Pruning time

Our flat is surrounded by a kind of communal wilderness that masquerades as a garden: think lots of grass, a few very overgrown shrubs and the occasional empty crisp packet blown in by the wind. Last year I planted hundreds of spring bulbs in the rock-hard earth with the hope of brightening it up a little, and this week the green was broken by the first dainty yellow heads of tete-a-tete narcissi and deep purple crocus. I admire their bravery, for although the weather is generally mild and wet, there is still the chill breeze to contend with. The flowers bob around in the wind, withholding the onslaught.

On the allotment, where the ground is more exposed, the bulbs are only barely beginning to break through the soil. Everything there seems to come to fruition about a month later than I expect it to. Is it the wind? Some lack of nutrient in the soil? I did today manage our first harvest of purple sprouting, grown from plants gifted to us by Matt’s parents (though they’ve been picking theirs since before Christmas).

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First, and probably only, picking of purple sprouting

I’m uncertain what happened to January; it vanished in a whizz of house-viewings and new work contracts. Suddenly it’s February, nearly the start of Lent – and we’ve yet to have anything that even vaguely resembles a proper winter. This is the month to trim back the autumn raspberries and so I got to it today, breaking my brand-new secateurs in the process. The patch is now clear of dead raspberry canes – but alas their removal revealed a healthy crop of buttercup and grass. As one job is completed, another presents itself: a good few hours of weeding and mulching is called for to clear out the weeds, one of my least favourite tasks.

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The raspberry patch, post-prune. At least we can grow buttercups.

I feel like the weather, or at least the season, needs to catch up with the busy-ness of our current lives. At home and at work there is so much (too much) activity, new projects to be nailed down, this house-buying-bureaucratic-nonsense to be dealt with, things moving and changing. Yet outside the season is one of dormancy and sleep. In anticipation of season’s change I bring home my seed trays to wash (well, half of them: they get showered in the bathtub which is a two-batch process) and go through old seed packets to see what is needed for this year’s plantings.

Spring, hurry up please.

Allotment: Picked PSB, pruned raspberries, scrubbed pots, thinking about seed ordering.

A spot of pruning

Today was the first day in ages where we woke up to blue skies (sort of) and, more importantly, no snow or ice on the ground. Not that there has been any proper snow yet, just that mushy stuff that instantly goes grey when it hits tarmac. So I donned bobble hat and ski jacket and set off to give the blackcurrants and raspberries a good chop.

They need it. The raspberry patches, both of them, resemble jungle warfare. The problem isn’t the fruit canes, but the grass, briers and bind weed that have manipulated themselves around each stem, made themselves at home and still refuse to leave, like a visitor that has long outstayed their welcome at a party.

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The small raspberry patch, prior to the chop

The blackcurrants, by contrast, are well behaved but so long established that they require a saw rather than secateurs. I don’t have a saw (I don’t have much of any garden equipment really) but gave it a go nevertheless. Apparently you have to take out a third of the old wood, and you tell the old wood as it is dark in colour. I wasn’t brave enough to take out a third, just a few branches here and there. Even in dormancy the wood smelt fragrant and for an instant I was transported back to the summer, macerating blackcurrant leaves in hot syrup to be turned into sorbet.

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One of five blackcurrant bushes

It took about two hours to chop the lot down and I only poked myself in the eye with a cane once (result!). It all now needs a proper weed and, in truth, some of the raspberry plants digging up. That can wait for another day.

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The raspberry patch, after the chop

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The bonfire pile is getting treacherously high

Meanwhile the shed is not bearing up to winter. It was rickety anyway, but now the felt is hanging off the roof and getting the door shut is only possible if you give the whole structure a massive shove whilst simultaneously shutting the bolt. My arms aren’t long enough for this so I’ve taken to improvising using cast-off branches from the adjacent tree.

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I wasn’t a Girl Guide for nothing

The robin seems to think this hilarious and comes to laugh at the action.

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As a reward, roast venison followed by cherry pie for dinner. I would not have imagined a few years ago that my winter weekends would now be thus.