The Rites Of Spring

Spring has sprung. We wake to another weekend of clear blue skies, festooned with lazy vapour trails. Dewdrops sparkle across the fresh green grass in the cool sunshine, and snatches of birdsong float on the breeze.

Horse chestnut and beech branches against February sky

Sadly, I have spent the best part of the last week wrestling with a bout of ‘flu, to which King of the Hill has also now succumbed. It left me capable of reading or posting little all week, so forgive my rather minimal appearance of late.

There had been plenty of action in the garden the previous weekend though, before we fell ill; a weekend that we extended with a few days of leave for us both. King of the Hill built us another fine structure for the garden; this time a storage unit to house empty pots and tarpaulins, freeing much-needed space in the shed. The shelves are set against the far end of the shed, hardly visible from the house; sloping roof and feathered sides characteristic of the wood stores he has built nearby.

Building wooden garden storage unit

I spent some hours weeding the main border, digging out clumps of grass and weeds, so that now the delicate snowdrops along the edge and the nearby green shoots of other bulbs to come are much more visible against the neat dark earth. Slow aching work,  but rewarding: working so close to the earth it was impossible to miss the signs of emerging life everywhere, and the results are always pleasing.

King of the Hill dug out the last standing vegetables in the kitchen garden; we feasted on parsnip, leeks and celeriac for days. Then the tarpaulins were pulled over the empty beds to warm the earth ready for this year’s planting, and a small plastic tunnel erected over the failed autumn-sown broad beans, to prepare this area for early protected crops instead.

Meanwhile, I dug out the majestic cardoon nearest the house, resigning its denuded stump to the compost heap to be chopped up. It had outgrown its space, having given us a glorious performance last year while the newly dug borders were so bare; now it threatened other plants nearby. I have not yet decided whether to leave either of the other two cardoons that are coming back into leaf further down the garden. I must assess them soon.

Collage of jobs tackled around the garden

Towards the end of one long day, I emptied the greenhouse and scrubbed the glass inside from top to bottom with disinfectant, removing built up algae to leave the glass slightly smeary but clean. I wiped the last pane as the light was fading fast just after half-past five; wonderful to squeeze the last drops of light from the lengthening days.

The following day, we embarked upon a project that we had been contemplating since the autumn. King of the Hill fixed rails along one section of the sloping roof of our biggest wood store, and built four wooden planters to sit snugly onto these. Drainage holes were made in the bases, which we then lined with crocks before squeezing grow bags in, opening the tops and manipulating the contents to fit the planters. Then we put eight strawberry plants into each of the four planters, and raised them up onto the south-facing roof.

Strawberry planters mounted on south-facing wood store roof

Here, strawberries will bask in the sun uninterrupted all through the long summer days, adding to the crops that we pick from our more conventional strawberry patch nearby, which is already trying to expand into the lawn. The planters are free for us to move along the rails as required, or we can lift them down from the roof (carefully!) if we need to.

Eight of the plants in one container were runners from our own patch, the other planters were each filled with eight plants from three different varieties bought from Otter Farm at the end of last summer for this purpose; a selection of early, mid and late fruiting plants to span the season. There is already fresh growth on all the plants as they settle into their new homes a week later.

We still have more trays of our own runners that have overwintered near the greenhouse. If this trial is successful, then we may use these to fill further planters along the adjacent sections of the wood store until they span the whole run. Not just a green roof, then, but a strawberry roof! We’re certainly trying to make every inch of our garden work hard for us.

Yesterday, the scents of spring through an open window tempted us out, but our attempts to engage with the garden quickly left us shaking and weak, certainly not feeling our best, so we resigned ourselves to gentler preoccupations for the rest of the day.

Tomato and cucumber seedlings

Today was another mild sunny day, and I finally felt sufficiently recovered to venture out into the garden for a few hours’ gentle work. I tackled the weeds springing up in the raspberry patch, digging out rough grass, moving errant raspberry canes that have sprung up between their rows and strawberries that have crept in from their adjacent patch. We have even more spare plants for our strawberry roof now!

Weeding the raspberry patch: before and after

Before and After

The air stood remarkably still today, and the sunshine was hot on my back as I knelt on a folded sheet of cardboard on the damp earth, trowel in hand, and worked for several hours in a short-sleeved t-shirt, enjoying birdsong and the whirr of insects in the balmy silence. What a wonderful day, recuperation for body and soul.


20 thoughts on “The Rites Of Spring

    • Thanks Mark!
      My husband was inspired after seeing a strawberry farm where the fruit was grown on a hanging system. We hope it should be easy to harvest the fruit, we can both reach the highest point of the planters from the ground, at a stretch. Much of the fruit should also cascade over the edges, and this way we may escape voles and slugs nibbling on any of the fruit…

  1. Goodness, you did get a lot done – it is very rewarding at the end of a days gardening to see everything looking weeded and tidy and to be able to tick off the jobs on your list – love your strawberry planters – a novel idea. Hope you are feeling a bit better now.

    • It’s amazing how much you can achieve in a run of days, weekends are just never long enough.
      I love looking back over a newly weeded patch of ground, very satisfying indeed. I’m pleased with our strawberry planters, they have great potential – and the wood store hasn’t collapsed under the extra weight, always a bonus 😉 .

  2. At least you managed to get all that done before you fell ill. I hate being ill but hate it even more when the weather is beautiful and perfect to do all sorts of jobs but I’m lying on the sofa cursing whatever bug it is that is preventing me getting outdoors.
    Love the idea of the strawberry roof, they’ll be safe from slugs up there. Are you planning to net them against the birds? My strawbs were under constant attack last year because it was so dry from blackbirds looking for some moisture.

    • It felt such a waste being so ill when the sun was shining. Hopefully that is behind us now!
      We’re hoping not to net the strawberries, we don’t mind a few disappearing to the birds, and our raspberries and ground crops of strawberries haven’t been to badly decimated in previous years, but we do have some enviromesh that we could use if they all disappear.

  3. glad you are feeling better Sara, yes a good sunny day in the garden is better than apples at keeping the doctor away,

    you both always do so much, the extra storage and stawberry planters are great, is the woodstore roof out of the wind, weeding is always good early in the year before they grow big, Frances

    • Thanks Frances. The woodstore roof is not as exposed as some bits of our garden, I think the combination of holly tree/greenhouse/birch tree take the bite out of most of the prevailing winds down that end. Otherwise our strawberries will be hurled over to next door’s shed!
      I figure that the more weeds I can get now while they’re easier to see/pull out and get to, the less will take me by surprise later on… though I’m sure they’ll still keep me busy!

  4. What a fantastic amount of work you’ve managed to get done (but I’m putting it down to having a highly trained feline to do all the heavy work)… hope your flu continues to improve in leaps and bounds; there certainly seems to be a lot of it about.

    • Heh, the cats were all about romping in the enviromesh frames that we took out of the greenhouse for a few days, or inspecting the contents of the trug while I was weeding. Couldn’t tempt them to any manual labour.
      It does seem to be that time of year for bugs. After last week, I’m already feeling a huge improvement, though I think it’s going to be a long week!

  5. Fantastic idea with the strawberry crates, I’ll be watching this one to see how it works out! and I so need a King of the Hill, my computer geek husband is actually quite good at carpentry but sadly he doesn’t enjoy it so only does what he is forced to – boo! (I should say he does have many other great qualities). Sorry to hear about the flu and glad you are on the mend. Bethx

    • I do hope it works, seems such a good way to maximise that long stretch of roof – rather than just collecting rainwater. My computer geek husband has proved remarkably adept at these bits of carpentry and still enjoys it so far – he’s made structures for his mum and my parents too since we slowed work in the house this year. He may run out of love for it one of these days though; I must make sure he builds us a tree seat first! 🙂

      Sorry that yours has lost the motivation for building things, although at least you know you _can_ get them out of him, you just have to find a way to inspire him first! And indeed, can’t grumble when he has so many other fine points!

    • We didn’t achieve much once the lurgy hit: just a few more seeds sown, bits of gentle tidying and weeding – though perhaps that wasn’t gentle enough, when I came in on Sunday I suddenly felt as though I’d overdone it rather! No damage done, though, I’m still feeling brighter day by day this week (despite being tied to the desk again).

  6. The first taste of spring does seem to re-invigorate us doesn’t it (even with a bout of flu)? I’m so much back into gardening! I was just thinking yesterday – how I’d like another cardoon!! But then I often throw away perfectly healthy plants too that I don’t have a use for. Shame.

    • Hope that you had a lovely trip away, and had good weather for walking. It was a wrench (literally!) to pull out the cardoon, but though it has done a lovely job of sheltering a viburnum opulus and an acer through the winter, I think they need to spread their wings now.
      Even having cut the bigger leaves off, it was immensely heavy to dig out – not one to pop in the post! I could send you some seed though if you want some more cardoons – they grew ridiculously easily from seed and unless we are suddenly given an acre or two we’re just not going to have space to grow them again now that the garden is settling into place. There are so many other plants to cram into our space!

      • Thanks for the offer Sara but I have some little self sown ones. They do take up a lot of space and I think their time at the back of the long borders might be coming to an end.

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