Monthly Archives: January 2014

Sunshine and snowdrops (and more rain)

As promised in my last blog, Galanthus nivalis have appeared – in fact they were visible just 24 hours after I wrote that. And as I write now the sun is shining, garden birds are active. I really ought to be outdoors, but that would be to overlook the past 24 hours of heavy rain, as well as the residual soddenness of the earth after the wettest January for decades.

A quick foray in my own garden was enough to persuade me that things are still so, so soggy (it was raining hard here only an hour ago) that anything beyond the most superficial work remains problematic. One step on a lawn leaves a water-filled bootprint, and borders are squelchy to say the least. And we live at the top of a (modest) hill, well above the valleys of Salisbury’s five rivers – Avon, Ebble, Nadder, Wylye and Bourne – below: all of which remain way above their normal levels. 

Standing up at Old Sarum on Saturday afternoon, one could look down at the Avon and see how it had overflowed its banks all the way up to Stratford-sub-Castle and beyond to the north. Even the raised boardwalks along the riverside through the Avon Nature Reserve have been flooded and remain closed.

So a few snowdrops are a welcome sight, as are the green spikes of other bulbs. Even the large clump of Hemerocallis outside my back window is showing plenty of growth. There is a real sense that spring is happening as the days lengthen away from the Solstice – and that just adds to the frustration of not being able to get on with things properly. Just as last year’s extended cold period meant that all of spring was squeezed into what felt like about a fortnight, I fear the wet might do the same in 2014.

At least the greenhouse is a dry haven, and overwintered plants in there are looking fine. I am holding off sowing any seeds just yet, as light levels remain relatively low, temperatures are not great (the greenhouse is unheated), and it’s too wet to plant things out and make room for seed trays as yet. But I do have some very nice seeds which came from my Seedy Penpal – as part of the scheme organised by the redoubtable Carl Legge. Gilly sent me a number of packets – some for the school garden, some for the allotment, and some for home. I am particularly looking forward to growing Asparagus Peas, and might get a sowing of those into the heated propagator sooner rather than later. 

Slow start

I am struggling, to be honest, with the wet and unpredictable start to 2014. Although we live up a hill, and have consequently been spared any flooding, one look at the water meadows around Salisbury is all it takes to see very clearly how much rain has fallen.

High water in central Salisbury

The worst it has got in our own garden is to make everything sodden-through, and the same goes for my clients’ gardens. Work on the soil is very tricky, as standing on it (even using a board) risks compacting and churning – damaging the structure which is the very life of the soil. Lawns too are virtually no-go areas, as any repeated treading will quickly turn grass to squelchy green mud. 

On the other hand, typical January jobs such as fruit pruning are a little difficult as we’ve not had any properly cold weather to promote dormancy in the trees and bushes. I like to wait until there’s been a few consecutive days of proper frosts before tackling apple trees: I think we have had four remotely frosty mornings since the beginning of November.

I have done a stint at the allotment, but that too is very wet – even given it’s sloping ground, and free-draining soil too. One job I did manage to do was to heel-in some bare-root shrubs that arrived by mail-order, which can stay in the ground until conditions improve a bit and I can move them to the client’s garden where they will form the basis of new planting.

The dearth of garden birds continues too. Whilst the nyger seed feeder has been almost permanently occupied by Goldfinches for a couple of weeks, other species have been thin on the ground. My son and I had set ourselves some ‘target birds’ for the winter – one of which was Brambling. But numbers of these bold-coloured Scandinavian finches have been very low this year, as they’ve stayed-put, as have Waxwings – after a really good season last year.

One problem has been food going off in the feeders, as it sits and gets wet and mouldy. This is bad news as it risks spreading disease for visiting birds, so regular changes of food are required – and I tend not to overfill the feeders either, to reduce waste.

The weather forecast keeps on promising a cold snap – and this time last year we had snow – but I am not holding out much hope. Bulbs are popping up all over the place, and snowdrops will be appearing in the garden soon.

Tall Nettles


Tall nettles cover up, as they have done
These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough
Long worn out, and the roller made of stone:
Only the elm butt tops the nettles now.

This corner of the farmyard I like most:
As well as any bloom upon a flower
I like the dust on the nettles, never lost
Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.

Edward Thomas

Selected Poems and Prose (ed. David Wright, Penguin)