As the first month of 2022 draws to a close, I sit at my desk reflecting on how unseasonably calm and dry the weather has been. It has hardly rained at all in Broadstairs, and only the gentlest of breezes has ruffled the surface of the sea. This last weekend has been particularly magnificent – warm on Saturday and cold on Sunday, but as uplifting as any fine days you’d experience in March or even early April. Day after day we’ve enjoyed a series of dazzling sunrises and moody sunsets that Turner would have relished. We’ve also had mist and thick fog, which is highly unusual. For all the years I have lived here, I could count the number of times it’s been foggy on one hand.
Today, I have had to water both gardens with a hose. I felt totally ridiculous, but the ground was bone dry and plants were drooping left, right and centre. It had to be done, albeit sparingly. A few hours later, everything looked so much happier and healthier. If you garden in pots, it’s especially worth checking on evergreens and bulbs as these will suffer if allowed to dry out for a prolonged period. And, perhaps contrary to your instincts (mine certainly), a well-watered pot is less likely to freeze solid in cold weather. Waterlogging should be avoided at all costs, so a fairly light sprinkle will generally do the job. Watering well is a skill that takes many years to master.
It’s a foolish gardener who would be fooled into thinking spring had arrived early. The first ‘Beast from the East’ struck in late February 2018 and kept us in its icy grasp through much of March. The second, in 2021, started in early February and lingered until May, catching many optimistic souls off guard. (The growing year didn’t really begin until June when we still had daffodils in bloom.) However, what is marvellous about a dry January is that it lets you get on with work that might otherwise need to be delayed until March. If the ground is dry enough to be walked on, it can be dug and weeded. Plants can be pruned and tidied and we don’t have to clean clods of earth from our wellies afterwards. These are perfect conditions for planting bare-rooted trees and shrubs, or, heaven forbid, any tulip bulbs that have yet to find a home.
Visiting our local nursery to purchase gravel and check out the range of seed potatoes on offer, I chanced upon a new delivery of bare-rooted trees. I immediately pounced on Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Simon-Louis Frères’, a variegated sycamore which we saw growing in the woodland at Bonython Gardens in Cornwall last September. I am quite aware that the splishy-splashy, strawberries-and-cream foliage effect won’t be everyone’s glass of milkshake, but it will add a different dimension to the Gin & Tonic Garden. We’ll coppice it annually to keep the tree small and the leaves big. A second specimen was purchased for our dear friend who supplies us with horse manure each spring. Being a sycamore it will do well on her heavy Kentish clay, but must be kept away from the livestock as the keys and leaves, if ingested, can cause a fatal illness.
Too much warmth is not the best thing for decimating pest populations, but it does offer bees the opportunity to get out and forage. Only today I saw several bees searching for flowers on the allotment. There are very few to be found, although I did spot a solitary white plum blossom on a neighbouring plot.
It’s now highly noticeable that birds of all species are claiming their territories. There is frantic noise and chatter as each defends its invisible boundaries. Today, the Beau pointed out a wren making a sound like a very shrill machine gun. The day before it was Jackdaws noisily organising themselves in a nearby tree. I adore blackbirds with their yellow beaks and piercing, dusk-time trill. And yet, so few birds visit our allotment plot. Perhaps it’s simply too open, or Mr Findus, the allotment cat, is too terrifying. It’s a pity, as I find robins the very best of gardening companions and we have none.
Back at The Watch House, Narcissus ‘Spring Dawn’ is flowering beautifully. Bulbs were planted in pots back in September and they’ve not held back, blooming ahead of the narcissus named ‘January’, and otherwise known as ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’. Once established, both cultivars are capable of flowering before or at Christmas and are therefore very well worth seeking out. Meanwhile, Anemone blanda is starting to emerge from the patch of gravel in the Gin & Tonic Garden and Crocus ‘Orange Monarch’ is starting to show colour.
Will February be as dry and balmy? Unlikely. February can be one of the cruellest and coldest of months. The difference is that now, with much accomplished, we can afford to spend the occasional day enjoying that most comfortable of pursuits – armchair gardening. TFG.