Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A purple patch

The return to London and everyday life was softened – not inconsiderably – by the improving weather. Or perhaps more accurately, by what a week of improved weather had done to the garden.

Bright red tulips were in flower, along with gloriously rich purple ones, a purple chive-like flower whose name I cannot recall, purple cape daisies and a mass of cornflower blue anenomes.

It's a veritable purple patch.

The mint, which I had moved away from the most direct sunlight, is looking better than it ever has, and the sorrel has begun producing its first new leaves, bright, fresh green with a red vein, while the curly parsley is looking healthier than ever.

Within a few days, the first nasturtiums, which I’d sown just before I went away, were popping their heads above ground.

The vine had been planted, like much else, just a year ago in March (in a heatwave, for goodness sake), but had entered winter looking brittle and dried and dead.

However, last year provided learning exercises in the extraordinary power of plants to revive, and so it has now produced a reminder, with the vine now having some 14 buds, with the ones nearest the top starting to open as the sun makes regular appearances.

The pyracantha has produced delicate new leaves and the first signs of its tiny flowers, while the rose, so sternly pruned back once again, is almost unimaginably suddenly a mass of glossy green, and the oh-so-delicate pink petals of the first clematis buds are just beginning to open.

In the grow house, the two remaining pea plants from the earlier 'boiling' debacle have come on in leaps and bounds and have spent the last week being hardened off. A third one, which I sowed just before my trip, has sprouted, along with three runner beans. And three broad beans are on just visible in their pots.

The rest of the grow house story is a mixed one.

Runner beans.
I may well have to give up on growing tomatoes, strawberries and chillies from seed this year – the erratic weather has done my embryonic knowledge no favours.

But out at the potager, the turnips and the most recent sowing of carrots have finally germinated, while peas that had taken six weeks to even pop their heads above ground are now making steady progress, and two broad beans had emerged too.

And under a canopy of gorgeous pink blossom, the blackcurrant bush is in lush leaf and busy producing buds.

So the weekend demanded that I get outside and do some gardening.

First was weeding – I mention this again simply because it’s worth reiterating that you can do it without pain and without chemicals. One Dutch hoe, the potager and around 15 minutes. All done – no backache. Two weeks of sudden spring growth sorted.

But this subject means it's also worth mentioning what happened yesterday, when the EU acted to ban neonicotinoid pesticides.

A massive step forward, but also one with dangers, given that manufacturers will look to create alternatives – and users may restart using older products that are hardly less 'green'.

Another point worth noting is that the UK government voted against any such ban – its prime constituency remains big business, and big business is not happy at this.

A comment I saw on a forum yesterday observed that, at some point, scientists may be able to create all our food without pollination. But I wonder: why would you want to? Why would that ever be a good thing?

Anyway, I remain a chemical-free gardener – and trust me, I'm not the most energetic. So if I can do it ...

You get the gist, I hope.

The next most urgent task was to sow out the oldest two pea plants from the grow house into the potager and add further copper rings to protect them.

I’d already erected the basic wigwam for the peas and put a bottom row of string around it. By yesterday, the largest of the transplanted peas had wound its first tendrils around the string.

The thing with the copper, as I understand it at present, is that you have to ensure they’re firmly in the ground – I’ve pressed soil against them both on the inside and out – so that nothing can get underneath, and that no plant flops over or debris provides a bridge across it.

Boudi thinks about chasing Basil.
But like so many things, if you check regularly, it’s a matter of moments. And in the battle against slugs and snails, it’s the best basic tactic – so I’m told.

Much remains to be done – and some new planning is in order as I work out what to do with the dead and dying bulbs, and what I actually want to plant on the patio for this summer.

The lemon tree needs some bedding plants around it quickly, to give some protection to the bare soil that loses moisture so rapidly.

It’s recovering now from the long months under a fleece, but given it’s position right against a wall, it probably didn’t get enough moisture during that time – something that I hadn’t fully appreciated and that needs to be remembered for next winter.

Beyond the garden – and the carpark – trees seem to springing suddenly to life; green is everywhere, and people are flooding out of their workplaces during the day to sit outside. The relief is obvious and widespread.

The cats are all pleased too – Boudi is managing almost daily patio rolls on the warmed concrete every time that I let them out.

She's also enjoying being able to see of Basil and Reggie – the carpark's two 'visitor' moggies – and, in general, behaving not remotely like a cat who is on the cusp of 'senior' status.

Otto and Loki are also revelling in being able to re-explore the spots they discovered last year.

So here’s hoping that we get enough of both a (late) spring and a summer to build us all back up after such a dismal start to the year. We all really need it – cats and plants included.

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