Saturday, 28 March 2015

Last view of the garden in the Westgate Carpark

The Westgate car park has been resisting its demise every inch of the way, but last week the workmen finally cut through to the lightwell where the tiny garden was. There's still a curious garden-like effect, with the steel reinforcing bars forming a vine-like tangle over the concrete rubble, and the balconies (exposed to sun finally) overlooking a mysterious inner space, where demolition machinery lurks.

There's even a man who waters the rubble - to keep the dust down. Those corner ziggurats are lingering, presumably to keep the structure stable.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

too tired to do anything but pot on seedlings

It was warm and light enough for the first time last night for me to drift out into the garden and read half the paper in the evening light. As I wandered about checking on the new arrivals (more narcissus, grape hyacinth, the black-leaved celandines) I noticed flecks of white scattered across the ground. Ash? From a bonfire? (My neighbour two doors down was celebrating the first spring evening with their first bonfire.) But then I noticed a lack of shadow, glanced up and back neighbour had finally has topped their hedge, at two-storey height, with a chainsaw. I was looking at flecks of sawdust shed by the hedge, now shorter, more slender, straight across the top and slightly diaphanous in the upper reaches. I've still got a bit of overhang on my side to deal with (here's hoping the ladder and the long lopper will deal) but this year may see light at the back of the garden, finally.

The passion vine looks at its tiredest at this time of year, brown leaves clinging on in protective huddles over the more exposed stems, long trails of cold-sacrificed stems whitening in the spring rain. I'm unwilling to do anything until frost has passed (we're not past frost yet) but maybe that's just as well as I am very, very tired from work at the moment.

The compost is looking good. I should get a good mulch for the top bed from it this year, and year on year the soil is becoming less of a wasteland of concrete dust and clay and more a living part of the garden. It's not such bad soil, but it's not very even - dry hard rough patches and patches of high fertility. Old John across the road says this is because the man who lived here before the people before us kept pigeons out back. The compost will have to wait though, as I'll need a clear half day to do the job right and that's not on the cards right now.

Inside, my multi-coloured veg seedlings (purple calabash tomatoes, white aubergines, rainbow twilight chillies, etc.) are starting to damp off in their little propagator trays. They're not going to wait, so right here, the Vampire Chillies especially (if I get any to adulthood, they will make fruit like like little black vampire teeth!) So right now, still in my work clothes, it's potting-on o'clock.

Friday, 20 March 2015

investigating the orchids

The last of the flowers has fallen from Manager's Special, the insane orchid bought on a whim from Mr Sainsburys. Quite unlike any other orchid I had ever seen, it had profuse masses of butterflyish blooms on short stems all the way up fleshy stems which seemed crazily top-heavy (I secured them quickly on short canes). To the library! Orchid books seem to concentrate on a very specific type of photography where the bloom is shown in precise detail against a black or white background, with all other details of the plant suppressed. But a picture of potted cuttings marked "Yamamoto-type Dendrobiums" looked about right, which are cane orchids (Dendrobium Nobile) with a profusion of flowers. I celebrated my success by buying some orchid food and overwatering it, in the traditional way. Sadly, it's in a dark place, in the kitchen, so I'm not sure it will last. But the best orchid spot in the house is already taken by Seasonal Clearance (a bulletproof bright pink Phalaenopsis) and the terrarium already contains Checkout Offer (a miniature moth) and Christmas Special (a heady-scented red orchid, no idea what species, maybe a miltonia?) is on the kitchen windowsill currently deciding whether it will fall into a terminal post-flowering funk. Hope not, the scent was something special.

From top left: Manager's special in full bloom, Christmas Special in high scent phase, Seasonal Clearance at the end of a flowering cycle and a long-gone white phalaenopsis).

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

other people's garden: proud hyacinth in a moss yard

It's possible this hyacinth started life inside. I always find the smell intolerable over time, it has a bright airy horror that reminds me of slug egg cases and other people's plastic toys. We used to force a hyacinth or four in our airing cupboard in the deep winter months when I was a child, and everything was trapped indoors, including us, and the smell of them has never quite lost the association. Perhaps someone, seduced by the bright colour, took it home, only to find the smell cloying in a small dark damp Oxford basement flat, and out it went, into the moss yard.

That buddleia and the harts tongue fern look as self-sown as the moss, and the cheerful pot of primulas is (like the hyacinth) just visible from the garden, a little spring sun in the lightwell. The old stump is presumably the buddleia's old dad, still hanging out in with the kids, mossing over in the corner.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

March is daffodils

Another day, another unsteady struggle home, wobbly from my cold (now in its second week, and building its role by adding on new symptoms like stabbing sinus pain and a chest infection) through the first sparks of spring. In the verge, the speckled green shields of Lords and Ladies leaves are prodding up through the mulch of dead twigs and tattered grass; above in the hedge, sparklers of blackthorn, pussy willow and plum blossom hang in the branches, glowing with light stolen from the dusk, the dawn, what slips between the clouds.  Budburst on the elder, buds swelling on the hazel and the lilac. Catkins nodding from the alder and the birch. But it's still a bit thin and pale out in the natural world right now; the tattered last of the snowdrops nodding awkwardly at the pallid faces of the first primroses. You can almost feel the sigh of relief when a daffodil (escapee from a garden or a field of hope) turns up, rude, bright and enormously cheerful, nodding happily at everything, shattering winter's silence. March is daffodils, struggling uncertainly out of the thin grass and winter wormcasts. In the gardens (where the spring action comes earlier, in the turned soil and cosy mulches) they are already showing in all shapes and sizes, delicate narcissi peeking out from rockeries starred with Russian Snowdrops, Glory-of-the-Snow and Squill, Standard Trumpets nodding sensibly above crowds of drunkenly sprawling crocuses. The daffodils fade back to buds as I come back from Littlemore (up the hill, where the soil is lighter and the sun less obscured) past gardens where there are periwinkles starring up from fence and tangle, the browning red and pink flowers of camellias caught in a sheltering hedge, the first injudicious splash of forsythia, browned by the not-yet-past-danger-of frost. A tussock of aubretia in a warm corner purpled with the reckless declaration of spring. Windowbox primulas, some escaped into the garden; and even an early red tulip here and there! When I get home my cherry (one of the absurdly early Japanese miniature varieties) has cracked its first blossom. And as for the daffodils? They're hardly started. The yellow invasion has only just begun!


Wednesday, 11 March 2015

spring: it is on

The blossom in the centre I spotted walking home. It was dark already and the first blossom was out on the trees, catching the last of the skylight and the first of the streetlight, glowing in the bare trees. It's that beautiful enamel and metal time of spring, when everything seems clean and new as factory-fresh flatware or vintage jewellery, but fresh as when it was first crafted.

The others are all from my garden. Crimson Bonfire Peach and OMG Nectarine (named for its astonishing barbie-pink brightness) are in the greenhouse, but everything else is out in the mud and the cold. That tease of a daffodil did eventually open properly! The Hellebores are rather nice, but I do feel an urge to round them out with a Blue Metallic Lady if I can find a good one.

Alas, the pests would also like me to know what a mild winter it has been, and how glad they are it is spring:

You may have to click through to see the enormously fat little aphid nestling in the Narcissus.

Friday, 6 March 2015

spring is coming

I saw my first blackthorn blossom this week, growing along the cosy banks of the creek that runs through the estate. The catkins have been out for weeks of course (hazel and alder) and the pussy willows have been gleaming from the brush along the river, but I crave real flowers. And yes, the snowdrops and the hellebores and the winter jasmine (all going great guns in the garden) but none of them are spring.

This week, spring has been coming. Daisies speckling the verges, crocuses lighting up the border, and plum blossoms opening, one by one, like stars on their ebony stems. In my back garden, the daffodils are still tightly bound in their buds, but just up the hill, the soil is lighter and the sun is brighter and the daffodils are all out, flashes of spring sunshine from lawns and beds and greens and parks. I even saw a tulip yesterday, fire engine red in a sunny windowbox.

My tulips are still discreet green daggers just peeping above the claggy soil. My danger of frost has not yet passed (and I fear the Acacia from Eden may have paid the price). But in the greenhouse the buds are popping on Crimson Bonfire Peach and OMG Nectarine and the first of the proper spring flowers (Pulmonaria, a dusky crocus, Russian Bluebells, a multi-coloured wallflower) are just showing their faces. Spring is coming.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

mysterious blue botanical plaques; gardening requires protection 2

I've so far spotted two of these mysterious blue botanical plaques on my regular commute, but two implies that there may be a multitude, appended to convenient railings beside scraps of land where flowers grow wild:

It's an interesting question, whether the unloved weeds of interstitial urban spaces constitute heritage. I suppose the seeds pass on from generation to generation (both Herb Robert and Goldenrod, here respectfully allowed their Latin names, are colossally prolific self-seeders) but in neither place does the particular plant named grow in massive proliferation (the creek by Oxford City College being more notable for its reeds than its Goldenrod, and the churchyard being rather more noticeable for its lovely mass of snowdrops) leading me to wonder if the plaque might celebrate a single plant, in which case the point might be about evanescence, and the delight of affording something as ephemeral as the flowering of a weed with full municipal celebration. And now maybe I'll notice the Herb Robert and the Goldenrod, when it comes back this year.

I finished the last of this, my second attempt to find a good gardening moisturiser, last week. It looked very promising: "multi-defence ... protects against the five major daily aggressors" but when it goes on you can feel a certain thinness, and it fades into your skin almost at once. The five main aggressors that damage your skin (according to the packaging) are sun, heat, cold, pollution and wind. Presumably if it's raining, you're just supposed to stay indoors! On the whole, I'm not sure it's really solving the right problems, even for an urban gardener like myself. I'd list seven aggressors: sun, wind, rain, mud, cold, slugs and scratches. Pollution is more of an issue for my lungs than my skin, and I don't think I need to moisturise my lungs.