The spring garden

Glory be, I’m on a train. Heading north and west onto the island of Britain.  Well, I will relax when we finally get through the police and customs checks, armed with documentation worthy of the worst of the Soviet bureaucracy. The number of forms have their very own spot on the seat beside me. More precious than my luggage.

How many Covid tests in fourteen days does it take to get where we need to be and back again? Five. Count’em, five. That will be a lot of squealing when the probe hits the back of the nostrils believe me.

But all in a good cause.

It will be our first trip to London in eight long months. And I dread to think of the state of the gardens I abandoned back there.

But for now it was hard enough to leave my main one behind.  It is looking quite splendid at the moment.  A slow start owing to the cool and wet of May. But it’s iris and rose-tastic right now.

Even that mad Barbara Cartland cistus is doing its thing.

So of course I’m heading off the mountain top into the unknown.  Leaving the best of the irises to wave at no one and fade away.

Which is wildly overdramatic, but we haven’t been able to book a return ticket and we aren’t quite sure if the borders will clang shut and we get stuck.

So thank goodness for kind neighbours who will water and pick roses and sweet peas and most of all, attend to Creature.

She knew something was up when I set up her food station up on the rutted path that leads to our neighbour’s farm.  Up high so all her croquettes don’t get eaten by badgers and hedgehogs. And hopefully not pine martens or that dreaded Tom Cat which is hanging about.

I’m sure the pine martens can reach, but do they really need shop bought tasties when they have a mountain of rodentry to gorge on? I hope not.

Actually the cat doesn’t need any supplementary feeding either. She just loves the fussing and the company. And a chance to turn all winsome and loving and purring whenever I stick my nose outside.

She usually sees me at 7am, but this past fortnight I have been emerging (a touch bleary) just after six to go on slug patrol. And she was caught out earlier this week on the stone steps beside the house, large plump wriggling mouse in mouth.

I am entirely anthropomorphising here, but I detected the same look as someone caught with their hands in the cookie jar ten minutes before dinner. Quick, hide the evidence. Which she did in a few very hasty and rather large crunchy gulps.

Quick wipe of the paws and she was back to that ‘I’m starving, feed me!’ pleading. 

Hah. I have seen her in early morning action and I feel less guilt about abandoning her. Besides she has the run of the farm and four soft cushiony chairs on the new deck to choose where to snooze. She will just be very bored. And missing a willing lap for a bit. And the puncture wounds from her claws on my hands and thighs might even heal by the time we return.

I don’t linger on the lovely deck myself at the mo. I’m on slug patrol.  And here is a tale for the uninitiated. Which means me.  

Back in the autumn I needed to top up the raised permaculture beds as they had settled over their first season of growth.   These six beds are huge and voluminous and require an awful lot of topping up.  I had homemade compost and even some excavated soil for most of them. 

But the bed with the ever-actively growing kale and the one closest to the house still had leeks. So I didn’t want to drown the plants in mulchy blankets. Instead, I collected all the fallen leaves from the mulberry in the courtyard and the massive numbers of chestnut, beech and oak leaves on the lawns and smothered the beds.

A topping of my mighty chippings to stop them blowing about, and I expected a bit of winter rotting of the leaves.

What I didn’t expect was the colony of slugs living in the layers who were beautifully tucked up over the winter too.

The four other raised beds have an equilibrium of pests. Some slugs, minor. Lots of nice blackfly for the ladybirds, heaps of worms. No munching army.

But the slugs in the two leaf factories… Ugh. 

Just ugh.  I have been going on dawn patrols, after dinner raids. Picking and picking off the army of beasties (popping them into the salt water jar, or just picking the teensy ones off with my nail scissors) morning and night for weeks. And weeks.

Is the army of invaders slowing? I keep thinking so. And then start again the next day appalled at how much they have chewed through during the night.

So that was a learning experience.

From now on I need to stick to my chippings and accept that I might only have four out of six beds of glorious productivity this year.

I think I might sow a green manure of clover or something in the most affected bed.  The poor broccoli raab(cima di rapa) plants in there now are all bolting and the tomato plants are just bout withstanding the onslaught. 

When I come back I will see which crop of kale has survived.  And luckily I did a seed sowing just a few weeks ago ‘just in case’. The seedlings are at the babysitters – new friends Melanie and Jerome with polytunnels galore as part of their plant nursery business. And they have tucked away my little critters which won’t survive the abandonment of this gardener.

And there were so many in the trays that they can prick out what they need and try and convince the locals that cavolo nero really is the wonder veg of our region.  Snow, hail, drought and neglect, it just keeps on giving.   And if Melanie and Jerome really aren’t won over, they can always use the leftovers to feed the goats.