While the gardener’s away….


We departed with snow on the ground and returned to a tropical paradise. Time to hunt for the sun hats, t-shirts and factor 50+.  However, the weather was not the only surprise. The rabbits had being doing what rabbits do and there were micro-bunnies nestled in the grass in the orchard. Fortunately they were too small for the pot and were gently deported into the field and given a stern warning about trespassing.

Oystercatcher nest
Oystercatcher nest

I try to garden in a wildlife friendly manner, but sometimes the other inhabitants of Ardivachar Headland take advantage and squatters’ rights. One of our local pairs of Oystercatchers decided that my new gravel garden was the perfect des res in which to start a family. They are sitting very tight, and we are having to dash out to the greenhouse or compost bin to try to minimise the disturbance. However, the incubators seem unperturbed, they just waddle off quietly and hide behind the fence until we’ve gone. With an incubation period of 24-27 days, the garden is going to get very weedy while we wait for the egg to hatch. Normally 2-3 eggs are laid, so it is either a second attempt or one or more of the eggs was predated while we were away.

The garden was looking very sparse at the end of April, reluctant to spring into life as the strong northerly winds brought cold arctic air and clear skies. However, as soon as the wind direction changed and the north-easterly winds immersed us warm continental air, the herbaceous beds took on a bright green, lush tropical hue. It was the start of the annual chickweed wars and it was growing faster than I could remove it. Underneath this all enveloping green duvet, my plants are struggling for light and air. This happens every year, and despite my best efforts, I never seem to gain a semblance of control. I have tried mulches and various planting strategies, but with no success. It seems that I’m destined to spend most of my summers on my hands and knees weeding and cultivating Hebridean Zen.

Although it has been a cold start to the growing season, in the polytunnel the plants have benefitted from the sunshine and the protection from the chilling winds. We are eating spinach on a daily basis with lettuce, rocket, radishes and beetroot in various combinations for lunch. Can one have too much of a good thing? One of the delights of this time of year are the first green vegetables and I’m watching the strawberries in anticipation. We’ve already sampled the first new potatoes and picked the first peas. Our winter peas have been an outstanding success and I am amazed that they produced a crop at all. For the first time we are able to eat small, sweet home-grown peas before July! Fortunately there are plenty of pods as the temptation to eat them straight from the plant is almost irresistible

Outside the vegetable garden remains stubbornly empty (apart from the weeds) with just one bed planted with onions and shallots and one with celeriac. The weather is still very unsettled, the temperature oscillating by 10°C or more as the wind direction changes. The soil is just about warm enough for the carrot and parsnip seeds and I hope that by the time the peas and beans are ready to go out that June will be warm with balmy breezes rather than wet and blustery. It can’t be as bad as last year and the omens are good as my tomato plants are all producing flowers. Wishful thinking, no just an optimistic gardener.

11 thoughts on “While the gardener’s away….

  1. How exciting having Oystercatchers nesting in your garden, despite the inconvenience. Every year, I think I will get on top of the weeds and then in May, we get the thick’ green duvet’. What a great description. Mine consists of the eradicable ground elder, the devil’ s own weed.
    How productive your polytunnels are, it must be wonderful to keep the salads going like this.

    • The Oystercatchers are still sitting tight and the weeds are just as stubborn.
      Thankfully I don’t have ground elder, so my sympathy if not condolensces!

  2. Liz Morton

    Wonderful descriptions of spring life. I envy you the fresh salads you are having at lunchtime. We are going to the Brecon Beacons next week. At the moment in Cheshire it’s raining & just a bit chilly.

    • We’ll be munching on the salads all summer, whether it’s salad weather or not. House rule – eat seasonal and eat local, so even when it’s wet and cold in the middle of the summer, we eat salad.

  3. Very envious of your early crops again, C, and sympathies with the chickweed wars…our principal adversary is hairy bitter cress. We also wonder whether we’re ever making headway — it seems a lot longer than 7 years of effort and one still hasn’t won… Look forward to seeing a pic of the baby Oystercatcher, if you can manage to get one,
    Best wishes

    • If past years are anything to go on I’ll be battling the chickweed until the autumn. Such is the life of all gardeners.
      Our oystercatchers are still sitting tight, I wouldn’t rate the probability of a chick emerging too high, but I’m optimistic!

  4. Perhaps every gardener has to be an optimistic one. Your polytunnel must be a godsend, it’s so productive. Best wishes to the oyster catchers for a happy event!

    • The polytunnel makes gardening possible in this part of the world as well as preventing malnutrition and deficiency diseases. It is also great fun.
      The Oystercatchers giving us hour of amusement and deserve a chick if only for their persistence. It is getting tense now, probably only a week to go.

  5. I did read this when you first posted and intended to come back and comment – but hey ho, Life gets in the way! Always a pleasure to read, and I am so pleased that the polytunnel is producing such bounty – there is a lot to be said for winter sunshine. I wonder if your egg has hatched – you must be feeling quite maternal …

    • The polytunnel gardener is working her socks off this year – we have SUNSHINe – lots of it. So things are growing like mad, especially the weeds, and with no significant rain in sight the watering is now in double shifts. I am not complaining.
      Alas not maternal, a little protective may be. This is the final week of incubation, so the expectation grows daily – will it or won’t it?

      • Hurrah for the sunshine – and an egg about to hatch!

Leave a Reply

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