This is the first blog on Betsy’s Garden for 2017 and the first after quite a few months with no posts. I have been travelling with work between Edinburgh, Dublin and Paris for the last few months and I’m now back home, just in time for the arrival of Spring and to get stuck in to what is undoubtedly the busiest time in the garden. Quite literally, what I sow now, I will reap later. No sowing…no reaping, so no time to waste!
I didn’t order seeds this year. It’s usually part of my annual gardening calendar and the excitement associated with selecting the seeds and eagerly awaiting their delivery, has been sadly missed. However, I was unsure where I’d be and how much time I’d have to spend on the garden, so it was a sensible, if somewhat out of character, decision. Luckily, I have, in reserve, from previous seed buying sprees, lots of seeds that are still good to use and, if I’m honest, could keep me in seeds for years without having to buy any new ones.
I am lucky that the garden is fairly well established, so it does, to some extent, take care of itself over the winter months. It shuts down, goes into a sort of hibernation. Apart from moving the delicate plants into the greenhouse for over wintering and general tidying and maintenance, if you’re going to be away from your garden, the winter is the time to do that. The hardest job in the winter garden is keeping up with the hungry demands of the birds who seem to empty the feeders a lot quicker than I can fill them up.
I missed the garden when I was away and I found myself craving time outdoors. My apartment was close to the river and was a lovely brisk walk from the centre of town. The Liffey is a compact river as it flows around the city. It seems to breath life into the city, providing a near constant activity and hustle and bustle.
For me, it was a marker. I knew where I was, in an uncharted city, depending on where I was in relation to the river. It was my compass, my North Star. If in doubt, find the Liffey and go from there. Dublin has plenty of beautiful gardens, in and around the town centre. They became my temporary gardens. I’m not sure if it’s because the gardens are surrounded by buildings on all sides, creating a confusing micro-climate, but the Autumn colours that I’m so used to seeing never really seemed to take hold. I did consider that there might be someone going around painting the autumn colours back to vibrant green, but I think that was probably unlikely. What the Winter season limited in terms of flowers and colour, was made up for in the fresh crispness of the air and the regular community of swans, herons, pigeons and small garden birds that had befriended the local population of office workers whose offices were privileged enough to sit atop these beautiful gardens.
I became fascinated by the ways in which people managed to create outdoor space and gardens in the tiniest of spaces and in the most unusual ways, overcoming whatever difficulties the infrastructure or the climate created. In Dublin, they love a balcony. Virtually every apartment in town had a balcony of sorts. Most were put to primarily either functional use, for example drying clothes, or recreational use, like sitting watching the sun cast it’s last rays of winter sun over the Liffey. However, in almost all of them, they had created micro gardens. Pots filled the floor space, a myriad of pots nestled around a table and a couple of chairs and when floor space was full, they moved up and out. Trellis covered walls and pots with hooks that clung on to the edges of the balcony moved the tiny garden upwards and out into the space in front. Bamboo fencing was used to shield the balcony and the people and the precious plants from the harsh prevailing, biting wind. In Paris, balconies were not de rigeur. In their place were window boxes and beautiful french doors and patios that opened out onto a rooftop vista framed by trailing ivy and delicate winter flowers, bolstered by the still warm french winter sun. Roof terraces became wonderful elegant roof gardens, tree lined with clipped box and bay, extending the day further into the night with beautiful lighting, patio heaters and wonderful dining areas. I imagine that Jasmine will fill the air in these roof gardens in the Summer. In Paris, just like Dublin, being without a garden made me realise that there are gardens and green spaces everywhere to be explored and enjoyed. It made me realise how many times I will have passed through or alongside beautiful city gardens using them as nothing more than a route from A to B, or as an all too familiar backdrop. That familiarity masking the true beauty and reality of the freshness of the gardens, taking them for granted, to the point where they become almost invisible. I’d encourage everyone to look for the beauty in the green spaces in and around whatever city they call home and see them with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective. I visited the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh last week and put that to the test, delighting in the indulgent expansive garden set in the very heart of the city.
Back in the garden, the birds are stocking up, both in terms of building up their own reserves (I feel like I am single handedly keeping the bird nuts and seeds industry in business) and gathering the raw materials to make their nests. When we brush Bud we put the fur from his coat into a feeder and the birds use that to line their nests.
Bud loves getting brushed and the birds need the fur, so everyone is a winner. We cleaned and painted the bird boxes and put them back up in what we call bird box alley, so it’s looking spring fresh. The bird realtors have been round already, eyeing up the houses for prospective inhabitants. There’s been a lot of interest, so no doubt, after a few squabbles, residency will be decided soon. The bird boxes used to be home to Blue tits, but they seem to have been pushed out by the Great tits in the last couple of years and it looks like they are the most interested parties again this year. We’ve also got a couple of Robins and Blackbirds living in and around the evergreen bushes at the back fence.
Unfortunately, there has still been no interest in the bird box that we put up amongst the trailing ivy. It’s set low to attract the likes of robins (and hopefully wrens) and the ivy has rather obligingly grown thick around the box, providing shelter and protection,but it still doesn’t seem to be piquing the interest of any prospective home owners. I think it might be facing the wrong direction and by that I mean as per the compass, as opposed to the entrance hole facing inwards towards the fence rather than outwards ;-). I saw an unusual robin; unusual in that it had a yellow/orange beak as opposed to the usual brown/grey beak. I looked it up and it seems to be an American Robin. Maybe their taste in houses will be different to the local Robins. Hopefully they’ll see merit in the ivy clad house and move in. I do suspect, however, that he might just be passing through and is unlikely to hang around long enough to look for a house. An unusual addition to the bird feeders this year is the chaffinch. They have never fed from the feeders here before, but they are here in numbers this year, adding to the already overwhelming demand on the feeders from the blue, great and coal tits. Then, to top it all off….this morning I noticed what I thought was the Robin who has become a frequent visitor at the patio doors, darting around the edge of the doors, picking up small nuts. Wrong! It was a mouse. Now, for all intents and purposes, a mouse is just like a cute ground dwelling bird, right?…wrong! I can’t explain why, but having a cute little robin bob around your patio doors is one thing but having a “cute” little mouse, scurrying around your patio doors is quite something else. I can’t explain it, but one I like and the other, I don’t. As if that isn’t bad enough, I thought he looked unusual. He had big ears, like Jerry from Tom and Jerry. He was a cartoon mouse. I looked him up…..eewww…..he’s a house mouse. Not a field mouse. A house mouse! (This is a picture from a pest control site). I’m hoping that he’s interested in the ivy clad house, outside on the fence. I don’t fancy the idea that he’s free-loading here in the house with us. I might paint a little arch doorway on the ivy clad house – just like the one in the skirting board in the Tom and Jerry cartoons, to lure him in.
All of this has got me thinking and planning for the garden. I’d like to make more use of the fence space that we have and I’d like to make or create more space for planting more vegetables. I’m going to try to come up with some ideas to create space where there is none and to creatively use existing space better. That’s one of my challenges for the garden for this year. I’ll let you know how it goes.
In the meantime, I’ll finish off with a couple of pictures of the first glimpses of spring in the garden which provide more than enough inspiration to get out into the garden and to make the most of it.