Outside the Backdoor

Observing what can happen in your own garden even in suburbia!

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Awaiting the arrival of Spring

Only last weekend I could feel the anticipation of Spring really being on its way but today, as I type, it is dark and grey.  There is a constant stream of heavy drizzle and it is cold and windy.  Only yesterday I dug my woolley hat back out of the drawer.

February is traditionally a gloomy month but just occasionally it teases with glimpses of something better to come … just around the corner. Last Sunday I saw the first daffodils in flower as I drove to church.  When I returned to do the ironing, I was distracted by the sight of a pair of magpies starting to build their nest.  Interestingly they were attacking one of the squirrel dreys that I wrote about last month, clearly viewing it as an easy target.  Time and time again they visited to wrestle already prepared twigs from between the branches and then flew off to wherever their construction site is located.  Today there is no sign of them.

Outside the backdoor it’s not entirely bleak.  There are splashes of colour and flower to 33066815126_be63a70312_mcheer both sight and smell.  Next to the patio, the winter flowering honeysuckle is now covered in sweet scented blooms and its lemony fragrance wafts into the house provided, of course, you are brave enough to open the door and let in the cold wintery air!  Various winter flowering clematis are covered in bells, some flushed with burgundy, others creamy white.  When the sun has deigned to come out, these have been a magnet for bees.  In the border the viburnum is sporting rosy clusters of pink blossom which is complemented by the pinky shades of tiny long-tailed tits who are flitting around the fat balls hanging in the nearby cherry.  The viburnum would also smell nice if I donned my gardening boots and fleece and trekked across the muddy grass to give it a sniff. However, the outdoors could not look less enticing right now!

32293206243_3ed1b9c0d2_mPlants generally start growing when the temperature reaches about 5o centigrade, which is why I am surprised to see that my bulbs have definitely grown this week.  The pot of miniature iris reticulata have suddenly burst into flower!  I can also now see just how much the squirrel disturbed them as they are now all on one side of the pot!  There are signs of crocus beneath the hawthorn but they are being shy in the gloom.  Earlier in the week they were open.

33108784985_fe47a4f020_mElsewhere daffodil leaves are forcing their way upwards.  At this point my daffodils always look healthy and robust but, rather annoyingly, when they come to flower, I often discover that the bulbs have been eaten by something and I only get half a ragged trumpet!

Gardening emails are now exhorting us keen gardeners to get ready for Spring and Summer.  It’s time to be pruning and, more importantly, to be sowing.  The thought, however, of standing outside with compost and seed trays in the drizzle does not appeal!  But if I am to have any crops this year, it’s time to think seriously about what they might be and at least to buy some fresh seed packets.  Tomatoes, which will come indoors to germinate, need to be sown by the middle of March at the latest.  At least by then I am hoping that they can sit in their usual place in the study which, due to decorating and new carpet, has been piled high for the past few weeks with the contents of various cupboards and shelves.  Seed potatoes also need to be bought and chitting started – that odd process of leaving them somewhere in the light and cool (but not freezing!) to generate the long purple shoots that eventually help them to produce the crop.  At some point we need to brave it outside the backdoor to a garden centre to gain some inspiration and get all of this underway.

Right now  I feel more like hibernating.  Even Bryggen, the most outdoorsy of our cats, has come skidding back into the house, slipping on a wet patio as he cornered too quickly!  Finna, the heat-seeker, is curled up on top of the hot water tank, echoing what most of us probably feel like doing now!

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Seeking help and advice

“Garden’s looking a bit past it now.  Do I just cut everything down?  And what do I do with a hydrangea?  Gardening people, answers please!”  

This was a Facebook post by a former colleague of mine just before Christmas which made me think about how we gather information and expertise these days about what to do in our gardens.  I have a core set of gardening books that I always used to rely on but increasingly I’m aware of how rarely I actually take them off the shelf.  If I want to know what something is, when or how to prune, when best to sow or whether something will survive in an obscure corner of the garden, I tend to turn to the internet and ‘google’ it.  And when I do, I am overwhelmed by the extensive range of information and advice from recognised experts, such as the specialists at the RHS and all the main plant and seed companies, but I can also find individual’s experiences of growing particular plants, what worked for them and what they’d suggest avoiding.

The range of online gardening information is growing on a daily basis.  Exploring a different aspect of this I recently signed up to follow some gardening blogs – online diaries where people share their experiences.  Ironically one of the first blog posts I read focused on gardening books and which people still found useful!  Another is called ‘The Middle Sized Garden‘ which I thought was a great title and, as far as I can tell, the writer really does garden in a ‘middle sized garden’, unlike the author of a book entitled ‘Small Gardens’ that I bought some years ago when we lived in our previous house.  Clearly he and I had a different idea of what a ‘small’ garden is.  He wrote about landscaping and creating vistas whereas we didn’t even have room for a rotary dryer to turn without skimming the walls or hedge!

Technology is even transforming my most regular form of gardening inspiration – Gardeners’ World Magazine.  As well as a weekly email newsletter that I receive in addition to my printed magazine subscription (of course it’s also available as an e-magazine), I’m encouraged to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

However, what I found interesting about my friend’s Facebook post was that, as a relative newcomer to gardening, she didn’t want to trawl pages of information in the hopes of finding the right answer, so instead she decided to appeal for pointers in the right direction from her friends who have already done stuff outside their own backdoors.  Gathering information in this way is a form of what is known as ‘crowd-sourcing’ (crowd-funding being when you ask lots of people to chip in to pay for something).  As a newbie gardener her approach worked well as she had a range of friends reply within minutes with a quick summary of what she should or shouldn’t do.  Mostly the advice was leave it all Image result for stocks flowersuntil February – and leave that hydrangea even longer!

Interestingly she wasn’t the first of my friends to use Facebook to assist with gardening conundrums.  On a number of occasions now I’ve seen photographs posted of mystery plants seeking identification.  It’s surprisingly difficult to identify something from a photo.  Last year I became embroiled in an online debate between colleagues as to whether a tall pink flower was a delphinium or a stock!  Believe you me, they can look surprisingly alike out of context!

Gardening is, of course, a very visual pastime as well as being a physical thing, which means it lends itself to all sorts of print and electronic options to engage you in preparing, sowing, planting, pruning and, sadly the one that never goes away, weeding.  So despite the wealth of websites, blogs and emails seeking to inspire me on this very cold evening, I’m going to dig out the colourful print seed catalogues that arrived over Christmas and start planning some summer colour because if I don’t get my act together soon, it’s going to be very dull and unproductive outside our backdoor in 2017!