The Spring Equinox arrived, and I really hadn't done much in the garden, nor been able to. Trying to hasten the end of the vile cold, and take advantage of a few fine, sunny days (high pressure and a chilly easterly wind, before the prevailing westerlies brought more of unsettled, grey, rainy weather), the garden called. Oh, the pleasure of being able to go out every day for a little garden fix! In the recent rainy weather, I really started to miss the polytunnel we'd had on the farm, where I could sit and sow seeds or pot up/on seedlings, warm and cosy while the rain came down outside.
I'd decided that, since I can't afford to deal with the structural elements of the garden, the main planning and framework could wait, since most of what I wanted to grow more or less come under the heading of annuals - in other words, vegetables. And for that, I would need to clear some ground of the weeds, omnipresent brambles, dandelions and a dense thatch of grass. Which meant that the compost heaps would need to be dealt with, ready for the mountain of grass and weeds to come.
The compost seemed like a big job, so I put it off in favour of a little light digging to clear a patch ready to take sunflowers, peas, beans, courgettes and whatever other vegetables I manage to grow. Working back from the rear fence seemed a good place to start. This is the area which was formerly under a Leylandii (probably)-topped earth bank, although you wouldn't know to look at it now and I wondered how long ago it had been done.
I found another couple of purple crocus had popped up where I'd removed a few previously, so I lifted these and potted them up for safe keeping and replanting. Last year, I'd found some gold-painted pebbles close to the patio and path, (where I'd also found a broken plastic label buried a few inches down which read 'Happy Mothers Day') and was amused to find another gold pebble with the crocuses.
A big clump of pendulous sedge came out easily enough, and appeared to have been planted with a plastic bag around its roots. Everything else was hard graft, and after an hour I had only managed an area approximately 1 x 0.5 metre. This is a heavy, stony soil, so I'm not digging in the usual
sense, using a spade and making decisions about whether to double-dig or
not (I wish!). I could scarcely get the fork in 10 centimetres (four inches) before
hitting stones and it soon became clear that it was not just natural
stone. Bits of concrete, broken brick, glass (lots), tile and pot, odd bits of plastic - basically,
household and building rubble, which I removed as I found it, separating the glass from the rubble into a separate pot. Oh dear, it is going to be a long, hard job.
The last Sunday in March, when the clocks changed to British Summer Time, spurred me into a flurry of garden activity. I bought a load of bagged up, 'bare root' style perennials very cheaply from Lidl, bought bags of compost and potted them up. Then, since I had already had a few attempts at getting the buddleias out from under the washing line, I had another go at them, determined to get them out before the weather broke, as the soil would get wetter again. The soil is so claggy, it sticks to everything and seems to pull against the thing you want to dig up. It has been getting drier and easier to work, but it was hard work just getting the smaller of the two buddleias out.
After much digging and cussing, I wrestled the larger buddleia out,
leaving broken bits of root somewhere in the depths of the earth. I had
to cut the roots back further to get it into the enormous pot I'd prepared
for it. It remains to be seen whether the buddleias cope with the move.
I continued to tackle the ground-breaking in small steps, gaining less than a 50 centimetre square patch for an hour's work, ending up with more by way of weeds, rubble and glass than seemed possible for the area cleared.
On 2nd April, I decided that the compost really needed to be done, so most of bin 3 was emptied into 3 empty compost sacks and a selection of pots, ready for use. The contents of bins 2 and 1 went into the emptied bin 3, and then bin 1 got a mix from the top of the free-standing heap, while bin 2 got mostly slightly older stuff from lower down the free-standing heap, which cleared most of the heap, but left a layer of perhaps 20 centimetres. Oh my, the number of worms in the heaps now is wonderful! (I even disturbed some making more worms, oops, sorry wormies!)
7th April: the first week zipped by and I had still not got some
good clear space to plant the first batch of peas and broad beans. I had another go near the back fence, then tackled a large dock in the grass nearby. despite dry-ish weather, it was like digging into a wet sump. I didn't
manage to get the whole root out, but hopefully enough of it to put it
off growing again.
The weather was lovely, and it was a pleasure to work outside with the occasional peacock, small tortoiseshell or orange tip flitting by and a red kite flying over for the second time that week, much to the disgust of the local seagulls. I potted on and tidied up the lemon and olive trees, taking off the first two lemons and reflecting that small things like that make me so happy.
I dug up and transplanted the fuchsias which were coming up out of the grass. Where the wet grass had lodged against the main stems, the bark just sloughed off as I tried to separate them from the grass and bramble which was coming up through them. The three plants I thought there were turned out to be five, though whether any will survive the move ...?
I keep finding bits of plant label for the garden thug campanula. (How
many of the wretched things did they plant? One is more than enough! The same goes for the crocosmia. I'd
toyed with the idea of interplanting something with crocosmia in the
front garden, but I can see it doesn't grow like that - it spreads to
form dense patches. Anything planted with it wouldn't stand a chance,
even the campanula!
All this exertion called for a sit down with a glass of
water, and I watched Mr Blackbird attacking a pot's contents. I went to
have a look at what was so interesting. The primula in the pot was not
looking well, and there was no sign of the hyacinth which was supposed
to be in the pot with it. Emptying the pot out revealed several vine
weevil grubs, which were duly squished and left for the birds to clean
up, should they so desire. Blasted things.
I went into
the front garden to have a dig there. I started attacking an area of old
grassy thatch and peeled back the 'turf' to find loads of grubs and
caterpillars. Each bit of grass I got up revealed more. It looks like I
have an infestation of vine weevils and cutworms, with the occasional chafer grub thrown in for good measure. Much as I love moths,
this number of caterpillars is excessive and between them and the weevil
larvae, nothing would grow. Something will have to be done.
tidied the tools back into the garden cupboard, I wondered when the swallows would return and though my mind might be playing tricks when I
heard 'chi-deep, chi-deep!' I looked around, but saw nothing. Then again, an excited 'chi-deep, chi-deep!' and a couple of swallows tore past. They're back! Poor things, it's still quite cold.
A couple of days later, and some more digging up near the back fence, slowly but surely a couple of metres by perhaps 1 metre, large enough to put the first few peas and beans in. Such slow and heavy work, my back really ached and I had to have a hot bath and early night. Around three in the morning, I awoke in agony, my right quadratus lumborum, (the square-ish/rectangular muscle which connects the top of the pelvis to the bottom of the ribs at the back between spine and waist) was in spasm, and I found I was doing involuntary hip lifts as the contracting muscle lifted my hip up to my ribs. I'd obviously strained it while digging and reaching mostly with my right hand, and it was rebelling. Cursing, stretching, massaging it and doing some mindful breathing, accompanied by concerned, purring cats, got me back to sleep again, but it's been a really painful three days of rest since then.
It looks like gardening might be unwise for a while, just when a spell of nice April high pressure, dry, sunny, cold weather is forecast. Perhaps I should somehow find a catapult, collect some of the vine weevil and moth grubs and fire them into the air for passing swallows, although they haven't been much in evidence since their appearance last week, because with the cold wind, they could surely use the extra food after their long journey back to us.
Still, I have fresh lemons for my favourite drink, so it could be worse.