Officially spring is still three weeks away, but unofficially it sprang the day before yesterday (Saturday, 26th February). The sun shone. The meadow pipits sang. Mousy went outdoors for a pee. The fish were cruising enthusiastically. James felled two superfluous trees, which has created an amazing amount of space and light in the Backyard. Alex, miraculously, managed to get the shredder started no less than three times. It did die after that, but at least we now know it is capable of starting and there’s hope of that huge heap of brash-wood being transformed into woody mulch after all. Isabelle, our almost brand-new wwoofer, worked wonders clearing borders and getting the greenhouse ship-shape.
As everybody else was doing something, I’m pretty sure I did something too, but given my advancing years (I suddenly and inexplicably feel old), my recollections are hazy and as is all too often the case, I forgot to take “before” photographs. I could, I suppose take “after” ones, but without the comparison they’re not nearly as impressive as they could be.
But one thing is sure, unlike that foolishly optimistic false alarm in January, the gardener has now definitely risen from the dead and, instead of sleeping, spends much of her time in bed planning and dreaming up new plantings, and thanks to Isabelle, who is a great, highly intelligent worker and very pleasant company, some of the dreams are already becoming reality.
One of the “entrance” beds, established in 2003, has been overhauled, narcissus bulbs lifted and replanted, close-to-death sedums and pulmonarias rescued from the dry shade underneath tree and shrub canopies – probably the only dry places in the whole garden, as all else is still squelching and Jimmy, my 89 year old neighbour, who knows about these things, has declared the winter of 2011/2012 the wettest he’s experienced in his long life.
The nursery, avoided for six months, sports one or two almost tidy compartments, where the bulbs potted last autumn and kept under cloches in the salad garden, sit in nice rows and are starting to show some colour.
Oriental poppies, raised from root cuttings and freed from their all too small containers with the help of nail scissors (pots rather than roots cut), look visibly relieved.
I love Crocus sieberi ‘Tricolor’ in bud. The buds are striped white, yellow, purple and I wouldn’t mind a bit if they never opened, as is sometimes the case. There are little flocks of Crocus tommasinianus all over the garden and, given the mild winter, they started to flower at the beginning of February and some of them – the species and that sweet little pink one C. tommasinianus ‘Roseus’ – are now starting to go over without ever opening their flowers. What a shame. I hope this might teach them to get up at the right time next spring, such as the start of March when the first pollinating insects are on the wing and the sun has been known to shine for more than ten minutes.
The slightly beefier cultivars such as ‘Barr’s Purple’, ‘Whitewell Purple’ and especially ‘Ruby Giant’ start a little later and benefitted from a few hours of sunshine two days ago.
How I adore those little tuberous larkspurs. They flower their hearts out regardless of the weather. Their glauceous, ferny foliage looks impossibly delicate, and they are in flower for a good month from February onwards. I have a rather pretty red form of the common Corydalis solida, and C. solida ssp. solida ‘Beth Evans’ a blush-pink newcomer, still in the greenhouse, and both are sheer delight.
The great, and much longed for awakening has begun. Witch hazels and Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ are in flower, the latter somewhat sparingly. The buds on Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’ are turning from green to pink. Spring snowflakes (Leucojum vernum) are taking over from the snowdrops and look particularly good in shady corners. Unfortunately slugs also have a liking for shady corners and have started to nibble little notches into those creamy-white green-tipped bells.
A friend of mine has offered to send up some toad spawn this spring and toads, I’m told, consider slugs a delicacy. Unlike frogs, they can’t leap and are thus inept at catching winged insects.
The alternative would be a flock of Khaki Campbell ducks. We used to keep ducks in the early eighties, long before the garden became important. They did get rid of the slugs alright, but they have large feet and I shudder at the thought of what they may trample underfoot as they go about their slug-eliminating business.
A few bulbs of Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’, planted on the lime bed a couple of years ago, have increased tremendously and are still going strong from an early February start. They are a wonderful sight, but nothing makes the heart leap as a first ever flowering.
Chrysosplenium macrophyllum is a relatively recent introduction from China and very different from its little, also Asian, cousin C. davidii, the golden saxifrage. Its foliage is large and important looking; it could almost be mistaken for a bergenia and its clusters of small white flowers are enhanced by prominent pink anthers and backed by a ruff of pale green leaves, turning them into ready-made posies.