I feel quite apprehensive about today because I am restarting my teaching, this is a bit silly as I’ve been teaching for 38 years! It has been such a strange time over this past year and previously, I never thought that I could be prevented from working when I am fit to do so. Even when I had the children, I only took a few weeks break from my private teaching! Like all self-employed people, you just keep working whatever the circumstances, as there is no pay for sickness/maternity or holiday. Therefore, this lockdown enforced, long break from work feels very strange indeed. When the time comes to start, I am ready with my antibacterial wipes, visor, hand gel and the doors and windows are open…it is a shame we are back in a cold spell! Everything goes well and it is lovely to see my pupils, so please God we can keep going this time
Earlier in the day, Aideen and I spend some time on the bug hotel. Aideen completes her artistic arrangement of slate and stone in the bottomless bath, which looks splendid but is rather precarious. We might need to secure it in some way. We put lots of canes into some of the cavities in the concrete blocks and create a sculptural arrangement of old terracotta pan tiles.
In the afternoon, we have a crucial meeting with Historic England about our Application. It is a very frustrating situation, they are trying to be helpful, but in fact their suggested conditions for recording the existing state of our walls are so onerous that their implementation will massively delay work commencing and cost a fortune. We have tried to point out that we have a limited window of opportunity to complete the works because lime mortar can only be used during the warmer months and also we have a limited budget. Poor Patrick is being driven to the limits of his patience by the delays and demands, he is feeling extremely disheartened.
I started today very early with housework, which is unusual but sometimes necessary. Quite early, we received a delivery which was the mushroom spawn. This comes from Ann Miller in Scotland who is extremely helpful and efficient. It has to be stored in the fridge until it is sown, so my next job was making a space big enough for the box at the bottom of the fridge. I will now have to order some good quality, straw based manure to put in the mushroom house beds.
I then get a bit distracted by watering. I find this time of year quite confusing as we are getting small amounts of rain/snow/hail and the temperatures are low, especially at night. However, when I think about it, we haven’t had a decent, prolonged shower of rain for weeks. I’ve noticed containers are getting dry and I’ve had to try and remember to water the hanging baskets. Once I started watering today I kept remembering things that might need attention, so I watered all the garlic, onions and shallots again and then watered the big containers in the fruit cage.
Then a very large package arrived…the new propagator! This was very exciting and with Aideen’s help, we carried it out to the tunnel and started to unpack it immediately. My main concern was whether it was big enough to house my large seed trays and I was immensely relieved to discover that it did. I dismantled my old propagator, retaining various bits I thought could be useful, and cleaned off the bench. I positioned the base and set up the thermostatic temperature control and then investigated the grow lights. I’ve never used grow lights before and the instructions were rather confusing. After some lengthy puzzling I got everything working, although I am not convinced that I need the grow light facility at the moment, as we have quite long hours of daylight. I was very pleased when it was ready to go, it looks very smart and considerably more robust than my previous propagator. I put three trays inside and now I have space to start off three more which is great. One of the best things is that it has a securely fitting lid so I won’t have to worry about mouse attack.
By this time, I had to think about going inside to teach because my first pupil was due at 3:30. When I have welcomed back my pupils this week I will reorganise the timetable a little so I start teaching later, as I now have less pupils, this will give me more time outside which will be very useful.
Last night we had some very encouraging news from Historic England, they have approved our WSI (this is a Written Scheme of Investigation). This means that they have taken on board our wish to have our application divided into three sections; 1. Arcaded Wall, 2. Remaining Orchard Walls, 3. Outbuilding, Pond etc. Each part requires a WSI but by approving the one for section three, we can start work (if we get Planning Approval on Friday) which is brilliant! We then hope to get the WSI approved quickly on the remaining orchard walls, which involves the specialist photogrammetry record, and then that work can proceed simultaneously with section three. The arcaded wall can take more time to go through because it is a much more complicated and costly undertaking so we need to raise the money to do the work.
This is an incredibly important time for our family as so much hinges on this Decision. Our plans will make the garden more visitor friendly and will enable us to open more and run events, this will therefore help to raise money for the restoration of the Arcaded wall. The project is also giving future work to myself, Aideen and to some extent Diane and we are hopeful that Patrick will also start to scale back his architectural work and be more involved in the running of the garden, so we are all holding our breath for Friday’s long delayed decision.
Having finally received some positive news on the Planning front, Aideen and Diane spend the day working very hard to finish clearing the area where the new outbuilding will go. We have to be ready to dig trial trenches for archaeologists to check before we can start work. One of the things we have to do is to move our flint mountain. Over the years we have dug up a lot of flint from previously cobbled areas in the garden. This has all been preserved and collected in a big pile for future use. Unfortunately, it is now in the way and the girls need to move it, luckily only a short distance. We intend to use it on the surrounds of the new pond and also as part of a retaining wall but for now, it needs to move!
I spend the day working on the areas of the central border around the Pampas which is not the easiest of spots to deal with. The new propagator is already doing a good job and some of my reluctant primula seeds are germinating. In the original trays I sowed, I spent some time transplanting tiny seedlings where more than one had germinated in a module.
Tonight, was the last teaching day of the week and I am relieved that I’ve now restarted face to face teaching with all of my remaining pupils. Everything seemed to work out smoothly and they were all very happy to have resumed lessons. I just pray that it will be possible to continue with this part of my work and that we don’t have any more lockdowns.
Today, Aideen and Diane continue on their clearing mission and almost totally clear the old, brambly store. This involved moving an incredibly heavy, rusty, steel beam which I had to assist with. There is also an old saw bench stationed at the front of the store which will be very heavy to move. The saw bench will join our collection of old machinery, it was one of the existing items that has been at Church Gardens since we moved in, as was the old cultivator that lives in the organ pipe bed and the plough that sits by the pumpkin bed.
Last night, we witnessed our marauding badger scratching away at the turf in the front field on his worm hunt. We all clustered at the extension window to watch him, he seemed unperturbed by his audience and I didn’t have the heart to shoo him away. Perhaps I should leave a peanut butter sandwich on the lawn as an alternative meal to our worms and grass!
I became rather distracted this morning by counting seedlings. I have now germinated 176 polyanthas which is great, but I probably need several thousand! I also have over a hundred each of Zinnias and Cosmos.
This is very reassuring as I heard on the radio yesterday that bedding plants are in short supply this year. This is due to increased demand, a reduction in production due to lockdown restrictions and increased prices of European imports. I’m very glad I decided to grow everything myself this year. I am counting because I am considering moving the cosmos, zinnias and antirrhinums to bigger containers to grow them on more before planting out. This is a lot of extra work but will result in better plants.
When I was watering in the polytunnel, I had a disaster with the hose pipe. The hose got caught at the entrance to the tunnel. I gave it a tug and there was a huge crash…it had pulled down my old chest of drawers and the old ceramic bowl on top of the cabinet (which belonged to my grandmother) had smashed. Then to add insult to injury the nozzle came off the end of the hose pipe and drenched me! I hate hose pipes. I know they are a necessary evil but they cause me so much trouble, I’m convinced that they are possessed by a wicked spirit! I tidy everything up muttering under my breath! I spend the rest of my day weeding around the Pampas and I finish up by transplanting all of my cosmos.
Today is Decision day. There was no request to extend the Decision date so at some point today we will hear if we have had our Planning Application Approved or Rejected. There have been so many delays and extensions and we have provided so much preliminary information that it would be very perverse of the Council if we were Rejected at this point. However, none of us will feel confident until we see the Decision in black and white.
Both Patrick and I are up very early because we are so apprehensive. I think it is important to get outside and distract ourselves and Patrick has theoretically taken the day off today, so he goes out with Aideen and Diane to start constructing an enclosure of pallets into which to move the flint…this sounds so easy when you write the words, but the reality is very different.
Last week, we removed the York stone which was a massive task but we had six people working on the job, including two strong young men. The flint pile dwarves the York stone pile, it is about the size of the caravan and comprises of thousands of flints, some of which are massive and almost impossible to lift. The other consideration is that the flint pile is dangerous, as you remove flints, you can cause mini avalanches because it isn’t particularly stable, also flints can be extremely sharp.
Later in the day, when Aideen and Diane start shifting the flint, they decide they need an extra pair of hands and they appear appealingly in the polytunnel where I have just started transplanting seedlings, having finished the painful process of weeding around the Pampas. They need me so that Aideen can pass the flints to me to put in the barrow for Diane to unload in the pallet enclosure. This makes it safer for Aideen on the flint pile, as she has to be alert to jump clear if the flints start to fall down. There is a strong smell of struck matches as the flints hit each other and the barrow. We move a lot of flint but we still have a mountain left!
At about 2pm we have an email from the Planning Officer to say that she has recommended our Application for Approval. This is fantastic news, Patricks looks very happy but Aideen, typically, is not ready to celebrate until the Approval comes up on the Council website which it does at about 5pm when we were having a tea break.
This is the best news ever but we still cannot quite believe it and we all look quite stunned. The process has been so long-winded and has felt like a battle throughout, I think we are all slightly disbelieving that the struggle is over. We do feel very keenly that the process should not feel like this. We have said many times over the years when consulting with the local authority and Historic England on Planning matters, surely everyone wants to see the property restored and removed from the ‘Buildings At Risk’ Register. Although the authorities assure us that this is their desire, we feel obstructed at every turn. The official bodies certainly do not make the process easy, you would think they would be delighted to have people prepared to spend their life savings and all of their time and energy restoring historic properties that are the Councils responsibility to safeguard.
Anyway, now the fun can really begin, I’m sure the good news will sink in eventually and now, after a glass of something bubbly, it’s time to make a list!!!
The Start of Something Big
The day dawns bright and sunny with a beautiful blue sky, a good start to our exciting new venture. Everyone is up early and inspired to get lots done. James has come over with a good video camera to spend the day filming in the garden with Aideen. She has a plan to put together a promotional/introductory video of the garden that we can send out to people…maybe this would be a way of connecting with Gardeners world? Diane and Aideen are also interested in starting a ‘Vlog’ (Video Blog) to chart the progress of the building project alongside the continuing work of caring for the garden.
Diane and Patrick go out to the flint pile and once I’ve been filmed in the polytunnel by Aideen and James, got Grandad up and fed the chicken, I go to help. It is an enormous quantity of flint and Patrick and I are quite baffled by why there is so much! We do intend to re-use it, but that will be quite a challenge. There are also lots of pieces of old stone that look like broken pieces of monuments/buildings. We have always meticulously saved anything that we’ve found and now is the time to reuse them. These pieces of stone will probably be used as some sort of ruin feature in the far corner of the orchard, which I am envisaging as an area of quiet contemplation which is apparently a very popular thing to create in a garden at the moment.
After a while, Diane and Patrick think they can manage on their own and I’m allowed back to the Kitchen Garden. I make a start on clearing raised beds in the vegetable garden in preparation for planting potatoes. Potentially I need at least six large beds, one is already clear but I have five to weed and they are about … long and 4ft wide. I come in at 2pm, partly to prepare lunch and also to watch the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh. I found everything about this solemn and respectful occasion deeply moving and a very fitting and appropriate tribute for his decades of public service and loyalty to the Queen.
When I went back outside, I had not got very far before I was summoned by the flint team who thought that with help from Aideen and I, it might be possible to finish the job. This proved over optimistic and at 8pm I had to go inside to put on the dinner, otherwise we wouldn’t eat before midnight!
We are up quite early this morning to wrap Patrick’s presents and give him his cards. One of his presents is a little wooden sign saying ‘Welcome to the McHugh Corral’ to hang on the gate leading into the compost yard, which he is very chuffed with.
It is another beautiful, sunny day and James comes again with the camera to continue filming. Today, this included the family going to the four main areas affected by our Application to discuss what needs to be done. Patrick was encouraged to take the lead in these discussions which he was not very enthusiastic about, he is quite shy! However, his is our architect, as well as husband and father, so he didn’t get much choice! I think he did very well, although he doesn’t speak very loudly, he explains things very clearly and should have more confidence in himself. Aideen and James must have photographed every flower in the garden, which is a major achievement and they even filmed Meave making a very Church Gardens-centric lunch. Meave created a lovely combination of roasted potatoes, bacon, green garlic, spinach, oregano, dill and lettuce from the garden and Pecky’s eggs, it was delicious!
It was a very busy day, although we had some nice breaks for cake and even champagne on the Mount which was very nice. I transplanted all of my antirrhinum into bigger containers (more than 100) and split up and planted out my Alyssum (Violet Queen) and Amaranthus (Velvet Curtain) seedlings. I planted out an 84 module tray of leeks – Runner, Lyon, Musselborough, Oarsman, Hanibal, Autumn Mammoth and Hilari.
Aideen very kindly put some compost on one of the raised beds and I planted out the Casablanca and Maris Bard potatoes, I also continued to weed the neighbouring bed. Meave, Patrick and Diane spent some time cutting down some of the nut tree that is in the way of the pond and they continued to move stone…what a way to spend your Birthday, but Patrick was happy.
We finished the day with Patricks favourite dinner, Beef Strogonof, and watched Line of Duty with which we are obsessed, along with the rest of the country!