Garden Tidy Up

I struggle with motivation to go out and do anything in the garden in January – it seems to be dark almost continuously and (this year excepted) raining.  However, as February arrives there is the merest hint of Spring – heralded by the slowly emerging snowdrops.  These are bulbs I have unsuccessfully tried growing for years – the breakthrough came when we were given several clumps by my mother-in-law and most of these seem to have taken.  However, just as these start to show their first white flower buds, a small group that I planted a long time ago in with a camellia that lives near the house is already in full flower (as shown in the photo).

These encourage me to go into the garden, have a general tidy up and see what is about.  I am pleased to say that the garlic that I planted in the front and the back garden is starting to grow, although it is easier to spot in the back garden raised bed than hidden amongst the tulip and allium bulbs that are starting to show in the front garden.  (Maybe one day I will be organised enough to mark where they are when I plant them.)  The hellebores are the main providers of spring growth at the moment, but, somewhat belatedly, I have taken away most of their leaves, as recommended by both Monty Don and Carol Klein.  This has left the earth looking somewhat bare, but did uncover some anemone blanda that I planted some time ago as well as the first signs of growth of the aquilegia.

Elsewhere in the garden we have some winter scent from the sarcococca confusa that we have planted and colour from a winter jasmine and viburnum bodnatense dawn.

In the front garden we have trimmed down all of the grasses, moved some of the zebra grass and pruned the white bramble that we have as a centre piece.  In doing so, we uncovered about a dozen hibernating ladybirds – if they survive for another month or so we should have no trouble with greenfly this year!

The home produce has hit a bit of a hiatus, although the rhubarb is starting to come up and we have lots of shoots on the blackcurrant.  I have all my seeds ready for planting in the next couple of months, although I will mainly be concentrating on beans, courgettes, chillis and salad leaves in the hope of getting some good yields throughout the year (although the aubergine is an experiment probably doomed to failure).  If successful I will move on and add one or more new types of produce next year.

I am trying seeds from the Real Seed Company this year.  I am hopeful that as they are all seeds grown on their farm in Wales there may be a better chance that they will grow here in Northamptonshire.  They also encourage seed saving and send instructions with the seeds.

It is also noticeable how many herbs have survived the Winter – I have lots of oregano, some sage, wild basil, rosemary, and burnet all looking healthy so far (and I have some hopes for the fennel that has been in for the last two years and is much beloved of hoverflies).  The chives are also starting to show bright green shoots amongst the darker spots of the garden.  Next year I will be adding borage (for bees) and sorrel (for soups) to the mix as well as more thymes and lavender (also for the bees).

How’s your garden growing?

This is just a quick update on the produce in my garden. Following on from last year’s disaster, I have already had some minor success.


After living in a pot for a couple of years whilst we relandscaped the back garden, the blackcurrant bush has grown well, survived aphid attacks and has yielded about 1 lb of blackcurrants. We are going to freeze some of them and others will no doubt end up in blackcurrant muffins (I will post a recipe at a later date if any of you are interested). The variety that we grow, for no reason other than it looked healthy when we bought it over 5 years ago from the garden centre, is Ben Sarek. I have included a picture to prove they exist (and in case we don’t get any next year).
The gooseberry has been attacked by sawfly for two years, so we are giving it one final chance this year and have relocated it to the front of the house. It has one solitary gooseberry, but, so far no sawfly devastation. Hopefully it will continue that way.

The garlic that I planted in December is having mixed fortunes. Those planted in the front garden are doing wonderfully well and have some of the thickest stems I have seen, the 3 cloves that I put in the back are looking a bit sad and weedy. I think it will be time to harvest them before long.

Courgette Flower

My courgettes are also doing OK (although the ones I gave to my mother-in-law appear to be twice the size) and the first flowers appeared on Thursday on both the one in the ground and the one in a pot. This is a big relief as they failed completely last year, being annihilated by slugs soon after planting. This variety is Partenon which I have grown before, fruits early and is self fertile so should be fine whatever the weather.

I have also planted out some pak choi and my beans as well as some either cauliflowers or cabbage that I was given (Colin couldn’t remember which was which). Radish (which are supposed to be easy to grow) have benefited from me making the effort to thin them out and I finally have some carrots coming up in containers. However, I am particularly pleased with some rainbow chard in the front garden and my chillis in the back garden which are already fruiting. (I will share the secret of my success once they have ripened.)

The frost and snow may not have been good for the flowers, but the damp and grey is certainly not good for the soul.

The sudden drop in temperature last week which heralded some frost and unusually early snow finally finished off the cosmos and marigolds in the front garden. I could bear it no longer and so finally went out and pulled up the annuals. At the moment there is little to put in their place and I like to let things develop at their own pace. However, I have planted a number of tulips and alliums which I hope will appear in the spring when I have to cut the grasses back, and a set of three evergreen grasses which I accidentally bought at the garden centre yesterday when looking for said tulips and alliums.
A few cloves of garlic have also been planted, partly because I would like to grow some and, partly in the hope that the smell will keep some of the cats away.

Following the hard work I decided to treat myself to a walk in the Country Park. Boy, was it quiet. I have seen flocks of birds overhead which look as though they could have been Redwings, and there have been reports of flocks in the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire area, but I didn’t see any in the usual places in the Country Park. (But that could be because the hawthorn berries that they usually feed on are not there, neither is the rest of the hawthorn which appears to have been cleared away for some reason.)
There were very few small birds about, but then all of the bird tables and feeders were empty, so they are probably in nearby gardens where they are better fed.

The reservoir itself was also distinctly quiet. The calls of the Common Tern are now being heard in Africa, and they have not been replaced in any numbers by the usual Winter visitors. A scan of the water with my ‘scope revealed a few groups Wigeon and Pochard as well as about half dozen Shovellers and Tufted Ducks. Great Crested Grebes have now donned their winter plumage and look incredibly white, almost as if they are a different bird.

As so often it was a flock of birds that caught my eye, Lapwings. At one point standing on the shore, wandering about, then suddenly lifted as one into the air. They wheel about, almost landing, then change their mind, they gain altitude and circle around again, and you think they are leaving you. Then, just as suddenly, they are back again, flirting with the shore, making a few passes, before finally settling, seeminly in the same place as before. I was hoping to spot some other birds in with the Lapwings, and I wasn’t disappointed this time. There were two tiny waders, dwarfed by the Wigeon that they nimbly darted in between. They were typically shaped, dumpy birds with long, thin beaks. Both were grey, one with some black below. I had no idea what they are, now I think I know. I have checked them out, I think they were Dunlin, although these are usually coastal birds. I have never seen Dunlin before, yes, I think they were definitely Dunlin. Maybe there is something to warm the heart on a grey Sunday afternoon after all.