So I’m cruising a gardening site because I have no self-control and they’re having a HALF PRICE sale* and I come to the description of something under the ‘cottage garden plants’ category. The heading describes it as a ‘half hardy annual’. This means it’ll die if it freezes, but it’ll be toast next winter anyway so your job is only not to plant it out too early now. And then in the description below the heading you are informed that while it is hardy to 18° F—which is pretty seriously hardy—it would be grateful for a little winter protection which if such is provided it will go on rewarding you with a dazzling floral display for years to come. Oh? Yes? Um.
It’s no wonder people think gardening is complicated and confusing.
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* I didn’t tell you I ordered another eight roses, did I? Speaking of sales. Peter Frelling Beales http://www.classicroses.co.uk/ had a loooooong end-of-bareroot-season sale AND THEY KEPT FRELLING SENDING ME REMINDERS. I KNOW. I READ YOUR LAST EMAIL, THANKS. I WISH YOU’D GO AWAY. THE SALE WAS FOR FORTY PERCENT OFF. FORTY PERCENT OFF ROSE BUSHES???? YOU CAN’T EXPECT ME TO RESIST—TO GO ON RESISTING—THAT LEVEL OF TEMPTATION, CAN YOU? Well, I can’t, and it was my credit card. Besides, I have at least a half-packet of that help-the-roots-to-grow symbiotic fungus stuff left . . .
The thing is I got all those roses I bought from the (relatively) local rose nursery planted and then discovered . . . I still had perennial-shrub sized gaps left. ‘Perennial shrub’ is a slightly flexible concept in my garden, of course, as is ‘gap’: it’s surprising what (and how much) you can get to grow in a too-small pot if you keep it fed and watered. This—right now—is also the most dangerous time of year for me—I’ve probably (finally^) done a certain amount of clearing out of winter detritus: of last year’s annuals, last year’s failures, and the pruning you should maybe have done last autumn but I didn’t not only because I’m absent-minded and disorganised but because if you have a hard winter some things, including roses, will probably die back some, so if you have to take the last six inches off a three-foot stem that still leaves two and a half feet of live plant which you can prune later on if you want to for shape and so on. If you cut it down hard last autumn, six inches of dead wood may leave you come spring with three inches of live plant, which is risky. But I’m not a hard pruner anyway: I figure if a rose bush wants to be five foot—or fifteen—you’ll make it unhappy by trying to prune it to be three or six.^^
. . . Anyway.^^^ This time of year there is probably bare earth out there. Bare. Earth. In MY garden. Somewhere I could PLANT SOMETHING. Or wedge a pyramid of pots into/onto/around. This goes badly to my head. Despite the fact that by the end of March I’ve frelling DONE ALL MY SPRING ORDERING. I DON’T NEED TO DO ANY MORE. Except that what I’ve ordered is beginning to fade into the dank dark mists of the previous winter during which you wrote out copious lists of possible plant orders as a gesture of hope and belief in the future and a quelling or at least muffling of cabin fever#. And of course I never get around to printing out the invoices## of my final orders. . . . And then the frelling sale come-ons start appearing in your email. . . .
Coming up ten (gleeeeeeep) years ago, when I bought the cottage, I looked at the Way Too Gardenery a Garden that the previous owner### was leaving me and thought, I am not going to turn this into a Rose Garden. I am going to evolve it a little more toward Old Fashioned Messy Cottage Garden and away from Plantsperson’s Educational Display . . . but it’s NOT going to be a rose garden with a few pansies.
Well, it isn’t. It’s a rose garden with a few pansies, clematis, delphiniums, foxgloves, primroses, fuchsias, begonias, dahlias, hellebores, daffodils, hyacinths, a few tulips, one trillium, snowdrops, crocuses, lungwort, corydalis, epimedium, geraniums/pelargoniums/whatsit, two bleeding hearts, snapdragons, cosmos, one hydrangea, one gardenia, daylilies, irises, dianthus, dwarf Japanese maples, Japanese frelling anemones, camellias, dwarf rhododendrons, peonies . . . some other stuff, including several things I either don’t know the name of or have forgotten the name of . . . and a flowering currant, a corkscrew hazel and an apple tree.% It’s a rose garden with friends.
. . . It’s okay though. You can click on the Peter Beales link, the sale is over. I don’t recommend you sign up for their email list, however, unless you live somewhere Beales won’t ship to.
^ No, no! You’re supposed to leave your rubbish alone over the winter! It gives WILDLIFE SHELTER AND FOOD! ‘Wildlife’ includes the frelling mice I yesterday animadverted, as well as slugs, snails, vine weevils, lily beetles and black spot fungal spores. And my incredibly spoilt local bird populations don’t eat seed heads or berries or rose hips. And the bats are hibernating.
^^ There are fashions in pruning as in most things. Some years I’m in fashion. Some years I’m not in fashion. Feh.
^^^ Buckminster, our vicar, gets quite a lot of stick for being easily distracted. Church services when our vicar is preaching+ have been known to run on quite a while over time because Buck has been chasing hares (again). I was thinking this Sunday while everyone was giggling that it’s a good thing no one at St Margaret’s—so far as I know—reads Robin McKinley’s Days in the Life.++ Especially Buck himself. It might give him ideas.
+ You want to get home on time, pray Buck is not preaching.
++ With footnotes.
# Yes, you can get a cabin-fever equivalent even in the south of England, although in my case anyway the lack of daylight is almost as claustrophobi-fying as not being able to get out the door because of the snowdrifts.+ This winter, of course, the solid wall of falling water that went on for about three months accentuated that shut-in feeling.
+ Pay the guy with the bulldozer scoop on the front of his muscle pick-up who clears your driveway for you promptly. Never mess with a guy with a bulldozer scoop on the front of his muscle pick-up, especially not in a winter with a lot of snow.
## I’d only lose them. So why bother.
### Trained horticulturists. Double feh.
% And I’m TRYING AGAIN with the witchhazel and the magnolia stellata, drat them anyway. And does anyone know how to get a frelling foxtail lily to FLOWER? The beastly thing is coming up for the third year in a row but I’ve yet to get a flower out of it. But three of my meconopsis are alive. YAAAAAAAY.
What first struck me about Anette’s post is how surprisingly similar to mine where her garden is in the march into spring. The small skinny trough at the foot of the stairs to the cottage front door, which I recently posted a photo of full of crocuses, is now blindingly yellow with eager, enthusiastic little Tete a tete daffs.* I have primroses everywhere.** I have all those Little Blue Things I can’t keep straight. I have several varieties of lungwort, the pink, the blue, the pink and blue, and the white, with variously interestingly spotted and mottled leaves. My crocuses and snowdrops are mostly going over and my early iris aren’t out yet at the cottage although they are at Third House. And I certainly have the little wild violets which while I don’t want to be without them ARE A TOTAL THUG and I get a little hysterical when I find them colonising another of my pots where if radical action is not taken immediately they’ll have crushed whatever I planted in that pot into a victimised corner with its hands over its face crying for mercy.
Spring. Yes. Spring.
And then last night we had what Nadia’s mum today told me jovially was the coldest night this winter—except that it’s supposed to be spring—and while yes, this is the south of England, and we’re only talking a few degrees of frost, we’re talking a few degrees of frost when everything has been rioting out in relatively warm sunshine for the last fortnight or so ARRRRRRGH. And I have a Winter Table full of potted up dahlias and begonia tubers. ARRRRRRRRGH.
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* They smell good too, although there are other daffs with more scent: Cheerfulness, for example, or Erlicheer, which are probably my two favourites for fragrance, but they don’t keep on and on the way that trough of Tete a tete does. Maybe the cursed mice are getting them. I can’t keep bulbs going at all in the back garden because of the sodblasted mice: I net a few pots every year and am getting better about remembering to take the gorblimey netting off before it strangles the bulbs trying to come up through it^ and that’s nearly it for spring bulbs. The local field mice, frustrated of their once rich banquets of tulips, may be indulging their grievance by eating daffs instead, although they’re not supposed to—daffs are one of the bulbs you’re supposed to plant if you have a mouse problem. Ha ha. But my garden ought to be jammed full of daffs and it’s not. The one bulb the local vermin seem pretty reliably not to like is hyacinths and I do keep a few pots of crocuses going by storing the pots in relatively inaccessible areas the mice can’t be bothered to hire a helicopter and a rope ladder to attack. Mostly I resign myself to replanting crocuses. Or netting them. They’re tiny enough they can usually scramble through the netting even if I forget to take it off. Ahem.
I keep the plastic half barrel by the kitchen door that I use as a waterbutt covered so nothing is tempted to drown itself. But the pink bucket also by the kitchen door which is my kitchen-waste compost bucket, in the weather we’ve had this winter fills up with rain because since it’s been always raining I haven’t often felt like going outside to empty it into the compost bag that the city council carts away every fortnight and turns into, you know, compost.^^ As a result I have twice found a drowned mouse floating among the apple cores. I do not mourn—if they stay out of the house I’m grudgingly more or less willing to take a ‘it’s their planet too’ attitude, but they’re still evil bulb-eating marauders—but, yo, dufflebrain, why? You’ve got an entire garden full of fresh tasty plant life and you’re diving for apple cores and slimy vegetable peelings? Unfortunately the hellterror discovered the second cadaver at the same moment I did NOOOOOOOOOO —providentially I nailed her before anything irretrievable happened but she now carefully examines that frelling bucket every time she goes into the back garden.
^ It can take hours to cut a lot of half-grown shoots out of heavy plastic small-gauge mouse-proof netting. You don’t have to ask me how I know this, do you?
^^ I’m more than happy to buy it back as realio-trulio plant-stuff-in-it compost for the privilege of not having to take up the space in my handkerchief-garden for my own compost heap or heaps,+ since to do it right you have to have more than one. But I do get broody about a wormery occasionally. You can get quite little ones and, you know, it’s critters.
+ I have THREE compost heaps at Third House. Which must be appropriate.
** With reference to a conversation about nomenclature on the forum I haven’t a clue about what’s correct. I think of what I grow as primroses—both the double ones I think I’ve posted photos of^ and the little wild-type ones like in Anette’s photos which also lurk in corners of my garden.^^ The fancy ‘laced’ and all the other exotic-looking ones are, to me, primulas.
Cowslips come out a little later—I have a fabulous rust-red one just beginning to unfurl now. I have no idea where it came from, and I don’t think I knew they existed in any colour but the basic species yellow. It’s in a pot which I clearly planted, so I must have rescued it from somewhere, recognising the leaves as primrose/cowslip and therefore worthy of rescue—is it a volunteer? I don’t know. Gibble. But when I said that cowslips, theoretically endangered in the wild, are weeds in my garden, and someone told me loftily that weeds are only plants in the wrong place—yes, I know that one, thanks—I was referring to the way they grew, not that I didn’t like them. I think they’re darling. I’ve been known to hoick out a few of my surplus, put them and a trowel in a plastic bag, and take some hellcritters for a stroll over suitable countryside and whack them in in a bank somewhere—since they’re endangered in the wild. This is probably illegal or something and since I know it’s desperately illegal to pluck wildflowers or to dig them up I live in fear of someone catching me at my guerrilla gardening and jumping to the wrong conclusion. But if I didn’t, um, weed them, I’d have a garden with nothing but cowslips in it.
^ If not I will.
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I! HAVE! A! CAR!
. . . Erm. Wolfgang’s home. It’s been a long nine days.* And, as I write this, it is sheeting out there. I mean, yes, again, but while ground water levels will take months to settle down and there’s still serious water on the road in a few places around here**, we’d not had rain in over a week and I was reduced to watering plant pots yesterday. It rained a little last night, tactfully between the time of the last hurtle and when we had to roll out for the walk*** home, but at the moment we’re back to the End of Days.
Oh yes and Feebledweeb made a third attempt this morning. They will stop now, right?
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* And I’m running out of underwear. Tomorrow I am bringing a lot of dirty laundry to Peter’s about-to-be-very-tired washing machine. I was not looking forward to ferrying dirty or clean but damp laundry back and forth by gigantic knapsack.
Meanwhile I will have a full car going back to the cottage tonight with the nine hundred and eleven apples from this week’s organic grocery delivery yesterday—I get through a lot of apples, and the hellterror is not averse to offering modest assistance—the fifty-six knitting magazines I’m keeping from this month’s haul—I am a knitting magazine junkie, and I read a lot of them on the sofa at the mews—the several additional knapsacks, sweaters, pairs of gloves and socks that have accumulated down here for some reason, and the hundred and twelve books that did not make the Book Rec cut and need to go into the Oxfam Box by the door at the cottage.
** Including one stretch that is incredibly badly semi-marked and on a dark corner, and why no one has taken out the invisible barrier like Grond at the gates of Gondor for simply not being able to see it and possibly for the character flaw of not being local and therefore being unaware of neighbourhood booby traps, I cannot imagine. Fortunately it’s only a little back road—although it’s one of those little back roads that is your only plausible choice from point A to point B—so wild veering into the centre of the road and into the path of oncoming traffic . . . can mostly be accomplished in the absence of oncoming traffic. Even so. I think I tweeted a county headline that the latest guesstimate about repairing Hampshire’s roads after the floods is that the price tag is going to hit £36K. I believe it too: not only are there potholes the size of Zeppelins but a lot of roads are simply narrower than they used to be, aside from invisible barriers protecting deep water, because the shoulders have disintegrated. And what’s left of the road surface is like driving on stucco. I bet tyre- and shocks-manufacturer shareholders are holding champagne parties. I hope the list of urgently-needed mending is comprehensive.
*** Between the frelling thirty-pound knapsack and the fact that there are three of them it is a walk, although the hellterror does a fair amount of hurtling on her own recognizance. Which brings me to a moral dilemma. The hellterror adores the late-night strolls back to the cottage, and is, for her, surprisingly well-mannered.^ The hellhounds slouch along doing passive-aggressive sulking^^ but it’s been a year and a half, guys, get over yourselves. And late at night is the only time it’s worth the risk taking all three out together. I wonder if . . . it’s a pity Wolfgang can’t get himself home and the thirty-pound knapsack, and let the rest of us amble after.
^ I am really really really hoping it’s not all the frelling false pregnancy. Which I keep hoping isn’t happening but—moan—her breasts are slightly swollen, yesterday and today, so it probably is. Only someone who spends a lot of time rubbing her tummy would notice, but I do and I have. She hasn’t started shredding newspapers and hiding under the sofa—she doesn’t really fit under the sofa any more—so maybe she can have the imaginary puppies imaginarily and get on with life?? But it’s been pleasant having an only semi-manic imp of the perverse about the place. I’ve been thinking I need to take her training slightly more seriously . . . no, no, not the walking quietly on heel and the perfect recall: the paw-offering and the playing dead. The useful stuff. The stuff, it must be admitted, that happens on the kitchen floor at the cottage last thing before closing her down for the night and I go upstairs for a nice hot bath and a dropping of reading material in it. This is not, I realise, optimum training timing, but it has two things going for it: (a) it happens at all and (b) I get a good laugh at the end of the day and on bad days this is very welcome.
^^ I am very, very, very tired of sibling rivalry, or whatever the doodah it is. Chaos would rather be friends but Darkness is convinced she’s the antichrist and Chaos, for all his buffoonery and in-your-faceness, when in doubt, defers to Darkness. Night before last Chaos forgot himself so far as to play tug of war with Pav and the stick she was prancing around flourishing. There was much mock-growling and tail-wagging and I was thrilled . . . till Darkness, who had been lagging behind at the very end of his extending lead, suddenly leaped into full sprint and went past me like a cheetah after a gazelle. I realised a third of a second before he bloody well had me over that he wasn’t going to stop, which gave me just enough instinctive time to yell and hit the end of the lead going the other way. You colossal little ratbag. Arrrrrgh.
I love spring.* I never used to but I think that may be because in areas where winters are gruesomely hard, like Maine, spring is kind of disgusting. I keep remembering the smell of March in Maine and the way EVERYTHING needed cleaning, and that was even before it got covered in mud from the snowmelt. It was great that the snow was melting (probably) but sometimes the results seemed like too much trouble.** Some of you Midwesterners may agree/disagree.
We’ve had GENUINE SUNLIGHT the last few days. And I’ve been getting out in the garden.
Little tiny overpotted garden. With verifiable sunlight on the back wall.
Way beyond cute. We must have had it at the old house–it’s common, it grows well around here–but I don’t remember it, or anyway I’m not the one looked after where it grew.*** But my predecessor at the cottage grew a lot of it. I was kind of a scourge to begin with because I didn’t recognise it when it wasn’t in flower, it was mostly growing in inconvenient places, and the foliage dies to nothing later in the season so I’d go to dig up a blank space and discover these tiny little bulby things that had the look of something that maybe ought to be rescued. So eventually I started plonking it in pots. I’ve got at least three different sorts in six or eight little pots, this dark pink, the blue, and a pale pink one . . . which I only just stopped from accidentally obliterating a new little clump of–I think it must regenerate if you leave a scrap in the ground–about a fortnight ago, stuffed it in another pot . . . and, gallant creature, it’s flowering. The bizarre thing is that I took a bunch of it up to Third House a few years ago and it disappeared. Maybe next door’s evil terrier dug it up and ate it.
Primroses are a big favourite with me. I have no idea where this one came from. I was clearing out pots and this one had some clearly primrose leaves growing at one edge so I said, okay, fine, go for it. Cowslips, just by the way, garden primroses’ wild cousins, which are some kind of endangered, are a weed in my garden. Another few weeks I’ll be ankle deep in them.
I love the variety of colour in most hyacinth flowers. That’s not just blue or purple, you know? Speaking of ankle deep, in a week or two I will be knee deep in blooming hyacinths. I keep buying them to force over the winter and then . . . you have these perfectly functional bulbs at the end of your fit of botanical self-indulgence and all they ask is a small corner outdoors and a bit of dirt . . . they’re frost-hardy, they’re tough, and apparently mice would rather eat other things.† And they produce one fat fabulous heavenly smelly flower every spring. Except that this is a very small garden and I’m running out of SPACE. How do you reforce bulbs? I know you can prepare your own by putting them in the fridge for a bit but after having their constitutions screwed up like that, how long do they need in the garden being normal before you can do it again?
I have made reference to my pots-in-pots-in-pots gardening habits. In the back left-hand corner there are at least four levels. And that doesn’t count the fact that there are several pots in levels two and three. The pink plastic bucket by the kitchen door is my compost bucket, although it goes to the town compost maker, not a hot fermenting corner of this garden. As a compost bucket it has no holes in its bottom, so when it rains, it fills up. Found a drowned mouse about a week ago–sorry, but YAAAAAAAAY. Mice are vermin††–just in time to prevent the hellterror from engaging in close acquaintance. She now checks that bucket very very carefully every time I open the door, and if nothing is better on offer she stands by the door and stares at it.
And the little square grey thing in the bottom right-hand corner is my maximum-minimum thermometer. Love. I am not a very comprehensive weather geek but I LOOOOVE having a max/min. They are one of these things that for inexplicable reasons go out of fashion–at just about the time that your last one stops working–and it takes you YEARS to find a replacement. I hope this one lives a long time.
Yesterday three boxes of tubers arrived, two of begonias and one of dahlias. All of these things are frost-tender. I spent a couple of hours in the sunshine yesterday afternoon potting them up–I potted all of them up the day the arrived!!!!!! How utterly fantastic is that–and so of course we had a frost last night. The indoor jungle lives. It would have been so much easier if they’d just still been in three small, tidy cardboard boxes.
And it will probably freeze again tonight. So I’d better get back to the cottage and schlepp a lot of grubby pots indoors again. Feh. Gardening. It’s as mad as critters.
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* Well. When it stops raining I love spring.
** Except for the lilacs. Lilacs are worth it.^
^ Lilacs would GROW. Don’t talk to me about roses, AKA your very expensive annuals if you live in Maine. Lilacs only rioted for a few weeks but by golly they RIOTED. And they required zero care, as I should know, since those were my pre-gardening days, and I took my landscape as a given. I had massive lilac hedges around my little house, but they seemed like just another feature like one bathroom and a long skinny kitchen.
*** Is it a rose? No? Go away and don’t bother me.^
^ Does it grow under roses? No? Go away and don’t bother me. Although in my current garden it perforce grows under roses because there isn’t anywhere else.
† Tulip bulbs, for example. Snarl.
†† They eat tulip bulbs.
SUNLIGHT!* WE HAD SUNLIGHT TODAY!!** I admit there have been random sightings lately, including this weekend, but today it was SUNNY when I crawled out of bed, it was SUNNY when I let Pav out in the little back courtyard to relieve any overnight build-up of pressure***, it was SUNNY when I ran outdoors with my camera because of course it would rain later, it was SUNNY when I hurtled first one and then the other shift and it was SUNNY when I went out yea verily a third time to buy a newspaper. I admit it did start raining just as I’d got my gardening kit on and had my hand on the kitchen door to go outside . . . but I went anyway. I just spent longer in the greenhouse (muttering) than I’d planned.
Have I mentioned how much WordPress hates me? Even with Blogmom’s templates to take the risk out I STILL can’t hang photos. Okay, late breaking caption: This particular clump of double whites are trying to take over the universe. Go for it. –And I have no idea where the italic came from.
And WHY did THIS caption become DETACHED from its photo?? No, no, don’t tell me, I’m not strong enough, it’s been a long winter.
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* Crocuses will only open in sunlight. So if you think you’re hallucinating . . . check your crocuses.
** I was so demented with joy and daylight that I moved a bumblebee by PICKING HER UP IN MY FINGERS. I’ve seen one or two recently and am glad they haven’t all drowned. But this one was snuggled up between the kitchen doorframe and the sill and the hellpack would get her if I didn’t tread on her and I was thinking that she was probably liking the warmth of the house so without thinking at all I picked her up and put her behind the plant pots on the kitchen window shelf. It didn’t occur to me what I was doing till she started buzzing. EEEEEP. I may have put her down somewhat hastily. But she was slow and sleepy with winter and it’s easy to be STUPID because bumblebees are, you know, fuzzy and cute.
*** She is now old enough to have the control to decide not to relieve pressure till she goes on her first hurtle later. Yaay. I don’t know if this is the tiny size of the space available or what; the hellhounds stopped using the back garden too, except when things were very bad, although it took them longer, being boys, about two years. But this is the first time I’ve had dogs with a small enclosed garden and don’t know if this is common behaviour or not. But it’s very nice not to have a patio latrine that needs disinfecting, especially with spring and summer and sitting-outdoors thoughts in prospect. Not that I’m very good at sitting outdoors but the thought counts for something.