The New Normal

Frogspawn in the roadside ditch

The trilling jenny wren

Banks of golden daffodils

Spring is here again

Beware of April's chilly dawn

And unwelcome showers of hail

Growth may now be on the move

But the sting is in the tail

Back when I was a boy, a weather chart was relatively simple to understand.

The Atlantic Ocean regulated our weather. The jet stream generally travelled from the bottom left of the picture up to the top right. If the line went through Stornoway we, in Ayrshire, could dress in semmit and shorts. When the line dropped down to Carlisle, you wore a boilersuit and wellies.

Nowadays, the chart looks like the work of some dope-smoking modern artist – the jet stream sweeps and swirls wildly across the globe. One week gale force winds from the south laden with Saharan dust – next week walruses on icebergs bobbing along the Irish coast.

It would appear that this is going to be the ‘new normal’, with more unpredictability in climate activity throughout the world. For this reason the rewilding bandwagon has rolled in to town.

It's is a pity that opinionated TV personalities have caught the headlines with their views on how to mow your lawn (don’t) and raging against the use of peat and pesticides. Surely there must be a middle ground?

Peat alternatives have been trialled since the 1980s and progress is being made. Composted bark, green waste, wood fibre and coir (coconut shell) are successful additives, but peat still offers the most consistent base for reliable growth. If growing medium and pest control products continue to be banned at the current rate, how long before we hear the howls of protest when the cost of ornamental and arable crops becomes unacceptable?

Picking out every weed by hand and squishing each aphid between the fingertips is time consuming and expensive. I do believe in leadership by example. When it comes to lawn mowing, perhaps we should ask the SFA to leave the Flymo in the shed at Hampden for three months and enjoy the spectacle of a cup final being played in a wild flower meadow. Bee nice now.

Meanwhile, down in the veggie plot, things are progressing slowly. A ‘fine tilth’ and Ayrshire clay don’t really get on well together. Oh, for a sandy loam!

Eventually got the tatties in. Desiree for a maincrop; Kestrel for exhibition (when?) and Charlotte because they feature, with smoked haddock, in a Marco Pierre White recipe. Always the optimist.

Every now and then the media gets excited about a new ‘superfood’. The current item of interest is the humble leek. Recent publicity regarding the over-use of opioid painkillers has led to more research into foodstuffs which contain pre-biotics that have anti-inflammatory properties. Leeks, onions and garlic come into this category. You may get a sore back when planting them – but at least you will have the remedy handy.

The bleak days of winter are almost over and there is a fair amount of colour to be seen in the garden. Heathers are always reliable and a good choice would be Erica carnea Ann Sparkes. A tough wee plant that only grows about half and inch per year – so doesn’t need any trimming. Bright orange foliage and soft pink flowers during March and April. Very pretty.

Now and again you’ll find a plant that lives up to its name. I found a variety of daffodil called Unsurpassable and thought – Aye, maybe! How wrong was I. Lovely clear lemon trumpets with flawless petals – an absolute ‘must buy’ for your autumn planting list.

With my garden designer bunnet on, I plan to create a banking with purple periwinkle and underplant it with these daffodil bulbs. The combination of a rich purple carpet topped with vibrant gold should be a sight to see.

Brexit and Covid-19 have been with us for a while now and gradually the effects of both begin to appear.

Spring 2020 saw skip-loads of unsold early bedding plants, like primula and bellis, being removed from nurseries and garden centres. This year there is a severe shortage.

The usual reasons – supply and demand. Supplies are low because production was scaled back, whereas demand has been exceptional. The same appears to be true for shrub and tree stock. Happy to say, though, that supplies of summer bedding look satisfactory.

Growers in the Clyde Valley are working flat out to meet projected sales, so my guess is that you may have a wee gap in your spring border or patio planter from now until early May, but this should easily be filled with colour later on.

Only fly in the ointment is the weather. Looks like some rough stuff to come. Dust off the greenhouse heater and have the roll of frost protection fleece handy.


General points:

* Prune bush roses – remove dead stems and wayward branches. Clip back last years shoots to within two to three inches of the previous seasons growth. Try to find an outward facing bud to prevent growth becoming too tangled.

* Greenfly will be up and about soon. Check fruit tree buds, rose shoots and new growth on Japanese maples (always a favourite).

* Now that the winter storms are over (?) check on the welfare of any staked trees. Sometimes you find the tree supporting the stake and being strangled by the buckle tie.

* How’s your lawn for moss? Give it a trim with the blade on a high setting then get to work with lawn sand and moss killer.

One swallow does not a summer make. Our first African visitor arrived on Saturday, April 3. So early. It just appeared out of nowhere, no vaccination passport – nothing. I’m not a vengeful person, but rules are rules, so I shut it in the barn and told it to self-isolate for 10 days until its pals arrive (just kidding).