Spick and Span


“Every day is a fresh beginning,

Listen my soul to the glad refrain.

And, spite of old sorrows

And older sinning,

Troubles forecasted

And possible pain,

Take heart with the day and begin again.”

Susan Coolidge


I went to bed last night with an ominous tickle at the back of my nose and throat, and woke this morning feeling decidedly grotty. I awarded myself a brief lie-in whilst I debated whether to stay in bed or brave a morning in the garden. Reflecting on the simple verse above and tricked by a brief sunny spell, I chose to get up and out rather than wallow. It was a good choice.

The sun did not stick around for long, nor did it stay dry for more than an hour. I took advantage of the unusually damp soil in my raised bed to plant another 150 or so tulip bulbs – ‘Big Brother’, ‘Pretty Princess’ and ‘Pittsburgh’ – taking care to water them in. Despite copious rain, the moisture is still only surface deep. Only a handful of bulbs were spoiled, but I dusted the remainder with sulphur to be on the safe side.

So far my garden has been untouched by frost, rendering it unusually green and lush for the time of year. I’m always amazed at how many plants can survive low, but not freezing, temperatures, often looking better than they would if they had been protected in the greenhouse. I am most surprised by Alpinia zerumbet (shell ginger), which came to me with numerous health warnings when it came to cultivation outdoors. Thus far it’s taken everything that nature has thrown at it, including ferocious gales, and it still looks very presentable.

Meanwhile my Digitalis sceptrum is riddled with mealybugs. They are dormant at this time of year, but having tried insecticides to no avail, I am going to have to get out there with a toothbrush and scrub the little blighters off by hand. Where the mealybugs have been the stems are blackened by sooty mould and I am sure the plant isn’t growing as strongly as it did prior to infestation. The mealybugs have spread to my agapanthus, signalled by pale, pock-marked and contorted leaves. Here, protected at the heart of each leaf fan, they are especially tricky to eradicate.

I cleared away a vast quantity of fallen leaves and cut down all my salvias. Although still bearing flowers, they are no longer attractive to look at, so have been reduced to 3 inches above the ground.

Good ventilation, inside and out, is critical during the winter. The plants in my greenhouse have suffered significantly from my laziness over Christmas, when I did not open the door to let fresh air in often enough. The woodier plants are fine, but anything fleshier is being attacked by grey mould. I removed any dead and dying leaves and stems today and will have a more thorough clean at the weekend.

I came back inside at lunchtime, hair plastered to my forehead and wet through, having completely forgotten that I had felt rough just a few hours earlier. Gardening, as well as a delightful distraction, is a tonic, in any weather. I suspect my cold is only in abeyance, but at least the garden is spick and span ….. until the next storm hits tomorrow. TFG.