Hyacinth, Delft Blue, April 2002

Above: Hyacinth "Delft Blue"

Garden diary: March

22 April 2001

Colin Dove the collared dove has offspring!

Colin Dove (who may be male or female . . . I'm not sure) appeared two evenings ago with a juvenile version, without the noticeable collar. This bird was too shy for me to get a proper look, but this evening they called again, and I'm now sure that the pair of collared doves started breeding early this year - perhaps something to do with knowing that food is always available locally (ie from me, at the end of the day, if other sources fail).

The young collared dove sat with Colin Dove on the birdbath near the door, and didn't fly off though I was about a metre away. It was fluttering its wings and making an appealing cheepy call for food, (which Colin Dove appeared to ignore entirely).

Apart from the excitement of this event, I've spent much of the day tying climbing roses to the supports which suddenly don't seem adequate for them. I also realised I really should have pruned one of them a month or two ago, and forgot.

I still don't really have the hang of pruning climbing roses for best effect. I decided to make the best of a bad job, and try to retie the stems of the roses I have, which were waving about rather too much. Have tried to tie them in horizontally, which, apparently, encourages more flowers to form.

This took a lot of painstaking work, as in some cases I had to carefully disentangle stems before tying them in again. Being stuck up a ladder with rose thorns sticking in your jumper, hair, and in some cases, skin, is not fun, of course. But the roses were beautiful in June last year, and I hope they'll be as beautiful this year.

The climbing roses I have that are established enough for a good show are: 'Madame Alfred Carriere', 'Paul's Lemon Pillar', 'Paul's Scarlet Climber', 'Madame Isaac Pereire' (no, not some kind of themed rose garden 'Roses called Paul something or Madame something' - just coincidence). Other roses, autumn planted or just bought include 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' - a romantic sounding name, anyway. Looked beautiful in books, hope it will look beautiful in my garden. (And if I later buy a 'Souvenir du Docteur Jamain', as I plan to, it will look as if I'm on some kind of mission to pair up my roses with others of a similar name.)

21 April 2001 - 9am

Standing in the garden with the first coffee of the day, in warm sunshine, what's most obvious is the stillness. It's Saturday and the rest of the world seems to have not got up yet. Birds are singing on all sides. I hear no other sounds. I can smell warm earth. The sky above is brilliant blue and unbroken by cloud.

For the last few days the sun has been shining, and we all felt eager to get outside. Once outside the biting cold north winds made us all eager to get back inside again. Very frustrating.

But this morning the wind has gone, and all is suddenly still. And warm. And bright. And it's Saturday, and I'm not at work.

I find a seat to sit on, and the sun shines on my back while I plan all the things I can get to work on today in the garden.


Had several hours of happy gardening, and the sun is still shining. The soil felt beautifully warm as I sowed seed of rocket and radishes.

There's some bare ground waiting for my `late summer display' of hot-coloured plants - meanwhile I feel I should use it for something. Large-scale vegetable growing wouldn't work in this garden, but I usually manage to grow some runner beans, lettuces of the `cut and come again' variety ('Red and Green Salad Bowl' being most successful, and most attractive), radishes and rocket, as well as several herbs.

I also undertook the mammoth task of extracting useable compost from the compost heap. This is only small, but still hard work to empty. As I suspected, the mouse I saw recently has its home in there, and ran off as I disturbed its nest, luckily it didn't run over my foot, or I may have screamed and looked for a chair to jump on.

I have to go carefully, having found a toad in there once too. Never knowing what may have taken up residence, I use a spade to carefully extract the compost, rather than sticking a fork in.

My compost is usually of variable quality, but useable. The heap was teaming with red healthy-looking worms, so I must be doing something right. There are also centipedes, woodlice, and slugs.

Having a suspicion that my back was starting to ache, I thought I'd take a break from the creepy-crawlies and write this instead.

White honesty is beginning to flower around the Philadelphus coronarius "Aureus" (Golden-leaved Mock Orange). Narcissi and hyacinths are flowering in pots, and hellebores are still flowering strongly all over the garden. The arums are lengthening their handsome leaves. The early-flowering clematis are full of buds. The compost heap is full of worms and the trees are full of birds. Got to get back out there and play with the compost.

18 April 2001

I'm always pleased to see the arrival of April, and always forget how strange and changeable the weather is this month. April here is epitomized by the bright green of emerging Morello cherry buds against a dark sky . . . so many April days see heavy showers (which the rhyme tells us, bring forth the May flowers) and even hailstones occasionally. Dark skies hang over the burgeoning green of the growing garden. Cold winds still blow. But the blackbird sings sweetly in the trees.

I've tackled fertilizing and mulching at last. The fertilizing in the form of pelleted chicken manure or blood, fish and bonemeal. The mulching in the form of a layer of New Horizon peat-free compost.

Friends visiting recently have commented that the garden looks different, kind of `flatter'. This is because they remember it in summer. Last year I created a lot of height with sweet peas, which were planted to obscure the view of the end of the garden, bringing that sense of `mystery' that garden designers often suggest.

My autumn sown sweet peas have almost all died off this year, as I didn't look after their needs as well as I should over this last winter. I have more sown, this spring, but I know they will be later this year than last year.

Last year I bought some Jerusalem Artichoke tubers, and used these in a similar way to create height to obscure part of the garden. Obviously I also used them because they're rather tasty to eat over the winter, and seemed easy to grow. As I read, once you have them you never get rid of them, and I see that some of the tubers I neglected to dig up and eat are now sending up growing shoots . . as the sweet pea display may be less impressive this year I'm glad I've got something to create some height.

I haven't yet planted tall-growing permanent planting in the central parts of the garden, only against the boundaries. This is mainly because I knew that my thoughts about this small garden space may change, and I wasn't confident about establishing shrubs and climbers in the middle part of the garden, as I wasn't sure what I wanted. So height in the middle area comes from annual climbers and fast-growing creatures like Jerusalem artichokes, and the height doesn't appear until summer.

Woodland Corner, and the other shady area near the house (rather less romantically labelled `Kitchen Corner'), look fabulous just now, planted as they are with the kind of plants that do their thing early, before the leaf canopy fills out from trees above them. Much of the garden looks like it is waiting for June, and the summer that follows, but these corners are filling and growing already, with Dicentra spectabilis, Sweet Woodruff, Forget-me-Nots, brunnera, aquilegia, and bulbs too numerous to list. Most of these aren't flowering yet, but the ruby-red Hellebore orientalis are, the parent plant we inherited with the garden, and plants grown from the seed I collected from this plant. The subtle shade of this plant mixes nicely with the pulmonaria that are also in flower in Woodland Corner.

I visited a local nursery recently, situated in mature gardens where the birds are always singing and calling from the large trees nearby, where plants are lovingly raised with care and attention, placed on neat benches, where carefully handwritten signs give accurate information on the plants needs (as well as its looks), and where you always feel you're paying a fair price. It doesn't open until the spring - unlike the garden centres which are open all year - and the first visit there each year is always cause for celebration. So much so that I spent far too much. But no regrets, when buying plants, particularly when buying them from someone who grows them with so much love and care.

2 April 2001

Wahey! It's April! (T.S Eliot called it `the cruellest month', but that was only for poetic effect.) April arrived beautifully this year in my part of England. I needed a whole day in the garden, after a very grim March (`cruellest month', maybe), and today I was out in the garden from late morning until dark.

For the last week, since the clocks went forward, I've enjoyed the light evenings, and particularly yesterday and today. Both evenings I was standing in the garden at 8pm listening to birdsong, deciding not to go inside until the birds stopped their singing and went to roost. It's always the birds that give me the real sign that winter is over. Some years it's been shown by a sunny Sunday morning of apparently frenetic nesting type activities. This year I noticed it in the birdsong at dusk.

Today the weather was beautiful, and I had a lot of gardening tasks planned. For a start I intended to check the potted hostas for slugs, and renew the grit in the top of the pots . . .

Instead I got distracted. I began by dismantling the very smelly 'water feature', emptying the reservoir of revolting-smelling water, containing dead slugs. I then decided to make a mini-pond instead, which involved altering slightly the route of the pathway past the end of `woodland corner', which in turn resulted in slightly more planting space for this year. An increase in planting space is always cause for celebration, of course.

Also I've decided to have one more go at some kind of grassy area. Can't call it a lawn . . . the area's so tiny. But I do miss the grass we had at the far end of the garden, near the cherry tree, when we first moved in. My reworking of the garden meant not only that I gradually reduced the size of the lawn, but also that the area that was left became very compacted, with me walking all over it while working on the garden. So in the end I got rid of it altogether.

We tried bark chippings last year, and an area of `chamomile lawn' (more chamomile `patch'). This worked well, and I think I'll keep the chamomile in a small area.

I fancy the idea of natural-looking, possibly rather rough, grass at this end of the garden, near the trees. So today was raking up the remnants of the bark chippings, and starting to prepare for sowing grass seed.

The earth is warming up, so I don't really care what I'm doing out there, as long as I get out there and get my hands in the soil.

Back to April highlights and diaries


Tulip Queen of the Night

Above: Tulip "Queen of the Night"

Garden diary: May