Back in Harness

The garden and gardener, like my blog, have risen from the dead. Treble Lazarus. It feels good to be back in harness. Those days between weathers always do the trick.

soggy beige

All through winter I walked past devastated borders countless times, but blocked out the mess. Soggy wads of grey or – worse – beige – the slimy remnants of hostas and herbaceous potentillas covering the ground , the black and mouldy stands of aster scapes, the reddish-brown collapse of crocosmias, the pustules of coral fungus on supporting sticks.

Now, all of a sudden, I can stand it no more. The sun’s come out and there’s work in progress: tidy heaps of the spent, decayed and broken sit along the paths of the new garden.

It is tempting to simply wade in and remove the most offending items but, given that these Shetlandic weather windows can be brief, this temptation must be resisted at all costs.

Ironically, some plants still looking respectable must be given priority. Sedums, deciduous euphorbias, epimediums and, to a lesser degree, evergreen ferns, have a tendency to put on new growth rapidly – hidden deep amongst the old spent leaves, stalks and fronds of the previous season.

Unless the old is cut away before the new has time to make progress, it becomes an impossible fiddle to remove one while avoiding the other.

work in progress

Once the decks have been cleared, the fun starts. Planting spring bulbs. “But isn’t this the wrong time of year?” I hear you ask. “No it isn’t, it’s exactly the right time of year.”

I’ve never understood how gardeners manage to plant spring bulbs in the autumn and manage to get them exactly where they look their very best when their time comes.  Perhaps they have photographic memories or super-human powers of visualisation?

I pop mine into small pots as soon as they arrive, singly for daffodils and larger tulips, and from three to five for the likes of crocus, Anemone blanda, fritillaries and erythroniums.

Bulbs other than snowdrops can be moved “in the green” provided they’re not allowed to dry out and are lifted with all or most of their roots intact. Leucojum vernum, the spring snowflake, has increased nicely over the years, and is a great candidate for spreading around the garden now.


It has not always flowered freely for me – buds used to vanish over night. Whenever there’s a death in a garden, even concerning a mere flower bud, it pays to carry out a post mortem examination. While molluscs don’t find snowflake leaves very palatable, they love snacking on the buds as soon as they appear above ground.

Raking the thick, grey wads of decaying sycamore leaves off their quarters not only deprives them of their five star hotel accommodation, but also renders them vulnerable to the garden’s blackbirds.


Blackbirds aren’t generally fond of slugs, but during times of hardship I’ve watched a bird wiping its gastropod prey on a stone or tree trunk to remove the slime, before devouring it. As we all know, necessity is the mother of a diet change, and now the trend seems to be catching on.

The fine weather has eased the strain on the hay, sheep muesli, and ultimately the pocket. The ladies take to the hill in the morning to feast on young heather shoots, and when the sun is shining all day, they remain there, rather than return home for their evening feed.


Dale, our new ram, came from a hill flock in the Dale of Walls, can jump two metres vertically (right over James, and clearing his head by 1.5 inches), and was the ovine equivalent of a bucking bronco when he arrived here.

Taming him, if that is ever fully possible, takes time and patience, and food is the magic bullet. At first he would only come to his feeding box if I stood well camouflaged behind a stand of Sitka spruces. Eventually I was allowed to remain 3-4 metres away – fully visible. He was off at the slightest move I made. A sitting human seemed particularly threatening; it took him well over a week to tuck into his oats with my hunched figure nearby. The first time he sniffed my hand, casually resting on the rim of the box, he was off like a shot.

those horns

I’m still a little nervous of those horns, but can now keep my hand in the box – about an inch away from his nose, and look forward to our first skin-to-facial-hair-contact, but the time window is closing. The sunshine has made the grass grow and soon he’s bound to put up his nose at anything I have to offer.






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One Response to Back in Harness

  1. Alison Moy says:

    Wonderful to have your blog back and breathing fresh air into our London life again!

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