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Archive for the ‘spring’ Category

Jammin’


Around The Puddles I’m using wild strawberries for groundcover, and they’re doing an excellent job at keeping weeds at bay; in fact I think I’ll try to propagate as many runners as possible to use elsewhere in the garden. They have pretty little flowers in spring, and these days they are covered with tiny red berries that are absolutely delicious; slightly more sour than regular strawberries,

Wild Strawberries

Unlike regular strawberries, the wild variety has white flesh, and the red colour is only skin deep. This means that in order to retain as much of the colour as possible I added a dash of vinegar; the acidity helps bring out the colour in the berries, and the taste is easily masked by the sugar.

Cooked straberriesThe traditional recipe is 1 part berries and 1 part sugar, but with modern jam sugar you can reduce the sugar content without sacrificing the preservation period, so I tend to use as little sugar as possible; only enough for the taste to be sweet and jam-like. I add some water as well, just so the jam won’t burn, and then I simmer it for an hour or so until the berries are completely mushy and liquid sets quickly on a cold spoon.

Strawberry and rhubarb jam

I sterilise the jars with vodka. I could have used boiling water, but I’ve previously had jars explode on me when I poured in the boiling water, so now I use a dash of cheap and nasty vodka that we have sitting in the kitchen after a party some years ago; it’s not really drinkable, but it works well as a household spirit for all sorts of practical/cleaning applications.

Sadly, though, we only just had enough wild strawberries to make a single small jar of jam. Not exactly industrial quantities, so I re-used to pot to make a jar of rhubarb jam as well; the rhubarb crop this year is rather disappointing, and I suspect I should really give the rhubarb some sort of fertilizer next year so it will have something to grow on.

Since slugs ate most of my beans and my peas seem to have died during an extended dry period in late spring, this might be the only food to leave my garden. (Okay, so there will most likely be a few pears and apples and plums as well, but you get the point.) The strawberry jam will come back to Copenhagen with me today and be presented to my Mother-in-Law as a hostess present when we go there for dinner on Friday, and the rhubarb jam will remain in the Summer House for future breakfasts or afternoon tea. It might not be much, but there’s definitely a certain satisfaction in preserving a little bit of summer in a jar. And who knows; maybe the raspberries will produce enough berries for another jar, and in autumn there will be wild brambles in the forest…

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I’ve been taking a walk around the garden this wet morning, and something struck me. Well, apart from the rain drops that insisted on falling on me, even though I was clearly not attired to be rained upon; I find that very inconsiderate of the weather! Or perhaps I should know better than to walk around in the garden in my bathrobe when there’s a drizzle?

Anyway. Something is missing in the garden.

Tulips in the rain

Look closely at the picture above. See how there is not a single slug in sight?

The dreaded Killer Slugs should be abroad by now, feasting on everything they can lay their what-ya-ma-call-its on.

Peony shoots

The peony shoots are also delightfully slug-free. (Though surrounded by weeds. Ah, well; you can’t have it all, can you?)

Sure, we had a cold and long winter and a late spring, but the Killer Slugs, a.k.a. the invasive Iberian slugs that have been wreaking havoc in Danish gardens over the past decade, are normally quite hardy and should be able to survive even a cold winter as they burrow 6 inches into the ground to hibernate.

Lawn

On a wet morning in May they ought to be out in droves, but they are nowhere to be seen. Not that I’m complaining, mind; I’m perfectly happy if they never return – and more than a little naïve if I think that’s likely…

We do have the native small garden slugs, but they are fewer and less aggressive than the Killer Slugs.

Snail

We also have lots of snails, but again they do much less damage than the Killer Slugs – and are easier to deal with as they are less yucky than 3-5-inch slugs!

Red tulip

Anyway, this means that I have not yet gotten my slug-killing spear out of the shed this year and instead of looking for slugs to kill I can just enjoy the flowers in the garden.

Yellow tulip

I must say, I could get used to this killer slug free style of gardening, but I guess I had better remain alert because sooner or later I’m sure they will appear and then the War On Slugs will be on again.

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Do we have a vampire in the garden?

battle wounds

Nay, it is merely one of the roses – Rhapsody in Blue – that fiercely attacks anybody coming anywhere near it! Including – as you might have guessed – this innocent gardener who merely wanted to weed the flower bed where these roses are located. *sigh*

However, that same flower bed has other, more docile yet still tenacious, inhabitants:

Tulips

Tulips

When they first emerged, the tulips quickly looked destined to serve only as a snack for the deer – which was expected, really – but after the deer ate them all down to 4 inches they seem to have had their fill of tulips, as they have since left them alone.

This means that at least the majority of the 100 tulip bulbs I planted this spring have decided to flower. Yes, I did write “this spring“… I bought the bulbs in autumn, thinking I ought to have time enough to plant them, but then one thing led to another and before I knew it the frost arrived early and the ground became like concrete, so my poor tulip bulbs were left in their sack on the terrace, fully exposed to the freezing temperatures.

Well, it seems these tulips are fully hardy, because without counting I’d estimate a success rate of around 95%. It was a mixed bag with yellow, orange and red tulips – according to the website I bought them from – but so far it seems they’re just yellow and red, giving a rather stark contrast, rather than the more mellow colour scheme I had hoped for. Still, tulips are wonderful in all colours and all combinations, and perhaps the orange variety is just a bit slower than the yellow and red ones. Who knows, who cares. It’s pretty!

Mirabelle

Speaking of pretty… The mirabelle plum tree is looking spectacular – as it does every spring. The picture doesn’t do it justice with its cloud of white flowers taking centre stage in the garden. The cherry plum next to it – and the cherry plum in the lawn – are both more modest in their pink bloom, though the one in the lawn would normally be a match for the white mirabelle blossoms except that we cut it back rather severely last year, so it only has a small number of new branches on which to sport flowers. Both bear fruits that are rather tasteless and dull, but they are pretty and hardy and I absolutely love them!

Dianthus

Now back to the lawn bed where I’ve also planted some red semi-double dianthus. I couldn’t quite get my camera to capture the dark, velvety crimson of the petals, but they are truly lovely. There’s no guarantee they will be able to survive a winter in our moist clay soil, but at least they will look pretty this year and might return next year. I think of them as an extravagance, really, having paid DKK 20 (roughly 2£ or 4$) for each little plant, but then I guess I AM a bit frugal and shouldn’t really knock myself about the head over spending 6£ on pretty flowers.

(Not, mind you, that I don’t spend money on flowers without feeling guilty, but normally they are either larger or cheaper than these dianthus. Like the ‘Peace’ rose I picked up for 6£ yesterday, along with 3 fuchsias at 1£ each. They too will go into the lawn bed…)

Thyme Citrus 'Aureus'

Last week I also picked up this little sweetheart; Thymus Citrus ‘Aureus’; a lemon-scented thyme with variegated leaves. So many times when you buy a pot of thyme it turns out to be dozens of tiny plants in a pot that needs to be separated and planted separately in order to stand a chance of survival, but this is actually just one plant that just happens to be very bushy and pretty. I’m afraid, though, that I shall wear it out, because I keep running my fingers through it to enjoy that lovely lemony scent.

nesting box

The last picture in this entry will have to be a plain old nesting box. It was here when we bought the house 3 years ago, and the starlings seem to like it, because again this year we have starlings nesting. It’s in the large birch trees down by the road, so it’s in full view from the sofa and I’ve really enjoyed seeing the starlings flutter to and from the nesting box with all sorts of nesting materials in their beaks. Now, though, there’s less activity as it seems the nest has been built, the eggs have been laid and we are now just waiting for the hatching…

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panorama

Is it too late to start dreaming about new projects for the garden in 2013? Of course not; if anything it’s too early. After all, I tend to do my main projects in autumn when the garden slows down and – crucially – when there are fewer guests so it’s all right if I make a big mess of things. For me that’s the time to dig new beds, whereas spring should really be more about maintenance and filling out the beds I dug the previous autumn.

After all, when summer arrives I want the garden to look it’s best – whatever that is. This summer “best” will most likely include debris of pine trees scattered over the lawn as we’re cutting down 10 trees on the property line to the North-East; they are boring on our side, dead on our neighbour’s side and prevents our neighbours from getting any sun on their lawn throughout the afternoon, so they need to go. (And when they go, hopefully the hedge under them will fill out and give us a privacy screen at ground level, rather than from 4-15 meters up in the air!)

Last year I dug out The Puddles in spring, and that was probably a bad decision, because it meant I wore myself out digging there and had little energy for the rest of the garden – as witnessed by the non-existence of a vegetable patch last year – but then I dug out the new lawn bed in autumn and that seemed almost effortless by comparison and is quickly filling up with plants. So autumn is definitely the time to execute new ideas, and that means spring is the ideal time to dream them up!

But… What is to be my dream this year? Well, besides the tree-felling there are some “smallish” projects to tackle, like finishing The Ambitious Border so it runs uninterrupted along the length of the South-Western property line, incorporating The Puddles. That’s perhaps 5 square meters to dig out, which is easily done. (Quoth he, knowing full-well that statement would come back to bite him in the posterior!) I ought also to focus on creating more of a privacy screen towards the road, especially in the Woodland area where the Flâneur Husband had a stroke of genius and suggested planting rhododendrons in front of the Woodland; it would give them semi-shade, moderately acidic soil and all in all good conditions, and they will soon be able to cover that open view under the trees. (I have bought two new rhododendrons and suggested planting them in a position where they’d look good but serve absolutely no practical purpose whatsoever, whereas his suggestion combines aesthetics and our desire for privacy in the garden.)

Taking the rhododendrons out for a pint

Taking the new rhododendrons out for a pint

Anyway, I still haven’t decided what will be the “grand project” for this autumn. Perhaps the twin of the lawn bed should be merged with the rhododendrons to be planted in front of the Woodland? That would be quite a project – and it would begin to tie to two “sides” of the garden together. So far I’ve mainly been focused on the South-Western side of the garden because that’s where we tend to spend the most time due to the sun, but that means I’ve been more or less neglecting the North-Eastern side – except for the apple tree which gets plenty of attention, and NOBODY except me is allowed anywhere near it with pruning shears!!!

So what could happen in a large, prominent bed that continues the line of the lawn bed bud extends backwards to the Woodland? Well, the rhododendrons are decided upon, of course, and with the large over-hanging prunes at the back I think I’d want some tall shade-tolerant plants at the back in general. Preferably shrubs, so perhaps just more and more rhododendrons. (We have some that are still small enough to be moved if necessary, and more could be purchased as and when necessary.)  The first lawn bed has a predominance of shrubs – more by accident than intent – as I’ve used it to house roses, black currants, red currants and gooseberries, with an area in front for perennials which has turned out to be heuchera, Eryngium, phlox and other random plants. So the second lawn bed would need something different; perhaps a raised section for plants that like well-drained soil (something we do not have naturally, which is actually a blessing as it means even the hottest of summers will not leave our garden parched!) or perhaps an actual pond – as opposed to The Puddles.

“A pond“, you say? Well, The Puddles have really excited me, and I’d be thrilled to do something larger along the same lines; wildlife friendly, surrounded by dense planting and with a few aquatic plants in there. After all, I already have too many water lilies for my puddles, and the more natural sort would enjoy more depth and space. And of course the animals probably wouldn’t mind, either. Last year I spotted a newt in puddle 1, last weekend I spotted two newts in puddle 1 and today I’ve spotted 3 newts in puddle 1 and one newt in puddle 3…  That’s 4 newts!!! In The Puddles!!! “If you build it, they will come”, they say… Well, it has proven true so far! Today I also spotted some sort of insect larvae of a size where it can only be damselflies or dragonflies…

And all the initial fears about creating an incubator for the mosquito population have been allayed ages ago, since it seems one day The Puddles will be teeming with mosquito larvae and the next they will all have gone, no doubt thanks to the newts and toads. They are a complete success, so I’m at the same time compelled to and daunted by the idea of creating a larger-scale habitat. What if it isn’t such a rampant success? What if it fails miserably? And what if it turns out to be an absolutely marvellous thing?

Clearly I need to think about this a bit more, but the idea – the dream – has been planted in my brain, so we shall see what happens.

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The puddles have been iced over most of the winter, but they seem to have survived quite well; the water lilies are sporting new shoots that are ready to head for the surface soon, and now that I’ve cleared out the algae it’s also possible to see that some habitants are still living there – and some have returned from winter hibernation on land.

Always have a toad in the Puddle

I spotted one toad in The Puddles, but the one pictured above is actually one that was rescued from the drain well where it had fallen in, so I had to fish him out and relocate him to The Puddles where he has a chance to get out of the water if he wants to. Or she; what do I know.

Newt

We also have two newts in one of The Puddles; that’s one more than last year, and I continue to be thrilled by these creatures. When I was a child my Grandmother took us over to the bog to catch salamanders to release in their forest pond, so I’m ecstatic to have them join me in the Flâneur Garden quite of their own volition. I’m hoping desperately that they will decide to use The Puddles for procreational purposes, but I’ll leave that up to them…

Aquatic snail

Another set of volunteer immigrants are the aquatic snails. I really have no idea how they got here, but I guess they must have come as stowaways on some of the plants that I’ve set in The Puddles. Somehow I like these much better than land-based snails and slugs. (Well, except for the Roman snails which I also love.) The largest one has a shell that’s nearly an inch long, so they are not completely tiny.

Of course we also have water beetles, water bugs and lots of other insects – including a population of mosquito larvae that is quickly being decimated by the other inhabitants of The Puddles, much to my satisfaction.

The area around The Puddles looks quite bare still, but the perennials are beginning to shoot and soon it will once again be slightly overgrown and the black edges of the three tubs will be obscured by hostas, sedums, wild strawberries and so on, so I’m chuffed to bits and full of anticipation.

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crocus

Spring finally arrived in Denmark last weekend, and today I arrived in the Flâneur Garden to have a lovely and relaxing weekend here that may or may not include hard physical labour. We shall see about that, all depending on whether the chain saw will work or not. (The chain saw is, by the way, not for the crocuses – or should that be ‘crocii’? – but for the piles of fir logs cluttering the lawn after the Flâneur Husband and one of his friends took down three trees before Easter.)

Crocus

Oh, look, there’s another crocus! The top one was in The Evening Border on the North-West side of the covered terrace, but this one was growing under the hazel bushes. I have no idea how these bulbs came to either of these places, but I’m just glad to see some colour in the garden after all the snow and ice.

I also found a small host of pale mauve crocuses growing under the rather misplaced brambles by the entrance to the courtyard. They really ought to be moved this weekend while I still notice them so next year they can flower in a slightly more prominent position.

Tulips

One flower that isn’t blooming yet but hopefully will is the tulip. Or rather, the tulips. I didn’t get the bulbs in the ground in the autumn as you’re supposed to, so they spent the winter on a garden chair on the covered terrace – ensuring they definitely got more frost than if they’d been 4″ in the ground – but apparently the bulbs I bought were not aware that they should have spent the winter underground, as they seem perfectly happy to grow after I finally got them into the lawn bed 4 weeks ago. I guess some times plants don’t realise – or care – that the gardener is a bit negligent or caught out by early winter.

Puddles in need of clean-up

Things are also growing in The Puddles. It’s amazing how much algae will appear with only a week of spring weather! The tiny solar-powered pumps that normally provide some modicum of movement in the water were taken out before the onslaught of winter, but it seems it’s time to put them back in as soon as I’ve pulled out all the brown leaves and algae – after all, leaf mulch is excellent for beds, borders and whatnot, but not so great for puddles.

Please note, though, that there is also something green growing between The Puddles! The sedum ‘herbstfreude’ are looking very promising, and I almost feel guilty already that I’ll probably be giving them the Chelsea chop in about a month and a half… (Last year the mature plants grew too tall and flopped over into the adjacent puddles, which is clearly not a great look, whereas the new cuttings grew to only half the height and stayed out of the waters.)

In that area – and anywhere else in the garden that I have them – the irises and day lilies are also looking very good. Oh, ye trusty oldy cottage garden perennials; you never let me down! And in The Ambitious Border there are tiny red peony shoots, and the roses of course seem to just YEARN for warmer temperatures so their budding leaves can unfold.

Speaking of roses… I had a small “accident” on my way from the city to the summer house today. I had some waiting time between arriving in the town of Frederikssund by train and leaving by bus, so I did some rather flâneur’ish shopping in a supermarket – a bottle of wine and a box of candles is surely all the sustenance one needs, right? – and then before I knew it I had added a few plants to the basket. One was a “Sutter’s Gold” rose, but there was also a red currant and 10 plugs each of blue lobelias and purple petunias. All are destined for the lawn bed, except for the petunias which will most likely go in pots in The Courtyard. The red currant will fit in nicely with the black currant and the gooseberry that’s already in one end of the bed, and the “Sutter’s Gold” rose will be a nice complimentary contrast to the “Blue Rhapsody” roses in the other end. And the lobelias will help cover some ground so it won’t be too weedy, at least I hope so.

So there. Things have finally thawed in this neck of the woods and spring has fully arrived. Who’d have thunk it just two weeks ago, eh?`

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Well, Summer Time starts tomorrow at 2AM – or should I write 3AM?

Anyway, today was a mix of things. We got up and had to go up to Elsinore – Helsingør is the real name of the city, but I guess most of you will only have heard of it through Shakespeare – for a funeral. A man my Dad’s age who died of cancer last Saturday. It was a friend of my Mother-In-Law’s, so I didn’t know him very well. I liked what I knew of him, though; he was intelligent, well-read and enjoyed talking ancient Danish history and Medieval literature with me whenever we met at my Mother-In-Law’s.

I think, though, that it was the parallel to my Dad’s death that kind of shook me. It was really hard for me to sit at that funeral, harder than I thought it would be. There is still a lingering sadness, remnants of grief. Something – someone – that is not there any more. For all that we didn’t have in common, for all that we didn’t understand in each other, for all that was not right, he was still my father. Was, not is. The past tense can be cruelly acute in certain circumstances.

When we came back to Copenhagen I continued – alone, as I needed some solitary time – up to the summer house. The snow has nearly melted in the garden, though there are still patches of white here and there – and a layer of ice on my three miniature ponds – but spring is coming. Some day, and hopefully soon. I wanted to have a few days alone up here, so I will be here until Monday evening. The lawn is littered with branches and other bits of the trees Denis and one of his friends cut down last weekend when they were up here, but that can wait. After all, the lawn won’t need mowing for another month, given that the ground is still frozen in places and the grass hasn’t grown since November.

I do have some plants to plant, though, if the ground has thawed where they need to go. Astilbe, sedum, phlox, heuchera, eryngium and loads of other Latin names. And I can sow some hardy annuals so they are ready to germinate whenever the soil warms up to 5 degrees Celsius. All right, so it’s a miserable spring to be gardening in so far, but eventually REAL spring will arrive and there will be stuff growing and flowers blooming – and I will be able to get my dahlias in the ground and set the gladiolus and lily corms.

Perhaps later in spring – when we are done with the kitchen rebuild and there will be plenty of weekends in the garden – I might even consider digging out another flower bed in the lawn. The one I dug out in autumn will soon be filled to capacity, so I need more space to plant flowers in. One can attend too many funerals, but one can never have too many flowers.

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I like going on hiking holidays, ascending the odd fell and enjoying the challenge of scrambling up crags and hillsides to finally be rewarded by the view from the peak. Sadly, the Flâneur Husband doesn’t really share this slightly masochistic fetish, so it’s a good thing that I can now enjoy all the thrills of a scrambling hill-climb in the privacy of our own kitchen when I want to make my morning coffee:

Kitchen demolition

Getting to the kitchen sink this morning was quite a climb – and perhaps not very dignified to look at, had any spectators been around – and I sort of wish I could have had my coffee FIRST  and THEN climbed Mount Debris!

Indeed, we are spending the Easter week tearing out the old kitchen – though we won’t be installing a new one just yet. We have to re-plaster walls and ceiling and then change the floor boards before we can install a new kitchen, so it’s quite a project and we will get through it by the tested approach of “step by step” (“Ooh, baby”, as New Kids On The Block would have added when I was a pre-teen). The Flâneur Husband has this weird notion that the two success criteria are:

A: We get a new kitchen
B: We have fun doing it

Whereas I am much more realistic in my approach and define my criteria of success as:

A: We get a new kitchen
B: Neither of us files for a divorce

(This sort of DIY job is always going to put a strain on a relationship in my opinion, even more so than, say, going to a family reunion or a trip to IKEA.)

Anyway, I’m sure you will all be glad to know that I made it safely to the sink and back (and got only one rusty nail up my foot while climbing the daunting Mount Debris) and am now reclining in the safety and comfort of the sofa!

So, not much gardening in this blog entry – but then there’s still snow on the ground and nothing to do in the garden anyway. However, the solitary cobea scandens seedling that I posted previously has now been joined by one other seedling – and a third seems to be craning its neck in preparation for emergence, so that will have to do for “spring” right now.

On Saturday, though, I’m heading up to the garden anyway to spend some time chopping up the trees that the Flâneur Husband and his friend took down last weekend. I haven’t been up there since the first weekend in March, so it’s about time I went and gave the weather a good talking-to and told it to spring-up and be done with snow and freezing temperatures day and night!

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I have a plan for the garden. Honestly, I do! However, at present it exists only inside my head, and the last plan of the garden I drew up was the first summer we had the garden and the holiday home, so it’s rather outdated now:

Drawing up plans

The Ambitious Border now reaches almost down to The Ugly Fence – with the inclusion of The Puddles – and the rose patch was discarded and instead there are now roses a bit here and there in the garden. The Temporary Nursery was a holding pen where plants could live until I got the borders ready for them, so that has now reverted to lawn, and the rectangular flower bed on the South-West side of the covered terrace has turned out to be the semi-circular Sunny Border.

And of course there’s the last addition, the Lawn Bed, which is filling up quickly with roses, soft fruit bushes and a spot reserved for perennials as and when I acquire them. I don’t know which, but I’m sure any perennial will be prettier than a stretch of lawn. (And okay, MAYBE I’ve already hoarded some cheap perennials as roots, so they will go in the ground when spring arrives and should in time be able to fill out the blank space.)

Add to this the beds and borders that do not yet exist – except in my head – and the garden is pretty much under control. The Lawn Bed, for instance, is only half of a grander scheme to create a line of flowers between the hedge/shrubbery and the lawn proper – but with a narrow-ish grass path behind it to increase the feeling of depth and provide easy access to the back of the beds. There will also be a narrow grass path between the lawn bed that I dug out last autumn and the second lawn bed that will be a visual extension of the first and might end up merging with The Woodland Patch.

This weekend I’ve let the Flâneur Husband go up to the garden without me – but with a couple of his friends – and they seem to be having fun with card games, red wine and a chain saw…

Flâneur Friend in a tree

Flâneur Friend in a tree

We have a row of pine trees towards one neighbour and from our side they look rather dull – and from the neighbour’s side they look downright ugly while also blocking their afternoon and evening sun… So down they will go, and fortunately the neighbour has some lovely mature trees that will be our new view, so we too will get something prettier to look at. Win-win, I think, especially since cutting down those pines will give more light to the hedge (a pink spirea of sorts interspersed with cherry plums and hawthorn) so it might grow a bit taller.

I’m not entirely sure how many trees they have cut down yesterday. It might be one or two. Either way, it’s a start! And it will open up an area of the garden that we never use, so perhaps a new plan should be made for that area. There is already a pear tree and an apple tree a few meters from the hedge towards that neighbour, so I might add the plum tree my Mum will be bringing over later this spring. (She bought it for her own garden but then decided she wanted another variety so I’m getting an 8ft tree for free!) It’s beginning to sound a bit like an orchard, isn’t it, so maybe that’s what it will be. I’ve always loved fruit trees for their mix of the ornamental and the tasty, so more of them, please!

So plans and hopes and dreams. What a gardener does while the snow is still on the ground, right? It seems like I’ll have another couple of weeks to plan and dream, sadly, and while I don’t want to moan about the weather I do wish it would turn more spring-like soon so I can get cracking with the planting and weeding and everything else that needs doing.

 

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I woke up this morning to this view:

20130313-082853.jpg

Snow falling heavily outside, covering the cemetery in a blanket of soft, white flakes. Very pretty, but hardly spring – will you agree?

However:

Outside it might be snowing
But inside I hope it’s growing!

20130313-083015.jpg

I’ve sown a batch of cobea scandens / Cup and Saucer flowers that The Flâneur Husband gave me – along with other seed packets – as a “congratulations on your first day at work” bouquet. All right, so the convention is that when you buy your partner flowers you generally don’t ask them to grow them themselves, but… Will you agree that four packets of seeds is the perfect flower present for a gardener? Especially seeds that should be sown 4-6 weeks before the last frost…

It means we have a little piece of spring – with promise of summer – in our window in the apartment, and I really look forward to seeing something emerge from the soil!

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