Sunday, October 29, 2006

Indian Summer

I said last week that the temperature had dropped and called the post The Beginning of Winter. This week we've had record temperatures for the time of year. It's been up to about 25°C some days, and this morning I was back out on the balcony in a T-shirt. A few things gave up when the temperature fell last week, and I spent most of the morning clearing them out, but everything that didn't is continuing to flower happily. And as you can see from the photo, the bees are continuing to visit. At the back of the house there's a medlar tree which is now in flower, and this morning it was covered in swarms of bees and the odd butterfly. Most of the butterflies seem to have succumbed to the cold though - I haven't seen any of the little brown ones which were so common up to a few weeks ago.

All very nice, but as I gardened this morning I was wondering what havoc it was liable to play with the environment in general. Turned on the TV to watch the BBC World news over lunch, and found a feature on how climate change in the world as a whole is threatening to turn large areas of Africa to desert. And checking on their schedule for the rest of the day, there's a programme this evening on the melting of the Arctic permafrost and the catastrophe that it's liable to cause because of greenhouse gases being released. A depressing end for an otherwise lovely, sunny Sunday morning...

The medlar tree flowers between November and February

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Beginning of Winter

I suppose you know that winter is coming when you suddenly can't think of anything to blog about. I can't believe how long it is since the last post. I seem to have been working on the balcony as much as ever, but it's all clearing up work and settling things down for the winter. The excitement of the summer now seems long gone.

The weather has changed this week and it's got noticeably colder - down to about 8° at night. So I've started to bring in the plants that won't survive outside when the cold really hits. I could probably have hung on a bit longer, but the heating is now starting to come on, and I wanted to get them in before the difference in inside/outside temperature got too great. The tree is back in its winter position in the sitting room and I've taken several houseplants into the office. My flat is fairly dark with no window-sills - while my office has a big window with a large wide sill, and plants do very well there.

I had to prune the tree back, despite really wanting to wait till spring. But it was way too big for the room. So I've cut it back to a manageable 7ft in height and about half what it was in width, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It generally goes into shock when it first comes in, and sheds quite a lot of leaves, but then calms down. I'm hoping I've not created too much extra trauma.

At the moment the only things which are really flowering are the Cyclamen, though as you can see from the photos a couple of marigold bushes and a few other things are hanging on in there heroically amongst the dying remains. I don't think they'll last much longer though. Even the Zinnia have finally given up. The Chrysanthemums (or whatever we're supposed to call them now) are full of buds but won't be ready to flower for another two or three weeks.

As I've cleared out the summer stuff, I've also been planting the biennials (bellis, forget-me-nots, wallflowers, stock, hollyhocks and a few others) into their flowering positions for next spring. None of my pansy seeds germinated this year - I don't know why because I've never had problems before - so sooner or later I shall have to go out and buy some. A pity, because I love the weird and wonderful colour combinations that you get after they've cross-pollinated for a couple of years.

Monday, October 09, 2006

What they said about gardening ...

I came across the following quote the other day, which seemed apt given that lots of people are planning to take part in Carol’s idea of a book club. Perhaps it could be the club motto?

If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need. Cicero

It also got me searching for other gardening quotes – and I found loads. There were too many to include them all, but here are some of the best :

One of the healthiest ways to gamble is with a spade and a packet of garden seeds. Dan Bennett

One of the worst mistakes you can make as a gardener is to think you’re in charge. Janet Gillespie

The gardening season officially begins on Jan 1st, and ends on Dec 31st. Marie Huston

It is only when you start to garden – probably after fifty – that you realise something important happens every day. Geoffrey B Charlesworth

To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves. Mohandas K Gandhi

You know you are a gardener, if you find compost a fascinating subject. Author unknown

Always try to grow something in your garden out of the ordinary, something your neighbours never attempted. For you can receive no greater flattery than to have a gardener of equal intelligence stand before your plant and ask, “What’s that?” Richardson Wright

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us. Iris Murdoch

Why do people give each other flowers? To celebrate various important occasions, they're killing living creatures? Why restrict it to plants? "Sweetheart, let's make up. Have this deceased squirrel." The Washington Post

If dandelions were hard to grow, they would be most welcome on any lawn. Andrew Mason

My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant's point of view. H. Fred Ale

Gardening requires lots of water - most of it in the form of perspiration. Lou Erickson

What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it. Charles Dudley Warner

Weather means more when you have a garden. There's nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans. Marcelene Cox

God made rainy days so gardeners could get the housework done. Author Unknown

And perhaps my favourite of all ...

I've made an odd discovery. Every time I talk to a savant I feel quite sure that happiness is no longer a possibility. Yet when I talk with my gardener, I'm convinced of the opposite. Bertrand Russell

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Day in the (Gardening) Life ...

7.30 : I wake up and the house is still quiet. Saturday. I slide out of bed, go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, and open the shutters. The outside thermometer says 18°C, so it’s just warm enough still to sit out on the balcony and have breakfast. Make the most of it – it won’t last long now that October has arrived. The balcony’s looking a mess – a general clear-up is necessary.
10.00 : Things are starting to improve. I’ve got rid of a few annuals which were looking tatty, and re-organised the containers so that the plants which are still blooming are near the windows. I don’t think the zinnias are ever going to stop. They’ve been going for over three months now, and are still showing buds.
10.30 : Have spent the last half hour dead-heading and seed collecting. The mirabilis jalapa is still flowering, but is now covered with seeds. I’ve already collected enough to start a nursery, but I can always give them away. Every so often I drop one and it falls off the balcony onto the path below where the little kids play. They’re poisonous, so I go down and spend ten minutes hunting for them just in case.
11.00 : Get out my gardening books and magazines to find out what I need to be doing this month. Planting out the biennials and generally preparing for winter it seems. I’m out of soil and am going to need some for the re-potting I want to do later. Time for a quick walk to the garden centre. I’m lucky – garden centres in Milan are few and far between but ours is only two minutes away. Otherwise it’s a trip out of town, or wait and see what they’ve got at the weekly street market. Resist heroically the temptation to buy more plants.
11.40 : Two bleary teenage eyes peer round the door onto the balcony inquiring if we’re having lunch soon or if it’s worth having breakfast. Seeing me up to my elbows in soil, he opts for cornflakes.
2.30 : Time for the weekend shopping. As we go in, a stand of plants catches my eye - cyclamen at ridiculously reduced prices. Look a bit closer and see why – they’re half dead. But there are three at the back that look all right. What the hell. I’ve got some coming on, but I’m not convinced they’ll bloom this winter. And mine are all red or white – these are violet. Add them to the trolley.
4.00 : Back home. Decide to sit down and blog for a while. While I’m doing it, my son wanders into the study to tell me about a video on organic produce called
Grocery Store Wars which he saw at school. Says it’s funny. We watch it together and it is.
6.00 : It’s been a few days since I watered and today has been sunny, so I go out to do it. Remember that I’ve run out of liquid fertiliser. It can wait. Nearly time to stop, anyway. Just time to pot the cyclamen before dinner …
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