Saturday 22nd & Sunday 23rd January 2022 – digging deep on a grey day

I am trying to make notes at least once a week so that I have an ongoing record of tasks and progress. Some weeks, although a reasonable amount might get done, there seems little to show for it. Photos of tidying up and bare earth are not very interesting. Better, more interesting things will follow once we’re past Valentine’s Day and the days lengthen more rapidly.

The recent storms took down my rose arch, requiring a very hard prune to save the two climbing roses from further damage. They currently sit looking rather stumpy and awaiting a new support. A very swish, very solid, iron arch has been purchased at great expense. There was every intention that it would get built this weekend, but an out-of-character decision to check all components before the build started revealed that we’d not received the full number of screws… so construction was postponed. Chief Engineer got a reprieve. The Under-Gardener carried out a shed inspection instead of an inspection of works. There is wood in the shed here, behind Chief Engineer, waiting to become raspberry supports, ideally before the raspberries burst into growth again. Really must get on with that. Meanwhile, the flamingos have been in for a service, and have received a fresh new custom spray job.

I’m trying to focus on one area of the garden at a time, completing work in one area before I move on to another task. It is neater and cleaner and much more effective and efficient. I am easily distracted and often create mess in multiple places without finishing things in any of them, so I’m trying really hard to change that. Sunday was all about deep focus, attention to detail and being thorough. The big herbaceous border (which I pretentiously call The Long Border, like I’m Vita Sackville-West or something) hasn’t had proper attention for ages. The soil is compacted and a bit waterlogged in places (look at that moss in the picture on the left above!) and it is full of evil pernicious weeds in others (ground elder and cinquefoil in the photo on the right). you have to get down on your hands and knees to see these things, but they do seriously impede the health and success of the border. So for the first time ever I got down close to the ground and fastidiously tickled the soil surface to aerate, and gently dug and pulled and teased to remove the deep roots of vast numbers of tiny, troublesome weeds…

… I was really pleased about this, as it’s always seemed like a gargantuan feat until now and I’ve been disheartened even thinking about it. Somehow, the challenge seemed more acceptable this weekend and the gratification from extracting these deep roots seemed worthwhile. The white roots above are ground elder, the darker ones are cinquefoil – you would never guess such deep tough roots lay below the tiny, fragile leaves that appear above ground. Both weeds proliferate at alarming speed and smother the plants I do want in the border. Seeing the bed finally clear of them was so pleasing, even if it will only last a few weeks before they start to reappear. What do we learn from this? Sometimes you have to dig deep if you want to root out that which irks you… and you’ll probably have to repeat the process indefinitely at intervals, too.

Nifty tools are making the world of difference to my gardening – I can manage to do more before pain kicks in, now that I’m using long handled tools to reduce bending. This long handle has interchangeable tool parts – it’s incredibly tough and versatile. Here, the hand fork implement is just the thing for reaching right into the border without bending or tramping down the soil. I was sceptical, but thinking differently about tools has been an absolute game changer.

The border doesn’t look the most interesting this time of year but actually it’s got a whole lot more going on than it did this time last year, partly because I’m starting to think differently about planting, trying to plant in bigger blocks and constantly trying to find ways to bring in year round interest (hence introducing some grasses). I gave (nearly) the whole border a good mulching with well-rotted horse manure. I ran out of steam before I could quite mulch the whole thing. That is some heavy shit, you know.

By this time in the year, I always have a sorrowful collection of cuttings languishing in pots. Here are currants and strawberry runners, saved from prunings I couldn’t quite bring myself to throw out, plus behind them some trays of bomb-proof perennials I am bringing on for a non-gardening-minded friend. I’m hoping I can give her some colour whilst not creating much work for her. I might have created work for me though, as I’ll need to plant them for her!
These seedheads got cut down. It is a little early, but I read that Monty Don doesn’t hold with all that ‘leave your stems up over winter’ business, and if it’s good enough for him… I needed to take them down so that I could get in between the plants and weed properly. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
The hedge is out of control and I hate it. We’ve not been able to keep on top of it and it’s run away with us, it’s missed the hard cut our neighbours used to arrange every couple of years. We’ve got a firm coming this week to take it in hand a bit before the birds start nesting again. I’m pathetically excited about the impact of gaining more light just before the Spring – we’ve never actually got our shit together for a Spring cut before, even a small amount of extra light on the border in Spring could make a dramatic difference to growth and flowering through the rest of the year. Just for once I’ve thought to take some ‘before’ shots. Those spare currant bushes in the earlier photo will go in the bare patch of earth in the photo above, once the work has been done. I might also put the strawberries underneath in a sort of a food forest effect… or, if Chief Engineer manages to take down the old wood shed, I might treat myself to a poly tunnel and try Bob Flowerdew’s recommendation of growing strawberries under cover for the most reliable results… after all, that’s how commercial growers do it – under huge plastic tunnels (though they probably have climate control, automatic irrigation and mechanised spraying with pesticides, too!) Thinking about it now, I probably spend an unhealthy amount of time daydreaming about polytunnels…
The hydrangea in the middle of the photo above and the miscanthus grasses on the right both need a hard cut, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it yet. It will keep a little longer, until slightly warmer weather, though I had better not leave it too long…

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.

3 thoughts on “Saturday 22nd & Sunday 23rd January 2022 – digging deep on a grey day

  1. You are doing a good job digging out the ground elder. We had it in our garden when we moved in. I got at it in the first year and kept at it when small shoots reappeared. My most useful tool to get down to all the long roots and to stop it snapping off was a long thin screwdriver. It is still around, some went into my neighbour’s plot and they don’t pull the roots out, but it is more manageable now. Good luck with the hedge.

    Liked by 1 person

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