After a windy, rainy night the day dawned with sunshine. I start the day by picking all of the remaining ripe figs – 16 of them! I am delighted to still have Aideen as my garden companion and we decide to concentrate our efforts on the wildflower mini orchard today. I set her the task of raking up grass left after Patrick strimmed it and then cutting it shorter with the mower. While she does this, I go around the garden digging out tender plants (mainly geraniums) from containers to bring into the polytunnel to overwinter. I also bring in the Anagallis monellii, ‘Sky Lover’ (blue pimpernel) which will probably stand a better chance of survival in the tunnel. Whilst I am busying myself rescuing sensitive plants, Aideen is now vigorously raking the grass. This is necessary to expose as much soil as possible before we sow the wildflower seed. We are a bit late with this but it is still Autumn and relatively mild, so I hope it will be OK. The strenuous raking provokes Aideen to start teasing me about not working hard enough, which is a theme that continues throughout the day, much to her amusement! I then move to the mini orchard and start pruning any suckers off the trees and clearing around their trunks. I tease her back saying I’m doing the skilled gardening work, not being lazy. The last tree to tackle is the Pluot, a cross between a plum and an apricot. This tree has always been a problem, I think it’s graft is faulty, as a very vigorous spiny alien tree keeps trying to take over from the original tree. These alien trunks are now about 10 feet tall and I had to remove them with my pruning saw. Aideen cheekily remarks, “are you sure you’re cutting out the right tree”, I reply, “I hope so!”. The remaining ‘good’ tree is lopsided and not in good shape so I give it a prune.
I then join Aideen with some raking and we take all of the immature figs off the trees. After lunch we decide to plant the Crocus bulbs (550) and Snakes Head Fritillary (200). We do this by forking up the turf and planting them ‘en masse’ and then pressing the turf back down. This is quite hard in this area of the garden, as it is one of the few parts of Church Gardens that has poor stony soil, but this is good for wild flowers. We put an arc of bulbs in front of each of the three fig trees and alongside the pond. I have planted about 500-600 crocus bulbs every year since 2016, so we should have a lovely display in early February.
It is getting dark, so we decide to leave sowing the wild flower seed to the morning and instead, drag off the spiky trunks of alien tree to the compost/bonfire area. When we get there, we scoop up the large piles of dead leaves waiting to go in the leaf mould…it is incredible how quickly a huge heap settles down, at the weekend there was no room for these leaves in the enclosure. Throwing the leaves makes Bella very over excited.
It is now quite dark so we go in, first collecting the remaining peppers in the polytunnel and some chillies to cook a chilli!
After preparing the chilli, I decide to do a job I’ve been putting off for ages, making the chilli powder. Last year’s chillies are still waiting to be processed having been drying since last Autumn. However, there is a good reason why I’ve put off the job…it is a horrible job! I decide to use PPE to make it more bearable and put on surgical gloves and the visor I use for teaching. Each chilli has to be cut open to remove the seeds and stalk, and then I blitz a batch in my food processor which has to be covered with a damp cloth to prevent the choking dust from the chillies escaping into the atmosphere. My food processor will only get the chillies to large flakes so Meave kindly suggest using her small blender which takes them down to a reasonable powder. There are hundreds of chillies…I start at 5:30 and don’t finish until 9:30pm! By which time I am coughing, spluttering and sneezing. I am delighted to have finished the job but I only have two jars to show for my efforts. However, I know from experience that the resulting beautiful rich coloured powder/flakes are very strong and extremely flavoursome, worth the effort!
Today begins unpromisingly with a heavy shower of rain but then the sun comes out. Aideen and I go out to sow the wild flower seeds – we have three packs, 250g each of Traditional Wildflower mixture, Butterfly and Bee mix and Cornfield Annual mix.
We mix them into some John Innes compost/soil to make them easier to broadcast evenly. We have a bucket each and go and spread the seed. Then we sprinkle more John Innes on the top which will hopefully prevent birds from eating the seed.
After this I suggest we make a start on the dahlias and cannas. This is a massive job. First we take a barrow to collect lots of large pots and containers. When you dig out the dahlias and cannas, many of them have a huge bunch of tubers/corms and it is hard to find something suitable to put them in. I save all sorts of plastic containers that come in very handy at these times, including washing up bowls, plastic crates, vegetable racks, old fridge drawers and obviously large flower pots and buckets.
We wheel these round to the fountain and I start cutting back the dead stalks and leaves off the cannas and dahlias. We then start to dig them up and try to find containers suitable to fit them…this can be quite a puzzle and there are never enough big containers. Last year I resorted to carrier bags with holes punched in them. Hopefully each dahlia has a label, I did try to check this and add labels a few weeks ago but this can still be hit and miss. I do like to try and know at least what colour they are to help with arranging them next year. All of the removed plants will then be put in the cold-frames.
It is hard work because there are several hundred plants and many of them are big and heavy. Some of the cannas and a few dahlias in different beds will be left in this year and mulched. The majority are moved because they are in the display beds around the fountain and I fill these with hundreds of tulip bulbs and there is not enough room for both! The other issue, if dahlias are left in the ground, is as they start to emerge they can get eaten by slugs.
By the end of the day we have emptied the four smaller display beds and two larger display beds and put a lot of the plants into the cold-frames.
When we come in, Aideen reads out a long communication that has arrived from Hatch End Horticultural Society containing 16 emails from their members, in which they are extremely complimentary about the zoom talk. This is really lovely to hear because we have never done anything like this before and we both put a lot of time and effort into it.
Sometimes it is useful to have bad weather and today I intend to utilise the time not spent outside, to work in the polytunnel. I start by tidying up…first job is folding up six large cardboard boxes used for all the bulb deliveries. I then embark on a general clean up, emptying flower pots and stacking them up. Sweeping the bench and the path and generally returning things to good order.
I disturb Tig, who is sleeping inside the propagator (switched off) where I presently have my crop of garlic and shallots laying out to dry. She is laying on top of them which can’t be very comfortable. As I pull garlic with long stalks from beneath her, she starts attacking them with her paw! I eventually recover them all and put them away to store.
I then start sowing sweet peas in root trainers. I sow two seeds per module and half the seeds in each packet. My intention is to plant these plants out early and then sow a further batch in the spring and then add them in, to get a good succession of blooms. I plant Blue Velvet, Cupani, Heaven Scent, William and Catherine and Nightingale and then I am called in by Aideen.
Aideen is helping her dad to finish our Listed Building Planning Application for our next round of restoration work. This Application also includes some new facilities for visitors and it has involved extensive work, including obtaining many different reports, writing statements, as well as Patrick producing drawings, photos and my ‘artist impressions’. She needs me to join them to finalise the details on some of the statements. This takes much longer than anyone anticipated and was not helped by an excessive burst of buzzing (for no apparent reason) from Grandad, which I really wish he wouldn’t do when it is raining!