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Vegetable Garden – Gardening with Daphne Ledward

Our veg patch is running about six weeks behind at present.   First there was a week of torrential rain in March, then more than a fortnight of searingly cold east winds, and even if I’d had the motivation to rush out and plant things, there would have been no benefit as seeds would rot and early potatoes would sit and sulk in the ground.

Then, this morning, everything changed.   One of our bedroom windows overlooks a large magnolia tree next door, and this is as good a weather indicator as any Met Office forecast.   For days on end, the branches, which in a normal year would be sporting a profusion of pink buds, but still have the appearance of midwinter this year, have been bent almost double with the howling easterly gale.   Today, not a breath of winds is stirring amongst the dormant twigs, and I’ll swear the still green buds have doubled in size overnight.

Opening the back door, I was greeted with a cacophony of fractious blackbirds and sparrows, apparently in a panic to go forth and multiply.   Yes, today is vegetable garden day.

As rain fell almost non-stop throughout autumn and the first half of winter, I was unable to do the annual clearing up I usually aim to finish before Christmas.   Asparagus and artichoke stems still stand untidily in their respective plots.   The spare piece of ground allocated to potatoes this year remains undug, and the autumn leaves are still hanging around, waiting to be transferred to the leaf mould pile.   There are wisps of dead hop stems clinging to their supports, and in the raised beds, the only crop is last year’s leeks – which, luckily, are particularly good this year and must be used before they run to seed.

The greenhouse containing the grapevine, underplanted with slightly tender ornamental plants for interest, has lost a front and back pane of glass, and the vine itself still requires pruning, which means it will probably bleed when the job is done.  The other glasshouse, which contains tomatoes and peppers during the summer, is still just a store for emptied tubs and hanging baskets, a practice I criticise scathingly in other gardeners.

However, I had the foresight to plant my garlic in the cold frames (which contain a good depth of soil permanently) on one decent day in December.   I replaced the lids to keep birds and mice from ruining my good work, and they are now looking excellent – is this a sign of things to come?

It might sound as though there are weeks of work to be crammed into a very short time, but in fact it should only take about three days to put things right, including levelling the molehills in the orchard (again) and mowing paths through the daffodils to the fruit trees near the boundary.   Any crops sown or planted in the raised beds once the soil is warm enough will soon catch up, and by the end of the month, assuming the weather behaves in a more seasonal fashion, there should be few signs of this year’s inclement spring.   I have come to the conclusion that I must be a cold-blooded reptile, as these days the speed at which I work is directly proportional to temperature and sunshine.

There is just one snag.   Tomorrow, all being well, a plumber and electrician are arriving to rip out our 1970s terra cotta bathroom (not my choice – I inherited it 30 years ago when we arrived here!) and replace it with a new, sparkly white shower room.   Although I am sure they are quite capable of getting on with the job on their own, if I were to get on with bringing the kitchen garden back into shape, I would be three miles away and not on hand should any problems arise at home.   Husband says he will not take responsibility for any decisions he might have to make while I am away that probably wouldn’t suit me, so, sadly, after today, the vegetable garden restoration might grind to a halt while the bathroom/shower room takes over for my attentions.  I am just praying that the contractors don’t get overcome with enthusiasm and decide to work weekends as well……

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