Winter arrived with a cold blast and it's suddenly fiercely cold. The mercury - or some kind of solar cell - barely bothers to reach double figures these days; it's shocking after the unusually balmy autumn.
It's June, terribly late, but I find more, yes more!, bulbs - exquisite packets of joy - and I write labels and fling them into terracotta pots or in the cold ground, hoping they'll forgive me. (Iris reticulata, Moraea, a few tulips and Narcissus. Best of all, white Gladiolus `The Bride' - lots - from Mum's garden. When I see these I nearly cry. This was what I'd most wanted from Mum's garden and I couldn't think where they'd got to - but they were badly labelled. It'll be interesting to see how they `do' and I'll have lots of these wonderful flowers - one day - maybe this spring.)
Seeds, too; it's interesting what will germinate these cold days in the soil that's, frankly, rather icy.
We've moved along the little hens three times in fairly quick succession, each time onto another 1/5 veg plot to scratch and fertilise.
My Culinary Colour Bed Eureka moment happened in autumn resulting in my pink and purple veg bed. (Confession: I've just bought a seedling punnet, this time of deep pink-red Mizuna (Japanese mustard) which looks suspiciously like finely divided `red' kale (not J's favourite vegetable, however much white wine, butter and pine nuts are added). Do I need these (in salads)...or are they just going to look good in this bed? Maybe both.) The peas include purple (podding...but I'm going to try picking `em early) and purple snow (to eat raw; colour stays intact if not cooked).
Then a month ago, during our lengthy `fall', I planted out the black kale bed with orange flowers, red flowers, burnt nasturtium leaves and more purple peas. (Red-flowering beans will be perfect when I try this in summer.) Flame against black; what a contrast.
And now the colour fun continues in the culinary patch of course.
So now our girls are scratching another patch and I dig over my new bed, 4m by 2.5m. I dig out the central path and add the rich soil to the beds each sides. I add 3 tripods of local teatree branches, nearly 2m high, at the end, like exclamation marks. Under them I plant seeds of `Golden Podded' peas from Diggers Seeds. Behind them, I do something odd; I've discovered that brassicas grow from cuttings and I stick in about a dozen of black Tuscan Kale. But then...what if they don't take? So I scatter some seeds too (I've many, home-collected), and within days they toss up their dark little seed leaves, despite the winter-chill.
At the other end of the U-shaped bed, where you enter, I've planted creamy pansies, lemon, and then yellow along the path edge. Behind them are the tiny white flowers of Stevia plants (Stevia rebaudiana, `the sugar herb' which forms a little subshrub to 1m high), and then there's a compost bin each side. And then the yellow seriously starts: chartreuse heads of broccoli `Romanesco' with Calendula `Lemon Daisy' (lemon petals, soft gold eye) in front; then as the eyes (or feet) progress, beetroot `Burpees Golden' with golden stems, yellow-stem chard behind Nasturtium `Peach Melba', (lemon with small orange blotches). At the end the eye will rest on Sweet Mace (Tagetes lucida, 70cm high with yellow-orange flowers), contrasted with blue-black Tuscan Kale.
I'm seriously impressed with the seeds that have germinated in winter. To imbue vegetative matter with human instincts is ridiculous, but a plant that germinates in winter seems to display optimism or bravado to a great degree, surely (or not)? Calendula have come up, broccoli ditto, peas under glass; my only laggard (and who can blame its hesitance?) is Nasturtium.
So now I need a cloche. Or cloches.
February was my birthday month and I received some money (thank you Mum-in-law); my mind turned to those splendid (there is no other word for them) glass cloche-like bell jars of veg gardens we associate with Victorian-era productive gardens. Cloudehill - now firmly in the Digger's Club thrall - no longer sells these superb (if expensive) items. A kindly stranger on the net directed me towards a discount store more full of cheap ugly junk than I can bear to think about. But. There I found ugly glass cake stands, with glass covers, very cheap. Could I take away the covers, or bell jars, and leave behind the stands? I could. Hurrah. I bought 6. The following week, another 6. Not quite as handsome, and not quite as large, as `real' garden bell jars but oh so pleasing. Best money spent all year!
So I have my bell jars, and now I just move them over where I planted the nasturtium seeds.
There's one fly in the ointment: the yellow peas have pink flowers. As my father-in-law says (and so they do in `Alice in Wonderland') I could paint the flowers.
There's a thought.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au)