Flowers for Grace

A winter posy of hellebores, ‘Erlicheer’ and pink stock

My five-year-old niece Grace has pneumonia, poor tyke, so today Lucas and I made her a get well card and picked her a bunch of flowers from the garden. There wasn’t much to choose from in bloom at the moment but I think we put together a fairly respectable mix of fragrant ‘Erlicheer’, some straggly scented pink stock and hellebores in shades of pink, cream, lime and burgundy.
Last winter I put in 50 hellebores in a massed planting under a grove of silver birches at the end of our driveway – and they’re just beautiful right now. In my city garden, I planted loads of hellebores under a row of Michelia ‘Mixed Up Miss’ trees, but they struggled for moisture and invariably died. It’s a different story here: not only are they all covered in bloom, while I was stomping around them with my secateurs this morning I noticed dozens and dozens of self-sown seedlings popping up too. And free plants are just the best plants, aren’t they?
(Grace was pretty chuffed with her flowers, and with the wee delivery boy. Lucas is her partner in cousin crime.)

Starting early

Buried treasure: ‘Inca Gold’ yams. We’ll roast them with honey and orange juice.

Looks like we’re in for a couple of wild days of weather – it has been bucketing down for 36 hours and shows no sign of relenting. The stream through our swamp is now a raging torrent, the cats are refusing to put a paw outdoors and I can almost guarantee that our sheep will no doubt choose today to start lambing.
Luckily, we made good use of the fine (albeit grey) day on Saturday. Jason hoed over a good sized chunk of my vege patch and Mum helped me sow and transplant several rows of strawberries, peas and broad beans. Lucas helped too, if you call flinging dirt about and stealing my trowel help.
Last year I had two rows of ‘Camarosa’ strawberries in this particular corner of the garden. Now I have four; we divided up the crowns and replanted them in fresh mounds of soil enriched with a bag of strawberry food.
Then we sowed and transplanted: 2 rows of ‘Novella’ peas; a row of double Shirley poppy seedlings; 2 rows of ‘Exhibition Long Pod’ broad beans; a row of cauliflowers and broccoflowers; 2 rows of ‘Easy Peasy’ peas; a row of orange calendulas; 2 rows of ‘Greenfeast’ peas; a row of celery seedlings; 2 rows of crimson-flowered broad beans (I’m slowly bulking up my seeds of this unusual variety, though I’ll have to cover the plants when they start flowering to avoid cross-pollination); and 2 rows of climbing ‘Sugarsnap’ peas. (You may have guessed that I’m trialling all the different pea varieties, as I did with carrots last spring, to see which ones produce the best yields, the climbers or the dwarves.)
We also harvested a bowl of scrummy ‘Inca Gold’ yams. I planted the seed tubers two seasons ago, but didn’t get around to digging them up last winter (being somewhat preoccupied with a newborn baby). They popped up again last spring so I ignored them, then of course the 22 frosts we’ve had so far this winter dealt to their tender oxalis-like foliage and they died down without trace a few weeks ago. Jason was busy digging the soil over when he unearthed them. “Oh wow,” I said. “We’ve got yams!” “Oh,” replied Jason, “is that what they are? I thought they were Jerusalem artichokes so I was trying to dig them back in before you noticed.”
Bless ‘im. I’ve clearly forced him to eat enough Jerusalem artichokes this winter to last a lifetime.

Ice, ice baby

Boy oh boy: this winter is shaping up to be the stuff of (freezing) legend! We had our 20th winter frost this morning; this time last year we hadn’t even had one. It’s certainly proving useful in determining what’s truly frost-hardy… and what’s not. My silverbeet, kale and Brussels sprouts don’t even flinch but the giant mustard, Nicotiana sylvestris and seedling poppies are all laid flat by frost each time… only to pick their leaves up again when the ice thaws. Earlier this week one of my ‘The Fairy’ roses sent out a few new sprays of tiny pink blooms; the buds were dusted with ice crystals this morning. Jack Frost is also a damn effective composter. I didn’t need to clear out half my summer garden; it has simply turned to mush and slumped to soil level.
On the plus side, all this winter chill means I should get a bumper crop of apricots, almonds, peaches and nectarines come summer!