The Orange Tip

details in the dirt

Month: April, 2012

Spring

Although Summer isn’t revealing any early signs just yet, it’s not far round the corner. Rain has been falling continuously for over a week now and it couldn’t have arrived at a more essential time in the garden. The beds are looking better and the younger shrubs are recovering from long months of dry, breezy weather. Much unlike last year, we’re getting true April showers.

It’s been a varied but enveloping Spring, packed with new things as in each year, seen for the first time and bringing new understanding with a wider context.  The lilacs are now ready to open and next into flower  will come the philadelphus’, foxgloves and robinias, continuing a succession all the the way back round to the beginning.

Now that the earlier bulbs in the cutting beds, such as the tulips and daffodils, are going over, I’ll begin removing the rows, replanting the bulbs and replacing the stock. So my attention turns to the dahlias, cosmos, zinnias, cornflowers, marigolds, asters, cleomes and the many other annuals, as well as focussing on the vegetables.

View over long border

First Quick Harvest

Now in its third season our rhubarb has sent up a great number of Spring shoots and, although slightly premature, I wanted to get pulling. We made a compote with just a couple of the riper sticks, a load of sugar and a bit of ginger; definitely one of the best of the early harvests.

Here’s my attempt at a bit of food-blogging, much inspired by my sister-in-law’s fantastic and now infamous blog, http://welshgirleats.com/.

Incubation

I’ve now moved our broody into the tortoise pen so that she is more comfortable and away from the other two. The tortoises are temporarily bunking in with me in the shed.

My bantam-breeding friend Alex has sent me some fertile mixed bantam eggs in the post and I’ve now placed them under the hen, removing all but two of the original infertile eggs, just in case it confuses her. Frustratingly she doesn’t seem to want to feed or drink herself so I’m taking her off the nest once a day for 10-15 minutes to have a drink, feed and a quick scratch around.

I’m still uncertain whether it will be possible to raise bantams under an orpington, but time will tell. 18 days to go..

Andy and the Tajine

Old friend Andy came down to the garden to help with the bulk mulching I’ve been slipping behind on. He brought with him a well-loaded Moroccan tajine for what became a pretty great lunch to grace the shed. Cheers Andy. We had it sat on the stove with a slow-burn fire for most of the morning.

New Arrivals

A pair of Mandarin ducks have visited the pond on numerous occasions over the last few weeks. Since adding a few clumps of geraniums and logs to the island it has become a little less exposed and therefore more attractive to the passing ducks.

Homes

An integral part of working in gardens is in the provision of habitat. It’s common courtesy, as a gardener, to look out for the greater ecology of creatures in their millions that work even harder than we do to maintain the borders, plants and soil. As simple a thing as a patch of un-mown grass or loosely stacked logs can form all the necessities with which a whole world can be created; a practice now familiarly advised in all our nature-related media. As gardeners, it’s sometimes hard to know exactly how far to take this advice, and how to balance gardening and conservation. Some may argue there is a line between the two, but if so, for me it’s a blurry one.

I recently had the pleasure of listening to Pam Lewis of Sticky Wicket gardens giving a talk at the Garden Museum in Lambeth, London. After hearing her describe, along with images of the various meadows and plants in her garden, the nature of her gardening approach, I realised something enormously important about my own ‘horticultural’ development. It seems that the more one strives to learn about the habits of the creatures and plants encountered while gardening, the deeper an irreversible connection is made with them. In just the same way as it is much harder to consume an ethically unsound product once it’s formation is learned, it becomes very difficult to knowingly sacrifice the needs of certain insects, birds or amphibians for the sake of a brighter flower or neater appearance.

In the case of Sticky Wicket, from what I understand, Pam is a (very good) example of the resulting extreme end; slowly shifting in favour of how best to serve the ecology of her landscape, rather than any pre-conceived aesthetics. It was clear in the way she spoke that such a shift only came about through a continued interest in the creatures she observed and stumbled upon while at work, a process that can be wonderfully  symbiotic with that of gardening itself.

Of course such a menial thing as leaving a few logs on the ground won’t dictate the mortality rate of a particular species of insect; they’ll make their own homes regardless. After an extensive study of the habitats found in our gardens, Ken Thompson writes of some interesting and conflicting results in his book, ‘No Nettles Required’. Often where measures were taken to provide areas in which certain creatures could theoretically flourish, very low numbers were sub-sequentially recorded.

Making conscious room for our wider garden ecologies may not therefore be a matter of life and death, but an awareness of their needs and importance is definitely a good, and ultimately mind-altering thing.  Pictured below are a few of the very basic gestures I have added (or left) in the garden here.

Space for Potatoes

Due to the usual designated area for my vegetables being otherwise engaged at the moment with bulbs for display and cut flowers, my potatoes are having to wait just a bit longer than usual to be planted. It’s not ideal, but more time to chit is never a bad thing.

It’s been a really fantastic Spring for the cutting beds this year and the tulips and species daffodils have created a staggering view from the front door. In about 2 weeks time the best will be long over and I’ll begin removing the rows one by one. In the mean time however, as well as the those I’ve forced in the greenhouse in bags (for super-early cropping), I’m planting potatoes into one of the compost bins by the shed.

So often with gardening the best results come unexpectedly and unplanned, as is so often commented. When digging over my compost bins last Autumn I had to frequently stop to remove enormous, perfectly formed potato tubers. These can only have sprung from the previous year’s waste crop, which would have been sprouting unnoticed early in the Spring, along with those intentionally cultivated in the vegetable beds. So, given their success last year and my need for space being greater than my need for well-rotted compost, I spent this morning going about planting up the end compost bin, making use of it’s own finished-product growing media. Tomorrow I think I’ll broadcast some early salads on top, just to make full use of the space, and I’ll just have to keep it weeded in the mean time.

Broody Hen

One of our three Orpingtons is sitting. She has been doing so for long stretches of the day and yesterday was the first day she didn’t leave the nest box at all. A friend of mine is posting me some fertile eggs from his collection of bantams in Carmarthenshire, Wales; I hope she remains on the nest long enough for them to arrive.

Meanwhile the other two  are having to make do with eachother’s company.

Nettle & Ramsons Soup

Home for the Easter weekend, had a go at this wildflower soup. Been wanting to do it for years but I’ve always missed the season peak, which I now note as Easter; an Easter soup, when the nettles are young in leaf and the ramsons are fresh before flowering.

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The Picking Beds

Spring is in full and thorough swing now, and actually despite the somewhat worryingly abnormal Winter, things are looking good in the cutting beds. Better than I had anticipated in fact. Most of the early to mid-flowering tulips are out and growing strong, and I’ve begun allowing myself to pick a few for the house.

It’s our Open Gardens day on Sunday, and so the vicarage is opening it’s doors to the public for charity through the NGS scheme. I’m just hoping the giant magnolia holds on to a few of it’s flowers a little longer.

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