‘Tis bitter cold and I am (not) sick at heart…

Siberian winds have been blowing in these past few days, bringing finger-numbing cold with them. Wyndham Park Infants’ School song begins “There’s a school at the top of the hill/Where the wind blows…” and this is true on virtually every day of the year. The garden I look after there is exposed on all sides, which makes the work especially chilly on days like these. Yesterday I did a major spring clean of the main flower borders and the herb garden, getting rid of all the weeds which were coming through, and cutting back the last of the tatty growth from last year’s perennials. Already there are plenty of signs of life coming through from the likes of Sedum, Alcea and Monarda – all  of which established themselves well last season. The only casualties over the winter appear to have been a couple of Thymus and a Lavendula which I imagine just got too wet and cold. The soil is not good – a combination of chalk downland, overlaid with builders’ rubble and clayey muck from when the school (and more recently the Library) were built.

The apple trees were given a good feed and a mulch. The two new apples – bought with money raised by one of the pupils – appear to have settled in alright.

Despite the cold, I enjoyed the session working up there – accompanied by the singing and shouting of 100 5 year olds! Generally I much prefer gardening on my own – with just my own thoughts, and my own voice for company. I am a great believer in the value of talking to oneself, especially when pruning: something I was pleased to discover Christopher Lloyd advocated. However, the background noise of children is an exception to this rule. It is always uplifting, even when interrupted by the regular wails of  a grazed knee or a (briefly) broken friendship.

I am looking forward to the growing season, when, I hope, I will be able to do some actual gardening with the pupils. We had a bulb-planting session in the autumn, and a good many of their bulbs are coming through in the grass banks as well as in pots and containers.

This morning I was up at the allotment. But the bitter easterly wind did for me after about an hour: the wind whistles over the downs and straight onto the plot. My hands became clumsy and unwieldy, my head ached with the cold, and my attempts at a warming bonfire failed to get going very well. I did, however, manage to plan out where my new compost bays are going to go: the pallets are all up there, and I just need to prepare the ground and fasten them all together. A three-bay compost ‘factory’ will enable me to substantially increase the amount of compost I can create, and reduce the need to take stuff to the recycling centre.

Raised beds have now all been cleared, fed and given a first or second top-up of manure. Half the lavenders I planted up there in the autumn have survived – but the rest have succumbed to cold and wet. It looks as though ‘Munstead’ has proved hardier than ‘Hidcote’ in this winter’s conditions.The lavenders had been massing in my garden as I potted them up, so taking them to the allotment was just a question of creating some space at home. There are still a lot in pots at home too: I need a client who wants a Provencal garden and can take a few dozen off my hands! If they end up staying at the allotment, I will plant other flowers in between the rows, and watch the bees and other pollinators swarm in.

There are plenty of strawberry plants – which I just popped into an empty raised bed last October when they arrived – which will shortly be moved into the fruit tunnel, when I have cleared and prepared the ground. And there are more currant bushes to accompany them, as well as the existing summer and autumn raspberries.

The remaining bugbear at the allotment remains the paths. Over the years they have been covered with, variously, straw, weed fabric, carpet, gravel (in places). Currently they are mostly weeds and mud. I firmly believe that tidy paths make a huge difference to the feel of an allotment. They set-off the growing areas, even when there is little growing, as well as making it pleasanter and easier to move around. My thinking is to get a load of wood chippings delivered and use those, on top of weed-suppressant fabric, to make some pleasing and sustainable paths.

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