It seems unreal that I have now been here for just over a year. And I am still unpacking, cleaning and sorting (albeit with varying degrees of energy and dedication to the task!) Now that the weather has improved and, in meteorological terms at least, it's Summer, I've been getting back into the garden. I am enjoying even the smallest fix of pulling a weed, potting on or emptying the compost trug and watching things grow.
I started digging over the front garden on a fine day in March, but the soil was still wet and claggy. With the amount of soft rush, pendulous sedge, milkmaids and buttercups which have volunteered themselves as I've left the 'lawn' to grow, (not to mention the way that water pools on the farm fields behind me), it's evident that this was once damp meadow. The digging being way too heavy going, I contented myself with pruning and tying in the rose by the porch. It had been pulled down by some of the winter winds, and I thought the roots had been broken, but only one root was damaged. It responded to this rough treatment by sending up another strong shoot from the base, which is now over a metre high, with lots of flower buds and great big triangular thorns. It may not be scented, but it's quite a tough rose.
As everything started to grow rampantly, I decided I had better transfer my attention to the back garden. I have lots of herbs in pots, waiting to go into the 'herb garden',
which is based on a roughly half-oval arc, the base of which is the
patio wall, and centred on the rotary washing line. (The fight I had restringing that line is a saga in itself!)
The drifts of strap-shaped leaves are up again. The sharp, keeled leaves which I thought were pendulous sedge (because sedges have edges) are indeed that and are all over the place. As I started digging, I found some of the strap-shaped leaves looked different to the ones I've decided are probably Crocosmia, and end in tubers rather than corms, so it seems likely that these are Day Lilies. Of the two oriental poppies which managed to send up leaves last year, one has flowered already and is red, and I am waiting impatiently for the buds on the other plant to open. At some point, I will need to pot them up. It would be better to transfer them to their new home, but I just can't do (or pay to have done) all the necessary work right now. Also to be saved are the Aquilegia. The seedlings skulking in the grass last year have grown into a lovely selection ranging from very dark purple to palest pink. A very small geranium behind the shed has developed a cluster of very pale pink flowers - so I need to look it up as well as pot it up. One of the roses which had been scalped to almost nothing, but grew strongly last year, has clusters of little buds. I thought last year it looked like R glauca, but I'm not convinced; this year's leaves are a fresher green. The first flowers are just opening and they are semi-double, pink, very pretty; I don't know yet if they're scented.
As soon as I started with a bit of daily weeding, compost bin #3 became full and now has about as much as it can take. The contents of bin #1 having sunk down from full to about 30cm/1' of mostly composted stuff at the bottom, I decided to dig it out. Rather than trying to dig the compost out through the little hatch at the bottom of the bin, I just lifted the bin off and removed the top few inches of unrotted stuff into the top of bin #2. (Oh look, there's still some of the woody bits of that rose by the porch, from where I pruned it last year! And lots of seedlings trying to grow - it obviously didn't get as hot as I thought.) A buzzing noise attracted my attention, and I gingerly removed another clump of compost to reveal a bumblebees' nest. I stood still as a few bees came out to see what was going on, then gently transferred the nest to a piece of roofing felt which had come of the shed, folding the rest of the felt over to make a loose tube to keep the nest dry. I put it behind bins 2 and 3. The move seems to have been quite successful; they settled down and are still there. I've taken to saying 'it's only me!' if I disturb them, and they start to buzz and whine. They seem to pipe down again. I spent some time watching for individuals to come out to visit the flowers. Facebook was full of exhortations to allow dandelions to flower as a food source for bumblebees, and this year I had hordes of dandelions (the soil is probably full of seeds!) and didn't manage to dead-head all of them, but noticed that the bees couldn't care less about them, and visited any other type of flower first. Now the garden thug Campanula poscharskyana is flowering (and I have some C. portenshlagiana as well) the bees love it, so I've managed to get a good look at them. They are Early Bumblebees, Bombus pratorum, small and sweet. However, several individuals today were covered with mites. I don't want to disturb a nest whenever I dig out a compost heap, so I'm wondering about some sort of pre-made nest site for them.
Meanwhile, the compost from the bottom of the bin filled a 60 litre compost bag and is now the base compost for the tomato and courgette plants. The courgette seedlings looked so wimpy that I sowed some more seeds, but after a week or so, they seem to have got their roots heading down into the rich stuff and seem to be creating a new leaf a day.
About a week ago, it was a lovely day, and I spent about six hours of it out in the garden, including plenty of stops to sit and have a drink, surveying my realm from the swingseat (although I still really ached the next day). I managed to dig over a strip 50 cm x 2 m; not very much really, as I found a hard pan about 10 cm down and really had to lean on the fork and wiggle it back and forth to break through. I'm hoping that it's not like that across the garden and only because it was near the path, where it may have been walked on, but I was told that the ground had been compacted a bit. There were also little pockets of compost, where things had been planted at one time (I found a buried label which read 'Happy Mother's Day'), but otherwise it seems to be quite a stony clay-based soil. Given the rampant growth, I would guess it's quite fertile, but there are altogether too many slugs and snails and too few earthworms for my peace of mind. I was expecting the compost I dug out to be full of brandling worms too, but they were very few and small. I'd brought some in some compost from the farm, to give my compost bin a headstart. The latest issue of RHS The Garden magazine came with a card for a New Zealand Flatworm survey. I haven't noticed any, but I shall have a decent look for them, in case they're the cause of the lack of worms. That would be a bit worrying.
Having had a week and a bit of dry weather, it's become changeable again. Oh well, it's nicer to dig on an overcast day than in the blazing sun! The trouble is, compost bin #1 is full, although it will settle down a bit. The bins are (I think) the Ecomax 220 litre type, but only 4 or 5 tub trugfuls fill a bin and they get all my veggie kitchen waste as well as the weeds and the weed-upon wood-based cat litter, which should act as an accelerator. Bin #2 still has quite a lot of work to do. Bin #3 was only started in mid-April and is quite nicely warm. In the meantime, I need to look into some compost accelerators and perhaps start a freeform heap. And carry on digging!