Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The colour of February...yellow

Before I moved to Guernsey I had always imagined the winters in Europe to be grey and brown and bleak but I must say that February in Guernsey is far from this. Guernsey’s climate is closer to that of France than England; as a result of this warmer climate, flowers that would not dare to show their heads in the UK until late March or April are more than happy to brighten our February days.

The daffodils pop up everywhere imaginable, primroses dot the roadsides, the gorse is in full flower with its heady fragrance carrying on the chilled air and there are yellow daisies, which seem to be popular in Guern gardens, providing yet another flash of yellow.

Roadside daffodil stalls appear out of no-where. You just pull up in the middle of the road and get out; all the traffic will politely wait while you select you flowers and put your money in the tin. Hedge Vege stalls work on an honesty system, so people just put out these little boxes, which balance precariously on the granite walls, full of whatever they have a surplus of and people put money in the tin/glass bottle provided. The most cars I have seen at a Hedge Vege is five. They were all stopped on the same side of the road but some were parked nose to nose. Shoppers didn't want to block both sides of the road so they pulled over onto the wrong side of the road instead to park, very considerate wouldn't you say. The system seems to work and if you are caught stealing from a Hedge Vege (as a person was last year) you get sent to JAIL!

During the summer we ‘renovated’ the garden bed which runs across the top of our front garden wall. The wall has a granite front and a block work back. The centre has been filled up with rubble and then lined with the most horrendously coloured, blue plastic which sticks up all along the edges. Not a good look. My bright idea was to remove all said plastic, not to mention the thousands of kilograms of soil, and reline the garden bed with something a little less lurid, replace all the soil with fresh compost and da-da (because I couldn’t find out how to spell vioa-la?) a stunning new garden wall. Simple! The best laid plans, as they say.

Off I go to the garden shop to buy a bottle green soil sifter and umpteen bags of compost, chicken poo and blood and bone. I pull up in the drive way, leap from the car, sifter in hand and start to shake my way through the soil. Why did I want to sift the soil I hear you ask, well lean a little closer and all will be revealed. The previous owners had planted hundreds of bulbs along the wall; daffodils, hyacinths and even a gladiolus. We live about 200 metres from the coast and the wind can be bit strong here, to say the least. Last year we eagerly awaited the arrival of our blooms. It was a bit like reading the latest mystery novel; we had moved in to our home in August and all the wall bulbs had finished flowering by then so we had no idea what lay beneath the soil. The first green shoots appeared and even my husband and the children were excited. As our garden’s ‘story’ began to unfold, new characters seemed to be arriving daily, steadily growing taller and sturdier. Then the first bud emerged. The kids rushed to tell me as they had actually been walking the wall to check for buds, several times a week. I think there was some type of competition going on as to who could spot the first bud. There was no prize just the smirking satisfaction of being a better bud spotter than you sibling! Kids!

More and more buds sprang up. The first hint of yellow was visible as they began to unfurl. Flashes of pink appeared here and there from the hyacinths. The garden’s ‘story’ was a fabulous one and I just could not wait to get to the climactic finale. Then came the ‘Once in Twenty Year Freak Storm’ which flattened and salt-scorched all in its path. Not one of our characters survived the brutal onslaught. The daffodils planted had been tall varieties so they really did not stand a chance against the gale force nine winds. Nature ripped out the last few pages, so we never found out how the story ended.

So I sifted, to remove all the existing bulbs, in order to keep them as use them elsewhere in the garden and plant shorter varieties which can cope with the wind. In four hours I managed to sift three metres of wall, only thirty or so left to go!!! My back ached, as I am 5’10 and the garden wall was below waist height, I had to hunch over to work in the bed. My arms throbbed from digging and sifting, no wonder cocktail barmen have such good arm muscles with all the shaking. Not that I’ve looked of course.

Plan Two, Version B: do not remove all the soil, just about the top thirty centimetres then mix the sifted soil with compost, chicken poo pellets and blood and bone and add that back to the bed. I did the digging, mixing and replacing of the soil and engage hired help who would, in fact, work for free i.e. husband and children. My husband turned out to be the world champion soil sifter, although he was unable to fully extend his arms for about a week after this soil sifting tournament. The children were the bulb locaters who would locate the bulbs in the soil and place them in the bulb receptacle; the blue bucket. In the end we had to enlist the storage capacity of three bulb receptacles, two buckets and one tub. This fact should have alerted me to the quantity of bulbs I was going to need to plant along the wall but I was in a ‘GARDENING FRENZY’; as my loyal soil sifter informs me.

We completed the entire wall in eighteen hours, spread over three days. My soil sifter nearly instigated a rebellion but when the job was finished and I promised I would never ask him to touch the bottle green implement of pain ever again, he leaned back, beer in hand, and said ‘You know it’s going to look really good when it’s all in flower.’

After such a mammoth effort from my family I planted the bulbs during the week, as I felt I may be pushing my luck if I asked for any more assistance in the garden for a little while. I planted five bags of 100 Tête-à-Tête daffodils and fourteen packs of twenty muscari armeniacum or grape hyacinth bulbs. 780 bulbs! I actually bought our local garden centre out of the muscari bulbs and they were not going to get anymore in, so I drove to another garden centre at the other end of the Island and bought them out too. Alas I was unable to find anymore so the last three metres of our wall lies unplanted. I was going to plant more of the Tête-à-Tête but then I was worrying about damaging those bulbs when I went to plant more muscari in October so I decided to leave it bare. Now all the daffodil bulbs are flowering, I must admit it does look a little odd with the bare end but after our bizarre soil sifting ceremony, which lasted four days in all (including my solo effort), perhaps this is what the neighbours have come to expect. The muscari are yet to show their little blue faces, although plenty of green leaves have arrived?. My husband asked if we were going to replace them if they failed to flower, that was only until I pointed out that this would mean more sifting. He has decided he quite likes the daffs by themselves.
(For those of you unfamiliar with Guern/UK flower varieties the photos are as follows: 1. daffodils and celandines on the Port Soif Nature Trail, 2. Celandine on the Port Soif Nature Trail, 3. Primroses from our garden, 4. the ever spiky but sweet smelling Gorse.)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Gillian
    loving the blog, I am feeling very homesick for the UK. The flowers look fantastic, what a huge amount of work you guys did. I really loved the snowdrops, they were just gorgeous. The day I got your blog details, my friend Lynette told me she has also started a blog, I am so behind the times I didn't even know what they were.
    Look forward to the next instalment of the happenings at Bumble Bee Cottage.
    Michele Henselien