A light February flurry

…of gardening, at last!

It sure has been a quiet winter on the MBaF front. I’m a fair-season gardener for sure, and even my Gardener’s World magazines festered largely untouched some months.

But for a few hours, on a couple of recent days, the feeling of spring’s approach has begun to cajole these green fingers to flex.

Today has been one of those days, and it happened to coincide with no work and Miss MBaF at nursery. I couldn’t deny it any longer. Seeds. Were. Sown.

Hello 2016, and in Delia Smith’s immortal words: Let’s be avenue!

 

Pea Douche Provence sown. Over-wintered Nigella potted on.

 

 

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Mr Tiggywinkle

  

This lovely slug-muncher was found in our garden today! 

Mr MBaF is in the process of replacing our two sheds with a shiny new workshop. As he lifted the floor of right-hand shed, he discovered this big fella (guess work on gender) snoring away. He was snuggled in a very cosy nest of dead leaves, moss, old roof felt, and an encouraging number of snail shells. 

Rehomed safely under the hedge, just hope he stays and continues his good work!

Be careful what you wish for…

The weather this month has been unseasonably stable. April appeared to be rebranding – shaking off its showery reputation.

Already I’ve been wishing for rain and complaining about having to water the plot – this wouldn’t normally happen until mid-summer, but our free-draining ground is parched.

Of course it wouldn’t last!

Looks like the showers will set in for April’s final throws. Just as Mr MBaF finishes his week of night shifts – boohoo. 

Beanpoles and pea sticks from the local woods

Lower Woods is an ancient woodland that we’re lucky enough to live very close to. It’s got a vast amount of hazel coppice, and the woodsman sells the winter’s coppice products to gardeners.

Woodland products are available to buy all year round, but last weekend (11/12 April) were the ‘official’ spring sales.

Bamboo canes are perfectly adequate for supporting climbing beans and netting is fine for peas to clamber up. But it feels good to buy local products, hazel poles and branches look much more attractive and they may do better to withstand the winds we get up here.

It’s also a lovely shopping experience, and the woodsman delivered my purchases straight to the allotment for free!

Bean poles and pea stick sales at Lower Woods

Bean poles and pea stick sales at Lower Woods

The resident Jack Russels lazing in the sunshine

The resident Jack Russels lazing in the sunshine

While we were there, Miss MBaF and I took the dog for a walk – it’s his absolute favourite place in the world!

It was great to see the garlic in lush leaf, the bluebells and blackthorn starting to flower and the primroses, wood anemones and cowslips in bloom.

Wild garlic galore

Wild garlic galore

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Blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn blossom

Mid-winter: the best time of the year…

…bear with me.

Not much gardening going on due to weather and work, but I’m witnessing the slow-but-sure coming of spring as I roam around the village. It’s hopeful, but the cusp of spring can be one of the crappier times of year for walking round these parts.

The twice-daily dog walk (of which I currently do less than 50%, admittedly) provides a good barometer for the changing seasons and its impact on the countryside. While the gentle adjustments in temperature and day length mosey on, there are also sudden and dramatic transformations of the farmland that surrounds our little village.

And so, our usual routes change and become more awkward or more lovely according to the month. Here is my dog-walking calendar:

Late winter (now): the farmers plough their fields, pinning us to the paths at their perimeter – or sometimes through the middle. The weather warms so the ground is soft, and as scores of walkers pound the paths they get slippery, and then claggy, and then seriously boggy.

A footpath through a local ploughed field - not kidding

A footpath through a local ploughed field – not kidding

Spring: the first great dog-walking season. The ground dries out as the flora powers into growth. The twigs and branches soften with foliage and blackthorn hedges hide their spikes with frothy white blossom. All routes are again accessible, the woodland paths no longer boggy, the grasses and stingers not yet encroaching.

Happy dog, happy walker

Happy dog, happy walker

High summer: wonderful in the woods, so long as you can ignore the low level buzzing in constant pursuit. But the lesser-used paths, and all routes around the fields are quickly invaded by grasses, nettles, brambles and cleavers. I repeatedly make the mistake of wearing shorts or cropped trousers, always just before some kind of social event involving exposure of my slashed and stung shins. And it’s a miracle if by autumn I haven’t hit the deck after clamping a rambling weed to the floor with one foot, only to trip up my other foot as it attempts to take the next step.

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Poppy-pocked fields are a highlight of high summer

Autumn: a mixed bag. The paths are still jungles, and hold litres of morning dew to deposit into the trainers I’ve foolishly worn (time to dust off the wellies once more). But the farmers are busy harvesting, freeing acres of space, shortcuts, long cuts, and bramble-free walking.

Winter: the path-covering plants beat their retreat, exposing the routes we’ll come to rely on in the new year. But the fields are still bare too, so the world is our oyster. Of course the slip-sliding gets worse day-by-day, until….

Mid-winter: …when it all freezes hard and you can both (me and the dog) trot over a mud bath and still return home with clean paws. And here, on our hilltop, we are blessed with the most amazing hoar frosts I’ve ever seen. It’s a truly magical sight. We haven’t had one yet this winter – I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this treat before we welcome spring 2015 – but here are some shots from winter 2012.

Incredible hoar frost

Incredible hoar frost

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Chilly dog

Chilly dog

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That’s why cold mid-winter is [one of the] best time[s] of year ;o)

Homemade wreath

Feeling festive

A festive aside from allotmentry today…

In the last few weeks I’ve been plundering the local countryside for Christmas decorations. On the mantlepiece I’ve stuck a vase of stems with seedheads found in a field margin. I peppered on some gold spray and added a pheasant feather (of which there are a lot around here!) for a rustic centrepiece.

Foraged christmas mantlepiece decoration

Sprayed stems and pheasant feather

And I’m super-chuffed with the wreath I made for the front door. I used off-cut branches from our Christmas tree, variegated holly branches found in our community compost heap (!) and some spare small red baubles.

But my best find were scattered on the ground in a recently-harvested conifer wood: Twigs dotted with rows of lovely pine cones, each about the size of a hen’s egg.

Like the seedheads, I gave the pine cones some gold highlights, and used thin green wire to stitch everything together.

I didn’t use a template or support, so it was difficult to make it sturdy and nicely round – but careful choice of which section to hang it from seems to have evened it out! Perhaps after a couple of weeks it’ll be a bit saggy, but hey ho, right now it looks ace.

Homemade wreath

Homemade wreath

First frost

This morning’s dog-walk was glorious, with frosted grass making the fields twinkle in the sunlight. It’s not crispy yet; the ground is still squishy and slippery under the dusting of icing. But the wintry signs are appearing, and there are three jobs I need to get on with this week.

Frosty fields

Frosty view over the fields

This summer I decided penstemons would feature in my 2015 garden, so I bought a dozen seedlings from Hayloft and stuck them in the ground. I’ve read that they can be a bit tender, and our garden is quite exposed, so I need to take steps to protect them.

Leaving this year’s foliage on until spring is supposed to help protect the important crowns. But my plants haven’t had time to bulk up yet, so I’m going to mulch them with a pile of bark chips too.

I’ll do the same with some of my dahlias at the allotment – Bishop’s Children – which have unexpectedly developed great big tubers after growing them from seed this year. Our soil is very free-draining, so [I’ve read] they might be OK with a good layer of protection on top.

However, I’m also going to try lifting and storing a few as recommended – in a shallow box in compost in a frost-free place. Both approaches are an experiment for me, I’ve never grown dahlias before and didn’t expect this variety to be perennial – but their colour is so intense, great for cutting, and the bees like their open blooms, so they’re worth the effort.

Bishop's Children dahlias in vase

Bishop’s Children blooms alongside Cosmos Purity, making my summer cider all the better.

Finally, I’ve accumulated various young plants grown from collected seeds (Sweet Williams from my Mum, Aquilegia from seedheads in a hedgerow) or purchased from Hayloft Plants and I’m sure these will need protection. The Fella knocked up a coldframe in the summer, so I’ll cosy them up in there for winter.

DIY coldframe

Mr MBaF building a coldframe from reclaimed decking boards and windows

Seedlings

My growing nursery