Helleborus orientalis

Above: Helleborus orientalis

Garden diary: February

31 March 2001

March was a sad month for us, as Leaps the cat had to be put to sleep. Today, the last day of March, I was tidying the area where we buried her, cutting back the ivy that grows on the wall, as if I don't it will possibly take over the garden while I'm not looking. A blackbird that started to build a nest there seems to have changed her mind, and after checking she really hadn't taken up residence I gave the ivy a trim.

Despite being generally accepting I know I miss Leaps the cat sitting in the garden.

A little later, at dusk, a robin singing from one nearby garden, and a blackbird singing from another, sounded so hopeful, and made me think that nothing is really lost, and that what is real and true continues, even if it's in a different shape.

26 March 2001

I braved the cold to go outside in the garden for an hour or two today, as there was a bit of sunshine for the first time in a week.

I didn't feel like engaging with anything too demanding, so did a bit of cosmetic tidying, mainly cutting off the miserable blotchy leaves still hanging on to some of those climbers that tend to be called 'semi-evergreen' - which I've come to realise means 'hang on to their leaves all winter, even though they shouldn't'.

The leaves in question had become an eyesore, and this was particularly noticeable on the Akebia quinata, which, when I got closer, I could see were producing beautiful new delicate shoots, tinged purple, on the woody twining stems. The leaves from last year were hanging off the stems looking leathery and sad, and splodged with bird poo. The Akebias are small plants as yet, so it was easy enough to remove these miserable remnants of last year, ready for the emerging growth of this year.

My bird feeding seems to have also attracted mice, and I watched entranced this afternoon as a mouse sat in the opening to Millennium Shed eating some sunflower seed that had fallen out of the feeders. While entranced I realised I should probably be doing something about having a mouse so close to the house . . . I was trying to work out whether it was a house mouse or a field mouse, and wondering if that would make any difference anyway.

I should probably take control of the situation, but being a softie will have to employ some kind of humane device that allows me to release the mouse elsewhere (probably with a supply of food to see it on its way - I really am that soppy).

Growth in the garden seems to have been checked a bit by the cold weather, though many plants continue to push out new buds and new leaves. There's not much flowering just now, apart from the beautiful ruby-red Hellebore orientalis - I have several of these now, most grown from seed. As these were some of the first things I grew from seed, and have taken a few years to get to flowering size, their flowering this year gives me great satisfaction.

25 March 2001

What a grim month. I usually like March, but this one has been tough, and not much gardening has been done in recent weeks.

Some beautiful weather early this month in our part of Yorkshire, but confined to the first couple of weeks. The last week has been freezing cold, with one of those grey skies that hangs heavy for days on end. Spring came and then went again, it seems, and I'm waiting for it to come back.

In previous years I've done a lot of gardening in the month of March. I realise that I was lucky with the weather in previous years, particularly in 1998 I think, which seemed to have a very mild late winter/early spring.

There are many gardening tasks I'm behind with this year, but this isn't the kind of weather to encourage me to catch up with them. I haven't sown any seeds, or made any planting plans.

My apologies for sounding so downbeat. This is, of course a garden journal, but like the whole of this website, it's only partly about the garden. For the last month or so I've been worrying about Leaps the cat.

After 12 years of living with us, in this house and others, Leaps had to be put to sleep on Sunday 18 March. On Monday she was buried in the garden. I was glad I had some earth of my own to bury her in. We planted a Clematis armandii above her.

We'll miss little Leaps walking along the garden paths, her tail in the air.

Nature carries on renewing itself around us. There are bulbs pushing up through the ground all over the garden, many in places where I don't even remember planting them. The leaves of many of the Alliums have appeared in the sunny beds in the middle of the garden, and I'm looking forward to these flowering, as this year I've got a few new varieties, bought mail order last autumn.

The early flowering dwarf irises have finished now. I didn't get much chance to appreciate them before they were apparently pecked off by birds. Such are the trials and tribulations of gardening.

Another trial and tribulation of recent weeks occurred when a nearby garden owner decided to mutilate the large conifers at the end of their garden, cutting them down to about half their height, and leaving them looking rather hideous, as badly pruned trees always do (I should know, having done enough bad pruning myself). Unfortunately these trees were part of the 'backdrop' to my own garden, and particularly 'woodland corner', making it feel protected and private.

This kind of thing you have to accept, I know, as everyone can do what they like in their own gardens, and I wouldn't want anyone telling me what to do in mine. But it does make you realise how gardens in town areas - gardens anywhere, really - are also made of whatever is beyond your own boundary, or at least those things that are close enough to your garden boundaries to have an impact when they're removed or reduced.

Many people whose gardens are overshadowed by a neighbour's enormous Leylandii trees probably wonder what I'm moaning about. I like big old established plants that dominate the landscape (not Leylandii, of course). Maybe I should grow a whole line of those monstrous Angelica plants I grew last year.

Had a quick wander round the garden today in the severe chill, so I could report back here on what's growing. I could see flowerbuds on the Clematis macropetala, which was exciting. Also herbaceous plants like Dicentra spectabilis are really coming through now, and these in particular are very beautiful as they emerge from the ground. The truly evergreen plants, like the shrub Choisya ternata, look untouched by the severe weather, remaining healthy and glossy-leaved (possibly aided by the west-facing wall they're planted against).

The birds are always a cheering sight, with the sparrows taking dust baths in the dried soil surface early this month, before the recent rain and snow. A goldfinch appeared one morning on the seed feeders that hang from the apple tree - this is only the second time I've seen goldfinches in the four and a half years we've been here. There are several blue tits, coal tits and dunnocks, as well as the usual army of sparrows and the pigeons.

The resident blackbird has become so keen for the sultanas I've sometimes given him that he sits in the forsythia here by this window waiting for me to appear. The last couple of days he's appeared on the windowsill and peered in at me while I've been sitting here at the computer.

Colin Dove too came to the windowsill today to be fed. It's handy that the birds will come so close, as right now I don't feel like going far. I can just open the window and put the food on the windowsill, without moving more than six feet from the computer. I'm getting lazy, obviously. Still, the clocks went forward last night, so there's that extra light in the evenings to help me catch up with all the gardening tasks. Roll on April.

Back to March highlights and diaries



Above: Narcissus

Garden diary: April