Who said gardening wasn’t sexy?
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – There is no longer any doubt, winter is here to stay, and buried somewhere under a metre of fresh snow is my broccoli, that I was planning to stir-fry last Saturday night.
Question: by the time the snow melts down a couple feet, will my fresh-frozen but on the stalk broccoli be edible?
Probably not, but let’s see. Last year I harvested some celery that survived a dump of snow.
I woke up Saturday to what appeared to be three black-nosed sheep on the edge of my veranda.
Sheep have wandered into the garden once or twice, but given the snowfall I was surprised. I put in my contact lenses and discovered they were my geraniums in pots.
I also discovered that if, for some reason, I want to go out to the swings or the raspberry bushes at the end of the garden I will need to put on snowshoes.
For now I’m happy to just admire nature’s gift of beautiful snow in the Swiss Alps.
The weed-pulling job is getting away from me, and I can almost hear them laughing while I stand by, helpless, with two broken toes. The doctor told me to avoid steps and slopes for two weeks and since my vegetable garden is almost entirely slope, the weeds are being ignored. More or less.
The good news is that the crops are also enjoying the perfect mix of rain at night, sunshine during the day and warm but not hot temperatures, a gardener’s blessing.
The strawberries are low on the slope, so they’re easy for me to gather. A young visitor ran up to the corner and grabbed a handful of the first red currants.
I gave a knife and bowl to gardener number 2 and sent him to the lower corner of the garden, definitely off-limits for broken toes, to harvest the first rhubarb. There was enough for a pie, which was delicious, so no complaints from him about the task.
And I gathered 8 lettuce leaves to remind us what the real thing tastes like.
Out of kindness, the roses all decided to open, too. Now to sit back on the swing, foot up, and enjoy it all, reminding myself that a garden is balm to the soul, not just an excuse for building calluses. It’s the best place on Earth to bury unreasonable bosses, dishonest competitors, lazy workers and cheating lovers (don’t take that too literally, though, please).
A reader has asked me to make some suggestions about trees that work well at altitude, since she – like me – needs to replace some damaged by the heavy snow we had this winter. I’ve put off my visit to Lehmann in Sion until early next week; this is the address I was given for specialist advice and good plants. I’ll let you know what I find, as I have 4 gaps that need to be filled.
I normally prune our fruit trees but the damage to all trees and bushes was so severe this year that I hired a garden crew to come in and do it. Now that I see pears and apples and cherries and plums coming along beautifully, I’m happy I spent the money on experts.
And our fence was too badly damaged to repair, so after much reflection, a few unsuccessful attempts at repairing the old one and some juggling in the budget, we have the same crew putting up a new Scotch pine fence. Let’s hope the car doesn’t have to be replaced this year, or the oven or washing machine.
I’m awestruck: the amount of labour going into this and their attention to detail and getting it just right reminds me that I’m in Switzerland, if I had any doubts. Next: the wood is given a protective coating, then a kind of grill is put on the outside.
I’d love to leave it like this, but it won’t keep out animals, and it won’t protect our handicapped daughter if she can slip through the railing and wander onto the road.
My singing tree is a wise teller of time
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – My main criterion for the date when I can safely shop for plants, especially blooms for my garden is the flowering of the 112-year-old apple tree, a wise old thing. We pruned it radically 10 years ago, since no one had done it for at least 25 years, then we gradually slowed down the pruning and two years ago we decided to let it live in peace.
As a result, the fruit, an old variety that to be honest we don’t particularly like, is smaller and on branches no one cares to try to reach.
But the flowers! It is thick with white blossoms, so dense we lose sight of the bigger world, and the birds love it, so it becomes a singing tree in May.
It blooms later than trees on the plain, waiting until there is no danger of frost, although we often have one final spring snowfall around 15 May because we’re at 1,100 metres altitude. The tree takes this in stride.
It’s in full, gorgeous bloom right now, so I’m off to Schilliger for the start of my spring shopping spree. If I get carried away I’ll have some plants that must be brought inside at night for another three weeks, so wish me a little constraint.
And I’m taking the advice of a local garden work man who suggests that I buy fewer low-altitude plants and go to a specialist in Sion for higher altitude shopping. So join me while I shop at two garden centres this year.
This has been one tough winter, with snow so deep it buried several trees, including my nearly two-metre tall dwarft pear tree. Broken branches, trees bent to the ground, rosebushes in pieces on the ground: the damage has been great, and the budget will have to stretch to several replacement plants.
But it’s not all gloom and doom, now that the snow is gone and the sun is making the veranda toasty again. The plants have loved all this winter moisture and many are showing more buds than we usually see.
And the pond has suddenly come to life!
We’ve only seen a couple frogs, tiny ones, in the past, after seeing many tadpoles. But we still had so much snow even two weeks ago that we couldn’t reach the pond, and we haven’t seen a single tadpole.
Today 10 or more frogs the size of a small fist have poked their heads out of the mud to sunbathe. And there are two clouds of frog spawn floating on the surface of the pond, so it looks like this is frog party year.
The little frogs sneak out of the pond to hide in the ivy around the edge, at the bottom of my rock garden.
The rock garden is offering us its first flowers after a handful of crocus blooms – pink and purple pulsatilla, or Paque flowers.
I expect to see nature hard at work to get the creatures balance right in coming weeks. The frogs will be happy about our bugs, and I hope they become expert at catching the flies from the cows next door. On the other hand, we are on a kind of neighborhood autoroute for cats, and I think we’ll see them sunbathing on the edge of the pond, waiting for the frogs.
The garden cleanup chores, and there are plenty, suffered a bit from the frog-watching today, but it was worth it.
My Alpine garden is under so much snow that it’s hard to believe we might have something growing there by June.
And I’m not sure how much my budget will have for lovely new things, since so much will go to replace the fence and broken trees after our stupendous 1-metre-plus snowfalls.
Another Alpine gardener, across the Rhone and a row of mountains in Zermatt, Bill, sent me this advice, with a photo taken from his kitchen window (you’ll find it here): “Look closely and you will see a bird I just fed by hand (cheese ends) flying in front of the church tower. If you have a friend in the states who can mail you garden seeds go to www.fedcoseeds.com. Some great producers.”
Closer to home I buy some seeds by catalogue from Wyss Select, which claims to be the largest online supplier, but I have a weakness for buying seed packets whenever I go to a plant store or garden center. And I’ve just received a message saying Schilliger’s sales are on until 11 February, uh-oh, and of course they will be starting to put out new seed packets.
Time to dream a little dream of warmer weather, the sun on the earth in my garden, ahhhh.
A lovely photo in The Guardian of an all-heather award-winning small garden from the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show appealed to me because it’s on different levels. With our mountainside slopes I have vague plans and dreams of some day building low walls to make terraced slopes, but these are projects for someone with more time and money.
The photo suddenly made me wonder, however, if Switzerland has heather and I realized I couldn’t think of the French for heather, since when I have seen it, mainly in Ireland and Scotland, I didn’t need my French.
Bruyère came up when I googled it and I had to laugh because of course my garden has it in several corners, and it’s famous in this part of the world as a plant you put in cemeteries. I was once told to be careful never to offer it as a gift, in Paris, for that reason. Meanwhile, chez moi, we could bury a lot of people, if heather is what is needed.
The laugh is on me because I’ve just cleaned out and redone our rock garden, and cutting back the ambitious heather was part of the job. I’ve been rooting out gangly plants I never liked, planting more flowers and a greater variety of colours. Now it needs two weeks for the plants to start producing more foliage and flowers, and this evening I will scatter nasturtium seeds, in shades of bright red and orange, around the bare edge of our bisse-fed pond, where the last of the tadpoles are quickly growing into miniature frogs.
Heather is used as a medicinal plant in homeopathic remedies, mainly for cystitis and urinary infections, according to Creapharma in Switzerland.
What I really had in mind was wild, blooming heather (which has sparked more than one song), Calluna vulgaris, and I found a lovely photo of it on a blog I’ve just tripped over, about Swiss wild flowers, flores et fleurs suisses. I’d like to thank the authors for their link to another interesting flowers site, new to me, Swiss Web Flora.
Heather does many nice things for a garden, and attracting bees is one of them in this age where we worry about disappearing bee populations. In Scotland it is reputed to bring happiness; there is surely a link.
For now it’s adding soft green but within weeks we’ll start to see pink and purple bushes there, a nice soft brush stroke of colour as the season evolves.
Three days of steady labour, aching bones and sore muscles: but check out that second photo! Visible weeds mostly gone, maverick potatoes, onions and garlic that we overlooked in the fall are also gone, soil is turned over and new onions, potatoes and garlic planted. We’re fairly manic about getting rid of the old potatoes, although the young, divided garlic can give us a bit of spring garlic.
The risk of disease and bugs is too great to leave last season’s vegetables. Potatoes, in particular, easily develop potato bugs if old plants are allowed to stay.
In the ground now: 1kg each of Desirée, Ratte and Agata potatoes, 70 red onions and about the same number of white, about 30 lettuce plants of four varieties. Strawberries have been divided, replanted and fresh straw put around them to keep in the moisture and keep out slugs. That’s optimism, since without rain we won’t have slugs.
Patate.ch is a nice Swiss web site, in French, for learning more about potatoes, with planting and harvest times.
Our lettuce cover is a great addition, as it allows us to put the young plants out about two weeks earlier. It provides just enough wind protection and shade to help them along.
Grow, grow, grow! The harvest starts in early July.
The garden before, a challenging sight, and after, with 2 people labouring for 3 days
I’m holding my breath to see if the fruit tree blossoms are able to resist our surprise snowfall last night.
Before I put in my contact lenses this morning I thought those were blossoms on the ground, under my plum and apple trees, but no, it was snow!
The sky is blue, the mountains a magnificent sharp white from the fresh snow, and it’s too chilly to pull weeds, so maybe we’ll just sit in the swing, relax and admire the view.
After all, that is the other reason for having a garden.
Late yesterday I gave in to the urge to plant and bought tomatoes and young lettuce plants, then left them in the car overnight because it was too late in the day to put them in the ground. What a stroke of luck, as the car was a better place to be last night. I’m reminded of my elderly neighbour’s warning not to be deceived by last week’s early warm weather.
Take heed, if you fancy a hike in the Alps.