If I had no other clues, my bone-weary hands today would tell me I spent too many hours catching up on garden chores yesterday.
The veranda has been swept, scrubbed and hosed down, a key chore so that I have a nice place to sit and admire my garden.
Just before shops closed I ran out to buy a second-hand cupboard for small tools to replace a dear but dying old table. I found just what I’ve had in mind for the past five years.
I weeded and weeded and weeded, and now the strawberry patch is mostly strawberries again. I’m planning to move them and used them in a decorative pattern with lettuce plants, which the slugs will love. No slugs at the moment, with too little rain.
Two fast-growing trees that threaten to give the flowers too much shade had a haircut, and the long branches were dragged down to the driveway, for next Saturday’s trip to the landfill. Yesterday’s trip to the landfill, a chore passed on to my fellow gardener, included an old barbecue and two large bags of weeds plus detritus that seems to accumulate around our garden.
The farmer next door moved the electric fence so his young heifers can nibble the grass next door, so seven of them kept me company as I worked – they are curious and love to watch what’s happening at our house.
They are also frisky and, as Swiss fighting cows do, they tussle and lock horns several times a day. At one point, while two of them were doing this a third one, further up the hill, suddenly decided to charge them at full speed. They stopped in their tracks and stared in astonishment as she charged, but went right past them. She stoppped a couple metres below them and nonchalantly started eating grass again. Cow games!
Hands: gloves are a must to keep scratches and scrapes and dirt within bounds, but I have just stocked up on two other essentials, slightly gritty washing paste and bees wax plus oil gardeners’ handcream. I set aside about CHF30 of my garden budget for these every year. The washing paste works better than gel-type hobby handcreams, which are good for getting rid of oil but not garden dirt. And the bees wax + oil massaged in at the end of the day works wonders for soothing hands as well as keeping them human-looking.
Friday evening as I stopped to buy groceries in Villeneuve, at the eastern end of Lake Geneva, I watched a group of paragliders drifting down, slowly, so slowly. They appeared to hardly move.
The leaves have done the same this weekend, with a hint of breeze now and again pushing a few more of them off the tree and then down they drift, spiraling and taking their time.
One of the weekend chores has been to rake the leaves and the apples from under the century-old apple tree and bury them under soil at the top of the garden. To that we add the compost, now cleaned out and ready for a winter of fresh leftovers from the kitchen. By spring, after freezing and thawing several times, the earth at the top of the garden will be fine and rich and ready to take potatoes.
I had a bottle of wine that we didn’t drink because it had a fault, so I took it up on the hillside and sprinkled it over the pile of rotting apples and leaves. It felt a bit like a baptism for next summer’s vegetables.
Gardeners are about the only people I know who rejoice when it rains, watching their favourite plants brighten up at getting a good long drink. One day of good rain is always welcome, but by day two it wears thin and this gardener has to find other occupations.
Bake a pie! Our Swiss Alps rhubarb is still great, with lovely thin young pink stalks, perfect for pies. I learned a lesson in rhubarb cutting from my neighbours in the mountains, that you can have rhubarb all summer if you frequently cut it back, leaving just one stalk standing in each little clump. I’ve had good results four years in a row following this advice. When I lived in Minnesota years ago, the last place I grew rhubarb, we cut it in early summer, then left it alone to recover for the next year. Unfortunately, I cut it last week, for another pie.
Luckily we have just enough gooseberries left for one last pie. Gooseberry pie always makes me think of my father. It was his favourite dessert and he would tell us about scrambling around among the thorns to get them from semi-wild bushes during his boyhood on a farm near Iowa City, Iowa, during world war 1.
Every bit of a garden holds a memory, which is part of what I love about growing things.
Follow the recipe for pie crust on GL’s guide, "How to bake a perfect American apple pie in Switzerland"
- 4 cups very ripe pink gooseberries
- As much very finely slivered fresh ginger as you can stand (I use about 3 T)
- 1/3 cup of packed brown sugar
- 1/8 tsp of salt
- 1-1/2 tablespoons corn starch, f
The only thing I can think of that requires more patience than watching a kettle boil is watching a ladybug who has not yet begun to feast on aphids.
The aphids arrive, cover the roses, make the leaves on the apple trees curl, and only then do the ladybugs begin to go to work. I’m not a bio gardener, but I am trying to head that direction and I try to avoid chemical sprays. How hard it was to keep my hands off the spray last night when I noticed that a beautiful honeysuckle bush, which gently perfumes the veranda every summer, was covered in aphids. I remembered noticing during the day that we have more ladybugs than usual this year, so I hoped they would quickly find their way to the honeysuckle.
They did, and they are hard at work on the honeysuckle’s aphid population. I’ve checked the bush three times in the past two hours and the speed with which the ladybugs work is impressive.
The roses where they have been working for a few days now look healthy and nearly aphid-free. Last year I ordered ladybugs and was told by a bio farmer that this year they would come back in numbers that will match the aphid population, if I leave nature to do its work.
Large views of these photos and a cropped closeup of one of the ladybugs are in my Flickr set, Swiss spring 2007.