, if not particularly warm, day. If you live north of the Great Glen you can’t expect a Mediterranean climate and when the summer temperatures are below average and it is windier and/or wetter than usual, gardening is going to be more challenging than usual. We are consistently informed that individual weather events are not necessarily indicative of climate change and may be the result of “normal cyclical changes”. Whatever the reason, this year has certainly given me an insight of the problems that we will face if our summers become consistently cooler and wetter. Gardeners are adaptable, but the consequences for those responsible for growing our food are potentially much more serious. So on that cheery note, I will saunter off to the polytunnel to sow some more carrots. Growing carrots under cover in June? Just practising for the apocalypse!
I’ve been passing a wet, windy cold afternoon by wandering around some of the lovely gardens which take part in the End of Month View meme. How verdant and floriferous they appear, I can almost hear the murmur of insects and feel the warmth of the sun!
I have been growling and muttering throughout May as the vegetable garden has remained bereft of plants, apart from the onions, potatoes and some meshed-covered beds which are allegedly sheltering seedling carrots, parsnips and beetroot, but in reality I think I’m nurturing chickweed. The Jerusalem artichokes are looking downright bilious and the rhubarb resembles the ragtag parade of a defeated army. In desperation I planted the first broad bean and pea plants in the fruit cage where they are making a brave effort but definitely sulking. Fortunately life in the polytunnel is a little more cheerful, although we’re reaching crisis point as the number of plants waiting to be hardened-off and planted grows exponentially. There is so much to look forward to and the first of the crop are always the sweetest!
With the start of a new month I’m going to spend the summer in a miasma of gloom unless I adopt a more positive attitude. So this morning when I set-off to water the seedlings in the polytunnel, I was determined that I would find something to photograph in the cottage garden. As I walked across the field down to the garden I could see the next Atlantic front rapidly approaching from the south, and mused over whether there was an algorithm which could predict how many layers ± hat, gloves and or waterproofs were required based on the strength and the direction of the wind and at what point it was just a good idea to stay indoors.
The cottage garden is best described as curate’s egg – good in parts. I will gloss over the less good: the bare patches where I lost plants in the winter and where I’ve been unable to replant yet; the brown and crispy bits, where plants have been scorched by the wind and are deciding whether life is worth living; and the “seed beds” where I’m hoping the seedling will be garden plants and not the usual assortment of chickweed, nettles, buttercups, docks et al.
However, there are a few sheltered areas where some of the garden stalwarts are doing their best to make the borders look less like a wasteland. All the aquilegias are derived from a single packet of seed and over-time they have been profligate and I now have a selection of flower shapes and colours. I really ought to cull some of the more insipid colour forms, but en-masse they are like a cloud of pastel butterflies dancing in the wind (sorry my photography is dancing in the wind too, so no need to call the optician).
In contrast the kniphofias, defiantly confront the wind, blazing beacons of colour on illuminating grey days. Named in honour of the German botanist Johann Hieronymus Kniphof they have too often been regarded as vulgar and rather bad taste. This seems a perfectly good reason to champion their cause, particularly as they thrive in my garden in the poor sandy soil and erratic climate. If you prefer something a little more subtle, lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis, will also brighten up a dark corner. The scalloped, limey-green leaves are often speckled with quicksilver droplets of rain, which are shed in a rainbow shower as the wind ruffles the leaves. Later the sculptured leaves with disappear under a frothy haze of tiny, chartreuse flowers. I know it has a bad reputation for self-seeding everywhere, but to me they are small gifts to fill some of the more difficult garden corners. It’s smaller cousins, A. alpina and A. erythropoda, are more discreet, creeping through the boulders and having to be rescued from the more aggressive sedums.
The assorted alliums are tardy and sulky this year, with the exception of reliable A. moly, which is ready to explode in a golden shower of starry blooms, whilst seeking to dominate every plant and the border, even the kniphofias. It may be a pretentious thug but it has great charisma. As for the rest whether they are destined to be the prima donnas or shrinking violets of the herbaceous border, they had better get their act together and toughen up. It is now June and Atlantic depressions, monsoons, storm force winds or balmy summer days, this week they will finish their acclimatisation and be evicted from the polytunnel. It is time to garden!