As the barrenness of winter slowly gives way to the sounds and sights of spring, CAT Gardener Petra Weinmann begins to make plans for the CAT gardens.
As I write this, January is waning and a new season is beginning to seem possible. Every winter, despite clear evidence to the contrary, there is a point (usually when returning to the CAT quarry after the Christmas break) when the abundance of summer feels like an improbable dream. The garden at CAT, on its slate tip, can be a gloomy and rocky place, far removed from the verdant haven I know is only a few months away.
In between the storms that have flapped our polytunnels and encrusted the hardy winter volunteers in mud, there have been serene moments. Picture the low sun breaking through and illuminating the thriving mosses, pale birch bark and millions of raindrop crystals on bare twigs. Or hear a robin’s song, suspended in the watery air. The world holds its breath in these moments and finds a still point, before tipping into the rush of spring with ever greater momentum.
Looking at the bare garden today the imminent transformation seems profound, and it is a gardener’s privilege to pay attention to this unfolding.
Already there are some signs of changes afoot. As I walk the new woodland path through the heart of the garden, hazel catkins catch my eye. Were they this yellow yesterday? Overhead a pair of nuthatches are picking their way along birch branches as a team. And here comes the persistent call of the Great Tit that always seems to punctuate this journey out of the dark months.
Roger McLennan, our head gardener, is mobilising too. He has been assembling the ‘hotbeds’ we use to kick-start our plant-raising season. Metal cages are filled with scraps from the café kitchen. These generate enough heat as they decompose to keep the cold night air off our germinating vegetables and avoid using electricity or paraffin. Of course, rotting vegetable matter gives the polytunnel a very distinctive aroma – a sure sign that the growing season has begun!
There is still a trickle of crops going to the café. Some leeks, kale, oriental salad leaves, beetroot, garlic, herbs and the last of the (by now wrinkly) apples. Roger and I have been talking to the café manager, Lauren, to discuss what will be available in the months to come. By keeping the communication channels open we can help avoid food waste, and get our home grown produce onto the menu as much as possible. Lauren has made a special request that we grow more Kabocha squashes, so look out for these plump green Japanese varieties in the garden and café if you visit next summer.
As we plot and plan our squashes, spinach, beans and berries, our imaginations begin to fill with the rich colours, sweet tastes and joyful abundance of summer, and gradually the Quarry feels filled with new promise and possibility.
About the author
Petra has been managing the garden displays and helping the biodiversity flourish in the CAT gardens since 2015. When she’s not pruning the apple trees and experimenting with chickpea and lentil crops, Petra can be found improving and planning new interpretation for the gardens, and leading university and school groups on garden tours and volunteering days.
New garden courses at CAT
This year we are launching a new series of gardening courses in collaboration with the National Botanic Garden of Wales. If you’d like to learn how to garden in small spaces, create a wildlife haven, get started with edibles or explore gardening in dry climates, click here for more information, or give us a call on 01654 704966.