Friday 7th & Sunday 9th January 2022 – how many bulbs does it take to exhaust a Head Gardener?

200 snowdrops, 100 gladioli byzantinus and 22 cloves of garlic, that’s how many…

The last of my bulb orders arrived today (150 tulips, 50 crocus , 50 alliums and an uncertain number of daffodils went in late last year). Buying snowdrops ‘in the green’’ like this makes them more likely to establish well, and more quickly, but it does mean you really need to get them in the ground quick smart. Around about planting the 75th snowdrop I started to question my choices, given that it was freezing cold and raining. I’m sure I’ll be glad when they flower though – which might not be this year, though the ones I bought this time last year did flower very well immediately after planting. The gladioli are not the blowsy cultivated type Morrissey used to twirl around, but a more delicate species type, smaller blooms in a bright magenta which will perrennialise and spread itself nicely (I hope), bridging that occasionally difficult gap where Spring segues into Summer.

A rare occurrence of me remembering to do a before/after shot. Gooseberry pruning: I haven’t been pruning hard enough in past years (and this may actually still not be quite hard enough). We never get a massive crop (every year I wage war against gooseberry sawfly) but gooseberries are hard to find in the shops, and I do love a gooseberry fool (plus they are quite cooperative about tolerating shade, so they make good use of this space). Once the lot are pruned they get a mulch with the wood ash saved from the wood burner (especially good for fruit trees and bushes).
A friend very kindly brought me a large bough of mistletoe for Christmas. I have since learned that it likes to grow in apple trees best of all. I rather like the pagan associations with mistletoe so I thought I’d see if I could persuade some to grow. I doubt this will work, actually, but it’s an interesting experiment. The berries are exceptionally sticky and look disgustingly snotty. – these have stayed stuck on the tree through torrential rain. Mistletoe does somewhat weaken its host tree, but this apple tree was already mistreated by the previous residents (who probably planted it) and since I don’t especially care for Golden Delicious, it’s demise would not cause me a huge amount of grief. It’ll probably still outlive me, to be honest!

It’s that time of year when I bang on about seedheads. I cleared the dead stems too early last year – the garden looked bare for ages and I destroyed habitat for overwintering beasties. Trying very hard to be a little more patient this year – I’ll start clearing, gradually, towards the end of the month, rather than slashing across the border in one fell swoop.

Last year I also started sowing too soon – I started too many things off indoors and ended up with sorry leggy seedlings that couldn’t go outside when the weather refused to warm up. This year I will resist the temptation to get cracking with these and I’ll hold off sowing any indoor crops until at least St Valentine’s Day, when the day length dramatically improves and the light is kinder to seedlings. This is one of two seed orders placed for this year… of course I don’t really need seed but the catalogues are just too tempting!

Lots of things are really taking off already (it’s really not been that cold, we haven’t had much in the way of frost). This fennel is especially enthusiastic. Big billowing clouds of foliage would be lovely this year. I’ve never yet managed to get a really dense back row to my border… perhaps this is the year!
Last year I was unhappy with big gaps of bare earth between the blooms of the Spring bulbs – I know that’s how Spring borders often look, but I was after a fuller, lusher look. For the first time ever, I was organised enough to sow and raise wallflowers last autumn. These have been in this flower bed throughout the Winter and are bulking up nicely. They should, hopefully, open up in a deep velvety red, complimenting the tulips. If it’s successful I’ll raise lots more, in different colours, later this year for next year’s display. Growing bedding from seed saves a lot of money and also saves resources – it’s infinitely more environmentally friendly.

We’ll never manage to be fully self-sufficient, but it is certainly possible to have at least one item fresh from the garden for dinner every day of the year. Left to right: cavalo nero, various chards, and more chard, with beetroot below. All continuing to produce, despite really torrential Welsh rain for what feels like months.

I am trying very hard to be more disciplined about what I put on the compost heap – rather than indiscriminately chucking on woody bits and perennial weeds, which only stacks up trouble later (specifically, me being in trouble with Chief Engineer). Most kitchen waste goes on here and a sizeable amount of paper and cardboard – we put substantially less waste out for the council collections than most of our neighbours! It’s not pretty, but it’s largely out of sight, and it’s certainly effective. It would be quicker and more effective if we covered the heap to retain heat, but the garden is like Centreparcs for rats already without building them a fucking sauna too. We keep it wet and exposed and try to turn it fairly often so that cats and foxes can get to any inhabitants and it’s as inhospitable as possible. Realistically, it probably has numerous mammalian residents anyway (though sadly no hedgehog, which really would be a treat).
I treated myself to some fab new tools – this long-handled trowel and a hand fork with the same type long handle. A pain consultant suggested different tools might help to improve the aggravation caused to my chronic pelvic/abdominal pain by frequent bending whilst gardening. Initially I thought this suggestion was a typically unrealistic and dumb idea from a non-gardener, but she was absolutely right – these things are actually really good! They reduce the bending burden, make it easier to reach into big beds, and give a bit more leverage so many border tasks are easier. I love them so much, I even clean them after use!
Mr Blackbird has clearly decided I am friend not foe and comes very close to me now while I’m working, to see if I’ve unearthed any tasty treats for him. He was about a foot away from me when he decided that big fat worm had his name on it. He was about to come even closer when the Under-Gardener got jealous that I was talking to a creature that wasn’t him and came and barked, causing Mr. Blackbird to escape to the relative safety of the fence.

A thoroughly scientific experiment here. Garlic planting time. In the picture on the right, the bed is half Solent Wight garlic planted directly in the soil and half the same garlic, from the same batch, potted up into pots before it goes into open ground. In theory, it will enjoy better drainage and put on a good healthy root ball before being planted out – this may or may not make it more able to resist white rot, rust and other diseases. We’ll see. To be honest, I discovered last year that even with some disease, if lifted early enough, a decent crop can still be obtained. We won’t make it through a whole year being self-sufficient for garlic from last year’s crop like we usually do but we won’t be very far off – the stored bulbs are still going and I probably have enough left for another month or two (we are a VERY heavy household for garlic use!)

The last of the sprouts – probably enough for one more meal in all. These were successful and delicious and I’ll definitely grow more this year (the variety is Sanda from Real Seed Co – with the added bonus of being self-pollinating, but I can’t quite be arsed to raise plants in isolation cages in order to save seed…) The sprouts themselves never got very big, though – does anyone know the secret to this? Should I be removing the cabbagey top growth early in the season?
The first of the snowdrops (not one I planted this weekend, that would be cheating). The first one of the year always brings me such joy and relief. It’s very short and it’s not quite fully open yet but it is undeniably flowering. Spring is around the corner! It feels so good to get outside and get the earth under my nails again, even in the pissing cold rain. Seed packets and gardening supplies keep arriving… an exciting year’s gardening lies ahead. No Under-Gardener photos this week – he was not impressed enough with the weather to spend much time outside supervising!

Published by Notes from the Under-Gardener

Keen amateur gardener, tending a large home garden growing flowers, fruit and veg, ably supported by husband and dog.

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