Sunday, 24 January 2010

A little unseasonal piece...

I really shouldn't be here...gardening season doesn't start until March. But this afternoon I spent a couple of hours planting up strawberries.
Let me explain. I ordered 25 strawberry plants (plus rhubarb, raspberries and a blueberry bush) last autumn, expecting delivery in the first couple of weeks of November. But there was a postal strike here in the UK, so they weren't delivered until early December. By then I was busy with clinic, arrangements for 50th birthday party plus the usual Crimbo stuff.
I did eventually manage to open the box after about a fortnight and store it in the garage. I took out some of the plants so they weren't all squashed in the dark box, crossed my fingers and hoped everything would be cool enough over the next few weeks to remain in hibernation and alive.
It has been pretty cold. Not compared to the north of Britain perhaps, but still colder than usual for the balmy south east of England. We had a week of snow in December, which just about disappeared before the Christmas holiday, but the temperatures still were frosty every night and lower than we're used to. On New Year's Day we took a beautiful walk in the Surrey Hills, clear blue skies and bitter cold, so I wasn't worried about my plants then.
A few days later snow set in again, together with biting cold winds from the north.
The oak trees looked fabulous with their frosty outlines; blackthorn, curiously, as if it was in blossom; and the pine trees like fireworks, an effect we hadn't noticed before (I was planning to post some photos but Blogger won't let me this evening - maybe another day).
As always, it thawed, leaving the kids' giant snowballs looking like arty installations, or ancient monoliths. I was kept indoors for a few days by an illness, and then the weather turned cold and grey and rainy. So today is the first of the year when the plants in the garage have finally beckoned me out again, with the guilty feeling that if I don't do them this week, they may not survive.
I only got to them late this afternoon, because I was singing with Colliers Wood Chorus at Royal Festival Hall earlier on. (That was a lovely experience!) I needed some fresh, cold air and it was beautiful outside, still plenty of light as the sun went down, though it was dark by the time I finished my task around 5.30.
It was only about 3 degrees C outside, so possibly not the best of days to plant up anything.
I was surprised as I unrolled the plants from their plastic package, how large and well developed the roots were, and had to swap the three inch pots I'd planned for some twice the size, even then feeling that there wasn't quite enough room for the plants to develop. They were all very dry, but I hope that at least potting them up will keep enough alive to yield a reasonable crop in July this coming year.
Later this week, I plan to heel in the raspberry canes and plant out the rhubarb - if the weather is good enough to get down to the allotment.