Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Garden Archaeology

I've been musing a bit on the things we've found while digging for vegetable beds in the garden. Or, more precisely, what we haven't found.

My homeplace is on the side of a hill in north Co. Wexford. There's been a house there since before there are any real records, I think, so there's plenty of stuff in the ground. Digging anywhere on the property brings up bits of metal, glass, crockery, and so on. Indeed, when lowering a floor on the ground level of the house, a cow's skull and some large vertabrae came up - best guess is that they're the remnants of a stolen cow, possibly even during the Famine.

But the same is true there, to a greater or lesser degree, of any field you care to dig in. Sure, you don't find vast numbers of objects, but you find some.

Our back garden seems to be rather different. Thus far, I've found two harrow spikes, a garden hose of fairly recent origin, and, while digging the asparagus bed, something that looked like a metal standpipe, but which went down too far to excavate without making a complete mess. And that's it. Stoney, way up in Aberdeenshire, finds more than that in his fields.

I know that the last few metres of the property were a field until quite recently - that's where we found the harrow spikes, in the area that would have been hedgerow or headland. The hose was in the original corner of the property, and I suspect it got buried when the old hedge was done away with. But the house has been around since the late 1970s, and I can't imagine that there was never any other use of the property, so the lack of oddments and remnants is really rather mystifying. On the one hand, it leaves good clear soil - not even that stony, from my hillside-brought-up point of view, but on the other, it's nice to dig up interesting things.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Further Planting

It's been almost summery here over the last weekend; we were able, after the exertions of gardening, to sit outside, form a plan of attack for the various things that need to be done in the house, and then drink good Darjeeling and read newspapers and magazines.

The exertions were mighty, though. In March, as planned, I planted carrots, onions, lettuce, coriander, and mizuna. Unfortunately, I was paying more attention to the dates on the seed packets, and not enough to the last frost dates, and all those seeds got a blast of wintry temperatures, which seemed to kill everything except the mizuna - and even it's only coming up slowly, although I'll freely admit I have no idea what's normal for it.

In any case, the bed I had dug - with much effort, I might add - for the carrots really isn't suitable for anything but quick-growing summer crops; it's in shade too much in spring and presumably in autumn as well. I'll plant some lettuce there in summer, but for now, it'll have to remain fallow.

So in the past couple of weeks, we've planted: potatoes (of an unknown cultivar, marked as 'good all-purpose potatoes), onions (Stur BC 20, from sets), asparagus (Connover's Colassal, three crowns), more carrots (Early Nantes), two new blueberry bushes, and a decent-sized bed of strawberry plants (Elsanta and Loran). 

We also put in a twisted hazel (Corylus Contorta) and a weeping birch (Betula pendula Youngii) at the front, removing a rather inappropriate small palm and some shurbs of unknown provenance to make room.  

We still have a variety of herbs, pumpkins, and tomatoes to plant when the weather warms a bit, or when I work out the logistics of cats and windowsill plantings. In the meantime, I received a gift of two small tomato plants (a Siberian black tomato, apparently) which are doing well on a north-facing and reasonably cat-safe windowsill - alongside last year's surviving sweet pepper, which seems to be having a go at being a perennial. The tomatoes will go outside later in the year, but I think the pepper will stay inside.