Progress of one sort and another

The protected Potager is doing well

I don’t know what it has been like this last week in gardens and allotments all over the country, but here we are still feeling the tail of Winter and yet a third of the way between Spring and Summer! Still those bitter easterly winds; and whilst we can wrap up warm, seeds and young plants are having to be coddled. At least I have my ‘courtyard potager’ under control; with its protective shrubbery surround, it is the warmest part of the whole garden (or was until my husband decided to rip out part of it.) But the canes are in place for climbing French beans, and for growing trailing squash vertically. The new herb bed (top right) is now well-established, and the bulbs are a continual delight and are now undersown with insect-attracting flowering annuals.

Mixed lettuce and leaf beet have germinated quickly despite the cold
Seeds are being raised in the greenhouse; all safely covered to prevent mice from destroying them – and living near a farm, we have had worse. I am using an old wormery to harden off the seedlings which germinated very quickly with the added protection. All spare ground in the courgette bed will be filled with cut-and-come again salad – mostly rocket, lamb’s lettuce, mixed salad leaves and radish. Some have been sown direct and are now protected with seedbox covers in lieue of cloches – stops cats, sparrows and blackbirds from interfering, as well as providing warmth to aid germinations. The bean bed is destined to provide extra greenery for the hens: perpetual spincach (leaf beet) and rhubarb chard to add a touch of colour – bright red with this variety.

A sorry state of affairs
There’s so much reclamation needed in my other two plots (I’m ashamed to show this image of my once beautiful and productive ‘physic’ garden. But that’s what happens when one is away for much of the year and ill for most of the rest; and as old age creeps upon us unawares, something suffers. I’ve already cut back a lot of the bramble thicket, which has revealed that the six raised beds are now past their best (created around 1999), the structure is rotting and to remove all the bramble roots and dig out wanted plants will be quite a task. My mind is black as to how I want to redevelop this 18ft x 18ft plot, which is south-facing and was once described by one of my editors as being ‘inspirational’. Clearly it now needs some t.l.c.

We have been fortunate with our acre of garden and orchard in being able to deliberately encourage wild-life, planting to encourage beneficial insects, birds, bees, frogs and toads and anything that will mean we can remain eco-friendly in an area that is rural but becoming increasingly suburban. This blackbird will not leave us alone! Waiting by the backdoor for us, feeding from the table on the terrace whilst we are there and quite happy to sit with a beakfull of worms whilst I fetch my camera.

This 'shambles' is deliberate
Some corners are deliberately left ‘wild’ – not the wilderness needing attention, but what to most people would be classed as ‘untidy’. Much more as you would find if you walked along a woodland hedgerow, or old yard, where nature is left to do it’s own thing. Pots are planted with wildings that encourage bees (invasive if left to their own devices) – deadnettle red and white, stinging nettle (food for peacock butterflies caterpillars, herb mounds in a former planter, a heap of stones under which toads can hide, and old tree root which will be beloved by beetles, field mice, a hazel self-sown in a pot; and all jostling with the rhubarb which will swamp it come summer, but bare ground is avoided in the winter.

Some invasive plants and weeds are useful if kept under control
I am a great believer in avoiding bare ground, utilising plants that are decorative as well as helpful to the gardener, such as the comfrey above, which is invasive if left unchecked, but all the leaves go onto the compost heap). Ground cover of any sort discourages weeds, and whereas many are useful (hens love the docks you can see bottom left) others are a pain. They can be composted if they haven’t set seed, unless they have roots that grow into new plants if left to their own devices (burn these – cow parsley, ground elder, dock and dandelion, though the blanched leaves of the latter is useful in moderation in the kitchen, or their flowers to make wine). As we could do with our patch of cowslips just coming into flower in the orchard (photograph next week). We began with one purchased plant four years ago, and did not mow until it has shed its seed. Now we have dozens of little plants; though they would irritate anyone who desires a bowling-green lawn. Like wise with violets that have crept beyond the confines of the fruit border. Patience has paid dividends.

Despite the cold winds, I have been filling the pages of my new little garden notebook - held in my hand it is sturdy and easy to write on the smooth paper. I paint the sketches in the evening; but its joy for me is being able to walk around either the flourishing beds or the wilderness and know that there is always something that will be a delight, and a place in which to record what I see. Meanwhile, do keep your own notes, and  Visit Dobies' website for all your gardening needs and requirements.

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Next week, I will be blogging live at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show - and I know how much there will be to write about, for I have been previewing the Show over the last few weeks, on their official blog.

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