Today's been a phenomenally nice day, with temperatures around 17°C, and bright sun. Yesterday was cooler, and a bit cloudier, which made it an ideal day for chopping a load of firewood (sticky tricky pine, but never mind).
The warmth and bright sun today's meant that there are probably a dozen daffodils pretty much out, where yesterday there were three. The crocuses enjoyed it, too, and I'm pretty sure a bee flew past me (too fast to be sure) this afternoon.
The dwarf irises in the long border, and around the pond, are out, and beautiful.
Dwarf iris (© Ian 2014)
When the acer in the front garden was first planted, in a large pot in our last garden, we underplanted it with snowdrops. They never came to much, but after we planted the acer in our new front garden (before starting this blog: I think it was September 2009), they've started to come up, and the last couple of years have given us a decent show.
Snowdrops under the acer (© Ian 2014)
I've actually got a big consignment of snowdrops on order—1000 common singles (Galanthus nivalus) and 500 doubles (G. n. 'Flora Pleno')—which will hopefully arrive, in the green, soon, and can go out, on hillside and in garden.
Which brings us to today's efforts. First thing was finishing the winter pruning, by working on the fruit bushes. The blackcurrants, gooseberries, and red/whitecurrants all needed pruning, and we also removed some old wood on the blueberries, which are still proving troublesome. The two oldest ('Grover' and something unknown) were several years old when planted in 2010, and the other three are now four years old—and still not very large (to say the least). These three have definitely grown better over the last year (hopefully the good mulching last spring and resultant weed-free year has got them going), at least. However, we decided that we had to take out some old wood on the oldest pair, as ageing stems is possibly the cause of their much-reduced yield.
Once we'd finished in the fruit beds, we went up onto the hillside, to start work on clearing the blackthorn at the back of the orchard. This is partly to increase the size of the orchard, as the two sweet chestnuts are nestled into clearings in the blackthorn, and the space for the second mulberry (which, I'm astonished to realise, I never mentioned) is currently somewhere inside the blackthorn shown below.
Orchard, with back boundary of blackthorn (© Ian 2014)
The blackthorn (which have never produced loads of sloes, sadly) lies in front of a line of trees (hawthorn, elder, and holly, primarily) which would make a better boundary, probably underplanted with hazel, beech, and bulbs. We're working on it from above, so it looks much the same today as it does in these photos, but we've actually hollowed out the undergrowth quite effectively. It's probably still a couple of days' work, but it's a good start. As Liz cleared, I was burning the blackthorn on a bonfire in the upper clearing (a hot, fast burning bonfire, I must note: no smoky, smouldering eyesore), as blackthorn's a nightmare to chip.
The entrance to the clearing, through, hopefully, arch-trained plums, will be roughly central in the photo below. You can just make out the sweet chestnut's stake on the far right; the other is hidden on the left. The mulberry will probably go behind and left of the established apple tree just in front of the blackthorn (for now). So; the mulberry. For several years, our local garden centre has sent a voucher around early November, which I've managed to use for a cheap fruit tree: a Broadview walnut in 2012, and a Serbian Gold quince in 2011. Last November, they had a 'Chelsea' mulberry (also known as 'King James', as it comes from a plant grown at Chelsea Physic Park as part of King James IV's misguided silk industry initiative), which we thought would make a good partner to the Jerusalem mulberry planted nearer the front of the orchard. And with 50% off, it was rather a good deal. It's had to remain in its pot, unfortunately, as we've not finished clearing its space, but fortunately, as it's container grown, it should be fine for a little longer: there's not the rush to get it in the ground, unlike bare-root, field-grown trees.
The orchard, looking up at the doomed blackthorn bank (© Ian 2014)