Sunday 4 December 2022

Beating General Winter

Cycalmen hederafolium - blooming in the gloom
Old Codger has been putting off the inevitable. That is, writing a final episode in this series of blogs

We began this blog two and a half years ago when we were in the throes of the first Covid outbreak. Guessing that the enforced leisure might turn the attention of many friends to their gardens, we hit on a way raising money for charity - turning necessity into virtue, so to speak

Several thousands of pounds later, we have reached the point where increasing domestic demands - and a certain diminution in our own personal energy levels - demand a rethink. (Hint as to age: I was born during WW2 and celebrate a big zero this very day)

Since we are subject to the same laws as the flowers of the field, it seems sensible to reshape our way of working. Sadly, the blog has to go - but our gardening will continue as long as the creaking joints allow. In place of the blog we plan to communicate via WhatsApp. Around 20 friends have already signed up so that makes running a group a worthwhile exercise. If you wish your name to be added to the group, please let me know. You won't be unindated (or even inundated!) - just a few messages each month - mainly during the growing season

There is a really a three-fold purpose in having a targetted group. First, it will allow me to keep you informed (the very next blog item is a prime example). Second, it will help me to remain accountable as I intend to provide regular financial updates. And third, it will faciltate information exchange between members - answering gardening questions and the like. So, in some ways, the change could well be to everyone's advantage

The first WhatsApp missive is planned for Sunday 4th December - the date that I'm planning for this final episode. You will have worked out by now that I'm writing this final episode in stages - so here we go

A church damaged after shelling in a residential district in Mariupol
at the beginning of the invasion.  Photo by Evgeniy Maloletk
(Sunday 27.11.22) Beating General Winter
How mild our autumn has been. I picked a outside tomato only yesterday! Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the weather is very much colder. Although Codger has never visited that country, we have experienced freezing winter conditions in Krakow, not that far over the Polish side of the border. (Kracow was once within the administrative region when part of Galicia - one of those vanished dominions in central and eastern Europe (1773-1918))

The Russians talk about General Winter, implying 'if we can't beat you, the winter will' - witness Napolean's retreat from Moscow and Hitler's failed invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. The present vicious and sustained attacks on Ukraine's infrastructure is obviously meant to bring the country to its knees by denying the civilian population protection from the freezing winter conditions. And this among many other evils being perpetrated at the moment

An unmistakeable historical figure in retreat
- beaten by General Winter
Although we cannot do as much as ideal circumstances would permit, our efforts to raise funds for humanitarian relief will continue. We sent out £1400 in September. Since then we have received a further £500, and this amount should be with our Polish friends by the time you read these words. They will see that it is well used in Ukraine

As mentioned above, we shall continue to give financial reports via the WhatsApp group. And this serves as a reminder: we are so very grateful to everyone who has continued to support the Garden Codger project

This how the RHS do it. I'm afraid my pots are that posh
Mine are shown in the next photo
Not in flower yet, of course!
(Monday 28.11.22) Spring bulbs
I've just come in from a really warm greenhouse where I have been planting Spring bulbs in containers. Once again the weather has turned out sunnier than forecast so it was a pleasant exercise

The bulbs are planted lasagna-style in a range of planters. Layering the bulbs in this way produces a succession of blooms. I use tulips in the bottom layer, daffs in the middle and either crocus or iris at the top

I'm very glad to report that we have had a good number of orders - but Codger can do some more! They make great Christmas presents. Of course, you can do your own - it's not too late nor is it very difficult. Click here and you'll get step-by-step instructions from the RHS

Here is one of mine, a three litre pot
with two layers: daffodils and crocus
If you get one from Codger you can put the planter in a corner outside after flowering. Then, next autumn, reposition the pot and enjoy a repeat flush. To encourage a second-year repeat I use use good quality bought compost but add some of my own sifted garden compost so the bulbs get a very feed after they have flowered. The compost mix is lightened by the addition of perlite. (As I have often mentioned in these pages, the general purpose potting compost you buy from supermarkets can be rather caggy and poor draining - hence the use of perlite.)

 The whole thing is finished off with a layer of grit. Not only does this look good but it helps prevent the grow of algae. We have a good supply of top quality bulbs so more orders appreciated. And all for an excellent cause, of course.

(Wednesday 30.11.22) Understanding the conflict
Perhaps it is appropriate to mention how Codger has sought to be better informed about the situation in Ukraine and, in particular, the Russian invasion. The chequered relationship between the two countries cannot be understood without some knowledge of its history so I joined the history class at Yale - yes, the top American ivy-league university. And, I'm not swanking - you can join, too - as the series - The Making of Modern Ukraine - is on YouTube. I'm told there have been around 5 million views from 70 countries! The lecturer is Professor Timothy Snyder. You might find the first lecture hard going but a warning - it can become addictive:

Because of my long standing interest in Poland (we first visited friends there in 1968), I expected that the history would be complicated. And I was corrrect - like the borders shifting around fairly often - but it's worth the effort trying to understand the forces that have shaped modern Ukraine. Did you know that Kiev (Kyiv) was set up as a trading post by the Vikings? Or that four millions Ukrainians died from starvation or malutrition under Stalin in 1931-1932? We tend not to know these things. The web is such a great resource. As an alternative to the Yale series you might find the more popular style of a another YouTube well-researched resource more helpful. Try this one:

Three incidental snippets
You know how you stumble upon things when using the web? In the Yale series Prof Snyder mentions the how Polish writers have helped Ukrainians to reassess their history and identity. A particular name mentioned was Jerzy Wladyslaw (1906-2000). Does that surname ring a bell? Yes, you've got it: Mel Giedroyc, the popular television personality. Hmmm, Giedroyc, seems well worth investigating ...

I could not resist a quick look inside.
Amazing, utterly amazing!
It turns out that she is indeed related to the distinguished Polish-Lithuanian dynasty just mentioned. It transpires that her father, Michal Jan Henryk Giedroyc, was among the infamous deportation of Poles that I wrote about in an earlier blog (look back to 22nd May 2022). As I recount there, over a million Poles ended up in Siberian gulags - many dying from the privations of the journey and the harshness Siberian winter. When Stalin allied Russia with the West in 1941 many were released in order to fight against Germany, trekking south in horrendous conditions. Michal Giedroyc joined the Anders Free Polish Army in Iran as a 15 year-old lad. He was among the thousands of Poles who settled in the UK after the war where studied aeronautical engineering and became an aircraft designer with Vickers. He tells his own story in Crater's Edge. Amazon have just delivered my copy, it is still available second hand 

My third snippet also concerns a book. I've discovered that it's not possible to understand Ukarine without understanding Russia, so I was pleased to read excellent reviews of the recently published The Story of Russia by Orlando Figes. Another name to conjuer with! And another digression beckons, but that would be indulgent so let's return to gardening. (The review that caught my eye was by Anthony Beevor, author of the definitive work on Arnhem. He wrote "If you really want to understand Putin's Russia today, anchored in its past of myths, then you simply have to readFiges's superb account"

This shot was taken today. Already potted up and ready to go
As you can see, this white variety flowers early
Never mind the cold
Having referred to the oncoming winter several times, please allow me to single the praises of a plant that not only braves the cold but flowers in the middle of winter. I speak, once more, of the humble hellebore

Not only does it flower in the winter, it is, what gardeners call an easy plant. That is, it needs no particular attention. It is also great in shade. Codger has discovered that the flowering period varies with the variety. Most of mine are at their best in January and will flower well into the Spring, I have a few looking for a good home. Let me know if you are interested - usual terms and conditions! 
My production line - place your orders!

(Thursday 01.12.22) Doing your own posh pots
A further note about Spring planters that readers might like to try. Pots can be expensive - disproportionately so in Codger's opinion. For Christmas use I often recycle old pots and spruce them up with spray paint. To give a seasonal feel I use metallic paints - usually gold and silver although bronze shades also look good. A few tips in case the idea appeals ...

Don't take the risk - use a mask!
(Also available from Wilko's!)
1) Spraying, even with small cans, needs a ventilated place that is reasonably warm - so so best done outdoors in the summer. Now the weather has cooled, my second best location is the greenhouse when the sun warms it up. No sun! So we are in the garage - cheaper to heat than the greenhouse

2) Codger looks after his chest these days so I persuade myself to use a mask as in the photo. A standard Covid issue mask does not do the trick (somewhat alarming!). Head covering (style optional) also recommended to avoid sticky hair

3) Overspray is cannot be prevented so it's best to make a DIY spray booth - I use an old cardboard box. The cardboard picks up a bit bit of overspray - could be used for Christmas decoration, I reckon. (Just remembered: preparation - I found it only necessary to give the plastic pots a good wash with a sqib of washing-up liquid and a rub with gental kitchen scourer)

DIY spray booth made from a cardboeard box
4) Technique. You are not doing a car repair so perfection not necessary. A slightly wafty/drifty look is fine getting more solid as you move up to the rim. I work from the bottom turning the pot as I go. I find two tone looks best

5) Finally, which paint? Codger has found good old Wilko the cheapest and the best. Don't forget to shake the can thoroughly before use. I've just done fourteen pots to fulfill orders. I had a new can that has stood around for a bit

Help from the Bartered Bride courtesy Bedrich Smetana
I was at the shaking stage when Smetana's Bartered Bride came on the radio. The polka provided just the accompaniment I needed - never has a can been so well shaken. It also helps to keep the paint agitated during use - it goes something like swish/swish, rattle/rattle/rattle - slightly syncopated - you'll soon get the idea. Perhaps Scott Joplin wrote something that might give you the right rhythm

(Sunday 04.12.22) Another book!
As we draw to a close, I wish refer to a book that I have received in only the last hour - a birthday present, in fact. Although I've only just dipped into it I feel it must have a mention, especially as the publisher is making a donation tothe Disasters Emergency Committee Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal

Ukrainian Christmas
by Nadiyka Gerbish and Yaroslav Hrytsak is informative, moving and pertinent in equal measure - beyond my abilities to characterise in a few words. (You can obtain more information here)

It is unique in the way it conveys the relevence of the heart of Christmas to the Ukrainian experience. The dedication is deeply moving: In memory of Artem Dymyd (1995-2022) and the other children of Rachel murdered by the modern-day Herod. (Unlike here in the UK, the Ukrainian celebration of Christmas has depth, reflecting the whole Biblical narrative)

In my daily reading I've recently come to it's the final chapters. of the Bible. In many ways the end mirrors the beginning - intriguing how, for example, the mysterious tree of life re-emerges. We read: the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Rev 22: 2)

How that healing is needed when we consider the intertwined histories of Ukraine and Russia - and, despite the agony of present sufferings - for that we pray

Well, we must draw things to a close - but not without a final word of renewed thanks to our readers for their support in what we have tried do over the last two and a half years

Our hearty best wishes - from the old, now even older, Garden Codger

Post script: In time honoured fashion, I'll finish with a photo gallery looking back over this year's growing season

First, our Comice pears - they melt in the mouth. I lined them up in the greenhouse for the photo. But they were soon moved to cooler and darker storage prior to subsequent consumption. The last one tasted as good as the first

Next, a bit of sad news. After many years I took down our pear tree. Lots of growth but very poor fruit. Also it was starting to shade the greenhouse. However, it's been replaced with a patio type. I wonder how soon it will fruit - in the meantime this tart was made with bought plums. In honesty, I have to report that it looks a lot better than it tasted

The tomatoes have been just prolific this year. I seem to do especially well with yellow varieties which I grow outside - two plants are still coping! But a frost threatens later this week

Summer flowering bulbs. I planted three polianthes tuberosa bulbs in a pot but got no flowers. Then, rather late, a single spike appeared in September. Nothing seemed to be happening so I brought it into the conservatory with this result - and wow - what a scent! Very much like gardenia and still in flower