Of Spring flowers, new tools and trees

Impossible not to get excited at this time of year, particularly when the sun comes out so that gardening is a real pleasure. The other day it was so warm in my back garden that I got to eat lunch outside without a coat, first time this year. The Spring show is beginning in the back border, and the Crocus tommasinianus ‘Lilac Beauty’ is the current star.

Crocus tommasinianus Lilac Beauty

I planted these bulbs really late, in mid-December, so I imagine they will be popping up earlier next year, but I was struck by how well the delicate lilac goes with the leaves of Heuchera ‘Venus’. I wish I could claim I planned it that way, but that would be a big fat lie…

Crocus 'Lilac Beauty' with Heuchera 'Venus'

I had hoped that the soft colour would go well with the native primroses that are gradually spreading themselves around, and I’m pleased to say they do. I have darker purple “tommies” growing in the grass, where they show up well, but I think the paler lilac works better with the soft yellow.

Lilac Beauty with primroses

I love primroses, and it is great to see them spreading around so happily now. I’ve moved most of the brightly coloured ones that I inherited into my father-in-law’s border, and am concentrating on the plain pale yellow natives. I was surprised to see Geranium phaeum starting to flower already, and although you have to get up close to notice it, the yellow stamens pick out the darker yellow centers of the primroses rather nicely. Not showy, but delicately lovely. Something to be admired whilst weeding – and lets face it, we all need a little entertainment whilst weeding!

geranium phaeum

I planted some Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’ in this border too, but only a few have popped their heads up, probably too wet. I hope this little cluster plans to stick around and show up to the Spring party next year though, such gorgeous colouring.

Iris reticulata 'Harmony'

And underneath the plum tree, the first of the wood anenomes are appearing, though this one looks a little ragged.

Anenome nemerosa

As much as I am enjoying the emergence of all these lovely Spring flowers, I am determined to keep on top of the other, less welcome appearances in the borders this year. I am paying for my lack of weeding time last year with a positive plague of Alexanders, and the creeping buttercup has been, well, creeping everywhere. Add in the dense carpet of germinating sticky weed seeds, and I have my work cut out. Even worse, I really want to get rid of the grass in the front garden so that we have less mowing to do. We’re both much busier than we used to be now, and neither of us particularly enjoys cutting the grass, a job made much more awkward by the untimely death of our cordless mower. We are back with an electric mower, and managing that cable round the kitchen garden beds is a rather frustrating experience.

The problem is, I hate lifting turf. It always does my back in, all that driving the spade under the sod and then lifting it into the barrow. Plus there is the slightly inconvenient fact that I am very hard on spades. I have been going through them at a rate of about 1.5 a year! So I consulted the wonderful facebook community of All Horts, since there are lots of professional gardeners in the group. Surely they would know what kind of spade I could buy that would actually last a little longer than one year? I had lots of helpful advice, and apparently Lidl to a fine range of cheap garden tools, which would mean I could buy a couple and just keep replacing them as I break them, but what caught my eye was a suggestion to look at Chillington Tools. They do a range of digging hoes and forks that attach to wooden handles at right angles, so that you use the weight of the tool to do the work. I found myself watching YouTube videos of people weeding and digging up turf, apparently without effort, and I found myself ordering a heavy duty digging fork and a double headed hoe. I really like that they are British made, and that the handles are replaceable.

My new Chillington tools

I bought the double headed hoe in the hope that it would work well for weeding out the creeping buttercup in my crowded borders. It works like a dream! Honestly, I covered half the Park border in a fraction of the time that the other half took using a fork. I was able to use it from a kneeling position most of the time, eliminating the constant bending over and picking up of detritus that always leaves me feeling about 108 years old. Even when I was having to stand, I didn’t hurt my back like I usually do – I did that trying to sort out the compost heaps later on. I love it. If the heavy digging fork works even half as well on that grass, I am in tool heaven. I look forward to using the hoe in the veg beds later in the year.

Which brings me to the trees. And tree following. Which we are supposed to post about between 7th and 14th of each month. Well, I managed to take the photos within that timeframe, I just didn’t get around to posting, not least because there was so little to report. The strange plastic boxes are still there, and I still don’t know what they are for. The buds look exactly the same as they did last month, no closer to opening, though I am sure this isn’t true. But there is a little offering of stones at the base of my tree now…

An offering of stones

I suspect this is the work of whoever cleared the wildflower borders behind, which are now all bare.

cleared wildflower bed

Or perhaps they have been sown with seed already? Who knows. I’ll have to pop back next month, hopefully in time to actually join in the meme!

In the meantime, I will enjoy the last of the hellebores, and look forward to playing with my new toys using my new tools. Happy Springtime!

Hellebore 'Penny's Pink'

Purple hellebore

white hellebore
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45 Comments


  1. Hi Janet, love your pale lilac crocuses! I had a heuchera ‘Venus’ as well and really liked it, but it died on me in the heat of last summer. I won’t replace it, since I feel it just can’t take my hot climate.
    Your tool report was very encouraging to read. Sounds like it definitely pays off to search for the right tools and invest the money that they cost. I need a few new hand tools and will keep that in mind.
    Ooh, I almost forgot to say that your Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’ looks absolutely stunning!
    Happy Spring!
    Christina


    1. Hi Christina, sorry to hear about the demise of your ‘Venus’, but I can well imagine them not enjoying your summers. Fortunately, we don’t get anything like the heat you do, neither I nor most of my plants would cope! I agree about ‘Harmony’, I just hope she comes back next year, and brings more friends.


  2. Such beautiful spring flowers – I love the way you have examined them closely. Lucky you to have eaten al fresco without your coat! Strangely enough, it isn’t lifting turf which does for me – it’s laying new turves. I now have a maximum I can manage in a day. It’s always interesting to read about real gardeners’ experiences with gardening tools. I use the same ones I have used for decades. One day they will need replacing, and after a period of mourning (they are practically part of the family), I will at least know which type to replace them with.
    Here’s hoping spring stays with us!
    Sarah Shoesmith recently posted On the Menu for Bees in March


    1. Hi Sarah, one day I will have thick swathes of these Spring flowers and the wider shots will look good too! In the meantime, I enjoy getting up close and personal with them so I am glad you liked the photos too. How lovely to have tools you have used for decades, I must be a real brute, I think only my pruning saw and one set of loppers have anything like that kind of age. Hope you are soon eating al fresco sans coat too.


  3. Your wood anemone is way ahead of mine which aren’t showing at all yet. Love your little tommies and the beautiful blue of your Iris reticulata.
    Getting the right tools is so important, they make working in the garden so much easier, well done you for researching them thoroughly!


    1. Hi Pauline, thank you for the wood anenome news, perhaps the others, planted under the acer, aren’t a lost cause after all. I’m looking forward to testing the heavy-duty tool on all that grass.


  4. I adore Crocus tommasinianus cultivars too, and that is a beauty. Like you, I cannot get enough of Primula Vulgaris, it has a quiet exquisite beauty that always delights. I’m very curious about that fork, I cannot imagine how it works. I’ll have to look up the video. Let us know how it goes, particularly if it takes pressure off your back. Happy Spring Janet.


    1. Hi Julieanne, I agree about the native primroses, they always make me smile, and I love their subtlety. I will definitely update you on the fork! You can check out one of the videos on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeKKaw5Lc6c.


    1. Hi Sue, both have a subtle beauty about them that I really like.


    1. Thanks Flighty, hope you are enjoying your plotting this week, the weather has been so much better.


  5. The right tools can make such a difference and can save a lot of aches as well as time! That fork looks interesting.mI have three favourites for my rockery :a brilliant hand fork that I can use for raking up leaves without damaging new shoots in spring, an ancient blunt ended knife for removing weeds with roots, and my faithful trowel of course. :) Look forward to seeing what will appear in that bed near your tree!
    Cathy recently posted Hey, I thought spring was here!


    1. Hi Cathy, tools really can make a huge difference can’t they. Before my new acquisitions, my favourite tools (and still very useful) were a slightly longer handle than most hand forks or trowels come with that clicks into either a small fork head or a trowel. You can easily swap from one to the other and the extra length is really handy too. I am hoping for a lovely swathe of wildflowers in that bare patch…


  6. Oh that double hoe looks as if it could be just what I need at the allotment Janet where the battle against the weeds is soul destroying at times. Will investigate further. I’ve been considering an Indian tool called a kurpi but it looks rather lethal. I like the way your pretty ‘tommies’ have snuck into the heuchera. I’m going to have a closer look at my geranium phaeum tomorrow to see if there are any signs of flowers yet.
    Anna recently posted The Gardener’s Cupboard


    1. Check out the videos on YouTube Anna, I think you may well fall for the double headed hoe in the same way that I did. The Chillington tools one is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeKKaw5Lc6c and I also nearly feel for an Azada, which works on the same principle, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msTl0S0sPLM. There was another vide of the double headed hoe being used in the US to weed a veg border, and that is what really convinced me, but I can’t find it… Hope your closer look rewards you with signs of flowers all over the place!


    1. I was really surprised Jessica, though that border seems to be really sheltered, I have others elsewhere that aren’t flowering, but none of them died all the way back this year.


  7. I do love your crocus combinations – and the geranium with the primroses!


    1. Thanks Amy, me too!


  8. Don’t you just love all these tiny blooms popping up in spring? The little irises are a favorite of mine, too–such a welcome jolt of color in the emerging garden. Your new tools look great! I may have to check them out, too; anything that makes garden work easier and saves my back is a welcome addition.


    1. Hello Rose, yes those iris are such a welcome sight aren’t they, they really do signal the start of Spring. I am looking forward to trying out the heavy duty fork next, if it saves my back it will mean I can get so much more done.


    1. Indeed, I hate it when back problems prevent me from gardening.


  9. I saw my first wood anemone too yesterday. All by itself but not for long. I looked at the Lidl tools too but didn’t like how wobbly the handles felt. I’ve broken a few spades but not when lifting turf. It’s not a job I enjoy (who does) but I just use an edging knife to cut a lattice of squares before levering up with a spade. You’re right though it does do your back in. Perhaps mowing would be easier! (You could have stuck with the crocus and heuchera not being a happy coincidence – we would have been none the wiser). D
    David Marsden recently posted Pollarding And The Zest For Life


    1. Ah, yes, wobbly handles would put me off too. I like your use of the word “just” applied to lifting turf… It is always the levering up with a spade bit that gets me. Can’t wait to attack that grass, I’m convinced that the weeds that will inevitably grow up through the gravel that will replace it will be less obvious and therefore less shameful than when we’ve left the grass cutting too long again. Until it is Alexanders growing up through… I like to celebrate happy accidents, though perhaps I should claim that my subconscious mind is a better gardener than my concious mind?


  10. No wood anemones in flower here yet either…! It is so exciting having all the spring blooms popping up, whether early or late. And your tools look most intriguing even though it is hard to imagine them in use – but they clearly work intuitively and sound as if they will be really useful for you. Happy turf lifting!
    Cathy recently posted Garden Triptych


    1. Hi Cathy, am sort-of happy to hear that you haven’t got wood anemones yet, it means more might pop up in my garden, under the other plum tree!! I’ve been amazed at how much further forward my back border is compared to anywhere else, I think it is because it has more shelter, and this year more light. My lovely neighbour pruned her sycamores hard. No turf lifting yet, too much work to do, but am hopeful of getting out there during the Easter weekend.


  11. I can never get enough of primroses and crocuses at this time of year! It’s lovely to see them and I love the sight of yours growing together. I didn’t realise the wood anemones were starting to flower, I must go and look for them. Those new tools look great. It is well worth taking the trouble to get the right ones.
    Wendy recently posted The Trouble with Geese…and Something for the Hairy-Footed Flower Bee.


    1. I agree Wendy, they are the perfect harbingers of true Spring aren’t they.


  12. I love a good tool! I bought a new spade last year after tossing one that could barely slice through a cream puff. I’m looking forward to seeing our primroses bloom, too. I love the first crocuses. Hello, spring!
    Casa Mariposa recently posted Apocalypse Gardening: The Seedling Update


    1. Sounds as if you really needed a new spade! Bet those cream puffs are quaking in their packaging now… Enjoy Spring and your first crocuses.


  13. nice spring flowers and new tools Janet, I think the broken spades is due to poor workmanship, the spade I use was in the shed when I moved here, it belonged to the couple who first had this house and is probably from the fifties or sixties, they just do not make things like they used too, I am fascinated by the shape of the digging fork and can’t work out how you can use it, even pushing under turfs the leverage seems wrong, so I will be interested seeing how you do it, I just can’t imaging digging over a patch of ground with it, the double hoe I can see how it works, I usually kneel down and work with hand tools weeding between plants, Frances


    1. Hi Frances, I know what you mean about the quality of modern tools, in fact I think it applies to lots of things, sadly. I am shocked at how quickly we go through kettles and toasters now, they used to last a decade or more. I think too many things are considered disposable items and are manufactured to very low standards.

      I’ll let you know how I get on with the weird fork thing with the turf, it looked very easy in the videos…


  14. I adore your lilac crocus; they do look fabulous with the primrose and the heuchera. Weeds have been terrible here this year, too, but the proper tools for weeding and other chores make a huge difference!
    debsgarden recently posted Growing Loropetalums


    1. Thanks Deb, I really love the crocuses, particularly with the primroses. I am a sucker for primroses. Am hoping the larger fork thing is as easy to use and as effective as the double headed hoe.


  15. Just gorgeous ! Loved your photos and especially your Iris Reticulate , which I think are my favourite Spring flower of all. I hope they spread like crazy for you!
    I share your pain about tools which break and bend, and we are just fed up of buying new forks as we manage to bend the tines so often. I will be interested to see how you get on with the rest of your new toys!!
    Hoe hoe grow recently posted What’s your poison ?


    1. I love the irises too, I am missing them now that they are just a memory and rather straggly leave. The clouds of primroses are getting into their stride though, which both I and the bees greatly appreciate! The smaller tool is truly wonderful, I’m not sure how I ever gardened without it, but the big test will come with the other, monster-sized fork thingy. I’ve used it a little to lift plants congested with couch grass, and it was wonderfully easy, so fingers crossed…


  16. The devil in me would have moved that wee pile of stones, not far, but enough to see if whoever put them there put them back!
    You’ve a lovely selection of spring plants Janet. Long may those new tools ease your backache and long enough to get the dreaded turf lifted. Not a job many of us relish.
    Angie recently posted End of Month View March 2016


    1. Lol! I’ll be checking on the stones in the next couple of days.
      The new tools are working well so far, though I haven’t tackled any serious turf-lifting yet. Now what I need is a tool to help me mulch the entire wall border without doing my back in…


  17. Crocus worked out just perfect Janet, Forget me nots which do not self seed in Aberdeen run wild in our new garden and more often than not end up just where you want them, well, almost.


    1. Hi Alistair, I am still adjusting to the way things self-seed around this garden. It rarely happened in the old one. I could do without the weeds, but I do love the forget-me-nots and the primroses. On balance, a fair trade.

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