Sunshine and Erik

Storm Erik swept through last week, throwing fierce wind and rain around and giving us a good soaking on our way in to work. At least it wasn’t quite as cold as it has been. This weekend saw the back end of Erik; more wind and showers broken by surprising stretches of bright sun. Good weather for mulching. I spent Saturday spreading horse manure. I have a horrible suspicion that this manure is full of demon weeds – lets hope I’m wrong. The manure was supplemented with a mulch of mature wood chips – an instant make-over that I’m hoping will suppress the weeds.

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Mulching is a sometimes delicate task – avoiding the early bulbs and growth that’s already starting to appear. These crocus are ready to go – I will miss them opening during the week.IMG_1274

These iris reticula are always a brilliant surprise, shockingly blue against the natural mulch of fallen beech leaves.IMG_1263

I thought these were Katharine Hodgkin, but they seem to be reverting to a darker blue – or perhaps they were always something else..IMG_1265

The dogwoods are at their best in the brief sunshine, shiny wet and improbably colourful.

And from a distance they’re like linear flames burning through the cold afternoon.IMG_1277

Another shower breaks and I rush to shelter in a greenhouse. I’ll not complain about the rain, it’s all welcome on a Sunday afternoon in February.IMG_1285

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February

Cold for a few weeks now – down as low as -6 degrees in the polytunnel. A big fall of snow just up the road but nothing here apart from thick frost that persists all day in the shady parts of the garden. Today the sun shone, and although it only reached 4 degrees somehow if felt like a transition to something a little warmer.

IMG_1235 (1)White lines of birch against a blue February sky.

Earlier than last year, I decided that today would be stage one of the long borders preparation. This involves cutting down all the skeletal remains of last year’s growth. They’ve been looking great all winter – but in the bright light of a February morning they were starting to look a little tired. Here’s a before shot:IMG_1236This big clump of miscanthus will be moved in April when it warms up a bit – after 3 years it has outgrown its position. IMG_1239This year I used my new Niwaki herbaceous sickle – a brilliant Japanese tool made for harvesting rice and perfect for cutting perennials. I’m pretty sure that the whole process took roughly half as long as previous years – and I don’t feel any RSI in my wrists from constant use of secateurs. Highly recommended!IMG_1243Very quickly both sides of the borders were done, and five trips to the compost heap with  the trolley completed the job. The sun can now reach the new growth for the first time. Next stage will be to clear between each plant, removing weeds and dead leaves, then applying a layer of mulch. That will have to wait for the next sunny weekend – although the days are getting longer it was already late afternoon by the time I finished.IMG_1254Enough time for a quick springwatch walk to check on progress. Unfortunately no residents in the Snakesbury quack house yet..IMG_1250Really cold in the old orchard along the edge of the field – the sun is too low in the sky to reach here until March. There’s a plum that has blossomed really early in previous years, but no sign of life from it yet. February.IMG_1251

 

 

Mid Winter Fires

Another year, another winter – now halfway through. It’s been a mild winter generally but this week has been colder with snow forecast over the coming week. Hopefully not another beast, but some cold is welcome; combined with clear sunny days almost the perfect winter weather. I was surprised to see lots of activity in the garden, but then looking back realised that it’s not any earlier than last year.

img_1187Hamamelis glowing in the low midday sun.

img_1183This auricula is very early, the only one to flower so far.

img_1206Iris unguicularis has been flowering since mid December, a wonderfully resilient and rewarding plant.

Hellebores are always a very welcome sight – these are starting to spread by self-seeding.

img_1189Winter honeysuckle fills the whole area with delicate lemony fragrant loveliness.

Bare stems of spindle, dogwood and ghost bramble, owning their space at this time of year.

img_1223Twisted hazel catkins are an early sign of spring.

img_1224Viburnum tinus – sadly not fragrant but flowering none the less.

These are brilliantly fragrant though; chimonanthus, daphne and mahonia.

img_1217There’s a very cold buck sheltering on the patio.

img_1216And a layer of ice on the pond.

img_1202The elder is looking very upright (and due for a trim).

img_1233And finally, snowdrops – what more can be said!

Winter planting

I’ve been taking advantage of the mild weather – with soft soil after all the rain it is the perfect time for planting. Today’s session started at first light around 07:00, was interrupted by heavy showers all through the day, and ended at 15:40 sunset. In a productive day like today I can plant about 60 trees. So far this year I have planted about 190.

The process involves the removal of 2 square foot of turf, digging, dipping the tree in a gel suspension of mycorrhizal fungi, planting, wrapping the tree with a bunny guard and then staking it with a cane. This weekend I planted alder buckthorn, lime, wild pear, paper bark birch, silver birch and jacquemontii birch.

These are the jacquemontii birch, grown from seed this year. There’s 62 in this (future) thicket.IMG_1168

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Hopefully they will grow as fast as the silver birch which seem to do roughly 1.5m a year at Snakesbury.

This is a (future) avenue of small leaved lime.IMG_1170

Here’s some bird cherry, spindle and wayfaring trees.IMG_1176

It’s good to have these planted in December before the ground gets frozen. And although it’s more like a plastic woodland at the moment within a few years it will start to turn into a real woodland. The journey is wonderful and I’m grateful every day to be doing this.IMG_1166

Winter: now here

The first frost of the year; it seems like winter is here. On the plus side, annual weeds have flopped into mush. The last leaves are falling, revealing the underlying structure of trees. Days are short, the darkness longer every night. The best place is fireside. When morning comes the frosted garden is worth getting cold for. These sedums hold the frost well.IMG_1140The last of the medlars, bletted, now frozen, soon to return to earth.IMG_1138The long borders are being shaped by the frost.IMG_1154Leonotis seedbeds will persist through the harshest winter weather.IMG_1150Gunnera is not nearly as resilient.IMG_1163The weekend brought more rain which made for slightly warmer soil, so I planted some bareroot trees and shrubs: 10 each of guelder rose, wayfaring tree, bird cherry, hornbeam and spindle. That brings the total to 96 planted so far this season, with another 240 to go. The new woodland is starting to take shape..

Iceday

The snow appears to have moved on to other parts of the UK, replaced by ice. The ice rain makes a layer on top of the snow, sealing everything below. It freezes onto the widows – instant obscured glass.

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Our kind neighbour helped out again, ploughing the snow from the driveway so we can at least make it out into the world. Kent has been transformed.

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The most recent forecast is for “less cold” over the weekend. Hopefully spring will start soon.

Snowday IV

The combined devilry of the ‘beast from the east’ and storm Emma have held temperatures below -5 overnight, blowing the snow into knee-deep drifts.

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All this snow doesn’t seem quite so exciting today. Maybe the novelty is wearing off. Certainly the grey skies and howling wind don’t help, but I didn’t want to be outside for very long. Even the pond is slowly being assimilated into the whiteness.IMG_3681

The summerhouse stands in high contrast to the white field.IMG_3682

And Tommy-all-alone is looking quite…alone.IMG_3683

We are snowbound; our car has been immobilised by the cold and the driveway is basically one big snowdrift.IMG_3676IMG_3680

Thankfully our very kind neighbour has offered to do some essential shopping for us. We have a big pile of logs and we’re going to use them.