Sunday 29 May 2022

Gardening with a Dodgy Knee #3

My first foray into gardening this year was back in February. We’d had the cooker moved, new splash backs and a cooker hood installed and some painting and decorating done to spruce up the kitchen. That occupied us until the weather opened up.

On February 11 I put spent indoor hyacinths in the greenhouse which had had had the frost stat on for 2 months. It felt warm inside and all was doing well in there. The sweet peas were growing and the geraniums had overwintered well in the just-above-freezing temperatures.

As it was likely we’d still get a few days or nights of frost I planted the certified garlic bulbs in a small raised bed and a few more in the veggie plot in pre-prepped soil. The soil was workable - which shows we’d had a mild winter - and it was just like planting onion sets except that garlic is supposed to need frost to help them develop. Hence the need to get them in the ground without delay. (To keep the birds off I covered over the rows of planted garlic with fleece - so no hungry beaks could pluck at them.)

The next day the weather was still open allowing me to do some cutting back of old growth and the greenhouse was up to 50 deg F. I pinched out the overwintering sweet peas for bushier growth. And it was light outside until about 6 pm. Although it was still only mid February the day had the feel of shifting out of winter into almost early spring. 

A week later I’d created enough dead growth clippings to fill the garden waste bin. Then a few days after that I couldn’t do any gardening:  we were in the thrall of Storm Eunice which created turbulent winds. We were lucky not to have anything too wild here in the south west of England. And for the first winter in years no fence panels had blown down. But as well as the terrific winds it was very wet out. 

On February 24th the truly saddening news that Russia had invaded Ukraine was across all news media. February 24th. I will never forget the date. All I had to think about was sowing my leek seeds. Others were sheltering from bomb blasts or escaping to the West with babies, one bag and a dog - to a very uncertain future.

As a distraction from this disturbing news I bought pink and yellow primulas at our local farm shop and, as they were destined for the beds in our front garden, it didn’t affect my dodgy knee. I plant them at the height of the steps… going down. So it causes very little bending. It was a beautiful sunny day - by contrast snow was on the ground in Ukraine - and I got up the last of the winter leaves. Not a creative job. It makes my back ache but there are fewer drifts of leaves now we’ve had two deciduous trees cut back. 

By the last day of February pretty pink and blue pulmonaria were growing in ‘mum’s garden’. Crocuses were looking good at the front of the house along with the miniature daffodils. The patio tubs were full of white cyclamen and they needed very little tending but my miniature irises were doing very little. I would have thought they should have been displaying their violet and yellow petals. Yet they had the growing habit of leeks.

Were they leeks?

Had I got my planting arse over tit? Only time would tell. But given the plight of the Ukrainians it was nothing to be bothered about.In the scheme of things.

And on March 1 we officially entered a new season. Winter was behind us. 

Until next time. 

Thursday 19 May 2022

Gardening with a Dodgy Knee #2

As we wallow in and out of warm weather I reflect on my ideas for the garden ( and my dodgy knee) at the top of the year: 

It’s cold and dank out there. I want to plant primulas to give a little pale colour in my front borders, now we are entering a cold, dark season. 

That change in pace. That change in feelings, in thoughts and in our sense of comfort. We emerge from a period of self indulgence; scoffing mince pies and chocolate, watching films and adjusting biblical figures in our nativity scene. 

My knee, barely oiled through indolence, suffers from negotiating the steps at eight o’ clock in the morning. Sharp spikes of cold hit my damaged kneecap. It’s barely light. There’s a film of frost glinting on the tarmac. We have to get the car out but the shock of scraping the windscreen pushes the festive period back into the shiny box of Christmas memories.

This is no longer hogmanay. It’s a bleak, barely back-to-life winter’s morning. The world is cold. I want to retreat to the comfort of the warm sitting room and not be concerned about whether the car will start. Or whether my knee will hurt. 

Down the hill the village square is devoid of human life. The lights are on at the supermarket and seem unusually welcome. We can wait in there, stay warm, do a shop, until the bus arrives. The bistro and the cafe won’t open for an hour. The bus shelter affords no protection from the icy roars belting around the corner on to this treeless pavement. In summer the heat beats through the bus shelter’s perspex roof. There is no shade. In winter there is no protection from the wind.

The farm shop with its early spring-coloured hyacinths and primulas is still in darkness. No colourful flowers for our front garden this morning. 

It’s barely dawn. We haven’t been out so early for weeks. Back then we were having the warmest December on record. It was hardly daylight but there was no winter chill. 

Now is a time for stillness. The garden will need to be still too. Not even a snowdrop has emerged. We wait.

Sunday 15 May 2022

Gardening with a dodgy knee #1

One of the glories of late spring, when thermometer readings race above 50 deg F, is that it’s time to start growing flowers and veg, under glass. But also the pain in my knee seems less.

There’s something about warmth: warm sunshine, warm water or even a hot water bottle, that soothes a dodgy knee. And physical activity gets easier. But I do have to garden in a slightly less vigorous way now. It’s not because I’m ancient that I have a dodgy knee. It is a result of having to jump off a boat that ran aground in Exmouth 30 years ago. The trauma to the knee when I landed badly ( trying to protect my back which had caused me some pain) meant I lost cartilage. I was told I’d likely get trouble with that knee in years to come. So here we are.

More positively there’s a scientific explanation for heat therapy. Warmth makes blood vessels dilate which means more oxygen flows to the muscles - presumably around the knee in my case. And when the muscles are pliable the knee joint is flexible - and lubricated - and the stiffness goes. Also, we all know how we feel when the sun is out. Warmth, on a neuro-psychological level, is good for us and decreases the pain signals to the brain. So warmth is good.

It doesn’t alter the fact that I have 3 or 4 prescription pain killers a day when I’m back out in the garden. I can’t kneel to weed as shooting pains charge up my thigh and I can’t get up. So I dig - with a fork or spade - and weed that way. When the soil is really dry I have a hefty hoe to weed between plants, if I’m lucky, or between rows if I’m not. There are ways around gardening with a dodgy knee. I get less done per hour than I used to. But, as I have all the time I need, now I’ve stopped tutoring, I don’t have to garden in a rush. 

Weeding between patio slabs, where I can’t dig with a spade is a trial. Sometimes my husband helps. Occasionally I resort to the least harmful weedkiller possible. There may be a tool on the market for such a job. I have joined a fb gardening group. They are so helpful - I’d better ask them.

Being outside at least 10 minutes a day is good for us psychologically, so says Dr Michael Mosley, who researches such things. It has been a very dry few weeks and I’ve barely been out to a pub, restaurant or to see friends over the last eight days as there’s been so much to do in the garden. But there’s also been much sitting out in the sunshine. 

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot?

As I write I remember I left my amaranth - celosia plants out overnight. They should have hardened off by now. And the same goes for the romanseco ( calabrese) which arrived a fortnight ago in a cardboard book wrapper from cousins in Leeds. I repotted them and they are a good few inches bigger now. My lovely dwarf beans have also hardened off and I told my brother I would send him photographs of the rose he gave me for my birthday. It’s called Molineux. No guessing what the colour of the petals is!

But I’d better get on with it! A day’s light gardening to do. I may have to put a few plants in at ground level but many will go in the raised beds. The latter is much easier to do with a dodgy knee. Far less bending is involved. 

Until next time.