Wintry Showers and Sunny Intervals

Looking north across the sound to Benbecula with the hills of North Uist beyond

After the storms came the rain, hail, sleet and snow; today we have wintry showers, sunny intervals and an icy northerly wind of about 40 mph. However, there is sunshine and I am planning to cocoon myself in as many layers as I can and stagger down to the vegetable garden to retrieve some our few remaining root vegetables. Now the polytunnel has been repaired we’re ready to plant our early potatoes and sow the first of the early spring vegetables, unfortunately the weather has intervened again. In the sunshine the temperatures are hovering around 0ºC, it is warmer undercover, but I shall wait for the soil to warm to around 10ºC before I start planting.


I am thinking about sowing some of the seed collected from my hardy herbaceous plants, but I’m being wimpish and waiting for a warmer day. I re-planted some of the bulbs from pots that had been blown over or broken by the wind last week and working in a very draughty polytunnel with cold compost was enough to induce hypothermia.

At this time of year I should be beginning to think about sowing the tomato and pepper seeds, but I am always too hasty. Although the heated propagator is empty, every spare inch of windowsill in the house, cottage and porch is full of plants evacuated from the greenhouse leaving no room to grow on the young seedlings. I know that if I wait until it the days become longer and warmer when I can keep the seedlings in the polytunnel, I will end up with stronger and healthier seedlings. Experience does not always temper impatience!

I am obviously suffering from the “January intemperate gardener syndrome”. The days are lengthening and I want to start getting ready for the spring. It is a more acute attack than usual as we have fences to repair and restoration work in the cottage garden to complete before we can begin to think about real gardening. The storms eroded most of the topsoil from the cottage garden which should be replaced sooner rather than later. I suspect this cold weather may have been the fatal blow for the surviving plants where the protective mulch has been blown away from the dormant crowns. Unfortunately, I will have also lost the seed dropped by the plants in the autumn. In many respects losing the seed bank is more serious than the loss of mature plants, as I rely on the self-sown seedling to repopulate parts of the garden.


January is always a difficult month, the garden looks bleak, although in sheltered corners there is often a primrose in flower or a small group of snowdrops struggling to emerge.


The narcissi, particularly the jonquils, are surprising robust, and their green shoots seem to withstand the stormy winds and wintry squalls. It will be March before the cottage garden emerges from the winter hibernation, so I will have to wait and hope. I am quietly optimistic, but will be busy sowing seeds in February “just-in-case”.

Until then there are the refugee plants and seedlings to nurture, and although I had hoped that the new greenhouse would be overflowing with flowering bulbs, I will have to be content with just one or two doing their best. The repairs to the greenhouse are “in-hand” but as ever we’re waiting for some settled weather before the greenhouse repair team will risk a journey north.

Iris reticulata Katharine-Hodgkin
Iris reticulata Katharine-Hodgkin, hardly a prize winning display, but a treasured survivor

There have been times this winter when even my optimism and resolution have been tested and I have wondered whether I am just too ambitious in my gardening aspirations. I probably push the boundaries too far, but then I have had some small triumphs and if I can do it once I can do it again. However hard I try to suppress my inner Pollyanna she has an irritating habit of bouncing back.  I’m beginning to think she is the alter ego of my muse.

It is now time to go dodge the squalls, and go and look at the garden to admire my very ragged collection of primroses. My reward for endeavour, cold hands, stinging cheeks, running eyes, renewed optimism and finally a cup of coffee and a quick look at the latest seed catalogues!

16 thoughts on “Wintry Showers and Sunny Intervals

  1. Much sympathy for the polytunnel and homeless plants. I am always over-optimistic with my gardening plans too. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Or something like that.

    • All part of island life. If I’d listened to my neighbours and taken good advice my garden would consist of “neeps and tatties”!

  2. Just seeing the photos is a nice reminder that there is green there still! We’re buried under several meters of snow in Maine!

    • Snow on the islands is rare, especially down on the coast. Our winters are usually virtually frost free, so it’s very shivery at present. The UK comes to a halt with a couple of inches of the white stuff, so we’d never cope with several meters. Sounds idyllic, but I suspect the reality is less pleasant.

  3. You too? I went out today to sow and came back in. It really is TOO cold. I always lose things to impatience but I should order seeds. Enjoy the sunny spells!

    • The sunny intervals always tempt me out, but then I get driven back indoors by the rain/hail/sleet! Perhaps next month?

  4. Losing topsoil and autumn seeds sounds very trying Christine, how do you replace the soil? Apart from Sweetpeas and a few broad beans, I am yet to sow anything here. Your Iris still looks lovely despite everything its been through!

    • I’m more concerned about the seedbank than anything. After a good summer both the perennials produced an abundance of seed and as usual I only collected a small amount!
      I normally lose a certain amount of topsoil each winter, so I am always well prepared with plenty of well rotted garden compost and seaweed. Although the topsoil can be replaced it makes producing a really good depth of humus in my very sandy soil a very slow process. On balance I’d rather have this light friable soil than heavy clay. The position in the vegetable garden is less serious as the beds are more enclosed and the ones which are not in used are covered with a good depth of manure and seaweed which helps slow down the erosion.

  5. Neeps and Tatties? What a dismal thought. The weather is grim at the moment. Nothing depresses me more than a covering of snow and a bitter north- easterly wind. Never mind it is February tomorrow , Spring is around the corner.
    I am going to have to refollow you, your posts haven’ t been appearing in my reader lately and I think I have missed quite a few.

    • The thought of a diet of neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) is enough bring on the winter blues. Fortunately we still have a few leeks left as well as the roots (potatoes, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes and parsnips), there is spinach and rocket in the polytunnel and tomatoes, beans and cauliflower in the freezer, so the hungry gap is not imminent. However, I do need to get things going in the polytunnel. Today it is still very cold, but the wind is not too strong and we have sunshine, so I’m hoping that we can get out and start work on the repairs, if not real gardening.

  6. What a beautiful shade of blue the sea is in that first photo – but I know how quickly it can change. Shame about your ‘seedbank’ loss – but in the neeps and tatties versus Hebridean Zen contest I guess the latter will always win in the Croft Garden

    • I love the way the light and colours change, but it’s not much fun to watch the sky darken as a squall appears when I’m exposed to the element half way between the polytunnel and the house!

      • Indeed – or even marooned in the polytunnel when the Heaven’s open! That’s one of the disadvantages of having the greenhouse at the bottom of the garden as it is here 😉

  7. Our garden looks very like yours Christine! We do have snowdrops but that is about all and everything looks very battered and sad. It will be March before it begins to feel as if anything will grow. I used to be very keen to get out very early but living up here has shown me that waiting gets better results. Mind you, give me a mild few days and I conveniently forget that lesson.

    • It is difficult not to be frustrated and impatient, especially when everyone else’s garden is apparently green and full of spring bulbs. However, we’re making the most of this glorious spell of winter weather to try and get on with the garden maintenance.

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