Winter Pansies And Dunking Chocolate

Reading time: 6-8 mins.
Winter officially starts tomorrow, November 1st. The clocks went back an hour last weekend, and daylight time in the garden is reduced. Yesterday, I made very good use of my time in the garden. Initially, I did not expect to be able to, because my morning was taken up with other stuff including the dreaded grocery shopping. My wife and I take it in turns every second week, but I found the silver lining! Laden with supplies of edibles, I drove past my local Country Life garden centre and did an immediate about-turn to have a browse. Afterwards, I was happy that I did, because I returned home with winter plants including pansies, violas and cyclamens packed side-by-side in the car with avocados, gluten-free bread and socks from Aldi.

Pansy White Blotch

In some instances, my plants might remain unplanted for up to a week, but the afternoon was mild and pleasant so I donned my old jogging shoes and my painting shirt to get stuck in. Two hours later I rested to review my efforts, and I enjoyed a cappuccino with a side order of just one square of 70% chocolate. In the same way that some dunk a biscuit into tea or coffee, I did just that with the chocolate.
On the previous Bank Holiday Monday, I had started taking my 42 Begonias indoors. In some cases, I merely moved the pots into the glasshouse. Others needed to be carefully removed from window boxes and home-made raised wooden troughs. All of them were dying rapidly, and some light frosts over the weekend hastened their demise. Begonias are tender tubers. This means that they will die fatally if left outdoors. Over the coming weeks I will repot these wonderful bundles of energy, and keep them safely in the glasshouse until late spring. The soil will be allowed to dry out almost completely, and in March I will make sure that they begin to sprout. Actually, it is not I that miraculously lures the tuber into re-birth. It’s in their DNA to do this. I am merely required to not go against nature and will provide the best conditions when I see the slightest new growth.
But I digress. All of this work to bring my precious begonias into hibernation came about because as I planted the 46 newly-acquired pansies, violas and cyclamens above, I discovered that I was short of potting compost. However, as I was in my painting shirt and had soil all over my clean hands, I did not much feel like returning to Country Life to replenish supplies. I was rescued (once more) by my wife Marion who agreed to go on my behalf, while I had another coffee, this time with no added chocolate. An hour later, I had recycled much of the depleted soil from the Begonia pots. I was amazed that the soil was so good, even though it had hosted plants since early May. I do remember doing a good job when planting, and the richness of the soil made for a great summer show, so I was very reluctant to not use it further. I did add some fresh compost with some sand/grit and fed the plants well when they were settled into their new winter home.

I was not overly pleased with this arrangement
The leg of the P is too long

I needed steak and onions to follow all this washed-down coffee, and retired for the evening to the warmth of the stove with my footstool. I listened to some good music but the garden was still on my mind. Gardening does not stop when darkness falls. It is the time for online gardening, and this time of the year is perfect for two aspects among others:

Finally, an arrangement I like and can change next week

On this eve of winter, I chose to get cracking on the catalogues. In previous years I had requested catalogues from Thompson & Morgan and Unwins so these ones will automatically arrive in the post any day now. I broadened the list this year to include:

  1. Jersey Plants Direct
  2. Kings Seeds
  3. Marshalls Seeds (actually owned by T&M, I think)
  4. Farmer Gracy
An hour later, all the account creating was finished, all the boxes ticked (except for the boxes I chose not to tick!) and the catalogue processing is happening overnight. While waiting for the hard copies, I browsed further at 1 and 4, handed over my money in exchange for a few spring bulbs (including rare Elite Collection Alliums) and slept contentedly for an hour by the fire in advance sleeping contentedly in my own bed, satisfied that a good day was had.

The buying continues at Farmer Gracy

Interestingly, I’m on the lookout for online Irish seed/plant catalogues, but that’s a story for another day. I say this because, while UK and European companies can deliver seeds and bulbs to Ireland, they are unable to deliver plants. It had to do with Irish customs restrictions, perhaps because we want to keep riff-raff species out. Anyway, I thought I was being very smart last spring as I attempted to bypass Mr. Customs Inspector. I registered for an Address Pal account with An Post, the Irish postal system company. This service allowed me to have UK deliveries sent to a holding depot, to be forwarded to me by An Post. Full of excitement, I ordered plants from Unwins. The order was processed and delivered to a warehouse somewhere. Unfortunately, I forgot to note that An Post was also unable to deliver a parcel containing riff-raff plants to Ireland. Following several emails to and fro, the parcel was returned to Unwins five weeks later; the plants were very likely fatally dead, and I was unable to recover my €64. Unwins kept the money and the said dead plants. Dead money, you might say!
Last night I deliberately ordered spring/summer bulbs only, and I await unhindered speedy delivery. Watch this space, and in the meantime: enjoy your gardening, whether by day or by night.
Cyclamen are not always frost-hardy.
Queries to readers:
  1. Do you have a favourite online seeds/plants supplier?
  2. Describe your painting shirt in less than 20 words.
  3. Do you like avocados and/or Customs Officials?
Footnote: While I write this garden blog specifically for myself in order to remember everything that I’ll have forgotten when I forget it, I was delighted that last week’s article about my memories of mam’s garden got so much exposure. The feedback is lovely to have. As always, comments are optional and always will be. Páraig will never email you looking for feedback, but if you would like to comment, then please do. Remember, it is optional, but rude comments will be composted.

There’s that White Blotch Pansy again!
Páraig is the author of Petals by Paraig. He loves winter pansies, avocados and browsing hard-copy garden catalogues. He also loves Jersey Plants Direct and cappuccino, but not going to the garden centre in his painting shirt. He does love everyone (well, almost everyone) who chooses to follow him on Instagram or on his Facebook Page

Throwback Thursday

Here’s a fleeting look back to earlier this year.

Geranium Rozanne
Cactus of some sort
Arunia Saxatalis Gold Dust (click for further info)
Beauty Berry. Unfortunately, it died in the snow of March
I can’t resist photographing marigolds
All year round garden visitor

Pádraig is the author of GrowWriteRepeat. He loves looking back through garden photos, as it brings back such great memories. He loves marigolds and autumn in particular, but not heavy snow that kills plants.

The Art Of Gardening At Number 15

It all started when I was young. My mam had a small town front garden. It was just 20 feet wide by about 40 feet. It was her oasis, and all because dad was the hydration officer! I have many memories of Number 15.

The Google van rolled by in 2015.

The most vivid is when, during long, hot, dry summers the garden hose was retrieved from the back shed, rolled out through the living room and the hall to water the oasis. It was tied up to the kitchen sink by a dangerously leaky attachment, and dad proceeded to shower the garden lightly all over. I think he didn’t much like having to sort out all the preparatory bits, but when the water was flowing, he came to see the temporary therapy of the task. There were a few choice words uttered silently whenever the water flow was interrupted by the sink attachment exploding away from the tap. However, whatever about the frustrations of the hose-holder in the garden, the water damage in the small scullery was more difficult to manage. The hose would detach and coil itself snake-like until it rested on the lino floor and would release some water by counterflow, and Dad would shout in for someone to tie it back on once more. Mostly, his calls went unanswered, as we were a busy household and everyone had their specific jobs to do. As time went by, this job was scheduled and whoever was put on tap duty was required to answer the call. At some point also, it was decided to add some twine as a backup. When the hose was attached to the tap, it was also tied in order to prevent such sudden detachments, and this seemed to work very well.
Mam was the gardener. Over the years she created a beautiful display of plants, and she tended her patch with diligence. My recollection of her favourites include dahlias, roses and the beautifully simple marigold.

My love of Marigolds comes from home.

I watched annually as she tended these wonderful summer visitors. Visitors, in the sense that they appeared every year from the seeds of the previous. She minded them, carefully limiting them where wanted them to grow, disposing of other seeds that grew in the wrong places. She had dad to water them, and she garnered the flowers for a small indoor display. She continued with regular dead-heading to prolong the flowering season. I did not know it at the time, but I realised later that I was learning so much about this lovely plant. Years later, I had my very own selection of marigolds, and whenever she visits my garden she is brought back in time. In addition to learning about how to care for plants, the bigger picture is much bigger! I learned:

  • to care for the earth
  • to see patience in action
  • to view planning ahead as important
  • to see beauty amid life’s difficulties
Michael and Mary 1957
In short, I learned the art of gardening. Of course, I learned many other things too. Our road of 20 houses sported many fine gardens. It was generally an inexpensive hobby when times were hard. As I grew through my teenage years, I became aware of how much pride mam and dad took in having a lovely garden. Mrs. Murphy four doors down was in a similar situation, and there was some rivalry. My dad would say that hers was not as good as ours. He would say this only to us, for fear of being accused of pride, and I felt he said it also to highlight his contribution because Mr. Murphy never took a hosepipe in hand!
Dad kept the oasis watered. Photo approx 1990. 

Note: For the past number of years I have updated this page from home. Sometimes it has been on a regular basis, and sometimes neglected for weeks and months. Finding dedicated working time has not always worked for me, as I am distracted by actually going to the garden, hoovering and having to hang out the washing! So, I opted to write away from home. I have booked in to Dungarvan Coworking Hub at the Enterprise Centre on Main Street.

Perfect background for garden writing!
Do you have childhood garden memories? Did you have any unusual garden tasks? Share in the comments below. I’d love to rekindle memories!
Páraig is the author of Petals by Paraig. He loves marigolds, good neighbours and away-from-home office space. He also remembers his mam’s garden with fondness, but not having to tie the garden hose to an indoor tap.