Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gardening with the Seasons (Part II)

or: How (& why) I planted bulbs (I'll try not to digress this time)

Gardening in the northern hemisphere, with seasons is completely unlike gardening in tropical Brisbane. (Such riveting news, I thought I should repeat it).

In Brissie, I just planted whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. And watered. Just like my dad told me to.

Like my dad, I did other things too, which I, like him, seem less inclined to tell people about: preparing the soil, digging in compost, turning the soil over, etc. I did not really do much of that. My partner did the bulk of it, when I decided it was time to do it. He'd watch me struggling with the spade, digging ineffectual holes and then take over.

It just took me longer to dig holes. In the far-away time before my partner, I dug my own holes. I would strike at the earth with the spade a few times experimentally. Then plunge the spade in. Then again. Then, with spade left in, wiggle it about a bit. Then plunge again. Then sit down for a rest. Then go get a drink. Then return to try again. It took me a while to dig a hole, but I always succeeded. I'm persistent.

Oh dear, I'm digressing again.

After we moved from the Little Flat to the Little House, I was most excited about the idea of having a garden again. I dug a hole (I did this myself, while my partner was away. It took three times as long as it would have done if he was present as he would have taken the spade away from me after my first few experimental strikes at the clay-y patch of earth I had decided would be our veggie patch). Into the hole, I buried the Bokashi contents from our flat. I mixed it all in and left it alone.

A few weeks later, we bought seeds of things we wanted to plant: beans, spinach, lettuce, silverbeet; and some flowers: nasturtiums, poppies, foxglove, honeysuckle, passionflower, jasmine.

A few weeks later again, we had some time to actually plant. On reading the labels of the seeds we'd bought, I realised we'd missed our window of opportunity for planting most of the flowers. The poppies and foxgloves should have gone in shortly after we bought them (should have realised this from the fact that I was now seeing foxgloves and poppies in the woodlands and other people's gardens ... probably therefore past their sowing time). We planted everything else, plus some of the basil that was outgrowing its pot.

That's just not how it works in Brisbane. Stuff grows year round. You can plant it year round. And if you can't, then it's only because it's too hot. Don't plant in December, January or February. In those months, you won't know if the sun will wither your plant to a burnt crisp of its former self, or if a torrential downpour will relocate your seedling or seeds, somewhere else, entirely out of your control. Or both. On the same day.

In England, the slugs got almost everything. They destroyed the basil in one night. Seedlings would disappear as soon as they emerged from the earth. We tried everything organic: eggshells, coffee grinds, hair. The only thing that worked was a plastic pot (formerly containing yoghurt) half buried in the ground, half filled with beer. The slugs would go for it, instead of the emergent seedlings. But, by then, we only had a very few seeds left. All that grew was a lone stand of silverbeet. It was much too late in the year to plant any more seeds.

Flower-wise, most things grew fine. The slugs did not like nasturtiums one bit, so we planted more of them round the edge of our veggie patch as a barrier. They make our garden look productive, rather than bare. But it is bare. It is bare of vegetables. We were demoralised. So demoralised, we even forgot to eat the silverbeet, so it is now unpalatably bitter.

Quite a few weeks ago, I was flipping through the weekend paper and read about planting bulbs. I adore the bright flowers that pop up at the end of winter, heralding spring. I bear much affection for them, as they first greeted me in this new land. It was so exciting to see white and purple crocuses, daffodils and snowdrops, growing like weeds. They symbolise England for me. They are so very different to what you can get in Brisbane: delicate blooms, thriving on cold, redolent of the changing of the seasons. And they epitomise English gardening: you have to sow them many months before anything happens. You have to PLAN.

So, I sent off for some bulbs: 100 crocuses, 70 daffodils, 50 tulips. I have grand visions of my front garden being a field of English flowers, in miniature: in February, crocuses; March, daffodils; April, tulips; and then, it will be time to plant foxgloves and poppies, ready to bloom for summer.

We planted the bulbs last weekend. My partner lifted the grass / lawn (an aggravating operation that the word 'lift' belies); I mixed potting mix with the soil and placed the bulbs in their randomly appointed spots; we finished by walking over the lawn, stomping the grass back into place.

Now, we wait.


Anonymous said...

If I had to describe So Cal gardening, it would sound almost exactly like your description of Brisbane gardening (except the no-plant months would be July and August; and no fear of downpours). Your bulbs sound enchanting - I hope no critters get to them before they bloom. Can't wait to see how they do.

litlove said...

Oahn, this is off topic, so many apologies, but I can't see your email on this site. I'm hoping very much that you still would like to join the Slaves, and if so, you need to send Danielle a quick email. She has put her address up on the most recent post at the Slaves site. I'm sorry the Winterson wasn't your choice for book, but if you've read it I do hope you'll join in for the discussion?

Oanh said...

Nikkipolani -
I will update! Hopefully, there will be flowers to photograph, too!

Litlove -
'tis done. And, of course. Will be good to re-read Sexing the Cherry.

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