January 12th | 2017

Well, despite the slate skies and general damp gloom, growth is under way! As a dual purpose operation, hardy perennial nursery and for the first time, flower farm, my year starts earlier than most as hardy perennial seed needs to be sown very early to give good results in the first year. In my smallest polytunnel under a motley collection of ancient yellowing covers and bits of polythene, heated by soil warming cable and lit by my ‘’growlight’’ i.e. one normal 60 watt bulb (!) – small shoots are appearing.

The light, plus my radio chatting away on Radio 4, 24 hours a day in my unheated tunnel act as my guardians against the potential – thankfully not too common, disaster of the electric tripping out on a frosty night. I only have to step outside the back door last thing at night to see the light/radio are on to be reassured. Of course the really clever/slightly insane grower would have some kind of alarm which would have me racing up the hill in the small hours…………This one light is also amazingly the only sign of my smallholding that can be seen from the other side of the valley at night and is known to my neighbour, affectionately, as my cannabis tunnel…….now that would make some REAL money (!).

Nearly always first to show each year are some of the specially treated seed I buy from Germany. These are ‘cold germinators’ and in the normal run of things this means a lot of faffing about with warm and cold to stimulate growth, but these rather wickedly pricey varieties come up on 7-10 days….so I have hardy geraniums, campanulas, dodecatheon, meconopsis etc…

I also see the first eucalyptus up, 3 different types this year. These are vital for the cut flower side and these tiny seedlings will be a metre high by late summer. Every morning I check for the dreaded furry signs of ‘damping off’ a fungal problem which loves my carefully created warmth and can cause a whole tray of ramrod straight seedlings to lie down and die overnight. Sweet peas and snapdragons are also under way, including for the first time the seed I gathered from my own sweet peas last year though due to my own clumsiness these will be an interesting mixture as I knocked the carefully separated colours on to the floor of the tunnel and had to sweep up and sow…

In the other unheated tunnels most things, certainly all the salvias and fuchsias, are sleeping. But in the central cut flower bed, my hyacinths are up, anenomes are well under way and my inside wallflower experiment is going well. I have also noticed that as I suspected would be the case the snapdragons are still flowering inside and alive outside, despite -3 frost –  food for thought there!

Other bulbs are also stirring; all the small alliums in pots are up, and the tulips from last year, small and unpromising as they looked, have had a reprieve from the compost heap and after a pep talk – yes I will admit to that (!) are coming up strongly. Of course they may just merrily produce leaves and no flowers so only time will tell,

Aquilegias, bronze fennel, bears breeches, eryngiums, catmint and poppies,  all are growing away and looking quite perky and my glorious tropical lobelia tupa are producing new shoots so there is always something to cheer these cold dreary days. And my wellies now have an enormous leak….(!)

WOOD

Not horticultural, I know but a lot of my time a the moment is taken up, worrying about and processing firewood for our log stove  – the sitting room currently being the only heated room in our house! When I was a small child my dad would regale us with an annual reading aloud of the Dylan Thomas classic ‘A Childs Christmas in Wales’ and one of the bits which has stuck with me was his division of his presents into the – disappointing of course –  ‘Useful ‘and the joyous ‘useless’ but now as a single middle aged mum/grower/smallholder I dream of the Useful and this year I had the best of all –  a cordless chainsaw and an electronic log splitter – the chainsaw is light and easy and I can mooch about my fields with the incongruous pairing of stick and saw, taking out my frustrations on any fallen timber. Particularly good yesterday after a fruitless hour and a half on the phone to BT to try and get a working broadband connection…

The log splitter, now, there is poetry in motion indeed – 4 tonnes of pressure which effortlessly converts foot wide tree trunks into burnable  bits, no more useless girllie swinging of the axe and fruitlessly hoping for a random man to appear! I have yet to enthuse a teenager to use the splitter but watch this space………!