Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas time and trees to remember

It's Christmas again! Yoo-hoo! Let's run about in circles like happy puppies.
Yes, I like Christmas. I like the lights, so very much needed in this dark time of the year. I like the quietness of Christmas day (Christmas eve is the big day for celebration in Sweden you know) when all the huzzle and buzzle is over and you just enjoy being free from work. No one even start to ask 'What's for dinner' either. There are enough leftovers to last until Easter.

The Christmas tree this year is decorated from the waist and up. The youngest member of the family, Asta, 5 months old took immediate fancy to the glass balls. Like a basketball player she attacked the balls with the most efficient paw strike (she is a cat, perhaps I should have mentioned that). In three minutes flat she had broken three balls and we realized we had to take some action.

This year at least, we don't have to prepare tranquilizers to the guests to calm them down when they see the tree. Last year everyone laughed so hard they could hardly breathe when they saw it. Not only was it the tallest tree we could fit into the house. It was at least 4 m in diameter at base. To make things even worse the branches were not evenly distributed either. This of course had two effects: one - it looked funny, two - the tree fell down every time someone came close to it. The Christmas tree from the dark outlands tried to attack and kill every innocent person, dog or cat that came near it. In the end we leaned it against the wall and put a cupboard half way in front of it to prevent it from collecting any more victims.

Why we choose that particular tree out of all trees in our land? I have no idea. We have spent an entire year trying to figure that out. 'Acute loss of common sense' is the most likely explanation we have managed to come up with so far. It stroke fast, and both of us at the same time(!). So pressure this year wasn't so hard when it came to finding a Christmas tree. Or as my husband put it, 'We'll find a better looking tree this year than we did last year even if go out blindfolded.'

Have a marvellous Christmas, wherever you are!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Deep, dark secrets

Do you ever get the feeling that you are supposed to like something that you really don’t? When it comes to gardening I mean. No! You there... Stop that thought. Too much detail.

Now… Back on track… Do you ever, WHEN IT COMES TO GARDENING, get the feeling you are supposed to like something you really don’t?

Not surprisingly, since I asked the question, I do. My big hang up seems to be seeds. As an enthusiastic gardener one is supposed to sow ones own seeds, right? Open any gardening magazine, look at any gardening forum and you'll see what I mean. Seeds, seeds, seeds. They are everywhere. Sneaking in behind your collar. Into your bed, disturbing your dreams, destroying your nights sleep. Alright, I got kind of carried away there, but even so…

The seeds tend to dominate the non-gardening season for us living in harsher climates. If you take gardening at all serious you cheer the arrival of the seeds catalogues. You can’t wait to order and then you grow thriving plants which you proudly present for an amazed community of admiring neighbours. Right?
Want to know the dirty truth? What reality is like, in this little corner of the World? (Silly expression by the way. Aren’t we living on a globe?)

Reality is that I’ve given up. True! Honestly! Cross my heart! I have given up. The only things I sow are vegetables sown directly in the vegetable garden. The key is - no prickling. My pots, after prickling, are more “The Killing Fields” than “The Secret Garden”. No matter if I choose seeds said to be REALLY easy, a child can handle them... I am not a child. My seeds refuse to listen when I tell them they are easy and indestructible. Consequently, I have given up.

I prefer to buy my plants, trade with gardening friends and divide larger ones into smaller but many plants to spread all over the garden. It works for me. I’m happy this way, even if it means being in minority in the gardening forums during winter months. And hey, without the seedlings to worry about it really frees time to do what we gardeners do best… dream!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

It seemed like a good idea at the time or - Coffee anyone?

Ever felt like changing subject when someone asks you about why the garden path ends in the neighbour’s fence or why the only view is blocked by a huge tent – a temporary arrangement, now in its fourth year? Cheer up, you are not alone. Lack of planning or “it didn’t really turn out the way I had expected it” is the theme song of my gardening life. One only needs to know how to handle it.

Three years ago I ordered a truckload of compost to fill up some of the borders and the vegetable garden. The day for delivery came. A huge truck turned up on the driveway.
- Where do you want it?
Ha! I had planned ahead! Compost is heavy. The garden is large. Solution: put it in a spot easy to reach and relatively central.
- There, I answered and pointed out a nice, flat spot. One of the very few flat sports in the garden to be exact.
And I was right, compost is heavy. It is very heavy indeed. Three years later, I have pushed wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow to every corner of the garden. Three years later more than half of the heap of compost still remains in its central spot. The well chosen central spot mind you… in plain view of everyone who enters or leaves the garden.
It was good compost to. Full of nice cosy nutritions for every seed in the neighbourhood. Result: We no longer only have a heap of soil. We have a green hill of thriving weed. Nice and central (read: blocking the best view in the garden). Visitors are generally to well mannered to ask but they can’t avoid looking a bit puzzled. And if the do ask the only answer there is is: “it seemed like a good idea at the time”.

Another example of "seemed like a good idea at the time" is the vegetable garden and its permanent dweller. The vegetable garden was planned right after we had bought the house and I had a vision not to have only vegetables in it. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to combine vegetables with, say, roses? Thought and action being one, a rose was bought and planted in the middle of the vegetable garden. It adjusted well. It grew. It thrived. It more than thrived. It sent its stems this way and that way and some in more creative directions. It grew more than 3 m the first year. That is 6 m in diameter. Now it became increasingly difficult to see some of the more timid vegetables and it was no longer possible to reach the further end of the vegetable garden without walking around it. Next year the rose grew even more. Forget secateurs. This bush was pruned with saw and pruning tools for a medium sized tree. Cut down to the ground it returned, more vital than ever. All old stems removed, they only returned as the heads of a hydra. An attempt was made to lead the stems into a double rose arch for support. The rose arch fell down and never quite regained its self-confidence.

It's just as well to accept defeat. This is a battle I will never win. The rose happily dominates its spot and I am enlarging the vegetable garden in order to actually fit in some vegetables to.
The comment: “that is one serous vegetable garden, you must really be a keen grower and what is that huge thing in the middle?” I try to ignore. If you look the other way and change subject you don’t have to answer, do you? And of course there is always the last resort: “Coffee anyone?”

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I'd like this month in another colour please...

Customer service, I want to make a complaint. This month you sent is simply not up to standard and I'd like to get a replacement please.

Where does one turn for such an issue? I really, really want to know. This can't simply go on any further and someone need to take action. Might as well be me.

What is wrong? Well, a week ago I would have told you: nothing. A temperature of 23 degrees Celsius. Flowering daffodils. Spring at it finest.

Then I went for a business trip to north of Sweden. The temperature sank dramatically. (Not my fault though - I hope. Or maybe it was? No, couldn't be, could it?) Anyway, we were talking of 5 degrees Celsius and chilly winds. And one day we even had snow(!). Well, I thought, at least it is not as cold at home. You have guessed it. Boy was I wrong! I arrived home late Thursday evening. Today the snow fell heavily. It was not invited. Not at all. It just threw itself upon us all on its own initiative.

The lilacs, which are blooming at the moment, look appalled at the very thought of this cold white thing upon them. And the asparagus, which I planted yesterday, demands an explanation, from me. I mean, what do one say to indignant asparagus plants?
- Sorry, I couldn't imagine it would snow?
They simply don't listen. Just stands there and glare at you. Asparagus are so quick to take offence. I hardly dare to go into the kitchen garden any more. So please, take this month back and give me another one. Alright?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Coffee makes the World go around

We probably have the most alert earthworms in the country. When it rains they don’t merely crawl up from the ground, they backflip (10, 10, 10, 10 from four available judges). And in really heavy rains they have been seen performing synchronized swimming in the water pools. How come?

Well, this is a Swedish garden you know. (All right, all right you can take your eyebrows down and you don’t have to ask “So?” in quite that tone of voice. I’ll explain in a minute.)

Being Swedish basically means you drink lots of coffee. As a matter of fact, Sweden has the second highest coffee consumption in the World per capita beaten only by the Finns. We apparently drink between 9 and 10.5 kg coffee per capita and year according to statistics. So it is a popular drink today. In the beginning the Swedes weren’t as impressed though. The royal ambassador Claes Brorson RÃ¥lamb (1622-1698), who went to Turkey and met coffee for the first time, described it as a hot drink made of “peas from Egypt”. In 1685 coffee was imported to Sweden for the first time, but only 0.425 kg. It was also a matter of controversy and even forbidden on several occasions during the 18:th century. The prohibition was more or less observed. It is told that hostesses invited the guests to go into another room and “meet a friend” after dinner. It is also told that the poet Johan Henric Kellgren (1751-1793) asked his friends in for a cup of tea and added “there is brown tea”.

Luckily, nowadays there are no such things as bans against coffee. It is lucky for me, not to mention lucky for the people around me. Trying to talk to me before I've had my morning cup should be labelled with “do not try this at home”. It is lucky for the garden as well. Coffee grounds make excellent fertilizer and soil improvement. Our heavy clay needs every bit of organic matter we can find. Thus, we cover bare surfaces with grass clippings – makes wonders – and minimizes the need for weeding too. And we put the coffee grounds in the compost. I have been seen carrying large bags of coffee grounds from the coffee vending machines at work. You don’t let good things come to waste, you just don’t. From experience I can tell you that if you forget to take the bags out of the car for two days the car will smell like a roasting-house for weeks. This might be a bit embarrassing… especially if you forget about it and offer someone a lift. Someone you don’t know very well…

The compost is getting on beautifully though. And in the winter when the way out to the compost often seems to be very long we simply put the coffee grounds in the flowerbed closest to the door. When the snow melts the aroma is set free which may lead to some raised eyebrows from visitors. They can’t exactly put their fingers on it but there is a distinct aroma and it's somewhat familiar… But the plants are thriving, especially the roses. And after all, what are puzzled visitors compared with thriving roses if you just can live with the backflipping earthworms?

P.S. A word of warning: You know you’ve put out to much coffee on the ground when the earthworms start forming little marimba bands and arrange music festivals. How do earthworms play marimba? Loud, very loud!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Colours of spring and hardy neighbours

It is often said that here up north there isn't so much colour early spring. Not compared to the more tropic regions of the world. And perhaps that is true. On the other hand we hardly walk around with photos of more tropic regions when we look at our gardens, constantly comparing here and there. That would really look silly. Would give the neighbours something to wonder about wouldn't it?

Our neighbours (there are only two of them actually, oh and a dog to not to forget) are toughened by now and have stopped to look as surprised as they once did. Nowadays they have accepted that being a gardening nerd and thus a bit peculiar does not necessarily mean I constitute a threat to children and small furry animals.

It is remarkable what neighbours can get used to. Let me present a small collection of situations:

- They find their neighbour in the kitchen garden digging up Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) with a big spade. Perfectly normal had it not been for the fact she is dressed in a suit and high heeled shoes. And with a handbag firmly placed on the ground next to her. There is a perfectly simple explanation of course. On the way from the car to the front door I suddenly got a vision of mashed Jerusalem artichokes - a delight to mix with mashed potatoes. Thought and action being one, of to the kitchen garden and start digging. I know this. They don’t.

- Living with heavy clay in the garden means every hole you want to dig is a challenge. And with a passion for planting things that needs big holes (read: trees) I live a challenging life. The hole was 30 centimetres deep when a "clonck" was heard. This might mean one of two things - I have hit bedrock or there is a stone on my hole. Bedrock means change of plans and a need for moving the hole somewhere else. Stone means it is possible to remove it from the hole and continue as planned. Widening the hole somewhat made it clear this time it was a stone. I dig around the stone, freeing it from soil (=clay). I try to put the spade under it and wiggle it loose. I break the shaft of the spade. I mutter words I wasn't aware of that I knew. I fetch another spade. Break that shaft to. I fetch an iron bar to use as a lever. Put in place, throw myself upon it and scream out loud to get more strength (think of a shot putter at the Olympics and you get the idea). Now the neighbours pass. With a friendly "Good morning" they go on with their walk. Not a raised eyebrow, which is more than can be said of their guest who is walking with them...

- Dark nights a light may be seen flickering around our garden. Sometime it moves around vigorously (=I’ve got a new idea for a planting and have to rush out in the garden to see if there is room for it where I want it). Sometimes the light keeps very still (=I need to plant something right at this very minute. It is difficult to plant when it's pitch black outside. The obvious solution is of course to place a flashlight at some distance to lighten the spot.) The neighbours now have stopped tiptoeing out of the house to catch the supposed burglar - a relief for us all and the end of some very embarrassing scenes.

To all gardening friends and hardy neighbours around the globe here is proof for there being colour in the Nordic regions as well.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

And they are back...

And they are back! Who are, you might ask. The tulips! Eagerly they jumped out of the ground at first signs of sprig as usual. And, also as usual, they became covered in snow by the inevitable snow in March.
And, just as inevitable they stand, green and jolly when the snow has melted again.

Today is the first day of daylight saving time and thus, the first day of true spring. Brings hope, doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Green manure

“It’s snowing.” Those were the first words my husband said today when we woke up. (Correction: Those were the first words he said when he woke up and energetically tried to make me do the same.) “You can’t be serious,” I answered. (He later clamed it sounded more like “mnuff, mfff, hmmm” since my answer came from under the pillow but that he interpreted (quite correctly actually) the answer as “You can’t be serious”. A tribute to long relationships.)

Winter has been a strange season this year. Globally it has apparently been the coldest winter experienced for centuries. Here, on the other hand, it never really started. November came with rain and winds. December came with rain and winds. January came with rain and winds. February came… You get the idea. By February we started not only to grow gills but also to give up hope of any snow. Ridiculously enough other parts of the country have had the snowiest winter ever.

Well, anyhow, spring was on its way. The snowdrops flowered, the light had returned and the birds were singing operettas. (They do you know. In spring, it’s operettas. Zoologists may claim the birds defend territory and are looking for mates all they want. Listen to them, I say, and no mistake can be made – operettas.) The rather large pile of soil I ordered last fall was slowly beginning to thaw and getting ready for use. Everything said “SPRING”. Then the second shot came from the starter and the speaker said “false start”. Redo. A white cover of it all. And a little more time to think and plan.

This year the kitchen garden will be the pride of the garden. Growing frames have been placed and filled with soil. Now the last are to be put out. And, at last, after more the ten years of planning and thinking (all right, I am a slow starter, I know) I will grow asparagus. And beans. And grapes. The grapevine was planted last year actually. The Latvian Zilga thrives, even in our cold climate. The beans fell victim to a painted house. They were planted. Even got a trellis to climb. Then came a period of paint buckets, brushes, ladders and paint – the house was to be repainted. And suddenly there was frost and more frost and the beans, which ought to have been harvested weeks ago, started to look more spotty black-brown fingers than the lush green pods they are supposed to look like. A rather extravagant version of green manure? But hey, that's me. “Forgot the beans? Nah, it’s fertilizer - Phaseolus coccineus ’Pickwick’ (runner bean).”

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Long time, no written

Well, well, well...
Two years. Who would have thought that?
Two years ago it became a bit too much and I really had to reduce some of all the things that threatened to eat me alive. When things you do for fun (like blogging) don't feel like fun any more it's time to take a break. But I really never intended it to last for quite so long.

What have I been up to during this time then? Well, I've been ordering truckloads of soil (honestly - truckloads!) to make our clay more diggable (is there really such a word - diggable? - as in soil you can put a spade into without breaking the handle?).
I have also at last put up a decent site for my photography Linn Arvidsson Fine Art Photography Prints to which colour prints will be added as well in good time.

During the winter (boring season this year - hardly any snow at all - enough said about that) some new plans have taken shape. Lazy plans actually. Last year we repainted the house most of the summer. This year we talk about vacations, long evenings on the verandah and glasses of wine under the oak trees. Sounds quite agreeable to me...

Summer, not as far away as it feels sometimes...