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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Surprises!

When it comes to the garden, I prefer my surprises to be good ones rather than bad ones!  Call me fussy, but I prefer to discover that a treasured plant has reappeared rather than that the slugs have eaten my newly germinated radish!  The last few weeks have certainly sprung some good surprises.

First up were the creamy yellow scented narcissi.  Stupidly I had dumped the pot they were planted in around the back of the shed next to the pot washing pile.  I ignored it all winter (pot washing being a warm summer’s day activity in my book) assuming that I would just clear it out in the Spring.  However to my delight, in February it produced some of my favourite Iris Reticulata!  These delicate, deeply coloured flowers are so rewarding to see on a cold day when Spring still feels some weeks away.

Then, to my amazement, this pot threw up a further surprise when it revealed the scented narcissi.  These happy multi-headed stems seem to dance around in the sunshine and their perfume wafts around in the breeze.  Behind them I can see tulips emerging so clearly this must have been a ‘bulb lasagne’.  Someone remind me to label it so that I don’t make the same mistake again next year!

A different sort of surprise has been the flowering of our Mahonia in the front garden.  This is one of those plants that has always been there and, to be honest, we’ve paid very little attention to it.  Every year it’s produced a few prickly leaves and the odd bit of flower but last year, for the first time, we suddenly had a mass of yellow and this Spring has been a repeat performance.  Sadly it seems to be a rather bog standard form of this shrub and does not exude the wonderous scent that is promised in the descriptions of more genteel varieties advertised for sale.  However, what it lacks in scent, it is currently making up for in vibrant yellow spikes and I, for one, am very happy for it to continue doing this year on year!

And finally, this is a surprise that I can’t decide whether falls into the good category or not.  Some years’ ago John fell for the purple and white Honesty that was flowering freely in the garden of a holiday rental house in the Netherlands.  He collected some seedpods and brought them home.  Subsequently I have thought that this was probably illegal – but hey ho!  Honesty is a bienniel so only flowers every other year.  We sowed the seed and then had a very long wait but, sure enough, we were rewarded with banks of purple and white flowers two years’ later.  We have now managed to juggle the cycle so we do have some Honesty in flower each year but this Spring does look like being a bumper year, particularly for the white variety.  However, there’s a new kid on the block – a pale lilac coloured flower!  There’s only a couple of them so far but we’re wondering whether we’re onto something new!