Baby steps (towards spring)

Reading time 10 minutes

Every weekend is pretty much the same during the lockdown. A time to catch up on sleep, to read, phone friends and family, make lists, walk the dogs, eat, drink and do a few jobs outside. There are a great many substantial projects that need to be tackled at The Watch House: fixing the roof, replacing a ceiling, painting the bedrooms and mending the front gate to name but a few. All require skills, resources, time or energy that we don’t have right now. I consider each postponed task as I spy a damp patch, an area of flaking paintwork or make an attempt to elbow my way into the house. A little voice in one ear tells me that I should jolly well get on with it before matters get worse, whilst another reminds me that if I start something on such an ambitious scale I am highly unlikely to have the wherewithal to complete it. My compromise is generally to attempt some small, insignificant job to appease my guilt over not tackling the project that might really have made a difference. Looking deep into myself, and sharing more than I perhaps should, I think this might be the one thing that holds me back in life: always too busy making baby steps to take big strides forward.

Houseplants balanced on a step ladder and an old fire surround create a wall of foliage in the garden room

Today, instead of tackling anything too demanding, I will be giving the plants in the garden room a little TLC, putting Christmas decorations in the roof, mulling whether to purchase fruit trees for the allotment, choosing paint colours for the rooms I won’t be decorating any time soon and waiting for much-anticipated snow to start falling.

The week ahead is going to be pretty tough, so today I have a low appetite for engagement in anything too demanding of mind or body. On Friday I took some time off and spent five happy hours on the allotment weeding, tidying and planting a couple of bags of bulbs I found lurking in a cupboard. (My post ‘When Is Too Late to Plant Spring Bulbs?’ is what drives traffic to my blog for most of the winter. As such, I am grateful for it. If you are curious but don’t have time to read it, the answer is ‘not quite yet’. Tulips, providing the ground is not frozen and the bulbs are still firm, will do perfectly well if you plant them immediately. Other spring-flowering bulbs are a bit dicey, but if you have them hanging about, plant them as soon as possible and see what happens.) I was surprised to find that the forgotten daffodil bulbs, N. ‘Bright Jewel’, were still in perfect condition. Normally they’d be looking a bit dry and shrunken by now, sending out long shoots in a desperate search for light. I planted them close to one another next to Erysimum ‘Walberton’s Fragrant Sunshine’ and Tulipa ‘Banja Luka’. An unsubtle but cheery combination that is quite appropriate for an allotment.

Our allotment plot – much in need of a tidy but not without its seasonal charms

The big job that needs doing on the allotment is replacement of the edging to all the beds. The timber edging we inherited a year ago – mostly constructed of pallet wood and old decking pierced with an abundance of rusty nails – was 60% rotten, 20% decrepit and 20% ugly. It’s now 80% rotten, 20% ugly and only about 50% effective so we need to take action: I can bear some degree of rusticity but when the look starts to border on abandoned I can ignore it no more. We have toyed with the idea of living without any edging at all, but with paths of woodchip and couch grass running riot we’d have a hell of a job keeping the plot tidy without some kind of barrier. (Before anyone comments, I have no expectation that a simple plank of wood will keep couch grass at bay, but one has to start somewhere and I’m not prepared to use weedkiller.) We both have slightly more enthusiasm for this task than we do for decorating, so we’ve started the search for affordable timber locally. It’s a huge plot so we are considering reclaimed scaffolding boards or something similar so that the project does not cost us the earth.

Those timber edges won’t fix themselves!

The Gin & Tonic Garden and the path that leads to it from the street is largely neglected between November and March. The tiny courtyard space is pleasant enough to look out on from the library over winter but the sun does not grace us with its presence for many hours until April. Last weekend I cleared sacks full of brown, frazzled clematis foliage from the fence, noting dejectedly that this needs repainting before the climbers started to cover it again. Another job for the list ….. probably heading in The Beau’s direction. I finally dispensed with an underplanting of Pelargonium ‘Orange Fizz’, which has survived but not impressed, and will replace this with more of the white form of Begonia grandis subsp. evansiana which seems to perform better in a slip of earth not more than six inches wide.

Succulents and cyclamen huddled together in the Gin & Tonic Garden

Anticipating cold weather I have moved most of my hardy succulents and tender shrubs close to the house. Here they’ll be warm, dry and somewhat sheltered: the concept of shelter is always relative here on the east coast of England. Together they make a pleasing little posse. I feel inspired to work on the arrangement over the coming weeks in order to introduce more colour and variety. Correa ‘Marian’s Marvel’ is a delight, producing its lobster-pink and avocado-green bells for months and months on end. Above it towers Anisodontea ‘El Royo’ (some refer to it as ‘El Rayo’, I am not sure who is correct), another shrub with an incredible capacity for producing blooms throughout the winter. Anisodontea is closely related to mallows and lavateras, just as its pink, hibiscus-like flowers might suggest. It’s not a shapely plant at the end of the season but I have no intention of cutting it back and curtailing the display.

Anisodontea ‘El Royo’ hails from South Africa and appreciates a warm, sunny, sheltered spot in the garden

Here I must leave you to undertake more trivial jobs that will nevertheless give me some sense of achievement during this peculiar period we are living through. Despite all the opportunities that lockdown might offer, the current situation provides so little motivation. Or perhaps it’s just me? For now, baby steps are all I’ll be taking as we edge towards spring. Then matters will be taken out of our hands and our gardens will dictate what action must be taken and when. TFG.

Correa ‘Marian’s Marvel’ providing winter cheer in the Gin & Tonic Garden

Categories: Climbers, Flowers, Foliage, House Plants, Our Allotment, Our Coastal Garden, Photography, Plants, Practical Advice, Weather

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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28 comments On "Baby steps (towards spring)"

    1. That is a most excellent idea but I’m hoping / praying it’s more of a patching job than a complete re-tiling excercise. With my weight kneeling on tiles I also expect I’d break the majority within a month 😆

  1. The blooms on this Correa reminds me of our native Columbine Aquilegia canadensis which is a true spring bloomer here. I just love this plant with its blue green foliage. I think this is the time of year we all despair a bit about looming projects. Without sunshine and weather permitting days it is difficult to be motivated. I hope a little sunshine comes into your life soon and you get out there and make a difference.

    1. Well, in a literal sense, the sun is supposed to shine all day tomorrow and that always improves my mood. It’s trying to snow at the moment but it’s a rather pathetic attempt. No kitschy ‘snow on the beach’ scenes today.

  2. It’s not just you Dan. January is always a difficult time to be motivated and this year doubly so. I think baby steps are the way to go. And your lovely garden always brings joy.

  3. You are definitely not alone! You made me feel so much better, Dan. You encapsulated exactly how I am feeling – thank you. Baby steps are at least progress.
    Roll on spring…

  4. I had a great time in the garden yesterday, in Cornwall, making a small dinosaur garden for my great-grandson with rocks, pebbles, gravel and ophiopogon black grasses which should look pretty good when the grasses get going. With the addition of 4 dinosaurs I think he’ll like it – whenever he actually gets to see it is another matter! We just have to keep going and find things to boost our mood. Perhaps you need some dinosaurs – it worked for me!

    1. Who doesn’t need a dinosaur in their life Elaine? Hopefully it won’t be long before you can give your great grandson a great big hug. We have all missed those. The dinosaur garden sounds like a fun project with lots of possibilities. My mind is buzzing now with all the plants you could introduce to give a Jurassic feel. I am sure he will adore it.

  5. Hi TFG, I’m one of those irritating folk who bursts into life on 1 January and doesn’t stop until exhaustion floors me on 22 July. About 10 years ago a friend who I will adore for ever, introduced to me to the indulgence of galanthophilia (I really do hope that’s the right word!!). Since that moment me and my garden (my garden and I?) have gained many new varieties, lost many new varieties (narcissus fly), spent a fortune, lost a fortune (narcissus fly), but most importantly acquired the gift of January joy. It’s a little bit like dahlia dabbling I would think (but not as colourful). I’m probably more of a snowdrop idiot than a proper Galanthophile but I regret nothing. Dare I say I now look forward to January more than May. May is easy and packed with opportunity, in January we need every drop of impetus nature can provide. I find your Blogs so animating, your gardening style (in partnership with The Beau) vibrant and adventurous, even when I detect a thread of melancholy creeping in. Be heartened by the presence of your many fellow soil worshippers who also enjoy paint charts (and your photos) far more than actual painting (have you seen the new F&B Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours inspired range? …throat of blue titmouse, beauty spot on wing of teal drake…). Hope you find your ‘snowdrop’. Best wishes THM

    1. Hello Tess. Thank you for your lovely comment. I have just looked up the Farrow and Ball paints which are wonderful. I am very loyal to Paint and Paper Library whose paints I have been using for years – they never disappoint and are pleasingly different. Do order a colour card if you don’t have one.

      I have dabbled with snowdrops. I had ten or twelve rare ones in my London garden but since moving to the coast I have nowhere suitable to grow them. It’s also a bit too dry to be ideal for snowdrops. Tulips are our thing – cheap and disposable compared to snowdrops – but as colourful and diverse as the dahlias we both love.

      I dare say that if I had a different kind of garden I would be more fond of the winter, but with tender plants it tends to be a season fraught with dangers rather than possibilities. I quite agree with you about cherishing every bloom or bud though – they are so precious in January or February.

      I’ve had fun today selecting fruit trees for the allotment and thinking about spring. The physical work can follow when I feel more energised. All the best. Dan

  6. It is very worthwhile maintaining the timber edging to the beds in the allotment. With these in place and a good cover on the pathways you have a location where you can work even in wet weather. It is one of the advantages of the vegetable patch which we appreciate. We have pebble pathways and it is good to be able to work there when the ground is otherwise wet and sodden. Old scaffolding planks may not be the best as they may not be treated and are inclined to rot rather quickly – I had access to plenty of them, free of any charge, some years back and used them to make compost bins. Now, ten years later, they are rotting rather earlier than I had anticipated. Those in direct contact with the material in the compost heaps are quickest to rot, obviously. Treated timber is considerably more expensive but lasts longer. Otherwise, I suggest that any little job done is an achievement and success always builds on success.

    1. Thanks Paddy. I have read advice against using treated timber because of nasty chemicals leaching into the ground, so I am torn now between using treated and untreated wood. Having taken over an allotment riddled with fragments of plastic and glass I am keen not to add further to the environmental pollution by introducing chemicals. Equally I don’t want to be replacing the edges every five years or so. I am going to ask the advice of our local timber merchant and see what they have to say. Which Gardening seemed very positive about scaffolding boards and we have a few on the plot already. They are definitely better than the chopped up pallets that our predecessor used. These seem pretty pointless as well as being ugly. Hope you have a great week. Dan

  7. Oh couch grass- I’m assuming that’s similar to our quack grass… ours was so bad we had to dig up the top 6″ and actually sieve out the runners. So yes to edging to keep in a little at bay! I’m so envious that you can do anything at all in the garden- everything looks so lush and beautiful! Thanks for giving me a fix of greenery while we’re under all this snow in Wisconsin!

  8. Did you ever see Beau who works here? He is pretty rad too, and does some of the work that I can not do. His name ‘Beau’ was derived from his previous designation as ‘Hobo Truck’. (‘Hobo’ sounds something like ‘HoBeau’.) Also, it almost conforms to the tradition of recycling names of nearby places, since ‘Beau’ sounds sort of like ‘Boulder Creek’ (or ‘Beaulder Creek’) or ‘Bonny Doon’ (or ‘Beaunny Doon’). His picture was used for an article at my other blog because I lack a picture the main subject.

  9. I find your blog inspiring – January inertia hits me in November so I think you’re doing well. Re timber edging – Have you had a look at Charles Dowding’s No Dig Gardening? His garden is mighty impressive and a lot less expensive. Roll on Spring

    1. Yes I have Liz. I’ll look again though. I’m not set on edging but I do like it for neatness. As for ‘no dig’ I am afraid I like to dig too much so that’s not on my agenda in the short term. But I agree his plot is impressive. Dan

  10. What’s most important Dan is that you are taking or otherwise. Go easy on yourself…I’m an envious of your gardening achievements

  11. Hi Dan,
    Always love seeing what’s going on in your gardens. You have a lot to maintain!
    Sometimes ‘triage’ is the word of the day.
    If you have a lumber yard nearby, you may find free packing crates, etc… that may be used to shore up the existing garden boxes. Might require the purchase of a skill saw, but, hey, tools are fun.
    Best wishes.

  12. Hey there

    I am a gardener in Denmark, I really love this site, and I’ll keep in touch and see what news and inspiration you have.
    Thanks Erik

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