11 February 2012

Midwifery and manure

You can't tell the exact date it'll happen, but happen it does, every year. It depends on how the season has been - a cold or warm winter? An early or late spring? But the moment arrives. The sun slants into the garden at just that right angle, finding its way into niches and nooks it hasn't shone on for months. After weeks of persuading yourself that "there's a grand stretch in the evenings" you suddenly realise there is still light in the sky at close to six pm! It's the moment when you just have to get out there to do some real gardening, or at least prepare for it. By real gardening I mean something that has to do with actually growing stuff as opposed to simply tidying up: the only comfort available mid-winter. Anyway, this year it happened me this week. And so I've happily been out there, even if 'out' meant mostly in the greenhouse.

But first, imagine if you can a bemused mini-schnauzer staring into the pond: the surface of the water heaving curiously, ripples moving across and down the pond. Definitely a stirring of some sort... I saw this going on from the comfort of the kitchen the other morning and went to have a look. Two frogs, in flagrante delicto. It didn't look like a lot of fun, to be honest. And I gather it isn't for the female, held in a rather fierce embrace for a l-o-n-g time, at least as frogs might measure it. Anyway, it worked. I found her spawn joined with another bundle  already in our other tiny pond up the garden. I'd be interested to know why the tiny pond is a better choice for this season's discerning frog: is it the depth? It's very shallow. Is it the cover of duckweed for the spawn, hiding it from potential predators? Is it the temperature? It's in a part of the garden that gets more light and perhaps that combined with shallower water may mean it's a tiny bit warmer - but can a frog tell? I may never know, although I may try to find out. But one thing I did decide to do was act as a sort of midwife and I moved some of the fresh spawn (almost a pint's worth, as you can see) back into the bigger pond (all these terms are relative, it's still a tiny body of water, only about 2.5m by 0.7m or so in area). I placed it in the middle of the water hawthorn and pondweed so that there's some cover. And now, we'll have to wait and see.

Away from all the amphibian romance, in the quiet of the greenhouse, I started a bit of re-organising. This year I'll grow the tomatoes in a border that wasn't used last year. So I moved the benches (tables really, they seem to be called the 'greenhouse bench' or the 'staging' in books) from one side to another, dug a trench in the border and filled it with well-rotted FYM (farmhouse manure to the uninitiated) and my own compost. The latter smelled a lot sweeter than the former, I can tell you...  And compost really does smell sweet you know - it's amazing: it's messy and mucky and looks as though it should smell foul, but it has a lovely earthy and sweet smell when it's ready. I'm not the queen of compost, my approach is rather haphazard: lash on the raw kitchen leavings and the garden waste, turn it when you think of it and hope for the best. And the thing is, this works! There's no doubt it would work more quickly if I had two piles on the go and used the right mix of nitrogen-rich waste to other waste or whatever, but even being less than rigorous about it, you can still end up with some rich, dark, crumbly goodness. It's science, it's life, it happens almost in spite of me, but I still feel like an alchemist when I dig out the good stuff from the bottom of the pile.

In other news from the garden, I paid my first visit of the year to Mount Venus nursery. I'd been wanting to get another witch hazel for a while - Hamemelis intermedia 'Jelena', the flowers of which are a warm orange with almost an apricot tint. On a misty morning, we went up to the walled garden and it was great to see Paul and Oliver again--got the new gardening year off to a good start. Mount Venus have a gorgeous selection of witch hazels this winter and my only problem was showing some restraint - my tiny garden doesn't have room for the number and variety that I'd love to have in it. Jelena is now in her new home, in the front garden, and I hope she'll settle in and be very happy with us. 'Pallida', in the back garden, is slowly coming into flower. I was wondering if it's the lack of light, which it may well be, and Oliver--whom I asked about it--said it may also be that if it flowered well in the pot last year (before I got it and planted it), it may not flower as well in its first year in open ground, taking a little longer to settle. Whatever the reason, I'm delighted to see its flowers anyway and look forward to even more of them next year.

Finally, from Wicklow, first some glinting mica in the sands of the edge of the Dargle river. Second, a reminder to me of something that Oliver said a while ago: there's so much to see all around us in Ireland that can inspire us as to how things might look in our own gardens. Here are Hart's Tongue and Dryopteris ferns, looking splendid with ne'er a designer nor a gardener in sight.

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