Back at the start of year, bleary eyed, hungover from New Year's revels which involved a five year old dancing to Auld Langs Syne (techno style dancing, he does a mean robot, big box, little box, packing box that would make Burns wince) and running between Big Ben on the television screen and our view over Manchester towards the South-West which was lit up with fireworks and bonfires; we don't know if they were planned or just exuberant parties that had got out of hand. Our party came to end after the final slump that comes with the New Year, being a year older and the realisation that we hadn't drunk that much and were still trying to wrestle a small child into bed at three in the morning. In the end he decamped to our bed, slept across the whole width of the bed and we hung on to edges, wide eyed. So, in the whole slump, mess and regeneration of the New Year we managed to get into the garden and plant something. We planted daffodils, we planted them late because most of November and whole of December was literally a wash out. The mulch we placed on one bed was around four inches deep in December and as of today is non-existent. That's how much rain we've had. Walking on the soil in December was a mix of bravery, stupidity or a desire to discover quick mud. It's like quick sand except that the worms are more belligerent. We held off as long as we could but in the end we got the new daffodils in the Cottage Garden. This is the part of the garden that faces directly onto the house, it is strangely - depending on the wind direction - the most protected and exposed area of the garden. If plants survive here they will survive an expedition with Captain Scott.
Today, daffodils are weaving in and around perennial plants and fruit bushes. They skip through the beds, a promise of the colour to come in the next few days. There is a reason we planted bulbs here, and they differ from those in the orchard which are mowed down. The orchard daffodils aren't left with their foliage on, therefore two weeks before the first cut of the orchard which can be anything from May to July, we put down a potash feed around the daffodils. This gives them a good feed. If we can, we will leave the grass to grow long around the daffodils here and cut them down in July, this means that the daffodil leaves have taken down everything they can to help the bulb survive winter and the potash does this too. However, bulbs in beds of perennials are great because there is no maintenance to them beyond dead heading (taking the flowers off, you do this on bulbs or the energy that should be going back into the bulb will go into making seed). Just make sure that the perennials around them will by the end of July be taller than the bulbs. We plant ours among such perennials as geraniums (not pelargoniums. Many of the tea and wee plant nurseries sell pelargoniums as geraniums, pelargoniums are not hardy in our country and need protecting undercover during winter. Geraniums are as tough as old boots) and the foliage of the geranium by July has covered the daffodil leaves which are dying back.
We often forget that bulbs should be an integral part of any garden. They cheer you up when you look out onto your plot, they're an early source of nectar if the spring has been lean for the bees, and it has been very lean this year; the blossom is yet to kick in and the fruit tree buds are packed tight with no sign of them bursting in the next few weeks. Our quince looks sad, we think it may be a casualty of the wet winter and leaf blight - we pruned infected branches out over winter and burnt them but it may have been too much for a young tree to hold off, we'll have to see.
We get emails everyday asking why we seem to have plants flowering later than the rest of you. We'll get emails asking why our daffodils are so late when your's have been and gone. The simple answer is that we 1330ft above sea level on the edges of moorland and the soil when wet can take forever to warm up. Some plants thrive, others die but we are still here looking out and enjoying the first flowers of spring. It's an important lesson for the new gardener too. That no matter what we say, no matter what Monty Don tells you on Gardener's World or Pippa Greenwood on Gardeners' Question Time or Jim McColl The Beechgrove Garden, you're garden is unique to you. We can show you the basics but sometimes it's easier to look at your neighbours gardens and see what is growing for them. A garden can be influenced by so much to create micro environments, from the hedge you plant, to the fence you erect, to the very soil and sun. There are no fast and hard rules to say that daffodils should appear in February and be gone by late March. There is no shame that your clematis flowers four weeks after everyone else's. That your cabbages come in later, your carrots come in earlier or your spuds curl up and die. New and old gardeners often forget that any advice should be taken with the consideration that their garden is unique to them. Watch your garden, learn from it and enjoy the flowers no matter when they arrive.