As I write it is raining, and I am breathing a sigh of relief. The ground has been getting very dry and hard in recent days, and I’ve been out with the watering cans every evening at home, which is very unusual for April. The days have been very warm and sunny too, often with a drying breeze, all of which has contributed to the condition of my gardens. There hasn’t been a proper soaking rain since the third week of February.
At The Farm, where the soil is pretty poor in most parts of the garden, grass seed sown a few weeks ago to repair bare patches has lain fairly barren. I re-re-seeded those patches again, having seen that some rain was forecast over the weekend. Established grass is also starting to look a bit parched, so mowing has been scaled back until there’s been some rain to green the lawns up a bit. One of the drawbacks of not being a resident gardener is that watering is a difficult thing to manage. More so still at The Farm, as there is no running water in the Walled Garden. A watering can dunked and filled in the river has to suffice, which is challenging to say the least.
Where the long south-facing wall has been repaired the border at its foot is in a dreadful state. Brick ends and lumps of old mortar from the repair work have been trampled and scattered underfoot while the builders did their work. In the long term there is now, more than ever, a strong case for digging out the entire length of the border and starting again with new soil. However, that’s not going to happen this year, so I have chosen some flowers which might at least stand a chance in the currently inhospitable conditions. Californian Poppies (Eschscholzia californica) positively adore stony ground, as do Field Poppies (Papaver rhoeas) and I have sown lots of them; Cosmos too is ideal for this location. I hope that in a few short weeks this part of the garden will be ablaze with oranges and reds. It might not be subtle, but it will make a real difference.
A couple of weeks ago I posted a rather grumpy blog about my own garden – you can read it here if you’re interested. In short, I was disillusioned and despairing about the state of the garden, and frustrated by its failure to live up to what I wanted. I should say, frustrated by my inability to nurture it to the standard to which I aspired: any failing is mine, not the garden’s.
Suffice to say, I look out on the garden now and feel a whole lot better. The garden has turned a corner over Easter, and I now look ahead to enjoying it rather than it making me unhappy.
So what’s happened? Well, the first thing to say is that this happens every year. I mean that literally. The cycle of the year, as reflected in my garden, always leaves a bit of a ‘hole’ in the period up to April. That’s largely down to planting – and something I can easily remedy. I resolve, therefore, to plant more snowdrops and Eranthis to flower as early as possible. And to plant some more winter shrubs – Hamamelis is high on my list, as are some more red-stemmed Cornus. I am not the biggest fan of Narcissus, but I had some different varieties in pots and they definitely brightened things up – though some are in bud and have yet to flower. I will augment these with some other spring bulbs come the autumn – Chionodoxa luciliae does well, though there are only a scattered few at present. Primroses (Primula vulgaris) also do very well in our garden, so there are always plenty of them to cheer things (and me) up.
The flower that really says ‘spring is here’ for me is the Marsh Marigold or Kingcup (Caltha palustris) which grows in our small pond. I’ve grown these since I was a teenager – my parents’ garden then had a decent sized ‘wildlife’ pond (quite forward thinking really for the mid-70s) – and they hold a special place in my gardening affections. We’ve just made a mini wildlife pond at the allotment, and I hope to get some growing there too.
Of course the cycle of the year also means that there is now far more light and warmth now than there was a few weeks ago, so everything has ‘sprung’. The change to BST also has an effect, as one can be out in the garden of an evening, working or just pottering – but all the time seeing and sensing the emerging growth.
The greenhouse also leaps into life now. Yes, I sowed some Sweet Pea seeds on New Year’s Day, and several lots of seeds in February, but it’s only over Easter that the sowing season has really got going. The greenhouse is now (already) bursting with seed trays, and some of the early sowings have already been potted-on.
And there is colour. The front garden has emerged from its rather brown and twiggy dormancy into a much richer palette of purples, blues and greens. Rather bullyish plants like Heucheras, Hellebores, Muscari, Bluebells and Dwarf Comfrey are all jostling together to create a backdrop – while Snakes’ Head Fritillaries and Tiarella flower more delicately in their midst. Shrubs too get into their stride – either with blossom (Prunus Kojo-no-mai, Ribes sanguineum), or with foliage (Photinia ‘Red Robin’ and Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’) – as do some early Clematis. None of these are special plants in themselves, but they start to work together now to create something good.
There are some clumps of perennial wallflower too, adding a slightly racy splash of colour at key points. And there are bees everywhere. Whatever one’s misgivings about Dwarf Comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum) – and it can be a thug – it’s value as a flower for bees early in the season is astonishing. (That Euphorbia must go though – and the path needs weeding, I know…).
One thinks of garden birds primarily as a winter feature, but there are more birds now than we’ve had in months. Long-tailed Tits foraging for spiders’ webs along the fence (they use them as nest material), and nesting Great and Blue Tits keeping themselves going with energy-boosting sunflower hearts from the feeders. A Garden Warbler turned up, and has hung around – a new ‘tick’ for the garden list, and the first recorded in Wiltshire this spring.
And tulips – red, pink, orange, crimson – in pots here and there, easily moveable to fill gaps or provide a point of interest.
I do tend toward gloom, but the garden in early April challenges even my melancholic nature. It is simply too full of promise to do otherwise.
No potato planting – the traditional pastime for allotment folk on Easter Sunday – but a really useful day nonetheless. Mrs G and I weeded and weeded, trying to get the Couch Grass under control, and to clear the ground for sowing and planting in due course. What a bugger it is, with some rhizomes I dug out today being a good 18 inches long or more, and usually tangled with others into some kind of weedy Gordian Knot. Short of dismantling the entire plot, raise beds and all, and starting again after cleansing the site, there is no alternative but to keep weeding.
The raised beds were all clean and tidy when we’d finished, as was the fruit cage where raspberries are promising to do very well. We must be more diligent about picking them though this year. One of the reasons for growing them is that we, our son in particular, love them, and they’re pricey to buy. But they do need to be cropped little and often to get the benefit, and we failed to do that properly last year. I think a raspberry stop on the way home will become a feature of the school run this summer.
We also had a bonfire, and burned a lot of rubbish left over from last season. Therapeutic as ever, as well as a quick way to tidy up the plot. The children, meanwhile, occupied themselves and their friends very happily. The (older) boys barrowed many loads of bark chips (for paths) and leaf-mould/compost up from the bottom of the hill. When they grew tired of this they decided to use the bark-chip heap as a soft landing site for impromptu acrobatics. Meanwhile, the two girls kept busy watering, worm-hunting and adding dry sticks to the bonfire. They all ended the day tired, happy and tiredly, happily filthy.
There are some fruit trees, heeled-in as bare-roots and then rather forgotten about, which really need to be properly planted. Now the site is tidier, it’s possible to be more certain where they should go, and I will move them to their new, permanent sites next time I visit.
Though there is still a lot to do, but it is only the beginning of April – and we came away not only with a sense of satisfaction at a good day’s work done, but with a good bundle of early rhubarb too.