• Kay

A Novel use for a Kitchen Garden


Periodically, I have to give myself a weight and fitness check. I have always struggled with my weight, quite simply because I love food! I do not really snack and I do not possess a particularly sweet tooth, (unlike Patrick) but I love my dinners. These are usually quite large and eaten late in the evening. I look forward to dinner time because finally I can sit down and relax (we eat after I have put grandad to bed…no more buzzing…hopefully!) and I probably do regard my dinner as a reward for a hard day’s work. I love cooking and I delight in trying new things. Unfortunately, this results in me steadily getting bigger. I am quite fit, but it is a particular type of fitness, a stamina/endurance type of fitness and this has always been my strength. I have always cycled, walked and swam long distances but I am useless at fast vigorous exercise. If I want to lose weight, I know from experience I have to eat less, drink less (I sometimes like a glass of wine with my dinner) and move more quickly! The girls are very good and have sessions of running, I believe it is the ‘Couch to 5K’ programme. Running is my nemesis; it is not easy for a lady with a generous chest!

I shocked them a few days ago by asking to go on a run with them. The first problem was dressing me…I had to resort to modified gardening clothes and my only trainers were about 15 years old and wouldn’t fit over my bunion! Meave very kindly leant me some trainers which were a revelation (they were actually comfortable) and off we went. I was very unsure about running in public, but luckily it was early in the morning! We walked briskly to the park that has a smooth path around the edge and I had to do 90 seconds running, 90 seconds brisk walking, 3 minutes running, 3 minutes brisk walking repeated and then walked briskly home. This was easy for the girls, but definitely ‘aerobic’ for me (exactly what is needed). On reaching home, I then did a routine of ‘standing postures’ from my yoga book acquired in a charity shop to help me stretch, I hasten to add, this is my own DIY approximation of Yoga! I then did the 10 minute relaxation exercise that I am supposed to do for my tinnitus and then finished with a cold shower (as recommended by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall). I actually felt great at the end but inevitably, this well intentioned activity then didn’t happen again for nearly a week! This morning I got up determined to have another go, but no one was up to join me. Diane decided I should go in the kitchen garden rather than the park on my own and she kindly sat on a bench and timed me. This was a good alternative to the park, but I had a new element to contend with. Bella thought the sight of me running around the garden was very exciting and she kept running with me and bumped into me twice. Then, Tiggy joined in and deliberately sprung out in front of me from the vegetable garden! I will have to do some pruning to make my new running track clearer, and there were some organ pipes on the path by the pumpkin patch to avoid, but generally the kitchen garden path was an excellent way to take my exercise…now I just have to keep it up!

It then started to rain so I ordered my sweet peas, unfortunately two varieties were out of stock but I still managed to order 8 different types…Just Janet, Berry Kiss, Chance, Just Julia, Iris, Wuthering Heights, Misty Mountains and Champagne Bubbles – they have such wonderful names! I then ordered four ‘Malvern Hills’ rambling roses from David Austen! I have never ordered from David Austen before, probably the main rose grower in the country, I could order six climbing roses from Parkers for the same price as one of his roses! However, I was looking for something really good to grown in the four containers on the mount. This rose, which is pale yellow, is incredibly well recommended for health and fragrance and it is repeat flowering, with shiny leaves and not too thorny. I have not had brilliant success with my climbing roses so I am hoping the extra expense will pay dividends.

(Picture from David Austin's website)

I then ordered (with James’ help) 10 ‘faux lead’ planting containers for my latest idea…a topiary garden! I have 11 left over box plants of assorted shapes and sizes that have been left in the vegetable garden for years. My plan is to move them into the new containers, start cutting them into topiary shapes and they will be placed in the pumpkin patch (the containers will match the organ pipes). I plan to cover the area with gravel, inserting short sections of cut off pipe to define the planting holes for the pumpkins. The topiary containers will look good poking through the pumpkin foliage and it will make the area more interesting when the pumpkins have finished.

When it finished raining and the sun came out, Aideen and I went outside together. I planted out the first root trainer full of broad beans and then carried on weeding the mount. Aideen then tidied up the display beds prior to planting with bulbs. I harvested quite a few small aubergines, including a beautiful white one for tonight’s moussaka. I also brought in lots of beetroot and two white cabbages.


The Apologetic Gardener


On my run this morning (around the kitchen garden), I was accompanied faithfully, not only by Bella but also a robin! Unless I’m going mad and I was seeing several robins, this bird seemed to be flying from bush to wall to plant as if curiously monitoring my progress. Today, I was alone and had to manage without the benefit of technology (I have no phone and couldn’t operate one if I had one!) to time my 90 secs and 3 mins. Therefore, I resorted to counting and I think I was on the slow side, not quite ‘crotchet equals 60’! As a result, I probably ran further, but that won’t do me any harm.

When Aideen got up, I became very distracted by discussing the internal layout of her boat. This is causing endless debate because there is such limited space inside Mayflower, it is quite a conundrum to work out how to fit in necessary facilities, however what a nice puzzle to have! I was then enticed out to the boat with a tape measure for further discussion, where we were joined by Pip who tried to fit through the top opening section of the window.. unsuccessfully! I was very impressed by Aideen’s progress, Mayflower is looking much more respectable inside with the ceiling and top half of the walls painted in red oxide paint.

When Aideen and I finally got outside we started by moving the butternut squashes and pumpkins into the basement where they will be better protected as it becomes colder. A few smaller butternuts and one enormous fat one were starting to show signs of rot, so I put these on one side to bring into the kitchen and use. This rot problem is inevitable because if there is any damage on the squash when you bring them in from outside, it will quickly develop into rot. The very small under developed squash are particularly susceptible to this.

I then continued to weed the mount. This was not pleasant today as it was raining and cold, and the weeds were slimy! It is extremely tricky to weed the terraces because it is very hard to judge where to put your feet, especially in my rather large insulated boots. It was never easy to balance on the wall even when the mount was first built. Now my tapestry of ground cover perennials that grow continuously along the edge of the terrace are beginning to cover the wall (as planned) leaving very little uncovered wall to stand on. The bulbs which are too near the surface because the compost/soil has settled are already emerging and it is incredibly hard not to tread on them. As a result, I can be heard apologising to the bulbs at regular intervals if I think I’ve trodden on them!

By the time the light is diminishing I’ve weeded half of the mount (all 3 levels) I then collect some leeks and potatoes and head inside. I plan to use most of the dodgy butternuts to make soup which will also use the leeks and some potatoes and onion. I use everything except quite a large part of the very large butternut which I pop into the fridge to use for something else later in the week. This soup is thick, sweet and delicious and good for someone watching her weight!

Whilst eating the soup I read my kitchen garden magazine and come across an article titled, ‘The Road to Self-Sufficiency’, an admirable article by Julie Moore, and I agree largely with most of what the author writes and I am doing practically everything she describes in the article, on a large scale. However, without wishing to be negative, this is a long way from self-sufficiency. Everyone should always be encouraged to grow what they can and eating any home-grown produce is always a delight, but feeding 7 adults (my household) from our plot is not easy. We usually eat something from the garden every day but it is not the entirety of what we consume and I’ve been growing veg for more than 30 years and growing on a large scale 15 years. Also, the condition of the veg I bring in would be daunting to many people. I harvest what needs to be eaten so it might have rot, slimy and chewed leaves, not to mention, mud and insects galore. Not everyone’s cup of tea. We recycle and repurpose everything in sight but this does not enable us to avoid buying anything new. We produce solar energy but the technology is not there to save it for our own use. I would encourage anybody to live as sustainably as they can, but I get slightly frustrated by those who suggest that in our society, with its various unavoidable pressures and restrictions, it is possible to be entirely self-sufficient.

My motto would be ‘do what you can’, it is better to have as many people as possible achieving something, rather than a time minority managing to almost attain self-sufficiency.


Goodbye hard-core pile!


Today is really significant to me, we have hired a digger and a dumper again and we are intending to remove the remains of the hard-core pile. We have used as much of the hard-core as we can for the foundation of the parking area and the driveway. Previously, it has provided the foundation for all the paths in the garden and the floors of the house, annexe and garage. But now it is time to remove what remains and attempt to re-sculpt the landscape back to what it was originally. It is difficult to quantify the importance of this work. For decades, maybe 50 years (since Connie Johnson died) the previous tenant allowed rubble and rubbish to be dumped in this area of the garden. This eyesore was partially obscured by the sizeable cobnut trees that are planted throughout the orchard. These nut tree planted in the 19th Century were also playing their own part in destroying the original Renaissance landscape. They had been planted, probably as a commercial crop, in avenues, with no regard for the gardens form and structure, they were even planted through the sides of terraces. Therefore, for maybe 150 years or more, the unique arcaded wall had been hidden, the shape of the main terrace disfigured and the views obscured. As we take away more and more rubbish, I am quite taken aback by what we are revealing, the terrace will be monumental.

I did not run this morning partly because Diane has explained I should not run every day but also because I knew I would get lots of exercise today! Diane was outside very early with her dad, moving and laying down our trusty plywood sheets on the grass at the end of the drive to give somewhere to dump all the hard-core, rubble and dirty soil. Aideen, Meave and I then joined the team, firstly to separate out the obvious rubbish, and decent bricks (to keep) and to start throwing rubble into the dumper. This took several hours before the digger could be used at all. Once Meave could utilise the digger, the team reduced to three, with Diane in the dumper and Patrick supervising and generally sorting through the heaps. Aideen retreated to her boat and I returned to the mount, which I nearly finished weeding by dusk.

It struck me at the end of the day that the part of my book (based on my diaries) that I am presently writing, is the time nearly 25 years ago when we hired diggers to dig the ¼ mile trench to the road for the services and the massive hole for the septic tank. Here we are a quarter of a century later still digging! But how proud and happy I am to see our three daughters helping us and driving the dumper and operating the digger. Ironically, this ‘Covid crisis time’ has become rather similar, in terms of working incredibly hard on the garden and house, to the time when we were first trying to make the house habitable to move in, although back then, Meave was being pushed around in a wheelbarrow rather than driving a digger!


Reduced to tears again!


Today was beautiful, blue skies, sunshine and a low hung mist skimming the fields. This put me in a positive frame of mind after what had been a trying night, where dad had buzzed shortly before 1am and then again at 2:30am, for no reason what so ever!

We had to make an early start today because there was still so much to do on our nightmare hard-core heap. By soon after 8am, Patrick, Diane, Meave and I were outside, shortly joined by Aideen and later, James, when he had finished working. Patrick had originally estimated that we might clear the area by the end of Saturday. Not for the first time, Patrick underestimated what was involved!

The first cause for concern was having enough boards to lay on the grass at the end of the drive to put the dirty soil on. The quantity we were removing was truly massive and it needed to be piled on boards to make removing it by grab lorry easier. We have a considerable stock of large ply sheets, but many of them were being used to cover the muddy ground where the dumper was driving. This was to try and reduce the transference of mud onto our new type 1 on the parking area and drive. We also had sheets underneath our remaining pile of Type 1. I was determined that I was not going to let a shortage of ply sheets prevent us from removing all of this wretched heap, so I found some smaller sheets of ply and placed them behind the type 1 and started shovelling it back in order to free the two larger sheets at the front of the pile. Thankfully, Aideen appeared at that point and I told her to grab a shovel!

It is difficult to describe what removing this vile pile of rubbish means to me. For as long as I can remember, I have been asking, “When can we get rid of the hard-core pile?”. For many years, it has had to remain because we needed to use some of the hard-core for various jobs and it has always been considered one of the last jobs that would be attempted. We both knew that the logistics and cost of removing it would be eye-watering. When the present situation with Covid-19 began and the family were confined to barracks, some of us unemployed, I became ever more determined that now could be the time to remove this colossal carbuncle! However, I was informed that we would have to dig out the parking area and driveway first! It has been a long time coming, but when I stood on the terrace, even early in the day, and saw the progress being made and the ground being revealed, I was reduced to tears (I am very emotional). I couldn’t believe it was finally happening.

The sheer quantity and variety of rubbish is mind boggling. At the end of the drive, we separated the cleaner rubble/hard-core from the massive pile of dirty soil. We estimate it will take three grab lorries to take it all away. Today, we also filled four large plastic sacks with broken glass and we filled several sacks full of broken asbestos, all removed from within the hard-core pile. We also separated three large piles of metal, plastic and wood! Patrick and I both felt quite angry that we are not only having to carry out this hard work but also having to pay large sums for machinery (digger/dumper) and grab lorries to remove this rubbish which was allowed to be dumped in this historically important garden by the previous tenant.

However, there is not much that we can do about that now, except ‘bite the bullet’ and get on with it. We all worked tremendously hard all day, particularly Patrick, who despite his bad leg was in the middle of everything. Like me, he must be feeling an incredible sense of achievement to have nearly reached the end of removing this monstrosity. It is well and truly dark by the time we finish, the last bit that Meave (in the digger) put into Diane’s dumper was illuminated by Aideen and Patrick holding torches on their phones! Apart from digging out the stuff to be removed, Meave spent the last hour spreading some of the cleaner soil around to level things up. When we finally wearily troop inside, poor Patrick can barely move. He collapsed on the sofa and once he stopped moving, his ankle seems to seize up.

I then decided to deal with all the apples that Patrick has been collecting and putting on the table in the back garden. I fill three carrier bags to the brim and bring them inside and fortunately Aideen helps me peel them. We fill the preserving pan and my giant stock pot with chopped apple. My plan is to make apple crumble tonight, Patrick’s favourite apple pies tomorrow (he deserves them!) and put the rest into the freezer.

I make a sausage, pepper, mushroom and butternut squash concoction to have with baked potatoes and I put grandad to bed with a plea to not press his buzzer randomly throughout the night…hopefully this message will get through!

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