Frogs climb. They’ve got the legs for it, and the powerful hunger on them as they emerge around now should motivate them to tackle our new addition: the stairway to slug heaven. I imagine hedgehogs and newts may also use this shallow set of creature-sized steps I made yesterday, using containers on the stairs that connect our two garden levels: the gravel path with mini pond below, and the borders and lawn up high.
It had been bothering me that the frogs are more or less trapped in the lower level of the garden, while slugs and snails have the full run of the place. Then, last year, I realized that a ladder like this would work – I stuck any old pots and stones down the far side of the steps and a few days later I was so excited to spot frogs in the upper level. Now I’m doing a more aesthetic version: shallow hyacinth bowls filled with go-ahead-and-ignore-me sempervivums, sedums and pinks, along with a few traumatised crocus I dug up from the border. I intend to water semiannually – that’s my starting negotiating position, anyway. Behind and around the bowls are rounded stones to give creatures a leg up. At the top, the steps aren’t wide enough for bowls, so I used a few stones with pinks tucked in behind, and bits of old plastic flower pot lining the edges to protect the masonry. As cuttings those pinks thrived on nothing last year and are now strong little plants, so I’m pretty sure they won’t mind my minimalist watering schedule.
I’m not too sure why I have gone crazy for frogs – Two years ago I screamed on seeing a toad or frog in my outside space, but now I’m a changed person. Not only have I built them their own ladder, I’ve also filmed ten minutes of a frog fruitlessly stalking a slug, a video which I can still watch with great interest all the way through. I think I used to scream at them because I felt they were terrifying vermin invading my space. Now I see the garden as their space, and my job is to make them feel at home.
Anything special you’re doing for the creatures in your garden this year?
Until now, I’d never bothered with seed sowing in summer. The seedling fatigue of spring usually leaves me uninterested in repeating the whole affair during July and August. But two things have come together this year to change all that: my sharper awareness of the way the garden grows like mad in July; and the Eatin’ Project, where my early success in growing edibles has inspired me to try to keep the crops coming.
I listen to the folksy “Gardening with Tim and Joe” from BBC Radio Leeds, and a few weeks ago gardener Joe Maiden was encouraging everybody to sow more French beans and carrots right away to get strong young plants developing. I did, and they have. This evening I planted out some of the young dwarf French beans “Masterpiece” (thanks for the recommendation, Marc Diacono): their little root balls were full and raring to go.
The growth in all corners is rampant. I was stunned to see a fab root system on a bit of pelargonium that I’d knocked off the plant and had thrown into a cup of water. I planted it up and it’s flowering now – the whole process took just a few weeks. So I tried the same with a bit of Aster Frikartii Monch I’d yanked off the plant and sure enough, voila, roots. Today I’ve also sown dianthus seed; cuttings would be easier, but it’s my mother’s favourite flower, and these fell from the pinks I’d cut for her bedside when she was staying with me earlier this month. It is always hard to see her go back to Boston, and I couldn’t throw these seeds away when I was clearing up her bedside table this morning. If I can get some of these to germinate, that’ll mean something to me.
This is the first year I’ve tried to exploit these few weeks when Edinburgh is briefly California: long bright days, warm soil, and easy abundance everywhere in the garden. In past years I’d noticed how the borders went ballistic during July, but I’d never used it. July is a wave I’m riding this year instead of a flood that’s swamping my borders, and I like it. This is the first time that I’ve slashed my aquilegias to the ground in June, and I wasn’t afraid to do it, knowing it would give everything else more space during July and August.
It’s been a revelation to sow and nurture seedlings in summer: nothing like the slog of sowing in the dim days of spring in Scotland, where equal parts willpower and liquid seaweed are the only thing that keep the seedlings going.
Do you ever feel that your garden is a mute entity whose signs and moods you spend years studying? I think I’m starting to speak her language.
I know the garden is never done, and all that, so in figuring out my resolutions for 2010, I’m not promising to get things perfect. But there are a few stupid things I did in 2009 that are helping me settle on attainable goals for next year.
- Screaming at toads: I promised myself I wouldn’t do it again this year, after humiliating myself in 2008 while chatting to my mother-in-law, clearing out some expired summer pansies. But there I was again this autumn, shrieking at a toad I’d unearthed when rolling away some heavy stones near the dianthus. I’m not sure what became of him, but he was last seen smacking his head on the window ledge, trying to escape my sound effects. 2010 will be different, I promise.
- Nothing November: as I explained here, I planted the hall border when I was expecting my daughter, planning for it to be a rage of colour for her every year. But the autumn flowers there are gone by her birthday at the end of the month, and nothing else fills the gap in November. I’ll probably bite the bullet and go for grasses; anything is better than the void.
- Greenhouse frostbite: I thought the sunny position and wall-hugging construction of my greenhouse would protect it from frost. The perished seedlings and cuttings say otherwise. Last night the temperature fell to -6 Celsius and I’ve only just managed to save some of the tougher ones. Since we re-organised the house, we have space in the unheated conservatory to let many of them come inside for the winter without getting over-warm.
- Crop failure: the stumpy, poisonous-tasting carrot above, and a few sorry Charlotte potatoes, were the sole survivors of my halfhearted vegetable growing this year. I’m not good at this! In 2010 I’m starting extremely small with the Eatin’ Project — a 1 m x 1.2 m raised bed, my first proper effort to grow-and-eat. I think it was the Copenhagen talks — and all you vegetable-inclined gardeners on Twitter — that have helped me accept that growing some of my own food is an imperative. My all-consuming passion for flowers doesn’t really need to consume every bit of my garden space. Stay tuned for updates.
Happy 2010 to you all, and good growing.