Well, what a year it has been! Although we were open for much of the year, I really missed going out and about with trays of plants to the various produce fairs locally. It looks as though those aren’t going to be starting up again for a few months yet, so for the time being, everything will be on sale here at the Nursery. We did not have any vegetables left when lockdown started again in December, so the Nursery site has been closed and will open again on Monday 5th April.
Last year at this time it was T-shirt weather! - but this year everything is off to a really slow start. The plants are just beginning to wake up - probably about 3 weeks later than last year - even the frogs waited until the middle of March to lay the frogspawn in our much enlarged (and much deeper) pond. I noticed the first snake’s fritillary this week, and the first brave primroses are joining the daffodils which are trying to stay upright.
I’ve been lucky as I have had so much to do in the garden that I have managed to keep more than usually busy, so “lockdown” hasn’t been as boring as it has for many. I waited until the temperatures rose above freezing before I turned on the heated bench and propagators in the greenhouse, so was later than usual in sowing tomatoes - but they have now caught up and are ready to pot on - they will be ready in three or four weeks. Also in the heated greenhouse are the first early cabbages, brussels sprouts and leeks - in anyone wants any, please let me know and I can put them aside.
I’ve also expanded the range of plants in all areas, but in particular have some gorgeous clematis coming along, as well as a load of hostas. All the plants are easily viewed in the open air display area at the top of the hill - for anybody who finds the hill too difficult to walk up, please check with us to make sure the parking space just in front of the pond is empty before bringing the car up.
During the winter we started work on new paths criss-crossing the woods so that a good walk can be enjoyed by our visitors. We hope to have a route signposted later in the year. We also tackled (again) the rhododendron ponticum regrowth - we have managed to kill about 70% of what was there without chemicals - and we are hoping that that will increase dramatically after the winter’s work. It was all helped by our new puppy, Freya, who is enthusiastic about assisting in absolutely everything, although the results of that assistance usually involve doing everything again!
Hope to see many of you once we are open again, from 5th April - and hopefully the weather improves along with that.
When I last posted some notes, the branches of the trees were bare, the sleet was coming down and there wasn't a midge in sight. A couple of frenetic months have passed since then, with a glorious and prolonged spring seeing the garden burst into life. Every day since then has seen a step forward until last week, when the clouds of midges ascended, and work has almost ground to a halt.
However, all parts of the vegetable garden have been filled, although the runner beans are sulking in the cold and wet weather of the last ten days or so. I hope a day or two of sun will wake them up, but the grey clouds and dripping leaves don't look that hopeful. The broad beans are tall and flowering well, and soon will have little bean pods - but they need staking soon, or the weight of the beans will break the stems as they are not a dwarf variety. Interestingly, the garlic sown outside in tubs matches the garlic planted in the polytunnel, showing that over the months since sowing the bulbs there has been little advantage in using space in the polytunnel for this crop. On the other hand, we did enjoy a couple of very early pickings of peas from a sowing in November, harvesting in late April. The chickens, despite two layers of netting designed to keep them away from the brussels sprouts and savoy cabbage, have foiled all attempts to keep them from enjoying the leaves, and have taken to jumping on the netting to push it down sufficiently so they can gorge themselves on their favourite food, brassica leaves. Next year a more efficient barricade will have to be devised to keep them away from the brussels until Christmas time.
Elsewhere in the garden, we have been enjoying the colourful displays of self-sown candelabra primulas in all colours that are now appearing everywhere. At some point in the last two or three years the quantity of primulas has increased so they are popping up in every nook and cranny. Two other plants have looked wonderful this year - the viburnum has flowered spectacularly, and the solomon's seal planted throughout the garden has also been looking good. In the last few days, the large flowered clematis "Nelly Moser" has taken over from the early montanas, and the Ena Harkness climbing rose has produced loads of blooms. Tree lupins which have yet to find a permanent home are flowering in the polytunnel, and filling it with a lovely scent.
Now is the time to take soft cuttings of many shrubs - fuchsia, weigela, spirea, deciduous azaleas, hypericum and viburnum to name just a few. This gardener was early taking some cuttings, and can now move the results out of the propogating cabinet on to the hot bench (vegetable plants having now moved off the bench and into the polytunnel or greenhouse) to make room for yet more cuttings. A close eye is being kept on the weather forecast to see if the whole month of June will see work in the garden stalled or if the midges will be driven away by more high winds or, better still, a return of the sun.
At the end of February, in the warm, dry weather, I was watching the blue tits zoom around the trees, trying to pair up in a hurry so they could get on with nest building - like everyone, they were fooled into thinking Spring was well on its way. The crocuses came and went, and the daffodils started flowering before the end of the month. Early tulips were flowering, the first broad bean plants were being hardened off ready for planting, and early potatoes were in tubs. This gardener, and her dog, were being taken for a ride by the jet stream. The dog, having shed all her hair, spent most of March shivering in a curled up ball while the gardener, again wearing fleeces, woolly hats and gloves, struggled against the biting wind to tidy up the parts of the garden not underwater. The last day of March tried to make up for the rest of the month, but April Fool's Day lived up to its name - I'm writing this looking with horror at the sleet coming down in waves.
The greenhouse was the sanctuary for gardener and plants in March. The first lot of vegetable seedlings are now an inch high in individual pots, and the second have germinated. Tomatoes enjoying the luxury of the hot bench, and cucumbers are in the propagator. If I can find space, a trawl through old seed packets may find something interesting - and keep fingers crossed that the seed is still viable and germinates. My age means that I can't throw anything away that absolutely hasn't definitely died - so I have got a whole drawer of old seed that has to prove it isn't going to grow!
A visit to the vegetable polytunnel horrified me, as a couple of weeks of neglect meant that broccoli was flowering, parsley threatening to bolt, and a glut of purple sprouting broccoli had nearly reached the roof. However, new troughs for new strawberry plants (potted in January and in need of transplanting) had finally made it into the polytunnel, and strawberries duly planted up. A day next week will have to be earmarked as polytunnel day to make it look presentable again.
The new grassy area (can't really call it a lawn) has a couple of boggy bits in it, and these are now earmarked for planting up with iris sibirica, which will like the bog, and hopefully disguise the errors in landscaping. Some bare bits of ground are ready for grass seed, which has to be extra thick to make sure it survives the attentions of the chickens. I'm hoping for another spell of dry weather so I can finish clearing my main terraced beds of dead bits, leaves and weeds. This is always accompanied by the ever present flock of chickens, who only have to glimpse anything resembling digging to rush over and join in. It needs dry weather, as this is a sitting down job, and I do like a dry piece of rock or ground if available! So this gardener is hoping the jet stream will swing back to where it belongs now the clocks have jumped forward.