To toil

House in FebThe insistent tock of a woodpecker in the lower terrace trees. A foggy and still day with mist clinging to the mountains opposite. The burble of birds. Mild weather, light drizzle. Bliss. Need I be more purple in the prose than that?

I can, but I won’t. There’s news to report and little time to spare. I want to be outdoors picking up the sticks from the pruned mulberry tree before they get more sodden. And then attacking the sage.

I can’t believe it has been a month since I last wrote. And even a month since the last visit.  An interval in sunny Sydney was the perfect tonic during the coldest winter in Europe for thirty years.   But I was yearning to be back and getting stuck in.  It’s so easy to have garden envy while in Australia. Such verdant growth and extraordinary flora. Vineyard in Feb

If there is a quiet evening I shall add a few pictures of strange trees and scented-all-summer shrubs spied in forests and gardens. Not to mention flowering eucalypts that are so vibrant and racy red they almost make you walk into the trunks of trees while you gawp.

pruned mulberry sticksBut back to sticks. It’s funny how you can have a burst of gusto picking up a few hundred sticks from the ground when you can blithely walk past dropped laundry, dirty dishes on kitchen bench tops and all sorts of domestic detritus without any desire to tidy indoors.   That’s gardening for you. Much more creative even with the domestic bits. pruned mulbery feb 10

For me it’s that sign of the rhythm of the season. Spring time pruning, compare with last year, look forward to the year ahead.  Actually one thing I have to look at is the small amounts of white mould on some of the pruned trunks. Surely more than last year. And how to attack it? Vigorously with warm water and a scubbing brush? Or would that spread the infection? If that’s what it is. mould on branches

And naturally as soon as I typed that it was stray into the nether world of the internet to find out what sort of diseases the mulberry tree could possibly have. And it’s worse than being a hypochondriac and wondering if that twitch is incipient MS.   My poor tree. Is it armillaria root rot, bacterial blight, bacterial leaf scorch, nectria canker, wetwood or slime flux, wood decay, white peach scale or even the dreaded popcorn disease?

None of the above. At least none of the pictures match.   All that time wasted searching the problem, when I could have gone out and scrubbed it off.   But I’m new to this and I don’t want to neglectedly wipe out such an iconic tree in the courtyard with poor garden hygene.

If Nicolas was coming by I would ask him for advice. But the poor man has broken his kneecap and torn ligaments in a skiing accident on the weekend. He had to give me pruning tips on the roses by phone.  I might phone him for the mystery white stuff on the mulberry tree consult later.  He did say that the only good thing about an enforced three week bed rest was that he could plan his vegetable garden properly for the first time.  And his is a vegetable garden you measure in hectares rather than metres.   I do envy him that. Not the size, but the time. Even I couldn’t remember what my crop rotation was on my lower vegetable bed today.

Garlic sproutingIs it garlic in the top right quadrant? Or lower.   It has stopped me from plonking the garlic bulbs out and getting stuck in.   And they are ready to plant out. Bursting out of their little pots after a three week germination while we were away in Australia.

I can’t leave them longer in the pots as their roots start to spiral very quickly. But with a quick look at my rotation notes I can determine their home for the next season: top right quadrant. But here’s the Tuesday dilemna. To weed proof or not to weed proof.   I saved heaps of time last year not having to hoe every few days between the veg with the lovely fabric protecting the soil.   But it wasn’t perfect.  I suspect I harboured grubs… well let’s not be coy. Slugs. And well I remember that boast when we first arrived that the slug population was negligent here after the sea of slugs I had to put up with in the London allotment garden.

But something ate all my carrot crop and I suspect they were hiding under the pefect mulch fabric nearby that I decorated the vegetable bed with last year.  But do have have an aptitude for all that weeding again?

Or should I turn it around and say, do I have an appetite for fresh carrots again.  That really sways it.  I shall hoe, and mutter and live with weeds.

But the design. How to make this beautifully landscaped potager pretty? I shall put off the garlic planting for another day and ponder.

Crocus appearlingAfter pruning I took a good long walk about to see if there were any signs of spring worthy of being snapped.   The crocus are traditionally first out, and they don’t disappoint. I had planned to plant these bulbs in the lawn in the east garden to join the ones Jan and I planted two years ago.  But the soil was rock hard and I just got lazy and put them in a half wine barrel instead.

snow buntings in lawnAnd here are the crocus in the lawn just starting put on flower.  Yes, you do have to squint to get an idea what I’m talking about. They are the distant white dots in the huge expanse of green.

Creaking joints, down to my knees, and here is the close up we all crave: sweet plants. and I pledge next year to plant more. crocus emerging

Daffodils growingOther bulbs up and threatening are the daffs. They are only a few inches high so far, but with all this moisture I hope they romp away and try to outgrow all the lush grass around them.   I won’t be able to mow until after they are over so it will be a trying time for She Who Loves to Mow.

Arthur FebI had the pleasure of seeing the lovely Artur as I plodded past the pool.  He likes to drink the water from the pool cover’s edge. But he seems a bit poorly.   Pretty but not keen to cuddle. I put it down to some ailment of course, not the fact he may feel neglected by the sudden disappearance of the neighbour who likes to spoil him with attention.

And while I am anthropomorphising, the stallions next door aren’t very pleased with my lack of generosity either. No apples to offer them. I must get some from the market on Thursday when I head up to town. They do have such intelligent and friendly faces peering over the fence up near the potting shed.

grass seeds sownIt may be too early, and the birds might swoop and eat them all, but I decided to sow grass seeds on all the bare bits of filled in lawn that I created last month.   This mild wet weather may be perfect for seed germination, even if it’s only mid Feb.

Indoors to get the last of the fat balls for the milling blue and coal tits who have pecked all the supplies we set out and then on with my list.

And how does it happen when you set out to cut down all the ornamental grasses on the property that you end up transplanting flowers from the cutting garden and doing a spot of potager prep instead?  Goodness knows why, but I decided to lift the lonely sown-last-year flowers that were under the cherry tree beside the potting shed and move them to the new wall of the vegetable garden.

translpanted flowersIt’s a better spot for them as I actually water the vegetable garden, and this is where I will put the majority of my flowers.   They were too neglected behind the shed, especially as the hose didn’t quite reach and they had to rely on their nourishment from a watering can when I had free time.   (Oh, reminder to self. Must buy new watering can. Old one split in the hard frosts of winter.)

And then it was off with all the protective plastic covering the overwintering plants in the potting shed and assess.   Hmm. Not that many survivors among the gaura and verbena. But the clematis and lonicera look fine.

Potting shed unveilingThe clematis looked so good that I have recklessly planted them out too.   Up against the old grape vines in the, you guessed it, vegetable bed.

And then suddenly the heavens opened and I found myself stuck in the potting shed listening to the din on the roof.   Nothing to do but sow seeds.   Too early I suspect, but it’s such a joy to go through this process that you share with a huge population of gardeners all over the planet. I find there is a deep pleasure to be had in this fiddly but mechanical process, and the hope. It pervades every seed tray and label and packet of promise.   Will this be a crop of eragrostis curvula grasses in a few months time? Who knows?   eragrostis sown

I also did a few trays of cabbage seeds: Tarpoy, Greyhound, Autumn Queen. Some more Cleome (Colour Fountain mixed this time) and the fiddliest and funnest of them all: about 80 sweet pea seeds.   Soaked overnight as Andrew suggested, and into their root trainers for a hopeful germination.  Mice ate mine when I sowed them in November last year, so I am holding back and hoping that there is more nourishment for small rodents out in the big wide world and not inside my potting shed.

And in case you are wondering why I have the threat of mice in my shed it’s not because I’m dreadfully messy:   I just don’t have any floor to my shed and there is a few inches gap all the way around. I keep all the treasures of the edible kind inside a meat safe away from chewing greeblies, but juicy pea shoots are just too tempting when left out.

Sage to cut downIn for lunch (and you must be wondering when this enormously long blog is going to end. I know I am.) and then out to cut back the grasses, and give the sage in the herb garden a mighty haircut.   I had kept a note to cut down the sage to the ground in February or March each year, and last year I neglected to do so. I now have a thicket of sage cuttings and am scratching my head as to what to do with them.  pruned sage

Perhaps I’ll make my own Herbes de Provence mix this year. As soon as I can work out what on earth Sariette is.   It’s one of the main components of the mix, and if I can plant the Oregano, and find this mystery Sariette, then I will have the lot.   Time to put the oven on and pluck away at sage leaves and get them dried.