Friday, April 07, 2006

A lethal combination

The sun is shining. Please take that to protocol. I repeat; the sun is shining. Over the last weeks we’ve had snow, rain, storm, fog, more snow, rain again and so on. But today the sunshine is pouring down from an almost blue sky and the temperature is above zero degrees Celsius.

Did you by the way know that Celsius is named after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius who lived from 1701 to 1744? He invented a temperature scale based on water. In the original scale water freezes at 100°C and boils at 0°C (!). The scale was however reversed after just a few years. It probably seemed more logic to increase the figure with raising temperature than to do the opposite.
The Fahrenheit scale on the other hand is named after Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit who was a German physicist who lived in the Netherlands for a big part of his life. He defined the coldest temperature attainable under laboratory conditions at that time as 0°F and the body temperature of a healthy horse as 100°F.
If I was to invent a temperature scale I’d set 0°L (degrees Linn) at the soil temperature when the first snowdrop ‘Galanthus nivalis’ starts to flower. 100°L would be the temperature of the wooden floor on my porch at sunset after a sunny summers day. It is a local scale, I admit. But a useful one. Between 0 and 100, life is good. And hey, it is not much stranger than the body temperature of a horse anyway.

Even if the sun is indeed shining, the soil is still frozen (i.e. below 0°L) and digging is out of the question. Since we live on the top of a hill with very cold clay it takes time before the winter loosens its grip on our piece of land. And apart from replanting the houseplants and ordering new plants from various suppliers, there are really not much other things to do. Ordering plants has its backdrops of course but oatmeal porridge is not to bad, is it? A few months of that and we are back on track again. Early spring I always get this sudden urge to buy roses. I love roses and in the perfect world I’d be completely surrounded by them. Since our garden is one and a half acre it might take some time but we’re working on it. In the mean time we eat porridge.

I know that there are plenty of gardeners now shaking their heads. Nothing much to do? Has she never heard of seeds? Sowing? Bringing up plants early? What kind of gardener is she? I’ll tell you – a forgetful one. I have a soft spot for plant catalogues. Send me a plant catalogue if you want to make me happy but don’t send one with lots of pictures. Send one with long scientific names in very small print. Odd varieties that no one has ever heard of and I am happy. Catalogues have seduced me more than once.

A flair for the odd and unusual combined with a tendency to overdo things and a hint of forgetfulness makes a lethal combination. What happens is this: I get seduced by the catalogue and order seeds. Many, many seeds. They arrive and after a few days, often very late at night when normal people are in bed, I sow them. Well, most of them anyway. If there are many seeds in a packet about half the amount get sown. I water and put the pots away.
The following weeks I look for a sign of life in the pots about four times a day. When some of the seeds eventually germinate I try to stop myself from being too eager. I tell myself to wait with the repotting a little to let some of the other seed get a chance to germinate to.
Thus, I forget all about it for two weeks and when I, in sudden horror, remember the seeds there is mold in 10% of the pots. In 40% of the pots nothing has happened. In another 10% the compost is dry and no seed will ever germinate there. Remains 40%.
These pots are miniature jungles. Now it is really time to repot them. I start. I buy more compost. I continue. I buy more pots. I continue. I place pots is every window and on every free surface in the house. And I remember what I always seem to forget - I hate repotting. It is simply dead boring.
If lucky I have remembered to mark the pots with the name of the plant. If even more lucky they actually survive until it’s time to bring them outdoors.
I then put them in the cold frame since they need a season to grow. The general idea is that the plants should grow one season in the cold frame and be planted out in the beds the following season.
Spring and summer come and go. Sun shines. Must, must remember to water the pots. Rain is pouring down. I hope the pots haven’t drowned. Birds are having fun with the nametags. Big problem.

Next spring, the huge amounts of pots are thawing. Things start to grow in them. Unfortunately I have by now no idea what is growing in what pot. To be honest I generally have lost the piece of paper where I wrote down what went in the pots in the first place. All I know it that it probably was something odd. What to do now? I wait. I wait and search the house for some information. If I actually find the note where I wrote down what was sawn the previous season, all I have to do is to figure out which of the pots that contain tall and sun loving perennials and which that contain ground covering varieties. And which contain weed. I have been known to carefully take care of birches, dandelions and Greater Plantain plants before realizing what I was doing.

This year I have a lot of pots standing in the cold frame as usual. But now I have made my mind up. No more seeds until I figure out a way to keep myself from repeating the pattern one more time. There has to be a way. I know there is, isn’t it?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Garden quote of today

Spring is Nature's way of saying "let's party!"
- Unknown

Monday, March 13, 2006

They are alive...!

March has entered our lives. The snow is still lying deep outside but you can feel the warmth of the sun and during the day the snow melts on the roofs and water droplets throw themselves out into the air.

Indoors, the houseplants look…well…hay like, sort of. Considering that they have spent an entire winter confined into small pots, in warm and dry air and with very little light I am more impressed that they manage to survive at all than I am worried about how they look. The Snake plant, Sansevieria trifasciata, is happy of course, as is the Zamioculcas zamiifolia. You have to be the Hannibal Lecter of plant owners to kill them. It is the Mediterranean plants that bring the atmosphere of hay barn. I like pelargoniums. They spend the summers on the porch looking nice and flowering happily. When the nights turn chillier, however the choice stands between letting them die or to bring them indoors. Often one can hear arguments such as: “Pelargoniums are really cheap to buy so why bother keeping them over winter?”. Those people are not real gardeners. They are plant killers in disguise. I say, you don’t kill a plant just because it is cheap. You just don’t. I build relations to my plants. I talk to them. Encouraging words when they seem to struggle. Happy words when they grow well. Gently dust their leaves when they turn a bit dusty and spray the air to increase moisture. You don’t throw such things away. No. In the autumn the plants move indoors to spend the winter on a windowsill.

Now imagine you are a Mediterranean plant. Apart from having green leaves and roots instead of arms and legs it means that you are built for hot and dry summers and winters that can be a bit chilly but where temperatures normally keep a few degrees above freezing point. Not to mention plenty of light. Please compare this with the description of their present conditions indoors and be amazed that they don’t give up right away. I am not sure I’d be so cooperative if I was a plant. And for what? A little water and some fertilizer if lucky. Nevertheless, they keep on living. All through winter they stand there, faithfully.

And now, at last, there is time for spring-cleaning. Contrary to what is often described in gardening books, I never cut back plants in the autumn. Experience has shown that they loose quite a bit of leaves and even some stems during the long winter months anyway, and that the plants cope better with the change from outdoor life to indoor life if they don’t have to struggle with the strain of being cut back as well. But now in middle march I remove all dead leaves and cut back pale winter growth. I lift them up from their old pots and put them into new ones, filled with fresh, moist compost – yummy goodies for a plant.

Life is back! Nothing can stop it now. Every spring is a triumph. Repotting doesn’t just mean cleaning the windowsills and making the plants happier. It is a ritual. A ritual that commands the winter to go away. Come on spring. We are waiting. Everything is ready for you. The plant look fresh and the smell from the new soil is the smell of life.

The old soil is taken out to the still frozen compost. When the rays of sun get warmer even this frozen lump will come alive and everything will start over again. It is nothing less than a miracle, but a miracle turning up regularly.

In my next post I will give you some insights as to what can happen if you combine a forgetful gardener with a bunch of seeds with difficult names.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Garden Quote of Today

A garden is half-made when it is well planned. The best gardener is the one who does the most gardening by the winter fire.

Liberty Hyde Bailey

Friday, January 20, 2006

Could I have some more time please...?

I am way behind schedule. On the kitchen table lie two garden magazines I haven’t had time to read and yesterday my favorite bulb company sent me their catalog. A small one without pictures but with long lists of scientific names. Makes me drool every time but this time I haven’t opened it yet. By the way, the non-gardening mood has passed away, thank you all who have expressed your concerns. Back to the timing issue, I can’t remember when I last had two fresh magazines to read. Not an entirely unpleasant feeling, though it had felt better if they were not two issues of the same magazine, last month’s and the current issue.

I am getting used to it now – being out of phase with seasons or events. My inner clock is simply not synchronized with the world outside. It has been going on quite some time and is one of the main reasons I try to keep away from sowing things that needs long time for propagation. Seeds ought to be sown in February I remember in May (the same year if I am lucky but there have been exceptions from that too), plants ought to be repotted early in the season are repotted in August and my pelargoniums have experienced summers indoors just because I was so busy doing something else that I forgot to put them outside.

What is needed here is a year with more months. Best of all would be if one had a couple of months to put in wherever needed. Feeling stressed because the vegetable garden looks a mess and there have been no sowing? No problem. Just put in another month - May second edition. In a hurry to put the garden to rest? We quickly take care of that by inserting another September. See? The solution is right there.

But since I haven’t got an extra month up the sleeve I have to cope with the twelve ones we’ve all got. Yet, I can’t stop thinking why is it that some people always are on time with everything? Sow their seeds on time. Know in advance what they are going to do? And never are surprised of finding plants they forgot they had?

Once I read that people who are very tired in the morning often have an inner clock set on 25 hours per day instead of 24. One can study this by letting people spend some time in rooms without windows and see how they organize their time. What if, I say, what if we constantly late gardeners really are made for a year with 13 or even 14 months? We are not unorganized, forgetful, lazy or anything so demeaning. Our inner season is just much longer than other gardeners and therefore it is cruel and irresponsible to expect us to squeeze in the gardening season in just 12 short months. We are victims of the order of Universe and a bit out of rhythm with the rest of the planet.

I really like this new theory. There ought to be place for a support group too. In these modern days we could even have an international group, website, forum and a convent a year (normal Earth year that is) where we can support each other in the difficult task of adapting to a world with a different frequency than our own.

Now all that needs to be done is finding a good explanation as to why I found radish seeds in my bathroom cabinet and if you’ll excuse me I’ll go and get the Christmas tree out of the house.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Non-gardening mode

I believe the detoxification program helped (see post from December 12). I feel strangely relaxed and in a non-gardening mood. That is, I still like to read gardening books. I enjoy the taped programmes from the BBC series “How to be a gardener”. And I talk to the pelargoniums and promise them a summer on the porch if they just survive the winter. But that is really nothing. I have not been trying to locate the gardening tools. I have not tried to dig in the frozen ground (something known to happen from previous years). I have not even spread little notes around the house with sketches of new plantings, or notes on new plants that need to be bought or located. Instead I walk around thinking non-chlorophyllic thoughts. New experiences are always exciting and this one is really new!

I even have begun to think dirty and forbidden thoughts. Sensitive readers, please stop reading now. The rest of you, don’t say you weren’t warned. OK, here we go… I have always said ‘If I had unlimited funds of time and money, I’d know exactly what to do with the garden’. That is no longer true. I know what I’d like to do with the entrance but the rest…? The dirty thought that has been sneaking around in the back of my head is: perhaps I don’t need to change the more far parts of the garden at all. Perhaps they are OK as they are. I write these words with trembling fingers. Will the world, as we know it collapse? Will the great garden blog spirit come and get me? Will I be immensely ashamed of these words in a couple of weeks? Probably. Never the less, it feels quite revolutionizing and the thought has not quite settled yet.

The outback part in the garden is inhabited by fruit trees. We usually refer to it as ‘the meadow’ but please don’t ask me why because there have never been a meadow there. The point is that it is really fine as it is. A little wild. Romantic. Old trees growing graciously. Yes, I really think I’ll leave it as it is.

A new thought. A change of mind. But life is full of changes. Some are very sudden, others come so slowly they really just can be seen after a long time has passed. I have gone from being an enthusiastic, very organized but inexperienced gardener to be a slightly more experienced, but also more chaotic gardener. The journey has not been travelled alone. The plants have travelled alongside. Literally. I have planted them, changed my mind, moved them and replanted them, changed my mind, moved them and replanted them, … well, you get the general picture. Most plants are surprisingly forgiving. They continue to grow when they, once again have been moved to a new place. By experience I therefore can tell that it is a myth that peonies can’t be moved. They can. Best done in the fall and if one try to disturb the roots as little as possible. Most of the times, however, they survive moves in other seasons to. They look at you a little annoyed the following year or two but as peonies generally are forgiving natures they usually accept that what is done is done and now let’s get on with our lives. The roses too have been moved several times. But last time it really wasn’t my fault. The season after they had been planted a water pipe broke and most of the rose garden had to be dug up to change the pipe. The choice stood between having no water in the house or to move the roses. The family took a quick vote – I lost – and the roses were moved. They spent the whole season and the following winter in the vegetable garden since this was the only pot where there was any bare soil to be found. The roses looked more than shocked to be put in such humble surroundings. A little lecture of old times (they are historic roses after all) and the sight of the excavator however, silenced them. Now they have once again moved and all but the wild Rosa multiflora have left this humiliating times behind them. She on the other hand found she had more in common with the carrots and cabbage than with her snobbish relatives so she moved in for good. At the moment we all live in perfect harmony.

And maybe there is even hope for me. I just found myself talking encouraging to the compost when I passed it. My inner gardener isn’t completely gone. She just dozed of for a moment.