Frosted leaves of Hellebore, January 2002

Above: Frosted leaves of Hellebore, January 2002.

Garden diary: December

1 January 2002

New Year's Day dawned brightly lit by a hopeful-looking sun. Several nights of severe frost here in Yorkshire meant that, as the Christmas carol so poetically puts it, "earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone".

The garden birds can't drink water of a stone-like quality, so after my much-needed coffee I took the kettle out to attempt to defrost some part of the bird bath. 

Within seconds the hot water had cooled to a usable temperature, and within an hour or two it had frozen again. A very cold day, indeed. I almost expected to see birds frozen solid to the branches of trees.

In the garden, as the ground has been frozen, I've not been able to do much but look at it, and check plants are protected as much as they can be, though I may have lost some, as the recent frosts have been so severe. Time will tell.

The very cold snap has meant that the Witch Hazel isn't yet flowering - though it looks as if it's about to. In previous years it has flowered by Christmas.

I have overwintered sweet peas, sown in autumn, in a cold frame, and remarkably, they appear to be still alive, if a bit feeble-looking. I am feeling virtuous as I did eventually drag myself out into the bleak midwinter garden to check them over for slugs and other problems, and, of course, found a few slugs.

Slug searches on cold and bleak winter afternoons are not my idea of fun. I'm looking forward to a less bleak season.

28 January 2002

The first Iris danfordiae opened today. I cheated, by bringing a potful into the house, having decided to try remembering what I learnt in Art O'level and do some painting. The painting was rubbish, but at least the irises opened in the warmth of the house. There are many about to flower in pots in the garden, having suddenly developed fat yellow buds.

A wander through the rather bleak-looking garden today revealed that there are signs of growth everywhere. These are small signs so far, and so can't be seen by looking out of the window. Close up I found it's all moving out there already. 

The Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose) are showing many developing flowerbuds, and one plant looks as if it might flower much earlier than the others. A couple of months ago I covered this plant with a plastic bell-shaped cloche, as the pigeons that hang around under the seed-feeders were trampling all over my plants, and I didn't want them to break off the developing buds. The protection of this cloche has noticeably speeded up the formation of flowerbuds on this plant.

I've a white Hellebore also flowering at the moment - Helleborus niger "Potters Wheel", full of fresh white flowers. The red-flowered Witch Hazel (Hammamelis x intermedia "Diane") came into flower a week or so ago, while the new Mahonia is still flowering, as is Viburnum tinus "Gwenllian".

The flowers in the garden are a hopeful sign, and provide - to use that well-known gardening phrase - "winter interest"

29 January 2002

There are some days in the year when you become aware of the sudden movement of seasons that until then appeared to be static. Today here in Yorkshire was such a day. It's all to do with the weather conditions, which in their turn influence the growth, and the behaviour of the birds. Today was mild and sunny, and I was lucky enough to be able to spend a whole six hours in the garden. A good day.

The Coal Tit that has been visiting all winter reacted to the mildness in the air by starting a loud and enthusiastic noise that appeared to be a mating call (I guessed this from the purposeful nature of the song, and the bird's demeanour - a kind of "I'm gorgeous and lively, come and get me" stance, from the tree branch. Such a tiny bird, but such a loud noise.

I topped up the bark chipping paths in "woodland corner", which have been a muddy mess all winter, and are now un-muddy and nicely springy to walk on. I managed a few far more tedious jobs - like sorting through a heap of muddy plantpots (everything's muddy at this time of year) that I'd left in a heap in a corner last time I was working in the garden.

The submersible pump has been lying about discarded on the ground all winter. Its cable is threaded through a section of plastic drainpipe so as to prevent me sticking my spade through it, and the plastic drainpipe is buried under the soil surface. Making it difficult to dismantle. So I didn't bother.

I've written elsewhere on this site about my ambivalence about water features. Since then I have made a very small pond - and was surprised to find a frog in it. The presence of the frog changed everything, and meant that the mini-pondette had to stay. But the other water features went. The kind where I tried to make water move about artistically and naturally.

The pump then was still lying on the ground in woodland corner. As was an old stone sink that I had been using as a reservoir for water for topping up the pond - leaving it to stand in the stone sink to dechlorinate before I added it to the pond.

The stone sink was in completely the wrong place - in the middle of the path. In my enthusiasm at the mild spring-like day I decided to move it out of the way, and also to do something about the pump. Inevitable really that the two would end up combined in yet another water feature. As long as the pump is working I'll feel I have to find some use for it.

One of the good things about having a small garden is that if you need to move anything heavy you never have to move it far. The sink is an old-style Belfast sink, which I covered some years ago in a sand and cement mixture. It was heavy enough before I plastered cement all over it. It can't be lifted, it can only be dragged. So it was dragged several metres to the nearest suitable space, just at the entrance to Millennium Shed.

Our marvellous local hardware store provided me with a plug for the sink some time ago. (It's a fabulous shop that appears to stock everything in the entire world in every possible size. You don't get that at Homebase.)

So, the plug's in the sink, the sink is full of water, some Zantedeschia aethiopica "Crowborough" (Arum Lily) that were languishing in a bucket are in there, plus a pile of stones in case anything falls in and wants to climb out. The pump was, miraculously, still working, and it's now sitting in the water sporting its bell-shape fountain fitting.

I grouped ivies and other plants in pots around it to make it look a little less like a stone sink full of water plonked against a wall with a plastic bit sticking up in the middle. 

I've abandoned any notions of trying to create a "natural looking" water feature. This one is just "stone sink with Arum lily and pebbles and cheap submersible pump." 

Maybe the frog will find it, though I imagine it prefers the still-water of the mini-pondette, rather than the jacuzzi of the stone sink. But you never know with this unpredictable wildlife.

I realised how quickly the birds in particular react to a mild day when I caught sight of the male blackbird with a beakful of nesting materials. He abandoned these moments later, deciding food was more important. Later in the day I caused some consternation to the blackbird by moving the usual favourite bowl of water where he has his daily bathe to a different spot, about a metre to the right of where it had been previously. He appeared worried by this, and instead hopped onto the rim of the newly-opened "stone sink water feature", casting his eye over it before seeing that naff plastic spout sticking up in the middle and abandoning the idea.

Back to January highlights and diaries

Garden diary: February

Hellebore 'Potter's Wheel'

Above: Hellebore "Potter's Wheel".

Garden diary: February