mad March and awful April

Ah, March…

Late March, sun beating down, I surveyed my garden in the 23 degree heat and decided a barbecue was in order.  It would be to celebrate my birthday, the decking and newly completed steps (well I know how to live).

Invitations were written.  We wandered the neighbourhood enjoying beers in the sun with friendly folk.  Gardens shone everywhere.  It was summer.

That was March….. In like a lamb, out like a lamb.

Then came April in a mad fury.

Then they were flattened

In the space of a single month I lost two greenhouse covers, shredded by wind.  The neighbour’s Eucalyptus deposited a large branch on my daffodils, squashing them flat.

Oh, and the day of my barbecue it snowed and hailed and snowed and hailed – but half an hour before guests arrived the sun came out and the fire could be lit.  It was far too cold to be outside for long, but hey – it stopped snowing and we used hailstones as ice cubes.

The effect on the garden has been strange – outside has coped better than all my tiny seedlings inside.  Apart from wind and falling tree damage, the outside is blooming on and is still ahead of England (bizarrely).  Rhododendrons have been and gone, lillies are over a foot tall, late tulips are out, lettuce and spinach are romping away.  It’s looking extremely splendid, though I say so myself.

snow in aprilInside is a different story. I know seeds can’t grow backwards (though if they did, mine have) but they have been definitely checked.  Chillies have obviously been chilly and they have stopped in their tracks.  Generally there was less growth in all April than probably a single week in March.  Some little guys look so spindly and sad I’m thinking of writing them off and doing some resowing at the weekend.

Weather hey?   Lets hope that March wasn’t the only summer we’ll get and that the rapidly lengthening days will resume a temperature in which seeds will again start growing!  Otherwise a serious shopping trip to the garden centre and nurseries will be in order!

But the fact its currently snowing in May isn’t a good sign!

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Bees, bud break and other signs of spring

crocus and snowdropsThe first bee appeared in the garden today (5th March) – a great fat bumble bee, probably woken by a few warm sunny days in succession.   The nights have been very cold though, so I hope it has a warm retreat somewhere, tucked away from the frost.

I saw Camellia bushes full of honey bees while down in the far south of England last weekend, but it was lovely to spot one here in the Highlands so soon afterwards.  (There were also lambs down south, but I’ll be rather surprised if I see one of those gambolling through the borders here).

The signs of the garden transitioning into spring are now everywhere.  Snowdrops are starting to go over and the miniature irises in pots are completely finished.  They’ve been swiftly replaced by primroses, Tete a Tete daffodils, anenome blanda, crocus, primula and masses of hellebores.  The full size daffodils don’t look to be too far behind.

primroseMany of the shrubs and early trees are starting to break their buds too.  The crab apple, shardy fushia, clematis alpina, sambuscus nigra, blackthorn and spirea are all opening.

Birds are definitely starting to have lurve on their tiny minds and the midges and biting bugs have woken up.  Even the wretched grass needs cutting (which doesn’t, never has, never will, count as gardening in any way shape or form).

I know it is only the first week in March, but the temptation to rush outside and plant things that can’t possibly cope with the night time temperatures is pretty strong!  I should probably focus my attention on those winter tasks I still haven’t finished yet (like pretty much everything structural and most things to do with cleaning, tidying and organising).

tete a tete daffodilsMy windowsills will have to overflow with cuttings and seedlings for a fair while yet!

Tell me if you’ve seen bees and other signs of spring in your garden yet!

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It’s starting to feel a lot like summer

Weeks of beautiful weather, no frost since March and night time temperatures of around 10 degrees Celsius have left the garden firmly in summer mode. Alliums are flowering, as are self seeded antirrhinums.  Tree lillies are growing an inch a day and the mix of  annuals sowed outside just last week have already germinated.

hardening off cuttings

Doorstep is the perfect hardening off spot

The overwintered cuttings of begonias, fuchsia and pelargonium are romping away and are being hardened off in the front porch, out of the cold wind.  The begonias and pelargoniums have been left out all night for the last two evenings and now I can barely restrain myself from rushing to plant everything  out.

But, the big question is will there be more frost?  It feels so unlikely – especially when just last night we were in the garden until past midnight.  Yet the pretty useful gardeners almanac (not to mention the super trusty Beechgrove Garden) put early June (week 23/24)  as the safe planting out date for this location.  That is a full month away.

The fuchsias are definitely still coming indoors at night for a few weeks yet.  But some of the pelargoniums (including cuttings from plants bought at RHS Tatton Park last year) are looking so lovely, it seems a shame to hide them away unless really necessary.

Pelargonium Voodoo already in flower

The one shown on the right has been flowering for a couple of weeks now and is on temporary display outside in the front porch, where it is sunny and fairly sheltered.

If I can control the desire to rush out and plant everything tomorrow, I shall probably hedge my bets by planting the tender plants mostly in pots and keeping a few back plants indoors just in case.  Plus I’m taking cuttings from the cuttings, which root in a week or so just now, so there should be plenty of stock.

I’d be interested to know how and when other people decide it is time to brave it and move things outside for good.

Clematis alpina and blossom

Can the garden possibly get better than it is right now?

A perfect, frost-free April last left the garden looking breathtaking and it is impossible to believe it can possible look any better than it has over the last couple of weeks.

The daffodils and tulips were left unflattened by gales, none of the petals of rhododendrons and other big blooms have been browned by frost and plenty of sun has left everything flowering and growing like crazy.

Right now the Clematis Alpina are at their absolute peak and the whole north facing border is a sea of blue and lilac as they scramble through the shrubs, trees and fence.

Clematis Alpina in full bloom

I leave them unpruned from year to year wherever possible and they have rewarded me thoroughly.   Though they prefer the North side, at least one of the cuttings I planted in the South facing border several years ago  (albeit a cool, shaded part) is scrambling its way merrily and falling down through branches in a waterfall effect.

As long as these plants are not baked around the roots, they do really well in the back garden and are virtually effort free.  They root well as cuttings, with no fancy treatment needed.  I propagate them outside in a cold greenhouse and inside with bottom heat with equal results.  Though the indoor plants start life somewhat bigger, the tough, cold accustomed plants soon catch up.

This year, for the first time, I have transplanted one of the Alpina cuttings that is growing away so well in to the front garden – just to see how it does.  I’ve put it in dappled shade, but maybe the wind will be too much for it.

Complimenting the Clematis, and in some cases completely intertwined with it, is a fine display of spring blossom.  The winds have been kind so far, so now cherry, plum, apple and pear are all blooming at the same time.

Apple blossom in the back garden (left) and front garden (right)

The pixie apple tree at the front is further on than the old bramley at the back, as it gets more sun.  The pixie tree is several eating types grafted together and it is putting on a great show, given that I think its middle graft has failed and a vertical section of trunk has split. I fear it won’t survive much longer and that perhaps this is its last hurrah.   But it has proved a tough little tree so far and the apples from the healthy top part taste lovely.

As the Spring garden peaks, I know there is a period coming where the garden takes a breather and goes mostly green, prior to the next wave of flowers.  I’ve tried to find things that look nice in May, but maybe the garden is telling me to give it a break after its heroic April efforts.

plants, plants and more plants

Everything in the garden is rushing away, completely beyond my control.  I’ve missed three weekends in a row due to travelling and the garden has gained a momentum I feel I can’t possibly catch up with.   I have been put firmly in my place by nature.

Viridiflora Tulip

Viridiflora Tulip Spring Green In Pots At Front

Tulips, rhododendrons, pasque flowers, dog tooth violets, daffodils, primula and pieris look stunning.  Sweet peas are climbing out of the greenhouse tents on their own.  Lillies grow centimetres each day.  The Clematis Alpina are all bursting into life.

And so are the weeds. I only weeded half the border at the back before I went away at the end of March – now the side I didn’t get to is now thick with Ground Elder (arghh).  Definitely an entire days work over Easter.  There is also more Sherphard’s Purse than I could ever count – though at least that is easy to remove.  I know you can eat chickweed, but I’m not exactly sure which of my many weeds the chickweed is.

And I have a new mystery invader

Mysterious mini bulb-like weeds have popped up in the sunny, sharp drained border at the top of the hill.

They look like spring onions – but there are thousands of them crammed into  bare spaces.  I can’t have planted them there, surely.  Maybe something went to seed – garlic or chives perhaps (any suggestions welcome).  As long as it is not Spanish bluebells – I have been pulling them up ever since I moved here, they are terrible thugs!  I guess I will need to pull these all up, but I would like to know what they are in case the plantlets are worth saving.  As they are not in my weed identification book, I suspect they are  good plants in the wrong place (well, rather in the wrong quantity – thousands of the little guys!)


An abundance of wildlife – most of it unruly

If only the many creatures that are rampaging through the garden right now could follow the example of bees.  Bees are the perfect guests.  In exchange for being welcomed with food and shelter, they show the best of manners by pollinating, gently humming me to a state of relaxation and never doing the slightest bit of harm.  The only brief moments of friction come when one of us surprises the other – usually over a bag of compost, which they love.

If only the rabbits, sparrows and blackbirds would take note and mend their marauding ways.

One rabbit is a pest, but two are trouble

rabbit

William the rabbit in his favourite spot

Usually it is the rabbits who are the king of the large pests in this garden. (Vine weevils & slugs are chief evil mini-monsters).   When just one rabbit is present, the focus is entirely on eating.  Grass is the main casualty (fine with me) but crocuses and other new foliage also hold munch-appeal.

As with rowdies of the human species, the trouble really kicks off when two or more of the beasts get together.  Two rabbits in the garden generally involves random running round in circles.  I have no idea (do they?) if this is romantic, aggressive or a combination of both – but when this ritual begins, my beloved plants get squashed as well as nibbled.

Should a third rabbit enter the equation, madness ensues.  Add random leaps into the air, karate kicks & Olympic standard gymnastics to the nibbling, running in circles and general scrabbling.  My poor plants get caught in the battle royale.

Fortunately the rabbits haven’t picked the garden as a community toilet yet, but last year they tried to nest in a flower bed.  (I didn’t see any kittens, so I don’t think they succeeded).

Happily for them I have a live and let live policy.  But if the squashing and nibbling gets out of hand – or if they start tunnelling into the hillside –  I shall have to dig down and lay chicken wire below the fence where they dig their way under.

I have already learned that repellent – even foul smelling home brews of egg and chilli – have no effect whatsoever. Bizarrely, the only thing that does keep them away is not clearing up after I have cut bushes down.  If I leave the garden completely covered in rubbish and twigs, they stay away.  Clearly, like me, they prefer my garden to look pretty before they eat it.

Birds challenging rabbits in the destructiveness league

I don’t have a sentimental BBC Springwatch view of birds, I have seen them fight to the death in the garden.  But I do find them entertaining & clownish.  So I indulge them with seed heads, fruit, shelter, nesting sites and native trees that attract insects.

The garden has attracted a vast amount of birds – from pheasants, buzzards, red kites and sparrowhawks at the large end, to goldfinch, bullfinch, goldcrests, black caps, coal tits, long tailed tits, willow warblers and wrens at the small end.  There are at least two large gangs of sparrows, constantly warring robins and blackbirds (both species would rather fight over food than eat it) and a healthy thrush and fieldfare population.  Jackdaws and crows clown around by day, owls at night and I have even had oystercatchers in the greenhouse tents.

Mostly they give me more pleasure than pain.  But right now their hormones are driving them mad and even the usually endearing blue tits have turned into major thugs.  They’re all busy nest building and anything goes.

I helpfully left out lavender and other soft prunings for them at the weekend – were they interested? Not at all.  Instead as I sit here I am watching them strip random chunks of leaf from the remaining bushes.  Yesterday I watched a sparrow fixate on a specific bit of clematis.  It was too big a task for the lone sparrow, but eventually he was joined by three colleagues and the demolition job was completed.

My hanging basket liners are being systematically stripped, young plants being rooted up along with moss and mulch, and twine plant ties are being shredded.  I’m starting to regret my hospitality policy!

Spring not the only thing to arrive early

Sunday 20th March heralded the official start of Spring and there are signs of it everywhere in the garden.

Daffodils
Smaller daffodils like Tete a Tete do best here, taller ones often break in the wind

Daffodils are just out, both front and back.  I saw my first tulip; the blue wood anemones are peeking through and the late crocuses are putting on a good show.  The hellebores are also the finest I have ever seen them.  There is even the illusion of green breaking on the trees – but that is just early Alpina type Clematis which thrive here, winding their way through the trees and fence wire.

This bursting forth of plant life  is even more striking because this time last year the garden was still frozen and it was almost the end of April before it looked like this

Bees, birds and rabbits are frisky and lurve is in the air for most members of the animal kingdom.

But, early Spring combined with strong wind has brought me a whacking dose of hayfever and I have had to take anti-allergen medicine.  This is always a last resort as it makes me so drowsy.  Yesterday I fell asleep at my desk at 5.15pm (though watching Monty Don/Gardener’s World on BBC iPlayer probably contributed significantly to this).

What a heavy price we gardeners pay 😉