Red Cabbage seedlings on one of my 'seedy cills'

Red Cabbage seedlings on one of my ‘seedy cills’

Old School Garden

11th March 2013

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

As it’s a few weeks since I last wrote, and more importantly the weather today has put the block on any practical gardening outside, I thought I’d drop you a line and update you with what’s been happening in Old School Garden and further afield.

First, I was pleased to hear that your operation was successful and that you can now get back to lifting things – but make sure you do it safely next time!

Well, it’s been rather mixed few weeks, reflecting the March weather! today, just for the record we have the return of ‘The Beast from the East’ – average 30 mph winds and occasional snow  showers whcuin seem to have plunged us right back into winter. Quite a contrast to the weather last week when it reached 14 degrees C! (today there’s a wind chill which will make it feel like -4 degrees!- not that I plan to be out in it). The sort of day that reminds me of the comment one of the vergers at Winchester Cathedral made when he heard Deborah and I live in Norfolk:

‘So, there are about three strands of barbed wire between you and Siberia!’

Winter returns to the Old School Garden

Winter returns to the Old School Garden

We met him when we paid a visit to this great building at the end of February (you may have seen some of the photos of our trip south on this blog). One of the highlights of that trip was to Mottisfont Abbey where we had a lovely day in bright sunshine. This was perfect for exploring the gardens of this wonderful old estate, especially the relatively new Winter Garden (there is a gallery of pictures of this visit on the blog). The bright sunshine really set off the colours in the winter stems of Dogwoods, Snake Bark maples and Cyclamen flowers (and there were many drifts of snowdrops too).

Magnolia flower buds -frosted once more

Magnolia flower buds -frosted once more

Closer to home, I’ve managed to make some progress in digging over one of the main mixed borders here, one that didn’t benefit from an autumn clear up. I guess I must be about two-thirds through this and have taken the opportunity to divide and move some perennials (including grasses), so hopefully we’ll have rather more balanced planting as a result. I hope – when weather permits – to get out and finish this, then I’ll feed the main shrubs (with Fish, Blood and Bone) and use my compost to mulch around them.

Talking of mulch, my friend Robert let me have another load of his excellent horse manure so I’ve spread about a tonne of that over most of the Kitchen Garden beds, fruit trees and bushes and roses (having first given them a little rose fertiliser). It really is lovely stuff, friable, and once raked over incorporates into the soil really well.

Apart from this it’s been a few weeks of getting seeds underway. You may recall that I’d started off a few things back in February, but I now think that may been a tad too early, as some of them are struggling to put on enough growth for me to pot them up. Still there’s time yet for having another go. I’ve now got two windowsills and the greenhouse going with seed trays (including a couple of heated propagators), so soon the house will be full of plants at various stages of development as I move them into progressively cooler conditions and larger pots prior to planting out once warmer times have arrived.

One of my 'seedy' window cills- veg and flowers underway

One of my ‘seedy’ window cills – veg and flowers underway

One indoor plant that is doing well is the Clivia I bought at the School Fair a few years ago. I must admit that I probably should have potted this on a few months ago, but this doesn’t seem to have held it back, as it’s just about to burst into flower (and we have last years stalk with a seed fruit on it for added colour!).

Clivia flower head ready to burst

Clivia flower head ready to burst

Clivia fruit - from last year's flower on the same plant

Clivia fruit – from last year’s flower on the same plant

I’ve returned to the gardens at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum (you remember I’ve been volunteering here for a couple of years?). The gardens overall seem to be in pretty good shape, but with Steve, a friend who also volunteers here, I’ve begun to clear, dig over and mulch borders in the areas we’re responsible for. I’m also pondering how to make some features of the ‘Curiosity Corner’ for young children a little more robust and secure. Perhaps not surprisingly small feet have wandered off the paths and into the beds so trampling down some plants). Steve has some spare trellis so I might try to put up a low screen of this to deter the kids and at the same time grow some dwarf Sweet Peas up it for fragrance and colour.

Youngsters at Cawston Primary School have been enjoying seed sowing

Youngsters at Cawston Primary School have been enjoying seed sowing

I’ve also begun my regular Thursday ssessions at the local Primary school. The School Garden there is now really taking off, with much more structured use to which I’m contributing. So far this has focused on what we do in the garden in spring, digging over the raised beds and talking about tools and tool safety etc. We’ve got some onion sets in as well as some Broad Beans, and potatoes are ‘chitting’ ready for planting straight after Easter. I also got hold of some more manure for these beds, which have rather poor soil, so our efforts at breaking this up and digging in the manure will hopefully be repaid later in the year. The children –  rotating groups from four of the six classes – have responded well and seem to be enjoying the sessions, though they are only about 30 minutes each. I’ll do a final introductory session on Thursday before we turn our attention to renovating the ‘Nectar Bar’ of insect – friendly plans I installed a few years ago, but which has suffered from lack of maintenance. Then, after the Easter break, I think we’ll be into planting potatoes and some of the seedlings the children have been sowing into paper pots (Broad Beans so far but Turnips and other crops to come, some directly into the ground).

Children have been learning how to prepare soil for seed sowing

Children have been learning how to prepare soil for seed sowing

Well, looks like coffee time, so I’ll put the kettle on, look out at the snow and try to make the best of the day ahead inside!

I’m currently researching climate change and gardening as this is a topic I expect to be writing a post about shortly. I have a few ideas about what we gardeners might do to cope with not only steadily increasing temperatures (and advancing seasons), but the increased unpredictability of the weather – flood to drought to snow blizzards in as many days! Or as one fellow blogger put it recently ‘Four seasons in a week’ !(we’re not quite up to 4 in a day as per the song).

I’ll be in touch again in a few weeks. In the meantime I hope that your recovery progresses well and that you’ll soon be out and about in your wonderful garden!

Very best wishes,

Old School Gardener

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