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.
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.
Two weeks of very unusually warm weather and, even in the mountains, we’re tempted to call it spring.
My elderly neighbour, who has spent her life here and who remembers the weather from past years, like a good farmer, says we’re having August in April, “and that’s not normal!” she worries.
I resisted the temptation to plant, as at 1,100 metres altitude, the days might be warm, but the temperature spread can be huge, with still-chilly nights.
Last weekend I had to mow the lawn, very unusual here before May, and I finally admitted today that Nature’s clock is ahead of mine.
I made out my “urgent” garden chores list this morning:
- scarify the 75% of the lawn I didn’t do last weekend
- use the little handcutter to tidy the edge of the grass, especially along the walk and edge of the veranda
- straighten the wonky fences
- drive in the stakes we put in for small border fences last autumn – they would only go in halfway, with baked soiled back then
- use my little 3-pronged light plastic tool to gently pull out dead leaves from around the bushes and clippers to cut off some of the dead flowers, leaving enough old stalks above them to protect them a bit in case of a sudden cold spell
- convince someone else to reduce the foot-high dead tree stumps, from winter clearing, down to ground level
- separate and move strawberries that I’ve decided will fill a hillside space I created by digging up hopeless grass (more holes than greenery).
And if I have any energy left after that, there is the little weeding tool for reducing dandelions and clover to more manageable populations. People here eat dandelion leaves with bacon and hard-boiled eggs for a spring salad, and since we don’t use chemicals I could do that, but have never made it a priority.
Maybe this is the year to try.
One last chore is to tidy the rock garden: dig up the unwanted flowers that ran down hill reproducing all the way, cut down a few small bushes that suddenly outgrew the garden, and remove dead plant life to make room for the new that is pushing up everywhere.
Next to the hilly rock garden is a lovely pond, fed by an underground stream, a “bisse” as they are known in Valais, one of the thousands of mini-streams fed by glacial melt. It’s filled with dead leaves, grasses, detritus including bits of old flowerpots.
But it is thrumming with life, suddenly filled this week with tadpoles. A friend who knows about these things assured me last year that frogs love having hiding places and a pond that isn’t too tidy, so cleaning it will have to wait until the tadpoles make it to the next stage of their amazing lives and jump out of the pond.