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.
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.
Cows join me for a day of gardening, to the tune of Swiss cowbells
I’m beginning to realize just how blessed I am to have a garden at 1,100 metres above sea level, after reading in the New York Times about the latest rage among lowland gardeners.
Growing plants upside-down seems to cure a lot of plant ailments and get rid of many pests.
I have to confess that while the tomatoes might taste good, having made it to adulthood with their roots pointing to the sky, hanging them from the clothesline doesn’t do much for the landscape, and that’s one of the things I enjoy about my garden.
Photos: while out gardening like mad last weekend, two young heifers from the farm next door came to see what I was doing. We happily spent most of the day together.
I was weeding and planting 150 tiny wild thyme (serpolet, as it is known in French) plants among the raspberries to keep down the weeds that swagger in from the farmer’s field.
The young cows were keeping down the now-flowering meadow. Their brass Swiss cowbells clanged away as we both worked, pleasant music to my ears, along with the soft crunch-scrunch of grass and flowers getting chomped on.
Did you know this about cows: they have no upper teeth.
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Flower shops filled with tulips in the spring always surprise me, because I almost never cut my tulips to bring them indoors, and I forget that other people fill vases with them and set them around the house.
I think I’m lucky to have streaks of gay color from them spread around outside, brightening the view from every window. The Dutch have done such a superb job of taming them that we forget these are magnificent mountain wild flowers. My favorites are red ones that tumble down from the top of the field next door, true farmer’s tulips.
I plant more exotic varieties and a lot of colors, but these are more susceptible to the cold, and the temperature can dip below freezing until at least mid-May, sometimes later, at 1,000 meters altitude.
Last weekend I was enjoying this particular variegated group when I noticed that one, a lovely flower, had a broken stem.
The cold at night weakens the stems and when they are top-heavy with luscious blooms they tumble over, sometimes breaking the stem.
I took it inside, put the single bloom on its side in a small wooden dish, no water, and it became our centerpiece for two days, giving off a deep perfume while we admired its elegance indoors for a change.
The color and perfume remained far longer than I expected, reminding me that for all their delicate beauty, tulips are pretty tough! I don’t cut the stems of mine – there are far too many – and I don’t dig them up, just hoping they will make it through tough winters. I do divide them when they multiply to the point where the flowers start to get smaller, once every 3-4 years. Gardener Doug Green has some sound advice on caring for tulips. One especially good tip: don’t water them after they’ve bloomed.
Back out in the garden, another spring treasure was the sudden blossoming of the strawberry plants, We’re a good two weeks below the gardens down the hill, on the plain, but I’m happy to wait: I’d wager our strawberries are among the world’s best!
Our Christmas tree has been languishing on the veranda, in its stand, but it must have dried out because this week it blew into my rock garden where it is still sitting. No one wants to go out into the damp to move it. It’s an odd decoration.
Even odder, though, is the crashed car that is sitting in a garden in canton Thurgau, Switzerland, after a 22-year-old driver crashed there. He ended up in the hospital after pitching his car nose first into the garden.
Someone asked me recently for advice on what plants to grow in the Alps, in mountainous areas. I’m still reflecting on this and will write about it later, but two things came to mind immediately, because they have been so easy to grow: pumpkins, which love to run down a slope, and wild grasses, which thrive on our sunshine, general dryness and good drainage.
I then realized I have a small space to fill in my garden, and I headed for Schilliger Garden Center in Gland. It is the perfect time to buy grasses, for you can see them at their glorious best, with twirls and frills and long curly bits.
The variety is astonishing, from small ground-huggers to plumes that are more than two metres high. The contrast of textures and tones is a visual treat, especially this time of year when flowers are past their best and the eyes long to settle on something peaceful in a garden. Grasses waving in the breeze are perfect for this.
GenevaLunch photo album of Schilliger grasses, images from 5 October 2009
It’s been a rough and tiring summer, at work and at home, and the result is the equivalent of a bad hair day, called a bad garden summer. The lawn nearly died and had to be reseeded, one of my favorite flowers from the previous two summers turned out to be a ravenous weed and it took over. An expensive pine tree has suspicious brown needles. In short, the garden was three parts discouragement to one part joy in 2009. There is only one solution: visit a wonderful garden centre (in this case my favorite, Schilliger) and buy a carload of new plants! This requires more optimism about the state of the economy and my bank balance than the news page suggests, but what is gardening if not a reflection of optimism about the future?
Fortunately, my garden was spared the snow, but it was definitely a chilly rain that fell on my Alpine garden at 1,100 metres Saturday, 30 May. When the clouds cleared at the end of the day the peaks were covered in snow, as was a large meadow above us, near Aminona, at about 2,000 metres. Pity any hikers who were out for the long weekend!
Down below, farmer Bernard has been mowing the hay for his calves, too young to be out in the still cool and damp meadows.
My barrier between the garden and his fields, not very effective at keeping out wild meadow grasses and flowers, is a collection of irises. They always have a green backdrop and the additional pleasure of freshly grass or hay smells. Weeding the middle of each clump is not much fun at this time of year, though.
My next to the last post was about the pleasure of finding dried peppermint leaves under deep winter snow, on the edge of the veranda or I would have needed a shovel. And then I, too, hibernated.
Now we have the raw pleasure of new, fresh peppermint leaves, hugging the ground, not worrying about whether or not the gardener has done her post-winter tidying of the beds. Each one is better than 10 sticks of peppermint gum or a whole sweet!