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.