First Notes of Spring

Reading time 7 minutes


Today was a day of firsts. It was the first time I’d spent a whole day in the garden since autumn; the first opportunity to slide the greenhouse door open and leave it there until sunset; and the first time I had stopped to listen to our resident blackbird singing his proud heart out. 

My list of jobs for the weekend was extensive. If it had rained, I’d have been sanding window frames, waxing doors, and tidying the cupboard under the stairs (otherwise known as the cupboard of doom). As it was, the sun shone from dawn until dusk on both days and those jobs were saved for a rainy day. I can’t say I am too sorry about that. The garden room did need some attention, principally because it still had a 9ft Christmas tree in it. This was no hardship. Where the tree once stood, blocking the doorway to an unfinished bathroom, there is now a temporary partition, and a desk at which I can write among my precious plants. All I need now is a magic box to boost my wi-fi, which can’t quite reach this distant corner of the house.


The garden room, February 2017


In our original garden the fig needed its annual prune. This thorough removal of last year’s growth does mean that we rarely get fruit, but it’s the leaves I am really after. I also decided it was time to cut Melianthus major back to ground level. Some of the stems had reached 12ft tall and had started to look unsightly. I will have to forego the sword-like flower spikes for a year in order to establish a stockier plant. Whilst pruning I discovered the heavily serrated leaves were infested with greenfly, explaining why everything underneath was covered in black, sooty stickiness.


The Watch House garden, February 2017


Having thinned the remaining melianthus shoots I took my secateurs to Trachelospermum jasminoides. This lovely, evergreen climber has become so dense and rampant that in spreading over a neighbour’s roof it has mounded up another 2ft. In turn this has turned the pathway to the front door into a deep, green ravine. Beneath the trachelospermum is one of nature’s curiosities, Asarum splendens. This shade loving plant has leaves that look like a frog’s back and ground-hugging flowers that almost defy description. As I’m lost for words, here’s a picture:


Asarum splendens, The Watch House, February 2017


Those dark centres make the flowers look carnivorous, or perhaps they are the entrance to some sinister underground world? They are harmless enough, even when one gets close up, on one’s hands and knees.

‘Next door’ (I shall have to think of a better name for the new garden than that), I was very happy to see that three pots of Iris ‘Shelia Ann Germaney’ were coming into bloom. These were some of the lucky few bulbs I planted at the correct time, and they have rewarded me accordingly.


Iris 'Sheila Ann Germaney', The Watch House, February 2017


Having spied a Dutch grower still selling tulip bulbs at last week’s RHS show, I decided I would try planting yet more of the bulbs I’ve been storing because I didn’t have time to deal with them during the building project. The tulips (T. ‘Gluck’ and T. ‘Ivory Floridale’) were still plump and healthy, so in they went, with a covering of primroses just in case they are a ‘no show’. I won’t be enjoying many early flowers this year, although Fritillaria persica seems to be pushing up at a tremendous rate of knots. The number of pots planted with bulbs is now slightly out of control, so I think I will stop there and see what I get.


The Watch House garden, daffodils and primroses, February 2017


Next weekend we have visitors so I shall spend Saturday morning sowing lettuce and tomatoes and going through the seed drawers to see what else I fancy. As of last weekend my seeds, string, plant labels and catalogues have been stashed in a Tudor architect’s desk. I cannot be sure if that was the desk’s intended function, but latterly that’s how it has been used. The lid of the desk makes an excellent lectern for a special book, in this case The Green Florilegium, a rare 17th-century album of floral illustrations. Mine is a reproduction, but the original would be have been created when the desk, one of Him Indoors’ family heirlooms, was still considered a new piece of furniture. I enjoy turning the florilegium’s pages each weekend to reveal flowers that might be blooming somewhere, even if not in my own garden.


The Green Florilegium and seeds, The Watch House, February 2017


Should you not have a blackbird in your garden to serenade you at dusk, please enjoy a few special notes from mine.

Wishing you a great week ahead. TFG.




Categories: Beautiful Strangers, Flowers, Foliage, Musings, Our Coastal Garden, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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28 comments On "First Notes of Spring"

  1. Your posts are always so lovely, I so look forward to them and thank you for a breath of spring with bird song and pretty flowers. We are still in the throes of summer, here in Western Australia. I am sooo waiting for blessed autumn. Enjoy your friends on the weekend and the rebirth in your gardens.

    1. Thank you Barbara. We are in for a mild week, by which I mean daytime temperatures above 10ºC, but it could turn chilly again any time. The bulbs are weeks behind where they were last year, but I’m happy to wait.

  2. Such a joy to just sit and listen to birdsong and be in a rare moment of stillness.

    What is the yellow and pink fuschia like plant in the pot please Dan? Top right of the picture. I think you’ve mentioned it before but can’t remember its name. Is it winter hardy?

    1. Correa ‘Marian’s Marvel’. Hardiness is debatable. Here in SE England in a sheltered spot, yes. Somewhere colder it may be wise to bring it inside over winter, even if it’s just during frosty snaps. Bundling with fleece would rather defeat the object. I can thoroughly recommend it as a garden shrub though. Mine has flowered beautifully for 4 months already:

  3. Meant to have a day like that today, but got distracted running errands, and doing paper work. Although it does feel wonderful to have put all that behind me, I’m still a little mad at myself for not taking advantage of the wee bit of sun we had in mid-afternoon. I WILL get to it, at the next available opportunity. The first garden day of the year is always magical. I too, will be cutting back a Melianthus, but not because it’s big. It got completely frozen this winter, and looks absolutely dreadful. I even wonder if it survived… Time will tell, I suppose. Happy you had a fabulous day, and loved the Blackbird singing, too!

    1. If your melianthus still has some life up top, however frosted it is, I am confident it will come back from the roots. Mine is completely rampant. It would take a nuclear bomb to finish it off! Perhaps leave the foliage on, or mulch heavily, just to ensure no further harm is done before spring properly arrives.

      1. It looks terrible, but it’s been in the ground for a few years, so I remain hopeful. Good advice though – I will not cut it back until we’re past the worst of winter. And, I’m still not sure when that will be. By the way – I just now finished my post on last years Seattle garden show. Kind of silly considering this year’s show starts on Thursday… Anyway, for comparison, you will note that I linked to your report on the Chelsea show. 🙂

  4. Thanks for a lovely ‘springy’ post and yes, it definitely feels like we’ve turned a corner. I haven’t played the blackbird video yet, what with reading this as I cross the Solent by fast cat!
    And many thanks too for replying to my Marrakech question. Mint tea and mosaic tiles here I come…

  5. Nice newsy note. I suppose the Asarum looks as it should for its pollinators, lovely ground flies and beetles. Do you know Asarum ‘Ling Ling’ with its handsome panda face?

  6. Love your blog. We have resident blackbirds who serenade us daily in “their ” garden. Lovely! They are great imitators so much so that when they first started making a sound like a phone ringing we would rush to answer. Neighbours laughed and said we were joking but just last week one popped in to tell me that she had heard it. Mr Blackbird (as he is known) has progressed to message tone now. So clever and such a joy.

    1. Thank you Jenny. Our Mr Blackbird makes himself very much at home. Given the tiny scale of our garden he has used at least 4 different nest sites and can get very vocal if we, or any others, go anywhere near them. An effective alarm system. Perhaps I should see if he can mimic the alarm bell. Amazing to think so much sound can be made by such a small bird.

  7. Thanks for the song of the blackbird. Here, in the daytime, I’ll get a dozen or more at a time chomping away, They strip the pyracanthas first, then move on to the cotoneasters and usually start on the malus just after Christmas. At least they don’t bother with the mahonias so I get to see some berries! But come mid afternoon they’re off. So despite feeding them I’ve never heard one sing (though I suspect one has learned to mimic my mobile’s ring tone).

    1. Rather rude of the blackbirds to feast on your berries and then bugger off to serenade someone else! Sounds like you have more than enough suitable nesting sites for them. I know mine is singing from ‘his’ tree, although it’s shared with a pair of collared doves and a couple of magpies, who are very, very bad neighbours!

  8. Nothing like spending a whole, undisturbed day in the garden. It somehow gets you back on track, reacquainted. That book looks incredible, I love botanical art. If it goes missing you know just where it will be …. 🙂

    1. A friend and I had a lovely time flicking through that book with a glass of wine last night. The tulip pages are especially remarkable. I aim to write up my visit to the RHS Botanical Art show tomorrow, so keep an eye out for that post. Hope you’ve had a lovely weekend?

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