Hope in a plate of potatoes

What’s so special about a plate of potatoes? you may well ask. They do look pretty unglamourous there under the skylight window in my kitchen but they are a symbol of the new year for me.

These are Jersey Royals – well I don’t live in Jersey so I can’t call them that – they are International Kidneys apparently here in England. I am debating whether they should be up-ended for better results because this morning I started the potato chitting season where I am leaving these humble looking spuds out in the light for them to form shoots before p;lanting them out in a plastic planter system in my tiny back yard.

I am joining the burgeoning Spring here in Lewes in Sussex, England and my mind has turned to growing fruit and vegetables in a minute space that offers small garden gardeners just enough room for some harvesting fun over the Summer and Autumn.

Already this week I have planted a ferociously thorned gooseberry bush which I hope will harvest a large crop of red gooseberries called Whinhams Industry.

Packets of half-hardy annual seeds have arrived too so it will soon be time to start up the propagator and if that is not a moment of hopeful anticipation I am not sure what is.

It is easy at this time of year to see the bad things out there in the garden on a cold morning when there is the promise of a smattering of snow. Do I look at that jungle of dead clematis branches that are demanding to be pruned before February is over or do I admire the camellia on the other side of my paved courtyard which has already opened its first dramatically red bloom?

My eye is, in fact still drawn to those primroses flowering in their tubs at the end there and recently tidied up for their moment of glory.

Actually I like the dead branches and stems from last year – I keep them on to protect the plants through the winter and then enjoy myself with the secateurs as I clear them all away just when the garden is bursting with new growth. I love that moment when everything out there is crisp and clean and so I will be doing my big February bed weeding session too this week. If I am thorough now I will have less weeding to do for the rest of the year and the beds will be clean before I cover them in compost to get the climbing roses started.

The garden proper is up a flight of steps which is sprouting periwinkle and winter-flowering jasmin and the hardy remains of the passion flower fruits. Before going up there it is easy to forget the small back yard which is home to the dustbin and the logs but which has also got more and more crowded with pots which produced raspberries, strawberries and tomatoes in abundance last year and to which I am now hoping to add gooseberries, potatoes and peas.

I have also ordered a cooking apple espalier tree for that under-used wall – it will be the old favourite variety Bramley Seedling. It will be really good fun for a pruning addict like me to bully it into shape. It will have a germinating partner too. I have ordered a dwarf eating apple tree from the same nursery and it will sit in a pot down there with its more vigorous cousin.

The terracotta pots have Summer and Autumn Raspberries and my strawberry pot along with the tomoato pots which are currently planted with tulips and croci.

There is a small raised bed which I denuded of its scraggly and haphazardly planted contents last year and which has been the centre of attention for the local cats who see it as a perfectly prepared and rather luxurious cat litter. Energetic cat-attacks with my Japanese water gun hads ended their visits and the bed is now ready for planting.

In the upper garden there are encouraging shoots on the Goji berry bush which I hope will survive the still cold February climate so if all goes to plan there will be just enough produce in this little garden to keep me interested and to mark the passing seasons with a few culinary treats.

The Goji leaves are just the first of many as now everything is on the move out there. The climbing roses, the cherry tree and the rhododendron luteum are all about to burst their buds

and you don’t have to look very far already for those early flowering bulbs. The snowdrops have made it first but all around them are profusions of thrusting green shoots from a number of different species of winter flowering bulbs which have always been a special part of the gardening year for me. I like to have something in bloom every month of the year even in a tiny garden like this one.

Sometimes I think those early daffodil shoots are just as attractive as the flowers themselves.

One of the attractions of a small garden is that everything is close to hand and as they grow, each plant shares its privacy with the lucky person who is nurturing them. Every plant has to earn its place in combination with its neighbours. The winter flowering Jasmine buds already look fine next to the periwinkle’s glossy new leaf growth which line those steps up into the main garden. Jasminum nudiflorum, to give it its proper and, I always think slightly racy name, will flower and then supply this wall with it a rich green background for some less leafy shrubs.

Another plant that is close to hand is the wonderful Helleboris orientalis, or the Easter Rose as it is sometimes called. How perfect is this flower for so early a time in the year?

I have no need to pine for garden flowers though as those primroses keep up their subtly radiant show of delicate yellow from December through to the Spring. They really do earn their keep.

All this sense of hope started with that plate of potatoes. I hope all of you, even if you only have a very small space can get some simple pleasures like I do too from just growing things.

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