Boozy treats

seedlings-on-balcony2.JPGseedlings-on-balcony1.JPGA weather report – a city full of swirling pollen and too much sun. It has been the hottest April since records began and the garden shows: cracks in the soil of Australian drought proportions. I don’t think we have had any proper rain for six weeks. I can never remember having to water the seedlings on the balcony so often before. Three times a day. And this from a gardener who gardened through a drought just last year.

Last year I would have only gone up in spring three times a week, but now it’s every second day: and even that is not enough. But the drive is tedious, and I have so much more to do. I came up to water the plants in the late afternoon today (not my usual time), and plant out three of the cucumbers. I certainly hope they aren’t gong to be the sacrificial slug crop like last year: there are two plants I’m holding back here at home, but we shall see.

First task was to store the bag on its hook inside the door, so I made a tentative shed entry – on high mouse alert. I’m not paranoid, even it if might have looked that way to any passing gardener, but anything that can lurch out and cause you a fright is going to be something you are wary of. One doesn’t need any unnecessary heart palpitations in this warmth. I really must take away the bunched up fleeces I am storing there as they are just the perfect nest medium for rodents.

I got as far as tossing them out onto the covered plot (in case of flying mice) and thinking ‘I’ll do that later’. First there was watering and inspecting to do.

There are aphids on the roses around the shed. No change there then. Just buds, no flowers, but they have over-wintered in pots.

I have mislaid my favourite small slug scissors (they are somewhere in the beds – must have fallen out of my pockets). And they were sorely missed when I decided to get stuck into the pots around the shed. I need to make room for the soon-to-be delivered Euphorbia plants I ordered from Sarah Raven. Out came the pots and old planters stored beside the wall and there were all the slug families nestling underneath. A quick dispatch (you don’t want to know) and I moved the pots around a bit. I really ought to get rid of most of them. But half have rather happy lilies (which I don’t want to plant in the ground and lose) and there are two Australian shrubs that need planting out. And the rest weigh a ton. So I keep prevaricating. But right now, I need to pretty up the shed exterior in general by making it a good background for some of the larger flowers I want to grow.

It was a warm day and I had leapt out of the car in my sandals, instead of heavy work shoes. Far nicer to stalk up the long path and admire the verdant growth with a bit of breeze about the feet; but as I started digging a hole to plant the lemon verbena bush in the ground I realised that sandals Were Not A Good Idea. Trickles of soil and other gritty matter were working their way into my toes and between sandal and skin. Sighing rather dramatically at my stupidity, I downed tools and walked all the way back to the car to get the proper shoes.

And there was Oswaldo; waving frantically from his plot. No choice but to go over and socialise. Funny how you don’t see people for months, and there they are two visits in a row. I received the grand tour of his wonderful plot. All bursting with growth even at this early stage. The man has pods of beans on his broad bean plants for heavens sake. How does he do that? (Answer, plant the things in slug and mouse free soil in November). And his buds on his fig tree are almost as far advanced as those on the one at Marsanoux. Grape vines, kiwi fruit vine, artichokes, asparagus. Why, I don’t even need to leave London. All the crops I am dreaming of in the Ardeche are here on his chaotic and crowded allotment plot. View isn’t as spectacular of course, and you have to share with a hundred other gardeners.

You never walk away from O without an armful of gifts; and this time it was a pocketful of rocket seeds, plus some cuttings from his mint and lemon mint mountains. Lovely.

Back at my own rather less verdant but busy plot I finished planting the lemon verbena bush, dug a trench in readiness for the euphorbias (rather good soil round the shed I noticed. Wish it was this good everywhere.) And watered the plant like mad. The other euphorbias I planted earlier had a good soaking as well, and I inspected the rather nice smell that was emanating from the bed on the other side of the shed. I wondered what those little flowers were that have sprung up over the past two days. One sniff and I knew: lily of the valley. Such a fantastic deep scent and about thirty little plants. Those were a lovely gift from a previous owner, and I thanked them as I cursed the same person who had added so much grit to parts of the soil where I really wanted to plant out the peppers at the far end that you can only get your fork about an inch into the ground. Fair ruins one’s neat plot plan.

Pepper planting however was next on the list. They have been in a clear plastic box for a few weeks now, growing away in their little three inch pots and looking rather perky. (When you raise them from seed you do get this glow of pleasure at seeing your seedlings romping away.) They can easily stay where they are and put on more growth, but it was time to be daring: the beer traps seem to be working. To summarise: I dug over the soil and planted ten pepper seedlings. But that bald statement belies the incredibly hard work it took just to get them in the ground. Sun beating down, soil rock solid. I had to leap on the fork just to get the prongs into the baked earth. Once I got purchase the soil turned over a bit more easily. But I had to turn over about ten feet worth of soil so I could lay the weed proof membrane back over the top.

It was hot thirsty work and there were plenty of trips back to the shed to glug water and eat a handful of nuts and dried fruit (an allotmenteers’s meal of choice). Naturally I could have set up a picnic under the apple trees which were so much closer (and kept the water cooler than in the warm shed) but it’s a bit busy under there – long grass owing to the rather lovely hyacinths I didn’t want to strim up last month. And the branches are rather low and sweeping to the ground. If I was smart I would raise the canopy by pruning the lower branches: that way I could set up a chair underneath and enjoy the cool shade. Must make it a project for another day. Winter perhaps.

Once the plants were in, the oatmeal scattered and the beer traps topped up, it was time to check the other traps around the brassicas, peas and beans and remove the floaters. There were plenty in each, and I tossed the bodies out (onto the path) hoping that the birds would find them. Mind you, it would be a bit of a beery treat. Who knows which creature would get any value out of the dead slugs? Perhaps they ought to be disposed of more logically. But the whole process is so slimy (rubber glove donned well in advance of the operation) it’s best not getting too obsessed.

In went the cucumbers (more easily) and then time then to do the watering: a tedious task – I’m having hose envy and realised that it’s madness to hold back on yet another garden purchase. Next trip up I definitely need to bring a hose. It will have to be a long one mind you to reach my distant plot. And suddenly it’s almost 7pm and the warmth of the day has finally let up. Time to go home and plot the next garden, in France.

And yes, I ran out of time to sort the fleeces – so they just went back onto hooks inside. The mice get their nests for another day.