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.
I believe it’s called Eros blue, based on a number of photos on the site eurobutterflies by Matt Rowlings, where he notes that it is similar in appearance to the Common blue butterfly, but is a high alpine creature.
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.
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.
I couldn’t resist putting the closeup lens on the camera.
I used to think our slopes, warm days and cool nights in the mountains were perfect for irises until someone burst my bubble by telling me they grow just about anywhere.
That’s a good thing in the end. They are gorgeous!
GUEST post by Shirley Curran
A hike in the Jura mountains
It is very quiet up on the Colomby de Gex during the week but, today, we saw 13 chamois. It is difficult to know what they are eating on the barren cliff side but they are very busy.
The green woodpeckers, jays and cuckoos were noisy and we saw a rare sight, an eighteen-inch long Jura viper. Sadly he was dead; he had probably been dropped by a predatory bird.
However, the most spectacular sight was, as it is every year, the vast fields of wild daffodils.
There are thousands of them up there and today they were in full flower and at their most beautiful, just below the last vestiges of snow.
We bought a piece of property a few years ago that had two apple trees, 75 and 100 years old at the time. The younger gave Canadas, good for pies, for two years, then began to die and this spring we had to cut it down. The older tree is still going strong and giving apples, a rustic Valais variety that no one grows anymore. It’s easy to understand why: it’s a bit too soft, some years the apples have little flavor and the minute you bite into them they turn brown. Not for today’s consumers.
So we planted two trees, a Fuji and a Braeburn.
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!
An exceptionally long winter, with the garden buried for five months under nearly a metre of snow, has finally come to an end, and the garden has emerged. Unscathed – well, not quite. Broken branches had to be sawed off several bushes and trees, especially saddening on beautiful little Japanese maples, two of which now look lopsided rather than graceful. At 1,100 metres they don’t grow much over 1 of 1.5 metres, so they provide lovely colour and elegant lines at a midway height between bushes and trees.
Otherwise, the garden has benefited from a long, slow drink all winter, with several shrubs shooting up a few centimetres in height. Perennials are coming up strongly. Birds and bees are all active and noisy, and there is no sign at our place that the world’s bees are dying out, so perhaps we can offer them a refuge.
The greatest surprise was frog spawn, although I swept several balls out of the pond while cleaning it before I realized what I was sending down the bisse. Our pond is actually just a rock-edged pause in the mountain stream, coming in underground at one end and running out a small waterfall at the other end. We don’t keep fish because we can’t. They would quickly disappear downhill. So I never imagined frogs could breed here and they never have.
Here is what’s been growing my pond. Now to see if we get tadpoles or frogs from this. I know very little about these creatures, so telephoned a knowledgeable brother-in-law in southern England whose response was only “I hope you can still sleep if you get frogs!” Their nighttime chorus is loud to very loud. I looked up basic frog information online and found it contradictory, so I guess we let nature take its course and sit back to watch the show.