The curious incident of the crocus in the night-time

Why would you plant crocuses in the dark? you might ask. Is some property of the bulb affected by sunlight? Does some climatic quality, more prevalent in night, promote viability of the bulbs? Are crocuses even affected by phases of the moon, considerably more easily observed during darkness hours? Or might the mere sight of a bare, naked crocus bulb cause the more sensitive neighbours to have a fit of the vapours?

None of these: I just ran out of time.

This weekend, on the way back from a wedding that no railway could access, we doubled up our car-hire usage by calling at the New Leaf garden centre and stuffing the tiny boot of a Toyota Aygo with compost, tools, some house plants, and twenty bulbs of end-of-line, already-sprouting Crocus “Spring Beauty”.

Even as I bought them I thought: these should really already have been planted, and so twenty-four hours later I was already feeling guilty for not having done so. But I had paid work to finish, and I was fidgeting in my chair as the skies began to darken: looking out the window, looking back at the monitor screen, looking out again.

At last, a gap appeared in my timetable. But at this time of year, spare time at 4pm is spare time in the dark. But this is what security lights are made for! Well, it isn’t, but I made a decent fist of illuminating the garden with ours, and then planted the crocus bulbs in the two Iris-less planters, from the four I potted up two weeks ago. Given I forgot to put any pansies in any of these, this should at least give me some spring colour. I need all the colour I can get, if I’m going to make a habit of planting in the dark!

At the same time, I netted these two planters (and I probably need to net the other two as well.) Something is digging in my soil-filled containers, often exposing the bulbs. I hope it’s one of the fostered Bengal cats from two doors down, but it could be the fox that their fosterer mentioned. Either way, I’m going to need more netting eventually, so this was good practice:

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(Photographed later!)

… By the way, if you fancy a challenge, something more difficult than planting bulbs at night, try working with black netting over black pots and black compost on a dark-grey deck.

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How much house could a growhouse grow

… if a growhouse could grow house?

I bought a growhouse a month or so ago from The Organic Gardening Catalogue. It was still sitting in its box, so I decided to put it up this afternoon:

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It fits nicely in that alcove, although I need to remember it’s meant for plants and not just as a set of shelves. It’s about 160cm high, with four mesh tiers. You can see the polythene cover there on the bottom shelf, still folded up.

Because… I’m not completely sure what I should do with it in winter. Surely at this time of year seeds just won’t germinate, which means I’ll need to buy potted plants; which means (avoiding all the houseplants like poinsettias that have flooded DIY centres) I need to work out exactly what would benefit the most from being purchased now and overwintered, rather than purchased later and germinated.

The internet suggests overwintering half-hardies: really, all I have at the moment are the pellies: which a snowfall has failed to kill! I’m also not particularly keen on forcing bulbs for winter ornamentation, so I don’t need it for that either. Someone did chip in on Twitter and suggest a range of hardy and half-hardy herbs, which would at least be an improvement on it standing idle.

Right now, though, it’s improving the tidiness of our kitchen, which has been low on furniture since our move:

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But I need to keep telling myself: it’s meant for plants; not just as a set of shelves. Not just shelves.

Here a cold snap, there a cold snap, but not everywhere a cold snap

We had a cold snap over the weekend: on Saturday it snowed, and then the temperature hovered around zero for another couple of days:

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It stuck for a good couple of days, especially on the decking (which is partly hollow underneath for drainage purposes, but therefore lets in cold air):

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Snow also persisted along the NNE face of the house:

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I make a record of this because it will probably influence my future planning, especially along the driveway. However, a microclimate detail that was definitely worth noting is that my pelargoniums survived; firstly, on the step by the back door:

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Secondly, by the patio doors, in an enclosed area I was sure had the potential to be a frost pocket:

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This at least shows that, even though the temperature was cold enough to preserve a dusting of snow for a couple of days, the steepness of the hill and driveway means that frost is unlikely to develop near the house. The house might also be providing some shelter, both from cold air and also from the elements. At this rate I might have pellies for Christmas!

Planting bulbs for the spring, in planters

I promised myself I wouldn’t disturb the garden too much in the first twelve months, so as to see what might spring to life that might otherwise have been dug up and destroyed. And so, with planters provided by my friend Gwenfar, I have put together some layered bulbs.

First I added drainage, because the planters don’t have that many holes:

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Then I added the tulips and narcissus, quite close together at times, because I just didn’t have that much compost either:

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At the end, on the two square planters, I planted some iris bulbs along the edge facing the house, for a bit of low colour. Here’s the end result; by this time the rain had started to set in:

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From left to right, the planting is:

  • Green pot:
    • Narcissus “Pipit”
    • Tulipa “Temple of Beauty”
  • Terracotta-coloured planter:
    • Iris “Blue Note”
    • N Delnashaugh
    • T “Temple of Beauty”
  • Grey, squat planter:
    • I “Blue Note”
    • N “Pipit”
    • T “Antoinette”
  • Grey pot with handles:
    • N “Delnashaugh”
    • T “Christmas Exotic”

The repetition was a result of only having ordered so many varieties of bulbs (almost too many for the pots, though); hopefully, it’ll lead to a bit of a fugue effect, with different colours and forms at different times in different places.

In retrospect, and having seen how Gwenfar plants hers, I’d have added some crocus and pansy to the mix, for winter and early-spring colour. But that’s a lot to be going on with already!

An acer of my very own

Tucked away at the back of the garden is this rather lovely acer:

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At least, I think it’s an acer. Trees are definitely my weak spot when it comes to plant identification.

I’ve caught it towards the end of the season, so it’s really starting to lose its leaves:

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But aren’t they beautiful? They get prettier the closer you look:

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This tree is right next to the old prunus stump, which is a blogpost for another day. It’s also on the weird gravel slope at the very back of the garden, which makes it difficult to tidy up those lovely leaves as they fall. Given its far-back position, though, maybe it’s high enough up to survive the great terracing that might one day occur….

The ghosts of owners past

Taking over someone else’s garden was always likely to be difficult.

You can get too obsessed over all the small decisions, that you would never have agreed to had you been present back then. Like: why did they put the compost bins in the sunniest corner? or why have they used gravel as a mulch around a fruit tree’s roots? or why do they have privet on three sides of the garden, when at least one neighbour (I checked) would be more than happy to lose it in favour of a fence of some kind?

Frankly, I ought to be too busy thinking about their two biggest mistakes to worry about all those small beans. Like: how did they navigate the expanses of slippy, slimy decking at any time outside of the summer months? and what were they thinking of, letting that apple tree get entirely out of control like that? But maybe even then, I ought instead to occupy myself, not so much with what was done wrong in the past, as with what we can put right, in the future, once we’ve left the garden for a season to see what transpires.