Friday, 31 December 2010

The scent of Christmas present

There's a lot of fuss about mistletoe, ivy, holly berries and pine trees at this time of year. Of course there are lots of other things like Christmas box and Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn' that don't get as much press as they should. But for all the plants we bring indoors, I want to shout about the more exotic Narcissus 'Paper white' and the divine amaryllis in its many hues. It's simply a gorgeous thing to invite the first taste of spring inside in deepest midwinter.  
Last year, my early narcissus bulbs were a bit of a flop. The understairs cupboard simply wasn't cold enough for the first phase of forcing. So this year, sometime in November, in lieu of a shed or greenhouse, I put the pots in a galavanised steel bin that doubles as outside storage by the back door. It was just before the first snowfall, so they had a seriously dark, chilling start. I nearly forgot about them altogether, but when I was looking for something a few weeks back, I discovered my two pots of bulbs and they have been sitting on the kitchen windowsill since then.
The stint in the bin seemed to do the trick. I came home from Christmas lunch at the inlaws to find the first flower open. Now, a week later, they have all emerged, sweet and white and, as 2011 approaches, the house is filled with a lovely mixture of the scent of Christmas tree and narcissus: winter meets spring.
And although I confess that I bought cut stems of amaryllis, their intense colour has been better than any Christmas bauble. I feel like I've got the hang of this forcing now so I'll be growing them next time for sure - another thing to add to that list of resolutions. Happy new year!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Snow and hangover cures

The snow has arrived - again. Just a light dusting in West London, which has cheered things up immensely. Everything looked pinched and cold in the frosty greyness of the morning. Now the garden looks snug and cosy under the snow and the skies have gone blue and bright. It really is alpine fresh. And I'm enjoying the incongruity of the test match coverage burbling away in the background on the radio.
There have been a few days this week when the ground softened enough to get a few more broad beans in, dig up some leeks and prepare the ground for some promised garlic - exceedingly late, I know. The clayey builders-rubble soil at the allotment was even quite good to dig, the big clods broken up by the frost and easier to turn over.
I was particularly glad about this as I was nursing a hangover of the variety that can only be induced by a fatal combination of a work Christmas party, involving chinese food and karaoke (the less said the better). I don't think it's been very well documented, but aside from coffee, chocolate and a fry up, digging has to be the finest remedy for a hangover.