In a Vase on Monday: Rhubarb and Custard?

There are so many pinky rhubarb reds and creamy custard yellows in the garden right now, I decided to put them together for Cathy’s weekly meme “In a vase on Monday” …



Have you had any rhubarb this spring yet?

The large white tulip is the early Tulipa kaufmanniana “Ice Stick”. Initially I wasn’t sure if I liked it, as the buds are very pale at first, but then I saw the egg yolk coloured centre and it has grown on me since.


The large reddish tulip has been in my rockery for some years now and I don’t remember the name, but the small pinky one is “Heart’s Delight” and it is a rather pretty one with stripy leaves, sturdy but dainty at the same time. Here it is in my spring corner under the yew tree with the Corydalis (GP Baker or Beth Evans?).


Other ingredients for today’s vase were the Corydalis, a Rip van Winkle daffodil and another small Narcissus which I think is “Elka”. The foliage is two young rhubarb leaves. ;-)


I actually put together another two vases, also in red and yellow, as I wanted to make the most of the Forsythia before it gets spoiled in the wind and the Ribes sanguineum that has just started flowering…

If you go and visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden you will find her lovely vase for this week, as well as many more that have linked in. Thanks for hosting, Cathy!


Tree Following: April 2015

This year I am joining Lucy at Loose and Leafy in following a tree, and I am posting monthly about my Field Maple (Acer campestre) which stands at the bottom of our garden.



Look up, look up, at any tree!

There is so much for eyes to see:

Twigs, catkins, blossoms; and the blue

Of sky, most lovely, peeping through…

(from “Look Up!” by Cicely Mary Barker)


Despite some really warm days the leaf buds are only just showing signs of development. I can’t wait to see the leaves unfurl.


The other members of the Acer family in my garden are just as far on or even a little further ahead; the Acer pseudoplatanus (Sycamore)…


the Acer tataricum (Amur Maple)…


and the Acer palmatum (Japanese Maple)…


 Between the 7th and 14th of each month you can link in with your tree at Loose and Leafy. Dozens of people from all over are taking part, so why not join in!

Are you seeing any leaf growth yet?

In a Vase on Monday: Blue Gold

These blue spring flowers are so precious, and in many parts of Germany quite rare too. So imagine my delight at finding hundreds of them in our little patch of woods this spring. I couldn’t contain myself and just had to pick some yesterday for an Easter Monday vase for Cathy‘s In a Vase on Monday meme.

Hepatica noblis


I love finding these flowers out in the countryside, especially when I get a hint of their elusive fragrance.  And I have tried with little success to grow them in my garden… they don’t like to be disturbed during the rest of the year though, so best to leave them up in the woods!


Since it was Easter we had the Royal Worcester egg coddlers out for our Easter brunch, so I used one as a vase afterwards… if you don’t know what egg coddlers are, they are porcelain cups with a metal screw-top lid. The inside is buttered, and an egg is broken into it. Then the lid is closed tight and the whole thing is submerged in boiling water for exactly 8 minutes – and you get a perfect boiled egg, kept warm in its pot and no messy shell to dispense with! ;-)

I think the blue of the Hepatica (Liverwort) matches this Easter card my Mum sent me so well!


This year the violets are flowering at the same time, and the colours clash terribly. Hepaticas really are much nearer to a true blue. I had a pink one once, but it has not reappeared this year, and a white one barely flowered for me. The native ones are definitely the best.


I have mentioned before how ugly I find the name… such beautiful delicate flowers are called “Liverwort” because the blotchy three-lobed leaves resemble the human liver. I would call them something more dignified, such as Blue Gold


Other common names used in various parts of Germany are (roughly translated): Gold Clover, Hazel Flower, Heart’s Joy (I like that one!), or Heaven’s Flowers.

Now pay Cathy a visit at “Rambling in the Garden” to see what she and her followers have put in their vases this week. (Cathy’s “vase” looks delicious!)


The Ten Seasons of Phenology

Yesterday I looked into the meaning and history of phenology, but this is actually a very current topic here in Germany; the German Meteorological Service (Deutscher Wetterdienst) uses ten phenological seasons to observe and predict not only weather patterns but also climate change, pollen, late frosts for fruit trees etc.

I thought this might be of interest to gardeners in other parts of the world, where obviously there will be differences, but also very many similarities in the northern hemisphere. So here is a summary of the ten seasons they divide the year into here:

  • The hazel, snowdrop and winter aconite are signs that winter is over, and Vorfrühling (prespring) has begun. This season ends with the crocus, cornel and pussy willow coming into flower.


  • The Forsythia blossom signifies Erstfrühling (early spring), along with daffodils and wood anemones being in full bloom. Time to sow peas, give your lawn some feed and prune your roses. When the European Beech unfurls its leaves this season ends.


  • Vollfrühling (full spring) is characterised by apple and cherry blossom, the cuckoo calling and the lilac in full bloom. Later the raspberries also begin to flower and in central and eastern Europe the Ice Saints from 11th to 15th May are traditionally the days when the last frosts or at least cooler nights are expected. Then summer annuals can safely be planted out.

Wild Apple Blossom

Wild Apple Blossom

  • Frühsommer (early summer) is the season where the fragrance of elderflowers fills the air and dots of scarlet field poppies brighten up the countryside. The first hay can now be cut.


  • The next season, Hochsommer (midsummer), is characterised by the potatoes flowering, the gooseberries and redcurrants ripening and the linden (lime) trees coming into flower (another wonderful scent!).


Linden flowers, Wikimedia Commons


  • Spätsommer (late summer) is when the apples start to ripen, the rowan berries turn red and the golden rod glows; cereal crops are now harvested and the meadows can be cut for hay a second time round. The elder is just starting to ripen as this season draws to a close.


  • When the elderberries are ripe and being eaten by the birds, and when you see the first autumn crocus then Frühherbst (early autumn) is here. Most apples, plums and pears ripen in this season and a period of fine weather is very common. The swallows fly south for winter. Time to divide some plants and do some autumn planting!


  • Vollherbst (full autumn) can be recognized by the change in colour of the chestnut leaves and beech. Time to harvest the potatoes and many other vegetables too!


  • Autumn can no longer be denied in Spätherbst (late autumn) with the general falling of leaves and the autumn colours. The last bulb planting should be done, and any less hardy plants covered or brought indoors. The larch needles have started yellowing and as they drop the vegetation period ends.


  • And Winter (winter) arrives. Time for the gardener to relax (unless you have fruit trees to prune, that is!).


So now you know we don’t just have Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter!

Do you think it is helpful to look at the seasons in this way? Is there any particular sign from nature that you always look out for with regard to gardening jobs? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

Happy Easter everyone!

What is Phenology?


Pussy Willow, March 2015

Everyone knows the saying about March – “In like a lion, out like a lamb”. And then there’s the other saying which is very common here: “Christmas in clover, Easter in snow”…

These are some of the ancient proverbs passed down through generations, sometimes over hundreds of years, that show us the link between seasons and climate. They may have shifted slightly over the centuries, or have moved due to changes in our calendar (or indeed climate), and some may no longer ring true, but they can be as precise as any long-term weather forecast.

But what is Phenology?

“Phenology is the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate.”



“Oak before ash, we shall have a splash

Ash before oak, we shall have a soak”


Phenology is much more than a few proverbs or rhyming weather predictions; observing nature in the form of weather patterns or plant and animal behaviour provides surprisingly accurate information on when to sow, plant, transplant or even prune. According to phenological observations the flowering of the Forsythia for example is an indication that the ground has warmed up enough to plant peas.


Another example of this is that potatoes can go in the ground as soon as the first dandelions have opened.

ScillaThe first pollen, the first flight of bees and butterflies, the emergence of leaves on the trees, or the first appearance of migratory birds can vary by weeks each year, and can thus give a far more precise insight into the conditions prevailing than the normal calendar. For vegetable growers the phenological calendar provides helpful insights – such as not to sow your beans until the lilac is in full bloom – but it is of interest to me for estimating when annuals can be sown or planted out, when the spring tidy-up is due, or if bulbs can still be planted in autumn.

Every gardener can benefit from closely observing nature and interpreting its signals – not only for better results, but simply for pleasure too. Watching out for butterflies and bees or the first snowdrop are things many of us do already.

A bit of history

In 8th century Japan the emperor’s experts in Kyoto began recording the beginning of the cherry blossom season; the flowering of the cherry was considered an important symbol of the reawakening, fragility and transience of all life and is today still celebrated with extravagant ceremonies and festivals.


Shukkei-en Garden, Hiroshima, 1993



However, it was not until  the 18th century that a European began to take down similar records; Robert Marsham, a wealthy landowner from Norfolk, began to catalogue consistently first flowering dates (such as snowdrops), insect activity,  seasonal weather and temperature changes, tree foliation, crop growth, and the first sightings of butterflies and migrating birds. (His family continued this tradition until the mid 20th century.) In the meantime Carl von Linné, the Swedish botanist, had started a network in Sweden with 18 stations and a German institute in Mannheim began an international project. By the late 19th century Germany was  keeping consistent records with a researcher called Hermann Hoffmann calling for Europe-wide data to be brought together in one databank.


The world wars in the first half of the 20th century ensured that phenology did not lose importance, since feeding the nation had become a matter of survival and any phenological guidelines considered helpful for growing crops were given priority. This trend continued after the war, when food was still scarce and agriculture was trying to catch up. But with the onset of new production methods and chemicals in agriculture the records were gradually phased out in the 1960s and were only revived in the 1990s when talk of global climate change emerged: Canada, the UK and the USA were some of the first states to revive their phenological observation networks at this time.


Today phenological observations are not only of interest to agriculture however… the tourist industry is keen to be able to predict, for example, the famous cherry and apple blossom season in Hamburg, and hayfever sufferers can benefit from knowing when certain pollen is likely to be in the air.


In Bavaria over 250 volunteers (1,200 nationwide) collect data for the German Meteorological Service (Deutscher Wetterdienst), which recognizes not just four seasons, but TEN, beginning with the production of the hazel flowers and ending with the dropping of the larch needles. I will post about each of these ten phenological seasons tomorrow, so I hope you’ll stop by to take a look.

Do you use old proverbs to help you in the garden?

Interesting links:

The USA National Phenology Network

ATTRA National Sustainable Agriculture Informaton Service (USA)

Nature’s Calendar (UK – Woodland Trust)

Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UK)