Saturday, 4 February 2017

playing catchup

I have been planting tulips.  They are left over from last year's pots.  I let them die down in their containers after flowering, watered them and even fed them once or twice, then picked over the contents, throwing out the tiny offsets that would take years to get to flowering size if they ever did, and saving the big bulbs.  It was a good harvest and I planned to use them in a corner of a bed I'm revamping in the back garden.  They should have been planted in November.  November slipped to December, which would have been OK, but then I went down with flu and then the chest infection and it just never happened, along with lots of other jobs in the garden.

I wasn't sure whether by this stage it was worth planting them, or if I would simply be wasting a couple of hours of my time in addition to wasting the bulbs.  They hadn't shrivelled and looked fat and healthy enough, but would they be hopelessly confused by the mismatch between the temperature and daylength they must be primed for as spring flowering bulbs and the growing conditions they would experience if planted now in early February?  But then at the Plant Heritage meeting last weekend they were selling bags of tulips cheaply that had been donated by a local bulb merchant, being left over at the end of his selling season.  There are some very knowledgeable plantspeople on the committee and I thought they would not sell bulbs that had no chance of success, and the donor would not want to spoil his reputation with his local customers by offering them useless bulbs, even at a pound a bag.  So I started planting mine.  It will be an interesting experiment to see how they turn out, although not a very scientific one.  There are too many variables, since tulip bulbs that have flowered once in a pot can't be relied on to perform as well as pristine stock fresh from the bulb fields of the Netherlands even if planted in perfect soil, which the little sandy corner where I'm putting them certainly isn't.

Another job that should have been done before Christmas is picking all the leaves off the lawn.  I got some, but not all of them, and by now those that are left have stuck to the wet grass, while around the birch trees in the lower part of the garden the self seeded cyclamen and snowdrops have emerged.  The grass under the birch trees is fine and fragile with running stems that barely cling to the earth and liberally interspersed with moss, and I know that if I try to rake up the wet leaves I'll end up raking off half the lawn as well.  I don't want to do that.  The fine mossy lawn that is what you get if you try to grow grass under the shade of three birches, a huge wild gean and a Zelkova would not meet with the approval of the sort of lawn enthusiast who believes in stripes and scarifying and spiking but it is very pretty, with primroses and violets following on from the snowdrops and cyclamen.  In fact, weeding out some of the coarser wild flowers I don't want there is on my list of things to do, though not rated as urgent.

In the meantime the brown smear of cherry and birch leaves and the litter of narrow, toothed, dark gold leaves from the Zelkova looks messy and is making the thin grass even thinner.  They need to be cleared, on the other hand I don't want roots of fine running grass in the leaf litter bin, ready to set up new colonies of grass in whichever bed is lucky enough to get some leaf mould in a couple of years' time.  I ended up picking out handfuls of leaves from the wet grass, then combing through the lawn with my fingers to dislodge more leaves, before picking out stragglers with my fingertips. It was not a garden maintenance technique I'd ever have specified for a Writtle College module on landscape management, but I couldn't think of any other way of doing it, given I needed to clear the leaves and couldn't use a rake.  If only it had been done weeks ago as soon as the leaves fell and before everything got so wet and mixed up it would have been much easier.

I started cutting the leaves off the hybrid hellebores as well, now that they are coming up to flower.  The old foliage was bagged up to go to the tip rather than putting it on the compost heap, to avoid recyling any disease back into the garden.  Hellebores are prone to leaf infections, and the advice from the experts is to avoid putting the leaves on a domestic compost heap.  The council one should in theory heat up more, being so much bigger, and so get rid of disease spores and other nasties.  Of course other experts say you shouldn't cut all the leaves off at all, to avoid weakening the plants.

The Systems Administrator has voluntarily started reducing the overgrown hedge along the side of the meadow.  Bits of it have got too big for me to tackle with the hand saw, but in any event I am hugely grateful the SA has taken on the project, since goodness knows when I'd have time.  Jobs like that need doing inside the next month, before the buds start to break and the birds start thinking about nesting.

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