A spring in your step!

Curling games all cancelled

Burns Suppers held on Zoom

Another week of lockdown

The papers full of gloom

Walkies morning, noon and night

I’m sure the dog’s got bunions

How to escape this drudgery?

I’ll away and sow my onions


Well, look on the bright side – at least we are having a ‘winter’ this year.

Not like 2020, when we had warm rain for days on end and a nasty sting in the tail, with hard frost in late April.

Three weeks ago, it got down to -11°C here in tropical Ayrshire. Hard enough for a wee bonspiel on the pond – pity I have no curling stones.

The cold weather has certainly upset our feathered friends. I almost have robins eating out of my hand. No point in the RSPB holding a nationwide census on garden birds – I think they are all here!

In a normal year, the berries on the evergreen cotoneaster remain untouched. Not now. All gone. I reckon the fieldfares popped a couple of Rennies to quell the indigestion, then scoffed the lot.

It is good to have a selection of evergreen plants dotted around the property. Not only are they good for providing wildlife with food and shelter, they can be a nice visual feature too.

Christmas might be a distant memory, but holly can still be useful. There are so many types with variegated foliage it would be difficult to choose a favourite but the Silver Hedgehog (Ilex aq ferox argentea) is really interesting.

A spiky and colourful display from Hedgehog Holly

A spiky and colourful display from Hedgehog Holly

Moderate vigour with spines all over the leaf surface, not only round the rim. Wonderful hardy plant that can take a bit of shade.

A companion plant to this would be Spotted Laurel (Aucuba jap variegata). Not to be confused with Cherry Laurel – which grows to enormous proportions – Aucuba tolerates dense shade, grows to about 1.5m and really brightens up a dark corner. Generally pest and disease-free.

The only problem may be roe deer – they consider Aucuba a delicacy.

Brighten up a shady nook with Spotted Laurel

Brighten up a shady nook with Spotted Laurel

The lockdown/furlough situation has resulted in a lot more pedestrian traffic using the country roads. Weans, dugs and prams meandering everywhere. I do worry.

The worst offenders are those that think their pristine white trainers have as much right to stay on the road as my pick-up and two-tonne trailer.

Honestly ... and don’t get me started on cyclists! Good for you – having a bike with 108 gears – but if you still can’t manage up the hill then get off and walk – and get out of my way. Rant over!

I have to admit that the veg’ plot is not yet in condition for the growing season. Not been much of a weather window to get any soil preparation done. Either too wet to stand on, or too frozen to dig. Also still got a row of leeks in there from last year – bearing up well through the frost.

When it comes to buying items for the garden, this lockdown is a real scunner. I’m not a fan of buying on-line but that’s the way we are headed with the ‘new normal’.

I like to go out and browse. It’s not a matter of lack of trust in the supplier – I like to ‘feel the goods’ and also enjoy the social interaction. All that has gone for the moment but the season moves on and seeds must go in the soil very soon.

I'm currently sowing Ailsa Craig onions under heat. I tried Red Baron last year but had poor results, with miserable size of bulbs.

There should be room in the propagator for a selection of violas. Once germinated and pricked out they can grow away slowly in a frost free area. Tough wee plants in an amazing range of colours.

Sweet peas could also be sown now. They produce a long tap root which doesn’t like being disturbed. Soak the seeds for 24 hours. The cardboard centres from kitchen, or toilet rolls make good single-use pots.

Fill them with seed compost and plant two or three seeds per pot at a depth of about an inch. Group them in a tray on the kitchen window sill and watch them develop. Very rewarding – and also keeps them safe from marauding mice.

Bit of a struggle to find any flower colour in the garden right now. The Witch Hazel is just starting to emerge while in the herbaceous border the Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) is still producing flowers.

February flowers courtesy of witch hazel

February flowers courtesy of witch hazel

However, Mahonia japonica must be the star of the show. Glossy evergreen foliage and large bunches of heavily scented yellow flowers – an absolute joy to behold in the month of February.

As mentioned earlier, Mother Nature has her own agenda. I reckon there should be about six weeks of dormant season left in which to get any bare-rooted plants into the ground. Availability of material may be a problem as there are so many largescale planting projects on the go, but planting a privet, beech or hawthorn hedge with bare-root whips is much cheaper than using pot grown material. Somewhere around £5 per metre, as against £18. Stock is usually offered in bundles of 25 plants (enough for 5 linear metres). You won’t pay much for post and package on plants that are 60 to 90 cm tall. Any larger than this and they may require staking – and you may find you get a few failures.

Look out for options on buying ‘wildlife or ‘wetland’ hedge mix – an opportunity to attract birdlife or create a bit of greenery at the boggy end of a field.

With warmer weather on the way and (hopefully) a well -organised roll-out of the vaccination programme we should get this virus beaten.

Garden centres will be open, birds will sing and I’ll be allowed to go to Newton Mearns for coffee and cake. Simple pleasures. Until then – stay safe.


General points.

* I’ve noticed the birds are starting to pair up for the breeding season – so get any hedge cutting/pruning done soon. March 1 is the legal deadline.

* Fruit trees and bushes could do with a spray of winter wash to kill off dormant pests. The old recipe Jeyes Fluid is no longer available, but the new garlic-based product seems to be effective.

* Get the mower out of the shed and check it over in readiness for action. A service at your local dealer (if open) should give you peace of mind. [This instruction does not apply to those with plastic grass.]

* Be cautious with your phrasing when you go to the pet-shop (if open) to stock up with bird food. Don’t ask the guy behind the counter if he has fat balls. In this time of Covid-19 the sense of humour can be bit diminished. Understandable really.