Sex and the Country

Narcissus pseudonarcissus lobularis

Narcissus pseudonarcissus lobularis

Perhaps this week’s title should’ve been sex and the single frog. All of a sudden the western and southern pond margins have been turned into tapioca. There’s frog spawn as far as the eye can see – and – if one has the time and patience –  frogs mating amongst the tapioca. Lots of them. For reasons unbeknownst to me there seems to be a shortage of females this year – so as well as the customary twosomes, we have threesomes and the odd foursome.

heading for the pond

heading for the pond

I was rather concerned about the poor girls at the bottom of the pile. They seemed to be spending inordinate amounts of time under water for animals with lungs rather than gills. I needn’t have worried.  As it turns out, frogs can breathe through their skin.

At this time of year they come from near and far to mate and spawn at the pond and a few of them, I’m certain, become lunch or dinner for our heron or herons.

For all I know herons don’t breed in Shetland, but they seem to be around all the time, and for a while there were two who seemed to have some sort of “special relationship” – flying together and standing near each other motionless by the water’s edge, watching the fish cruising in the depth.

Saturday, 26th March was the first day of spring this year. There is not the slightest bit of doubt about it. The sun shone all day, set fiery and gloriously at 16.48, and tempted us into having our first al-fresco lunch in the garden.

“And suddenly it’s voar(spring)”, as they say in Shetland. The ground is drying up at long last, there are fresh new shoots everywhere and everything is burgeoning forth, especially the red ornamental rhubarb near the pond.

red ornamental rhubarb

red ornamental rhubarb

 A million jobs – put off from last year and the year before – need doing and I ask myself: “why didn’t I start on all this a month or two ago?” And the answer is: “A month or two ago wasn’t spring, that’s why.”

For the past half decade or so we have been blessed with a lot of self-sown trees – rowans, alders, willows, all sorts of wild roses, cotoneasters, and to a lesser extent, buddlejas, birches, elders, and hebes.

Sadly, none of these shrubs/trees managed to place themselves where they are wanted or needed and their removal/relocation had been discussed to the full last spring and the spring before last. And then, as happens in a garden, more pressing matters, such as the sowing of salads, took priority and the unwanted trees/shrubs remained in situ.

Not so this year. James has filled a wheelbarrow with wonderful specimens and has started planting them where they can expand and grow into perfection.

Suddenly there’s colour amongst winter’s drab debris – primroses are flowering: little purple ‘Wanda’, ‘Lady Greer’, a minute pale yellow polyanthus, ‘Quaker’s Bonnet’ a delightful lilac double, and all the Barnhaven polyanthus raised from seed two years ago. Their range of colours is bewitching, and I’m especially fond of the orange and red shades as well as the pastel blues.

Barnhaven Blues

Barnhaven Blues

. The winter flowering heathers look glorious, the oriental form of the marsh marigold, Caltha palustris var. alba has opened white, yellow-centred stars. Wild daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus lobularis) hold sway in rough grass, and the indestructible little Narcissus ‘Tête-à-Tête’ looks great with the warm pink of Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Jeantine’.

winter-flowering heather

winter-flowering heather

Chionodoxas seed themselves freely and have turned part of the South Border blue. There are two species in the garden, the rampant C. forbesii, and the less rampant and more intense blue C. sardensis. The wan, mauveish shade of  Chionodoxa ‘Pink Giant’ is a bit of an acquired taste, but works well as a solo performer for enhancing what would otherwise be bare stretches of green groundcover.

 The white form flowers freely but doesn’t set seed. Lovely as a contrast to blue primroses or as a contrast for my black hellebores, of which there are many.

All the hellebores are now fully out, including those elusive yellows. I now have three and treasure them. The doubles, planted last year, have bulked up nicely and are laden with frilled and spotted blooms.

double pink hellebore

double pink hellebore

I wish I had a high, sheltered bank where I could plant them all so I could see inside the flower without having to lie flat on my belly.

Hellebores, unlike some other doubles where the reproductive organs have been replaced by extra petals, are fully functioning, their anthers laden with pollen.

All seems as it should be. But something is missing. The garden is silent. There isn’t a single pollinating insect on the wing.

Sunset 26th March 2011

Sunset 26th March 2011

Our borrowed beehives have gone from three to none. The last one died out last year, due to a lack of new queens, and all those spring flowers flaunting their colourful petals will have to remain celibate for the time being.

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