snowdrop fever

When I lived in Japan, one of my favourite customs was hanami.

snowdrop, gardening blog, cottage garden

Its literal translation is ‘flower viewing’. But the true definition should be ‘cherry blossom fever’. Daily forecasts in the media track a blossom-wave that spreads from south to north. And there is intense excitement as people try to predict the optimum date for picnics and parties under the flowering trees.

I’ve only recently noticed that we have our own version of hanami here, albeit quieter and slightly more British.

Snowdrop tours seem to be quite the thing in February. Maybe it’s because there are so few flowers around at this time of year, or perhaps people appreciate their apparent fragility combined with steely resilience. Whatever the reason, it’s good to get outside for a couple of hours and persuade ourselves that spring isn’t too far away.

in the green 

I’m no galanthophile, but I do like snowdrops. There were some in the garden when we moved here, but there’s always room for a few more. Apparently it’s best to plant them ‘in the green’ – that is, when the bulbs still have leaves rather than when they’re dry and dormant. It’s more expensive to buy them this way, but I was lucky enough to cadge some growing in my parents’ field last time I visited.

snow drops in the green, gardening blog, cottage garden

snowdrops in the green, courtesy of mum & dad (I didn’t even have to dig them up…)

I planted them out between showers on Sunday. A few went by the back door so we can see them as we come and go. But I also chose some spots across the garden that we can see from the house. Although they are small, the bright white flowers make quite an impact even from a distance.

snow drop witch hazel

I planted a few clumps around this witch hazel, my hope is that they will multiply and form drifts in time.

As with most things I do in the garden, I only thought to look for advice once they were planted. It seems it may have been better to wait until the foliage was dying down rather than transplanting them in full flower. I’m not sure they went in deep enough either. But I have faith in the little bulbs and I’m quite sure they will come back next year.

I’m now feeling tempted by some of these rarer varieties from Easton Walled Gardens. Perhaps I will turn into a galanthophile in my middle age.

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winter flowers

A bit of sun, and scarecrow building, got us out in the garden for a few hours today.

It’s a mess if I’m honest. Mostly because we decided against cutting back many of the border plants for the winter, thinking their stems would look pretty on frosty mornings. We’ve only had a couple of hard frosts so far, but lots of heavy rain. So we now have a sodden mass of tangled stalks.

But if you take the time to look, there are some winter beauties out there. Here are some of my favourites…

quince blossom, gardening blog

We planted a couple of quince alongside the garage last year. It’s a gloomy spot and we kept forgetting to water them over the summer. They survived our neglect, but now most of the blossoms are getting munched by some pest or other. This is one of the few that has escaped.

pink dawn vibernum, gardening blog

We have lots of mature viburnum around the garden, so I was surprised at first when Steve brought this one home last year. But with its flushed pink flowers, it will be one of our winter highlights once it’s established.

witch hazel, gardening blog

Witch hazel is a fantastic winter-flowering shrub and we want to make space for more in the garden. This one is Arnold Promise – it was a Christmas present for Steve, so has only been planted a couple of weeks.

snowdrops, gardening blog

One of the loveliest things we inherited with the garden was the spring bulbs. I have a particular soft-spot for the snowdrops, which were just coming into flower when we moved in on a freezing cold January day two years ago.

scarecrow

making a scarecrow gardening blog“Let’s make a scarecrow,” said my three year old over breakfast this morning.

“OK. But why?”

“To look after our seeds.”

I decided not to mention that the only seeds we’ve sown recently are a second batch of sweet peas. They’re germinating in the porch and don’t really require the protection of a scarecrow.

Instead, I raided a bag of her outgrown clothes and grabbed a couple of hazel sticks we used as plant supports last summer.

I’ve never made a scarecrow before, but it was fun.

making a scarecrow gardening blog

We put him in the veg patch, with the ropy purple sprouting, skinny leeks (put them in too late) and some garlic and onions we planted in the autumn.

making a scarecrow gardening blog

I don’t know if he’ll last long enough to keep the pigeons off our peas and beans in a few months.

But he certainly gives me a turn every time he catches my eye from the kitchen window.

gardening blog, making a scarecrow

scary…

 

planting bulbs

hyacinth in pot gardening blogWith the best will in the world, gardening with a little one in tow can sometimes be nerve-wracking. We try to leave M to her own devices as much as possible. But there are limits. Like when she helped me dead-heading one evening, then took every available opportunity to do a spot of live-heading for the following month or so.

Today was different. We had a couple of hours free this afternoon, the sun was shining and I was determined to plant a few pots of tulips. We stayed at my parents’ last night and they gave M some hyacinth and crocus bulbs before we left. It seemed that she was also determined to plant them today, so we set ourselves up with a potting station and dug in.

potting station gardening blog

all set for a gardening afternoon

I was keen to try out a Sarah Raven-style bulb lasagne, where you layer bulbs and compost to get a denser display of flowers. So I showed M which way round her bulbs went and left her to it.

filling pots gardening blog

M loves filling pots with compost, we really ought to get her a sandpit…

When I looked up from my own concoction ten minutes later, I was astonished. She hadn’t made compost castles on the grass or tried to ram four hyacinths into a three inch pot. She had actually planted them. And they were the right way up. Before I could say anything she told me she was going to get some water in case they were thirsty.

watering hyacinth gardening blog

giving them a drink

M turned three recently, and seems to have well and truly left toddler-hood. It looks like I may have a proper gardening buddy now. Until she discovers horses. Or boys.

hyacinth bulbs gardening blog

M’s hyacinths, all present and correct

 

going to seed

gardening blog allium nigella Don’t say it too loudly, but the nights are drawing in.

I know this because most of my real gardening is done after M has gone to bed. In the height of summer I get a good couple of hours out there, until the evening chorus reaches a crescendo then falls into abrupt silence and my only companions are bats and moths. Now I spend a few minutes pottering, then it gets too dark and I worry about stepping on toads.

There are other signs that summer is set to wane. Like the sweet peas. gardening blog sweet peasI gave up trying to keep picking-pace with them a couple of weeks ago, and now seed pods are starting to appear among the flowers.

The nigella have shed their petals and left us with eerily beautiful seed heads.

gardening blog nigella

gob-stopper seed head on nigella

I sowed them direct around some alliums we planted behind the garage. It was a tip I’d read in one of Carol Klein’s books, to hide the allium foliage when it dies back. It didn’t quite work out that way for us. But I love the way they combine at this stage of the season.

gardening blog nigella allium

these two pair-up well late in the season

M has discovered that the nigella seed pods make a very satisfying ‘pop’ when she squeezes them…or if she pulls them up and stamps on them. So who knows where we will find it growing next year.

The pleasing nigella / allium seed head combo got me thinking about how we can enjoy plants long after they have finished flowering. I took pics of a few more pods to remind us what they look like when we’re planning next year’s planting.

gardening blog foxglove seeds

foxgloves aging beautifully

gardening blog salvia seed head

this salvia still has a wonderful scent – although I’ve heard some people can’t stand the smell

gardening blog scabious

we were a little underwhelmed by these scabious when they were in flower, but the bees & butterflies loved them, and we think the goldfinches were at them too

I hope you enjoyed my gardening blog – please share your own thoughts or gardening experiences…

 

fruits and labour

gardening blog wateringLooking after the garden is a labour of love in this heat wave.  All three of us are on watering duty.

We inherited five rainwater butts with the cottage, but they are close to empty, so we’re rationing what’s left for the hydrangeas and camellia, which apparently aren’t too keen on tap water.

Everything else gets a good dose with the hosepipe or watering can every day or two. But the hanging baskets at the front of the house were crispy when I checked them this evening. I treated them to a dunk in a water butt. Not sure if they will make it.

With the warmth and sun, everything is growing like crazy. It looks like we’ll be busy harvesting in a few weeks.

The blueberries aren’t far off ripening. If we’re lucky, we might get to them before the birds.

gardening blog blueberries

we planted our blueberries in terracotta pots of ericaceous soil – they are a bit spindly, but producing fruit…

And I pulled our first three garlic bulbs tonight (thank you Gardeners World magazine for the article explaining how to tell when they’re ready – I just thought they’d flopped in the heat).

Last year, our apple tree produced a grand total of five fruit. I read somewhere that the wet weather prevented many of the pollinating insects doing their thing. No such problem this year. It will be groaning with the weight of its apples soon. I think you’re supposed to thin them out, but they are a bit high up to make it practical (and besides we’re too busy watering).

gardening blog apples

we should probably thin these out a bit, but it seems to happen naturally – the dogs are finding lots of baby apples in the grass

Most exciting of all, the nectarine tree I bought on a whim from a local garden centre has three fruit fattening up nicely. One each. Something to look forward to later in the summer.

gardening blog nectarine

one of our greedily watched nectarines

peas at last

peas in pods Mice had most of our peas last year.

Just as the pods were starting to fatten up, we went away for a couple of days. When we came back each one had been systematically robbed.

At first we blamed the pigeons, because it looked like the peas had been pecked out. Then we looked closer and saw the tiny teeth marks.

This year’s crop is a bit later, but so far the mice haven’t found it. Or perhaps there are fewer mice around, now that a local farm cat has taken to visiting the garden in the evenings. (Our own cats are terrible hunters – they miaow with pride if they manage to catch a feather).

However, we have a new pea predator. Our almost-three-year-old adores the frozen variety and has discovered they are even better freshly picked.

peas

M has discovered there is nothing quite like freshly picked peas

None of our peas ever seems to make it out of the veg patch and into the kitchen.

peas brookend cottage garden

peas, anyone?