In which I wait for spring to come

Dusk was already falling, along with a light drizzle, earlier this afternoon as I pushed brown ovoid objects repeatedly into heavy wet earth. Carelessly dressed against the cold, my muddy fingertips going numb, I worked the trowel and hoped I wouldn’t slice open any previously planted spring bulbs. The truth is I’ve completely lost track of how many I’ve actually deposited under our row of dwarf fruit trees over the past six months, let alone their precise coordinates. Some have come up already – snowdrops and crocuses in bloom, and the first signs of daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. Others may yet emerge, if they haven’t been stolen by squirrels or blighted by parasites. In short, the space is fully booked with standing room only.

But I’ve been longing for Convallaria (lily-of-the-valley) ever since I saw them growing wild in the forests around the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg during my sabbatical last year – which in turn conjured up the neat row of nodding ivory bells that my mother tended along the front path of our old house in Ohio. Their fragrance has always invoked new beginnings, but also sad endings. Richard brought some home for me yesterday, because I was blue and he always seems to know exactly what is needed when I’m lost at sea.

The orchard isn’t the only thing that’s fully booked in our back garden. We have overly ambitions plans for the limited space in the rest of the lawn, and I fear my most recent Thompson and Morgan order went a bit over the top (the spuds in particular – do I really need 2.5 kg each of first earlies, second earlies and a maincrop?).

You're chitting me

But I can’t resist potatoes, the way they taste dug straight from the ground on a sultry summer evening, boiled until their skins are just flaking off and tossed with mayonnaise, salt, pepper and chives, with barbecued meat, a glass of cold Pinot Grigio and the scent of citronella candles.

The potatoes, bulbs, herbs and climbing nasturtiums are my domain, and Richard does the vegetable beds, the tomato greenhouse, the sunflowers and sweetpeas – and the heavy digging. We got a late start last year because we didn’t move in until March, with some of our tomatoes withering on the vine in November, but now we’re fully prepared for a long and prosperous harvest.

Post-script: It was only today that we dug out the last of the carrots and leeks.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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32 Responses to In which I wait for spring to come

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention In which I wait for spring to come | Mind the Gap -- Topsy.com

  2. cromercrox says:

    Signs of Spring in Cromer, too. Canis Croxorum took me to the beach this morning, and it was the first blazingly sunny morning this year that hasn’t also been icily cold.

  3. cromercrox says:

    The comments wouldn’t let me embed a photo so here is a link instead.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/27848370@N04/5444352797/

  4. Jenny says:

    Ah, that’s a lovely photo, Henry. Sunny in Londinium too, but bitterly cold.

  5. rpg says:

    (They wouldn’t?)

    Cromer East Beach 14.2.11

  6. cromercrox says:

    No, they wouldn’t!

  7. Jenny says:

    Perhaps if we’re very nice, rpg might pass on his secret. Last time I tried I couldn’t get it to work either.

  8. cromercrox says:

    BTW, I envy you your carrots. Mine have been struggling all winter to reach less than an inch long. I have higher hopes for my kale and broccoli though. And you have waaaaay too many potatoes for the size of your plot. I might try to grow a few spuds in a barrel and some veg in some handy raised containers but as the entire house and most of the garden are soon to be overrun with builders I don’t think I’ll be doing much muck-spreadin’ this year.

  9. rpg says:

    They are very nice carrots. My brussels sprouts didn’t do too well, but I didn’t have the heart to dig them out–and now they’ve got new growth, so we might get some yet.

    Don’t know why you can’t embed images in comments–I’ll have to do some testing, it looks like.

  10. Jenny says:

    I couldn’t buy decent seed potatoes in smaller amounts, so my plan is to choose the ones that chit the best and give the rest to a few friends who’ve expressed interest. I did want to have multiple varieties, because that’s more fun. Never had great yields from container-grown spuds, but may do this as well to maximize overall spudness.

  11. Stephen says:

    Sad to report that our grass crop has been disappointing so far this year.

  12. Jenny says:

    It’s a bit early to be sowing grass seed, no? Or was this a joke?

  13. Stephen says:

    It was a joke. And a bloody funny one at that – surprised you didn’t notice!

    Really I’m just jealous of your commitment to growing vegetables and flowers…

  14. Jenny says:

    ack – sorry Stephen. Obviously everyone else must be obsessed as I am on the topic. My first thought when I read your comment was, oh my god, I’ve got bare patches, am I already behind the curve, should I have been sowing last week??

  15. ricardipus says:

    That is some impressive vegetablery you two have going on there. Our gardens tend to explode madly with annuals (and a few messy, but showy, perennials) but veggies have been limited to a couple of fairly feebly cherry tomato plants (tasty, but a very small crop) and last year’s additions, a raspberry bush (about two dozen berries) and a blueberry bush (about five). We have high hopes for those latter two this year.

    We did try growing peppers indoors once upon a time, but they became infested with aphids or somesuch nasty things.

    Also, I am anxiously awaiting this year’s installment of “RPG vs. The Slugs From Rotherhithe”, which should be, if not spine-chilling, at least, um, er… what *do* slugs have, anyway? “Nerve-cord-chilling”?

  16. cromercrox says:

    Spuds in a barrel are no threat to those grown in teh ground. However, they are fine for raising salad potatoes. As with anything in a container, watering can be tricky. Not too much, not too little. However, looking at your seed chittin’ away, and having seen your plot, I think you’re going to have to dig up your entire lawn. You might consider renting an allotment.

  17. cromercrox says:

    Our soil is so fertile (from having had chickens, bunnies and guinea pigs running all over it for three years) that if we turn our backs for a minute we’ll have stinging nettles the size of sequoias.

  18. KristiV says:

    Definitely envious of the ability to grow root vegetables; most don’t do very well here. However, I can’t complain too much, as I’ve had kale, lettuce, parsley, and rainbow chard all winter, even with our unusual cold spells and snow (!) this year. I just covered up the raised bed with a blanket, and everything was fine. I’m putting in two more raised beds this year, so I spent part of the weekend shoveling and hauling rotted horse manure from the huge piles at the ranch – I’m convinced that this ingredient is the key to gardening success. I’ll plant beans, chard, dill, and lettuce next weekend – perhaps a bit early, but I doubt we’ll have any more hard freezes.

    I’m told by the neighborhood nurserypeople that now is a great time to plant trees. I’m thinking about getting a couple of fig trees and a persimmon tree (both do well here).

  19. antipodean says:

    You’ve got those beds way too close to each other, the patients are definately not going to like that…

    …oh it’s a garden plan…

  20. Steve Caplan says:

    Jenny- as a a fellow cell biologist I thought you might be interested in knowing that our confocal microscope (now 7.5 y old) came with a slide of Convallaria, which we typically use for all alignments and as a “standard” for measuring laser power when imaging.
    Nice veggies!

  21. rpg says:

    Jenny wouldn’t let me buy chicken shit, but I did get blood and bone. Going for intensive.

  22. cromercrox says:

    If you want to go intensive, get a wormery. Just the thing for you urban composty types. Intensive research at the Maison Des Girrafes shows that you shouldn’t scrimp on these things – the Can O’ Worms wormery
    http://www.greenfingers.com/superstore/product.asp?dept_id=200497&pf_id=CA0791D
    is definitely best. Worms love cooked food scraps as well as peelings (though avoid citrus or meat) and, given a few months, produce the most amazingly potent compost that’s just great for seedlings. You can also tap the sump for worm juice that if diluted to 15:1 makes the most incredible tomato feed.

  23. rpg says:

    Got my mum one of those. She ended up with worms all over the conservatory.

  24. ricardipus says:

    Surely if it’s chicken sh*t you need, Henry can oblige?

    [that is meant in the nicest and most literal way possible]

  25. Jenny says:

    I don’t think it’s polite or neighborly to use a fertilizer that smelly in a densely populated urban area. It takes several days for the smell to go away, and it’s pretty potent. Mind you, might be good revenge against the chain-smokers next door…

  26. KristiV says:

    If there’s a riding stable nearby, Jenny, you might check if they have composted horse manure available. I know when I was riding at Snaresbrook near Epping Forest, neighbors with allotments were allowed to haul off manure for free. I don’t think fresh horse manure smells that bad, and it certainly doesn’t have an offensive odor, once “rotted” or composted. From a stable, it will likely be mixed with straw or other bedding (and of course horse urine), which only seems to add to its beneficial properties. I just shovel it in to large plastic bags or empty grain sacks, in quantities that I can easily carry from the truck or car into the backyard. I also use it as fill for the hole when I plant trees.

  27. achillespubtalk says:

    A timely seasonal reminder to pull open the winter curtains and get out from behind the computer screen, blinking into the sharp Norfolk sunlight with spade and rake and get stuck in. Having also planted an enormous number of bulbs, cheap from the local garden centre, and forgotten where I put them, I am amazed today how much is rapidly rearing its head everywhere out of the ground, so we are expecting a fantastically colourful array of daffodils, tulips and crocuses very soon.
    We outsourced the hard work of vegetable growing to our enthusiastic retired biologists next door who grow so much, with regular surplus passed over the hedge, it keeps us from Waitrose for months – last year was marrows, tons of them, gorgeous baked with mince and pepper stuffing. In fact, as a thank you, we lifted our little used greenhouse back over the hedge, to be rewarded this year with amazingly huge tomatoes and cucumbers. Perhaps mathematicians, like me, especially former fluid dynamics specialists, are more drawn to ponds than vegetables. Despite taking much care with ensuring oxygenation, and doing a regular Nanook of the North act on the ice, I lost my two favourite tench. But the good news is the seagulls went early yesterday, so I am going to restock and throw grass seed around the bare patches on the lawn, end of the week. Being 30 miles inland from the coast they are my best annual weather predictor. They came early December and knew what was coming, so I am confident now spring is arriving!

  28. cromercrox says:

    Norfolk, eh? Where?

  29. ricardipus says:

    On the other hand, yesterday I spent a quarter of an hour freeing a Mourning Dove that had gotten its foot completely frozen in ice (up to the ankle, or bird equivalent) while roosting on our front path overnight. Methinks I will wait a while before worrying about planting anything in the garden.

  30. achillespubtalk says:

    Swaffham – Kingdom Country!

  31. photos or it didn’t happen

  32. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    I noticed yesterday that the first of the nasty, aggressive weeds that have plagued me in past years (linked by underground runners with a similar consistency to high tensile steel) are raising their ugly heads. I suppose I’d better brave the rain one of these weekends to start another losing battle…