Promises, Promises

After all the rain we’ve had recently, I took this morning’s rainbow to be a symbol of hope. Perhaps the deluge is coming to an end – or do I have to wait for the dove with the olive branch to appear? Preferring to place my faith I science, I consulted the oracle, and indeed the jet stream has moved south and there is a high probability of a relatively calm, dry week with some sunshine. I’d settle for the dry as I’m not sure how much more we can take. One of our fields is flooded and the drive has been so badly eroded that the potholes are now the size of tank traps.

The days are lengthening and there is a definite feeling that the plants are ready to emerge from their winter hibernation. So it’s time to clear away the winter debris from the polytunnel and start sowing the first of the early spring crops. The garlic and winter peas (a gift from a friend to try) are shooting and the early potatoes are ready for planting. I’ve also put in my first row of carrots, a couple of rows of spinach, some rocket and purple mizuna. In the polytunnel temperature is not the limiting factor, it is the amount of daylight that counts. Towards the end of the month I’ll start the Florence fennel, lettuce (probably little gem) and possibly some beetroot. I usually start my tomatoes and peppers at about the same time, any earlier and the low light levels produce ‘leggy’ plants.

What happens next, depends on the weather – if there is a promise of some decent spring weather I’ll start sowing seeds for outdoors. It is always difficult to restrain the enthusiasm, but gambling on the arrival of spring is a high risk strategy.


There is nothing nicer than pottering around in the polytunnel on a warm February afternoon – planting a few seeds, titivating the over-wintering plants and planning the growing schedule for the summer. However, there is work to be done outside, all the routine maintenance and preparatory work that never quite gets done in the winter has to be started now. The first major task is to get muck and seaweed onto the vegetable beds. This should be an early winter job, but it didn’t happen, so it has to be now or not at all. The organic matter is well-rotted and in theory it should be fairly easy to fork it into the barrow, wheel across the garden and fork on to the vegetable beds. Unfortunately after a wet winter, it is the consistency of squelchy pudding with the gloopy consistency of porridge and twice as heavy. It sticks to my boots and the wheels of the barrow and after a couple of hours I am six inches taller and the barrow wheel is clogged up with a mixture of muck, grass and gravel. I am not amused.

For the afternoon, plans to top dress the beds in the orchard with garden compost are postponed as the compost looks as sticky as the muck heap. Fortunately, it is also too wet to even consider starting work on the herb garden. Last year the mint and marigolds fought for territory all summer and I think the mint won. So this year I really must have a serious attempt at exerting some control. Next on the list is weeding the herbaceous borders. Usually I’m quite happy to spend a few hours weeding on a sunny afternoon, but at this time of year the ground is wet and cold and I am rapidly covered in damp, gritty earth. However,  if the creeping bent, buttercups, nettles and docks are not removed now I will be fighting a loosing battle all summer.

The ‘things to do’ list seems to grow exponentially and to create any semblance of order I will need more than a few sunny afternoons. The jobs are perhaps not the most pleasant, but there is a sense of achievement as progress is made, the garden regains its composure and begins to look less like a natural disaster. After a winter confined indoors, it is such a delight to be in the garden in the sunshine. Although the routine works takes priority, I can’t help taking the ‘planning walk’ looking at areas which could be improved, redesigned and, of course, enlarged. It might be slow progress, but I’m determined to get rid of another chunk of the scrubby area of grass and weeds which masquerades as a lawn. So perhaps I should order a few more seeds, as enlarged flower beds need more plants!

17 thoughts on “Promises, Promises

  1. We humans are such an odd breed; we believe in science, oracles, rainbows, and unicorns with equal enthusiasm.

    • Even the most rational among us, still enjoys a good story and the inner child still believes in magic. As much as I enjoy heavenly portents, I still check the weather forecast.

  2. Hello C,
    Thanks for this piece. Suitably positive and forward looking, whilst hinting at the almost claustrophobia like feelings this winter’s weather has induced for those of us living on the western margins of the UK. I do empathise with the ‘not sure how much more we can take’ comment. I was shocked to just work out that from November until now, every square metre of our land, and the near 2 miles of mountain side rising above us, has received 1260 litres of water on it. That’s an awful lot of milk bottles full! And to slowly find its way off by gravity, since precious little will evaporate or transpire over these months. Frankly how the soil, landscape and rest of the natural world outside our homes and polytunnels/greenhouses has survived this onslaught is remarkable,
    best wishes

    • I am relieved to hear that you have escaped this dreadful weather unscathed. During the dark months, I’m content to hibernate indoors and pursue other interests, although I enjoy a walk when the weather permits. However, as soon as the days start to lengthen, I get fidgetty and need to get out and garden. Today there is a bitterly cold wind, and although I’ve been dodging the squalls, I’ve managed to shift a few more loads of muck from the heap to the garden. Much more rewarding than being a ‘gym bunny’ and the entertainment is better – a sea eagle hunting common gulls!

  3. Even down here everything is soggy and squelchy. But it is the winds that have got us down this year. Yesterday Imogen kept me indoors. The birds seem to think spring is coming. Let’ s hope they are right. Your polytunnel is amazing. Happy pottering!

    • I think everyone has had a surfeit of wind and rain this winter. It may be squelchy but your garden always seems to produce the most beautiful flowers.

  4. The view from your polytunnel is just fab. What a refuge that must be..
    I’ve never seen the soil here as saturated as it is this year. It will dry out eventually, of course it will, be it will take a goodly long while. The little bit of sunshine that we have this morning post Imogen helps. It helps my spirits anyway.

    • We couldn’t garden without the polytunnel and i love it as it changes during the year as the crops rotate and plants move on from seeds to seedlings to plants ready for the big outdoors.
      Although I garden on almost pure sand, it is almost waterlogged. Fortunately with the wind and the sun it will soon dry out, but having gardened on heavy soils I know how impossible it can be when it gets really saturated. I do hope Imogen didn’t do too much damage to your woodland.

  5. Liz Morton

    What a lot of work. I’m exhausted just reading it! However it’s wonderful to visualise you planting & planning & looking forward to better weather.

    • No one should have any illusions growing vegetables is hard work, but it is worth it. It is also such a joy to be outside in the sunshine, even if I’m covered in muck.

  6. My ‘to do’ list that I crossed off last week bears no resemblance to your Iron Man challenges – makes me feel as if I am only playing at gardening… 😉 But how exciting to have all that space in your polytunnel waiting to be filled – when we visited last year that was full of crops so it shows what progress will be made in the next few months. Let’s hope you have lots of sunny afternoons this spring!

    • Purely self-inflicted so I deserve no sympathy. It is an exciting time of year and the only problem is restraining the enthusiasm. I couldn’t help but have a little nibble at the “lawn” this morning!

      • And what an addiction lawnnibbling can be – this garden was all grass when we first bought the house…

  7. It is great to see the polytunnel ready for action and all the plans you have for spring…makes me want to get back into our garden and do a bit more. By the way, we have about three varieties of mint, and they are all winning over every other plant nearby.(the basil mint is the worst) I knew I should have paid attention when my mother told me to keep it in a pot!

    • Unfortunately the mint rampage will have to be tacked sooner rather than later. I had foolishly hope that we could eat it out of existence – we have mint with everything in the summer! Unfortuhnately our mint tends to sulk when confined to a pot, so I’ve decided to give it a large plot in the vegetable garden and to try to keep it confined. Ever the optimist!

  8. Margaret Temple

    Hi Christine. Glad things could be settling down for you up there. I always think of you two up in Uist when I look at the weather report on the television. We have had it relatively calm down here in the south with a few quite sunny days. Just making a few stirrings on our plot, potatoes chatting nicely on the window sill waiting ffor the ground to warm up. Look after yourselves. Best wishes Margaret and Malcolm.

    • Hello Margaret,
      Sorry for the delay we’ve been away on the mainland – a longer trip than planned due to storms affecting the ferry service. Safely back and pleased to be back. Definitely a wintry edge to the weather, it makes a chamge to dodge squalls of snow.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.