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Archive for January, 2011


>Gardens are all about the senses. Colours, scents, textures. Blues and yellows, herbs and flowers, spikes and shrubs.

Well, those are the obvious ones.

Then there are the less obvious ones. The smell of rain on the paving in the courtyard, the look of black, fully decomposed mulch or the feel of airy, light, soil that has been warmed by the summer sun.

Where does this come from? Well, yesterday afternoon as I was sowing the rosemary seeds I suddenly felt transported back to the days of summer; the smell of the soil on my hands and the feeling of the tiny seeds that rolled around in the cup of my hand… Ah! Summer will be here eventually, but until then I will take every chance I get to re-live it; every scent, feel or image.

It’s intoxicating to even think about the way summer explodes the sensory boundaries in a way that winter just can’t. Winter is darkness, chill on your skin, the smell of frosty air; a sensual experience in it’s own subtle way, but so much more sedate than the exuberance of summer.

In other news, on Saturday there’s an entrepreneur coming by to have a look at the garden for the drainage. I look forward to hearing his thoughts about it, and of course even more to get his quote, though that will probably be in the following week. I’m really excited and hope that he will also be able to give me some cue as to when he suspects that it can be done. I really hope that it could be before Easter, as that would give us the chance to spend out Easter break planting stuff and sowing stuff and generally doing stuff in the garden. The Ambitious Border could be prepared before the drainage is installed, but as the main well would need to be located more or less in the middle of the vegetable garden, that can’t be started before the drainage is in the ground.

Oh, the hopes and dreams.

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>A friend of ours has put us in touch with an entrepreneur who lives near the area where the summer house is, and we’re hoping we can get him out to have a look at the garden some time this week and maybe come up with a quote.

If the price is too high we’ll probably end up DIY’ing it with the help of my younger brother and his girlfriend who are starting up their own entrepreneur business, but in the completely opposite end of the country. However, if we can get it done by somebody else for a reasonable price that will definitely be a great thing, since it takes away one of our large projects for 2011.

It would be so nice to outsource this project. Fingers crossed…

I’ve been taking an evening class in “coaching in organisations” (i.e. coaching as “employee development” as opposed to “personal development”), and on Wednesday I have my exam. As the course has taken place in Ballerup, which is on the same train line you take to go up to the garden, I’m thinking about going up there on Tuesday evening, going halfway in to Copenhagen for the exam and then returning to the summer house again after the exam and go directly into work from there on Thursday morning. It will be a lot of travel time, but it will give me some time in the summerhouse and garden during the week and then of course I go up there again over the weekend, so I will have a decent amount of time up there this weekend.

I look forward to this; it means I might actually get some minor things done. Perhaps on Wednesday afternoon I can do the prepping so I’m ready to paint the furniture for the courtyard (one round table, two metal chairs) over the weekend. Also, because I will be going up there several times over the next week, I hope to be able to bring up a few bags of sowing and potting soil; by next year I hope to be able to produce our own sowing soil from fully decomposed compost, but for now I think it is a good idea to purchase at least some soil to create a good growing environment for seeds.

As for growing seeds… This afternoon I’ve sowed the rosemary seeds I bought recently. They’re supposed to have a rather poor germination ratio, but as there is 100 seeds in the packet and I only really need one pot of rosemary, I’m thinking it is probably going to be more than plenty seedlings for us.

The tray was the packaging for a bunch of rocket/ruccola/arugula leaves, so it’s food-grade plastic. It will live in my South-facing sitting room window for the next month or three, and to ensure it doesn’t dry out I will probably add a loose-fitting cover of cling film.

It might not look like much, but it’s quite exciting for me to have a piece of the garden here in my apartment. I’m terrible with house plants because I forget to water them and generally just don’t take much of an interest in them, but I’m hoping that because these little seeds are destined for the garden I might actually monitor them, water them occasionally and generally pay them some attention!

They say you have to treasure the little joys of Life. Surely a tray of rosemary seeds in the window is one of those.

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>Sowing plans?


>While we’re waiting for winter to pass…

I’m thinking about how I will sow all the seeds I have stashed away in a box in the guest bedroom. Most of them will need to be cultivated in a somewhat gentle environment before being left to fend for themselves out in the garden, but for once my problem is actually not drainage but watering. I go up to the house every other weekend, and as the days turn longer I might occasionally make it up there on weeknights as well, but that will always be a matter of impulse, rather than something I can plan on.

The house did come with one Styrofoam planting box with a capillary system that should draw up suffficient water from a water container underneath, but the trouble is that this just doesn’t have anywhere near the surface area required to get all the seeds started so I need something with a larger capacity.

Maybe I’ll just allocate one of the frames I made for the raised vegetable beds; if I fill the frames with a mix of compost and regular soil , covered with a layer of news papers to avoid too many weeds coming up, and then add a top layer of finer soil for sowing and finally add a tunnel of clear plastic, this should ensure that the seeds have at least a modicum of moisture at their disposal.

Note how the diagram clearly shows that the seedlings will be thriving and form a dense green carpet in the bed…

I’d have to find a suitable (preferably CHEAP or FREE!) material for the hoops that will hold up the tent, and of course the structure needs to be sturdy enough to avoid the tent collapsing in wind or rain and just suffocating the wee seedlings, but I think it could be done. And with my minimal construction skills it’s guaranteed to be a naturally ventilated tent…

It’s a very basic cold frame, but I think it could work, even though it would have to wait for milder weather in March or April to be successful. Then perhaps the seedlings can be moved to permanent positions some time in May or early June when the garden is ready to receive them.

The rosemary will have to be started indoors, though, so that will have to happen in my apartment in town, since that will definitely require some watering. (The seed packet says rosemary seeds need 20C temperatures to germinate, so that’s definitely not feasible in a house that’s only occupied every other weekend.)

Oh, will spring ever come? I’m growing impatient…
(Especially as I really want to have the garden started and in decent shape before we take over the new apartment on May 1st and I will then have to spend a LOT of time fixing it up before we can move into it.)

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>I keep hoping for an early, warm spring. Really, I do.

However:

“The recent two-month stretch of persistently negative North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) has ended, leaving a more seasonable pattern across Europe,” said WSI Chief Meteorologist Dr. Todd Crawford. “We think that this more atmospherically-relaxed pattern will persist well into February, confining any below-normal temperatures to northern regions. At some point later in February or early March, we do expect a return to more strongly negative NAO conditions as the La Nina event weakens and tropical Pacific convection begins to play a bigger role.”

“At that point, we expect a return to more severe and widespread below-normal temperatures across much of Europe, lasting well into spring. The biggest uncertainty for the February forecast is that the strong negative NAO pattern will return more quickly than we currently expect. We are monitoring these developments daily going forward, and will be sending out alerts if we see any signs of the colder negative NAO pattern re-emerging” Dr. Crawford added. 

That’s just not acceptable! Or, well… It’s not what I want! I had hoped that January and February would be “winter” and that March would then arrive with milder temperatures so I could start sowing things inside and then move them outside into cold frames by the middle/end of the month.

I will probably still do this, though, but in a less “all-in” manner than otherwise. I just need to revise the plans for the cold frames and find a way to make them more comfy and cosy, and then keep a reserve of seeds to so a bit later in spring.

It does, though, give me more time to prepare the planned beds and borders before sowing and planting, so the forecast is not all bad. I can remove the grass (and the top few centimeters of soil with the grass roots) from the planned beds, dig trenches for burying organic matter to lighten the soil and generally do a lot of prepping.

I’m thinking that for the oblong beds I will try the above approach; digging down trenches of organic matter and cover them with a mix of the regular soil and compost/mulch. I’m hoping this strategy can – over time – help lighten our heavy clay soil and make it easier for the roots to penetrate deep down and make the plants less vulnerable to drought. Also, by adding the layer of organic matter, the top soil will be raised so the beds will be less likely to get soggy and waterlogged.

-And of course by creating a lighter soil I also hope that we will improve the permeability of the soil, allowing water to seep more easily into the ground, rather than sitting in pools on top of it. I dream of having lovely loamy soil, rather than the solid plane of clay soil that we currently have, even in the beds where I have begun planting.

Our compost pile looks a mess and I haven’t gotten around to tidying it up since we bought the house last summer, so with some luck a fair bit of this can be stowed away under the flower beds and be useful, rather than being an eye-sore in the back corner of the garden. And with sub-soil composting I won’t even have to be too stringent in my sorting of the compost to use; I’m sure a twig or a branch will do no harm at the bottom of the flower beds, whereas it might have looked unsightly if the compost was used on top of the soil.

Oh, how I long to get going. Creating the basis for something that WILL be beautiful, regardless of whether I bungle part of it or not. After all, plants are pretty, and how can I go wrong if I stick to easy plants – mainly hardy perennials – and generally try to cover every inch of soil with something living and beautiful?

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>Drawing up plans


>I’ve been planning to make a proper plan of the garden, but so far I’ve only really bothered to make rough sketches and in a way I think that’s probably better. Once upon a time when I was studying architecture (dropped out after two years), a professor taught me that sketchy plans are often more conductive to creative thinking; if the plan looks pristine and perfect, you are less likely to question yourself and continue developing your ideas, and you might end up blocking yourself from reaching your full creative potential.

Well, if it’s true for buildings it’s probably also true for gardens, so I’ve dropped the concept of the beautifully drawn plans and diagrams and instead I use Powerpoint to make rough’n’ready sketches on the basis of images from Google Maps. Like this one:

Click image to enlarge

I drew this plan for my husband, to somehow clarify the ideas I have, at least for now, but I figured it might also give you an idea about the garden. (Plans for 2011 seemed to give a lot of people the impression that we have a lake, which me don’t; it was just flooded lawn, hence the need for proper drainage.)

If nothing else, it can show you the areas that I keep talking about and give you a sense of the orientation of the garden.

The courtyard between the house and the annex will be the easy part, I guess. Plenty of pots with flowers and “architectural plants” (I never really liked the term, hence the quotation marks…), with a few pots of herbs in between. Lushness and easy living, with a small round table and two chairs as the only furniture beside the stone-topped work bench that serves as an extension of the kitchen in summer.

From the South-Western  fence of the courtyard a gate leads out into the garden (there’s also a less-used one on the other side, but leading to the shaded North-Eastern side of the garden) so the Southern corner of the garden will host the raised beds of a small vegetable garden, a sunny spot that’s close to the kitchen door as well as to the area where we tend to sit in the afternoon, so that should ensure that it won’t get neglected.

Outside the kitchen window, up against the South-Western gable of the house, we currently have a white and a red rose, and that will be expanded to be a small rose bed. In time with various coloured roses, but for now we will start en miniature with what we have.

Across from the rose bed will be my dream; the Ambitious Border (TM). A long herbaceous border backing up to the hedge and also eventually integrating shrubs that can grow up and help seclude the garden. Sadly this will take some of the direct sunshine from the border, but that’s the way it must be. The colours in the border will mainly be blues, pinks and white towards the South end, with yellows, oranges and purples gradually taking over towards the North end.

Eventually I would like the Ambitious Border to stretch all the way to the Ugly Fence, but we simply don’t have enough plants to fill such a long stretch (20+ meters), and also I think I will have enough work for this year as it is. Maybe next year…

The small square in the lawn that’s labled “Temporary nursery” is the location of the sand box that the previous owner brought with them when we took over the house and garden last summer, and I’ve been using it to heal in plants that I didn’t have anywhere else for. It holds a few lumps of Iris Germanica, some rhizomes of a coarser large blue iris, some Anemone hupehensis, and the peony rhizomes that featured in my entry yesterday. Eventually these will all find new permanent homes, and then I don’t know what will happen to this temporary patch; it might be returned to the lawn or it might be allowed to become an off-shoot of the Ambitious Border.

The Ugly Fence, as the name indicates, is screaming to be covered up and hidden away. It provides good coverage towards the road, but it’s a bit of an eye sore. I’ve been trying to trail some honeysuckle up against it, but that will take years to take hold, so this year I think I will try sweat peas as a cover-up, perhaps mixed with some orange or warm-yellow accents.

Around the covered terrace are really three separate beds. The terrace has glass at each end, but the North-Western side is open above a low wooden wall. The North-Eastern bed has already been filled with Anemone hupehensis from my mother’s garden, the North-Western bed has been filled with yellow rudbeckias that stand in front of three clematis (two purple, one yellow) that climb the posts of the covered terrace. The South-Western bed has yet to be created, though last summer we planted a purple clematis there as well, so that is a blank canvas and I will find some suitably sun-loving plants for it. I’m thinking blue, purple, yellow and orange colours, but that might change.

Phew… I’m getting exhausted, walking you around the garden like this!

 The woodland patch is the next stop on this tour. There’s not much to do here, really, except perhaps tidying it up a bit so the ferns to strangle everything else. There are forget-me-nots, snow-drops and loads of other small shade-loving flowers, so why change that? Towards the road we might try to find some shade-loving shrub that can block the view a bit, but that would be the main thing here.

The yellow patch is not quite a reality, but it’s pretty close; there was already some goldenrods (Solidago canadensis) when we took over the garden and they’ve been supplemented with two clumps of goldenrods from my mother’s garden as well as a single pale yellow evening primrose – I will want more of those! It’s a good start, I think, but the yellow needs something to break it up, so I will think about something blue or purple that can counterpoint the yellow.

Finally the fern patch is a dark area just in front of the disorderly compost heap. I quite like it, but the husband doesn’t seem to find it as charming, so we will have to find a compromise. I guess if I get rid of the majority of the ferns in the woodland patch and scatter a few flowering plants in the fern patch he might let me keep it. Also, there is a large forsythia bush just behind the ferns, and that provides some colour and drama at least for a while each year, while some verbascum-lookalikes stand between the trees behind the ferns.

Some times it seems like my husband doesn’t think my plans for the garden are radical or ambitious enough, but I dare say that to me the above seems like plenty of plans for the next year or two. Especially since we will also be taking over our new apartment in May 1st and I will spend a month or more renovating it. (While he’s safely tucked away in his expat job in Scotland.) Oh, and there’s the drain that we hope to install under the lawn in April so it gets out of the way before the apartment project begins.

It exhausts me to think of all these plans and projects, but it also thrills me. I can’t wait for spring! And if I have to discard or postpone half of the plans this year, then that will be fine by me; a garden is, after all, not a place to stress about.

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>A herb garden. Surely that’s a must, right?

As the title sort of implies, my choice of herbs will be quite conservative. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are the most important ones, and they will probably live in pots in the courtyard between the house and the annex, scattered in between pots with flowers and other ornamental plants.

However, as I was seed shopping online I think I realised that there are two more herbs that I want. Proper, oldschool, monastery-style medicinal herbs.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angelica

I’ve been in love with angelica since I saw it growing rampant in the little gardens of Nuuk, Greenland, and tasted it used in surprising combination at Nipisa, one of the best restaurants in Greenland. (Why yes, gourmet dining is definitely possible even in that rather harsh part of the world, with the Nuuk restaurants Nipisa and Sarfalik definitely being worth a visit.) It’s pretty, it tastes good and it’s very versatile and can be used for both savoury and sweet dishes, so I think it’s obvious why I want this. I will need to be rough with it, though, as I don’t want it to spread all over the place.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chamomile

And speaking of spreading… The other herb is chamomile, which in Denmark mainly grows in the ditches along country roads and as weeds in fields. It’s main use is – of course – chamomile infusions – but I also like the look of the plant and I’m thinking it might be possible to think of new uses for this distinctively flavoured herb.

As this plant is quite vigorous, I think I will need to assign a plot of land to it. Perhaps the bare patch where the hedge meets the stream in the Southern corner of the garden.

I’m quite excited about this little project, especially because it has the potential to bring a lot of pleasure over years to come and with very little effort. That’s the sort of gardening I really like, I think; quick-wins… At least it’s very nice to have these miniature projects where you get a good result with little work, when we also have the large projects of draining the garden, creating the Ambitious Border and so on.

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>Spring is coming!


>And to tempt you to read all the way through this entry, the proof for the above statement will be at the very end of this entry…

I went to the garden this weekend from Saturday morning (I left home around 6:30am…) and came home 6:30pm tonight. It was wonderful! Me, a novel (a second-rate biography of Catherine de Medici, though the subject matter made it readable), a nice warm fire and…

The garden:

Look. LOOK! You can see PLANTS! And GRASS! I’m sorry if I sound a bit excited, but I really was. And am. There are still vestiges of snow here and there and the odd patch of iced-over grass, but all in all the garden is returning to its old self.

The fire pit in the lawn is still covered by a sheet of ice, as you can see, but fortunately all the melting snow and ice have not flooded the garden, so the pit under the ice is empty.

The ice had made some pretty spectacular patterns, a ribbed substructure seemingly designed to carry the weight of the smooth sheet above. I have no idea how these patterns form – or why – but I like the engineering of it and the mix of straight beams with fluent, curvaceous lines superimposed.

Now, a while ago I wrote that some of the plants that I’ve let hibernate in the guest bedroom have apparently misunderstood the concept and decided to shoot new growth. One of these is this day lily from my parents’ garden:

It was getting a bit straggly in the guest bedroom because it seemed desperately to search for light to match the non-freezing temperature, so I’ve decided that it can now live on the dining table until the frost disappears; the window by the dining table is facing South-West, so hopefully that will mean they will be satisfied. I know this is exactly the opposite of hibernation, but since the plant insisted on not hibernating, this is how it will be. I’m forcing it because it has forced me to!

If nothing else, at least this seems to indicate that this plant considers “above freezing” to mean “spring”, so I’m guessing it is a hardy plant! Well, I knew that already, of course, because a) it’s just a regular day lily like the ones that have been grown in Denmark for generations, and b) my mother doesn’t have the patience to schlepp plants in and out; they get planted and that’s where they stay regardless of the weather!

However, it is not the only plant that’s getting fed up with being stuck in the annex. When I brought back the Mother Load there was about 20 bulbs in the root clump my mum had dug up with the asters, and I found these when I was putting the asters in the “holding pen”, the temporary bed where I stuck all the plants I didn’t have room for in the real beds.

I’m not sure what they are; at this stage it could be anything, but I’m hoping for tulips. (And I sort of thought the bulbs looked like tulip bulbs, but then what do I know about bulbs? Very little…)

My hope is boosted by the realisation today that I do seem to recall my mother having red and yellow Apeldoorn  tulips in the bed that would play host to the asters later in the year. The bulbs were fairly small for tulip bulbs, though, so I don’t know if such bulbs can really produce such huge flowers. Time will tell, and for now they are still firm and dark-green, so they seem to be all right in the guest bedroom and will consequently stay there. If it ain’t broken, don’t move it, right?

Another sign that the guest bedroom seems to be good plant accommodation is this:

The rose cuttings I took in September are (most of them) still alive and well. A few of the cuttings are obviously dead and dry, the majority looks green and healthy and a few of them have VERY prominent buds or even – like the one above – tiny leaves that are beginning to unfurl. I won’t need all of them in the garden, as they are from two roses; a white climbing rose and a white bush rose. I’m sure the husband would be disappointed if I gave him a rose bed of only white roses, so only a few of them will be used – they can form a sort of temporary backbone of the rose bed and then be replaced over the years. The remainder I will stick somewhere as “spares”, and if everything works out well I might even be able to bring my mother some plants for from our garden in return for the plants she has given us. I’d like that. I’d like that very much.

Speaking of plants from my mother, here’s one of my favourite plants:

Arum italicum, or “Italian ginger” as it’s Danish name translates. Not, mind you, that it can be used in cooking unless you have a particular desire to poison your dinner guests, and as it produces tempting red berries my mother was very keen to get it out of her garden. My 4 nephews and nieces will now be safe from this dangerous temptation when they visit her, and as they visit me less frequently (not only but mainly due to geographical reasons) I guess it will be all right.

I’ve always loved this plant for its leaves. Not only do they have that stark contrast between the pale white and the dark green, but they also stay throughout the year, providing some brightness even in January. The reason they’re covered with dead leaves is that I literally ran out of time the weekend I arrived with the haul from my parents’ garden, so I didn’t plant them as deep as I would have wanted to and figured that a coverage of leaves would ensure that they were nice and comfy through winter until they can assume their rightful place in the Ambitious Border.

And now for the reason for the prophetic title:

It doesn’t seem like much, but something is shooting up between the goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) that my mother gave us. The mystery bulbs from the asters were, it seems, not the only stow-aways in that load, and these little shoots look – to me – a lot like crocus. Most likely it will be yellow/orange crocus, as those seem to be endemic in my parents’s garden, but they could also turn out to be white or purple or any mix of it.

Anyway, surely crocus shoots mean there is spring just around the corner, even if there’s still frost at night. Not convinced? Well, I’ll have to bring in the big – or in this case small – guns:

Can you see it? Can you spot those little shards of green, making their way up through brown fern leaves and pine cones? There, right in the middle of the picture, is a cluster of snow drops (Galanthus). Sure, it doesn’t look like much, but if anything is confirmation that spring is coming, surely snow drops are!

So from my little apartment in Copenhagen, sat next to a large bunch of forsythia branches brought back from the garden for forcing, let me wish you all a very merry spring. When it arrives eventually.

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