Keeping Cold: a view to a chill…

Crisp, clean and crystal clear, and conjured from unobstructed air the first frost of this winter season greeted all worm catchers yesterday morning. Cool and bright and star-shiny sheer the winter’s first offering of season’s secret ministry glossed most low lying grassy areas and hardened exposed shallow pools. Though our met service had forecast frost, this was no sharp event and certainly no f# affair with much of the crystalline magic dissipating with the first rays of early sun. The cool air exposed all al fresco breaths in bamboozled bewilderment, and as though having seen it all before car windscreens glared with vague subfusc opalescence, awaiting intervention with kettle or pot to clear their view to the chill.

Tweed swede and Tender & True all on a bed of fast fading rocket

Last winter’s first frost did not occur till quite late in the season; with November and December both recording above LTA (Long Term Average) temperatures the first frost of last winter did not settle till 5th January this year.  So,  we’ve had the first frost of last winter and the first frost of this winter ten months apart and in the same calendar year. This year it seems winter is settling in early: we’ve covered and cleared what we needed to, and we’ve started to harvest and use the autumn and winter stocks of swedes, parsnips and kale. We’ve greased the bolts and oiled the latches, and we’ve stacked and stored the planters and pots. And while still trafficable and feasible to do so we turned sod on that area where we had scattered wildflower seed last spring and summer in the hope that exposure to the harsher elements of the coming season may just tame its unwieldy clumped lumpiness. The constancy of Mrs Dirtdigger’s deadheading drill together with the relatively mild October weather meant we still had some blooms to brighten the monster’s visage on our recent visits, but, we thinks the creeping crystal carpet may have put an end to this.
Still, it’s good to feel this early seasonal chill, and ideally our wish would be that this first frost is but a precursor to a winter of some sustained wintry weather; maybe not too much though (mindful to be careful of what one wishes for), but, as most gardeners should have learned, the earthen canvas in which we cultivate our dream performs best after a period of vernalization: rhubarb stools and gooseberry bushes; blackcurrant, apples and pears all benefit from a measured stretch in Mother Nature’s chilling cabinet, and much the same can be said of the early spring bulbs and flowering perennials.

So, just as we here at monsterinthecorner prepare to cover and muffle and wrap our bodies up against the elements of the coming season, our hope would be that the monster itself stays quite cold. And safe in the knowledge that most gardens invariably survive the wintriest of storms, our wish is that our little plot keeps cold, and does not get too warm, for once tender shoots have been top-dressed and strawed, spring’s cheery show creeps best from chilled sod…
So, stay chilled, keep cold.

All 2lb 2ozs of winter parsnip root
Another pair of swell parsnips

In the gardener’s absence the garden remains

May 15th
Memo to self…enjoy the Monster!

One of the great pleasures of the gardener is in knowing that even when he or she is not busy weeding and watering and cultivating the garden, the garden goes on being the garden; that even on those occasions when the necessary activities of daily living get in the way of your gardening plans, the vegetable patch will continue to do what it does best, and continue to be the vegetable patch.
In the gardener’s absence the garden remains. The sun and the wind and the rain of those days when the gardener is in absentia continue nature’s innate pastoral care that the most experienced gardener, often times, takes for granted.

Another of the gardener’s great pleasures is in receiving those wonderful free gifts that only the garden can give: self seeded Lupins ‘neath the rose bushes; red orachs germinating next to the lemon balm and mint; purple tansy, rape and clover all showing in flower at the same time and each one a hive of activity with passing honey bees and bumblebees, and self-seeded thyme and marjoram seedlings sheltering in the cover of prostrate rosemary. More grows than the gardener sows and at this time of year a keen eye will help in reaping some of the garden’s unexpected rewards.

Bumblebee on Tansy & Red Orach
Bumblebee on Tansy & Red Orach

But perhaps one of the greatest pleasures of the garden is in simply beholding it: another and altogether more honest gardener than I taught me this. Gardening can be, if so desired, a constant round of frenetic seasonal activity, a continual trolling through lists of what to do on any given day of the year. But sometimes it’s good to take time-out and to simply sit in your garden or on your plot and to look and see, and to listen and hear: to gaze across your lawn or along the herbaceous perennials and rose border; to gauge the clambering clematis or your favoured rambling rose; to sit on your allotment and watch as bees make their buzzing route to your peas and beans and rape and tansy; to catch a glimpse of a furtive song thrush rummaging in the bark mulch, or to listen to blackbirds and robins perched on the handles of your upturned summer redundant wheelbarrow, almost exhorting you to dig up a drill right there and then in the hope of gifting them an easy lunch.
There is a great satisfaction in working and preparing the soil each autumn and spring, and in then sowing seed and watching the seasons make it respond to their will and whim, and  a seasonal contentment in watching the pods swell on beans you’d sown only 12 weeks previous, just as there is a feeling of good fortune and delight in watching your strawberries crowns blossom and your red and green gooseberries set fruit.

There is a great sense of achievement in sowing your onion seed in January and bringing them to crop in August, just as there is a sense of personal pride in managing to get the year’s first sowing of parsnip seed to germinate, early. But don’t neglect the pleasure of simply enjoying your garden or allotment for its own sake. The garden will always be there, just as the allotment forever lurks in the shadow of your effort and toil, even when you are not physically present.
In the gardener’s absence the garden remains, and we should not forget the simple pleasure of enjoying it for its own sake occasionally.