Finally, after the extensive preamble about the tulip bulbs salvaged from last spring's pots, I went out to plant them into the dahlia bed and found they were dead. Half had been hollowed out by some sort of insect, turning to grey powdery dust inside their tunics when I touched them, and the other half had rotted in their bags. This is why it is safer to start with fresh bulbs from a bulb merchant if you know you definitely want tulips. I daresay they use temperature controlled stores and insecticidal treatments and all sorts of precautions to ensure that they still have a live crop come autumn. It was a disappointment, though not the first one. Two or three years ago I found mice had got into the garage and eaten them.
After the debacle of the tulips I cleaned the hens' roosting board, which I had been put off doing while it was drizzling and cold outside and until I did not have a streaming nose and a headache. I gave them another straw bale for their run as well, so that they could amuse themselves by picking it apart and searching for insects. In fact, they still hadn't made a very complete job of spreading it out by the end of the afternoon, and I might scatter it around the run before letting them out tomorrow. A layer of straw on the ground helps keep their feet clean, which is nicer for them and stops them leaving muddy footprints on the eggs.
Then I was able to return to the task of tidying the sloping bed in the back garden, weeding, feeding, cutting down the old herbaceous growth, and topping up the Strulch. It was very good to get back outside, and I advanced a gratifyingly long way down the slope. The rate of progress was slightly illusory as I'd already weeded that stretch before the weather turned horrible, only the foliage was too damp then to sprinkle the blood, fish and bone without it sticking to everything. Fairly soon I will get to the stretch where evil tentacles of brambles reach out from the back of the bed, where their roots are tucked away under the canopies of various large shrubs so that it will be very difficult to get a proper swing at them with the pick axe.
The buds on the Prunus mume 'Beni-chidori' are already swelling, and in the front garden the winter flowering cherry has produced a flush of its little pale pink blossoms. The other day I saw the snout of an emerging snowdrop already above ground level. Things keep moving gently on.