• Kay

Big Bulb Order


I drop Diane off early this morning for another exciting day at the P.R.U, it looks as if it might become her job. I am conscious that I need to get back early because we are due a visit from a district nurse to give grandad a bladder wash-out. When I return home, there is a lorry by the house delivering the trench sheets. Poor Meave and Aideen are having to take them down from the lorry…all 75 of them…long, heavy metal, girder sized items. At first, the driver wasn’t even going to unload as we didn’t have a crane or a fork lift! The district nurse arrives and I go ahead of her into the annexe and it is obvious that grandad has already been up. The light is on, his slippers are on and the night catheter is on its side. This is all very concerning but luckily, he is back in bed and seems ok.

After the nurses visit, Aideen and I do the bulb order online. I source the bluebells and crocuses from Farmer Gracey and everything else from Parkers. I had expected the bulb order to be more conservative this year but I think I have still ordered in the region of about 15000 bulbs. This is partly due to building up the stock of bulbs in the orchard – bluebells, daffodils and this year, anemones. The orchard is big, so the order is big! For most of the day, Aideen and I concentrated on tidying up the courtyard because we have a visit on Thursday. Aideen mowed and watered the grass, I weeded the beds and then I planted a bag of tulip bulbs that was given to me by a member of my choir, that was given to her by one of her neighbours. I picked up Diane from work and before I started teaching we joined Aideen and Patrick to clear up the area in front of the garage for the men to start work tomorrow. They are going to start installing trench sheets with a digger from the top level so they need space to manoeuvre. After teaching, I try a new recipe for chicken cooked in a tomato/peanut sauce with chillies from the tunnel, spicy but nice!


Groundworks Men Move In!


Today, the basement builders arrive to start trench sheeting the basement hole. This is quite an operation, the girder like trench sheets are hammered into a shallow trench and are cemented in. They are then propped and braced and the ground in front is blinded with cement. There were four people including Frank (the boss) there all day and they made good progress, installing ten sheets. They were very careful and professional in their work so Patrick and I are beginning to feel more reassured about the situation. Aideen spends the day installing insulation into her boat and in the evening, she tries positioning some spot lights with James to decide how many lights she needs.

I spend the day in the garden doing odd jobs before Thursday’s visit. The first thing I notice is that the water feature isn’t working. Unfortunately, it didn’t respond to being refilled with water. I dismantle it to inspect the pump and there is nothing obviously wrong. The pump is switched on and making a noise but not pumping the water. This is already our second pump for the water feature and I’m beginning to suspect that the pumps are just poor quality, it is very disappointing as the water feature was not cheap!

I spend some time removing untidy borage and tying up climbers and fallen cosmos. I then give the mini orchard some attention, removing suckers from the trees and trimming around the base of trees. A real treat of the day was picking a big bowl of raspberries to have as a snack! I finish up with some general weeding before leaving to collect Diane and then I start my teaching.

When I come outside after my teaching to shut the orchard gate I see Mayflower lit up beside the water and she looks beautiful.


Our Generous Visitors


Today, after taking Diane to work and getting grandad up, Patrick and I visit one of our previous visitors who has some granite setts she does not need. These are big and heavy so we have to make two journeys to get them home without breaking the Volvo’s suspension. When we are there she told me she was recently visited by an old friend who used to be our health visitor when we first moved to Harefield. What a coincidence, we live in a very small world! The friend remembered our family very well…apparently, we were known at the surgery as the McMads! I cannot really complain about this nickname when I think back to what it was like when we first moved into Church Gardens with our four-week-old twins. Fortunately, our health visitor was a very sensible woman and wasn’t daunted by the state of our home. At that time, the entire family slept on a sofa bed in our living room. I seem to remember showing her the room that would one day be the twins bedroom and at that stage, it was just a black hole. The room didn’t have a window and the ceiling was falling in and ancient straw was spilling onto the floor. We didn’t manage to finish the room until the twins were three! She will have to come and visit us and see that the children did grow up with no ill effects!

After unloading the granite setts, I went back into the kitchen garden to continue tidying up. I weeded the alpine beds and trimmed plants back from the paths. I removed masses of overgrown borage and took off all of the old sweetcorn ears and put it over the fence for the badgers. Later in the afternoon, we received a call from another visitor who had visited the garden with a group in August. She was clearing out her pond and had irises and other plants that we might like. She came over with her husband and I gratefully added the plants to my ‘water plant nursery’ in the back courtyard. These donations are much appreciated and its lovely that sometimes it involves me visiting our visitor’s gardens which is very interesting.


The Last Visit


Today is our last visit of the season, Redbourn U3A are coming by bus in the afternoon. We have already been visited by another section of Redbourn U3A, earlier in the year and that group recommended Church Gardens to the group that visited us today. After dropping Diane off at work, Aideen and I busied ourselves with tidying up. We haven’t had a visit for about two weeks and a lot has gone on in that time. We also have a team of four builders working on our basement at the moment, therefore, things are quite messy. We gathered up our surplus flints and moved them closer to the edge of the pond. I emptied barrows, watered containers, swept away leaves and generally tidied up rubbish. Aideen iced the cakes and set up the marquee and soon it was time for the visitors to arrive.

They were a very nice group who were very understanding about the front of the house looking like a building site and the builders hammering the metal trench sheets very loudly at the beginning of the tour!

It really has been a very successful season considering that we only reopened the garden at the end of June. We have had more than 40 visits since then with over 1500 people visiting the garden. I am incredibly pleased with how it has gone and we’ve managed to raise a reasonable amount of money for the garden, very useful, considering the present traumas with the basement! After a very satisfactory final visit, we then got ourselves ready for the evening choir rehearsals.


Monster Pond


Today, Patrick took the day off and Aideen and I helped him with the flint wall around the pond. However, before that could begin, Minxy had a follow up appointment at the vets about her leg. I knew the leg was fine and Minxy was outraged to be put in her cat basket and taken to the vets again. Minxy gave the vet a very disapproving look and only allowed a cursory glare at her leg before hopping determinedly back into her cat basket which suddenly becomes much more appealing when she is at the vets!

Most of the dodgy section of the basement is now supported by trench sheets and numerous props, which are very securely fixed and concreted. However, we lost another large chunk of soil in front of the garage door this morning. The ground between the garage and the hole is diminishing steadily and Patrick and I will not sleep easily until it is all completely propped and backfilled. We are so relieved we brought in Frank and his team, despite the cost. Frank has been there all week directing every move and working with the men at every stage of the process and we are incredibly impressed by how seriously he is dealing with the situation. We are both so thankful that for the time being, the ‘hole’ is someone else’s responsibility.

It is much more pleasant working in the pond than the basement, especially when the sun is shining. We finish the bottom course of flints around the opening for the stream and Patrick starts on a second course of smaller flints. Tomorrow, we will have to work out how the flints lead into the mouth of the stream, it is all rather ‘trial and error’ at the moment. We have never done anything on this scale before, all of the ponds I have been previously built (the fountain pool, the reflective pond below the solar panels, the natural pond we created at Bridge road and the first pond I ever made at a house where I rented a room) would all fit on the wide shelf of this ‘monster’ pond! I don’t think I will be building another pond any time soon.


Patrick’s Worries


Today starts with unexpected drizzle, the building team (minus Frank) come for a few hours to do further backfilling and put in more concrete. They leave the digger pushing against a board to hold it in place. We do not need rain at the moment and luckily, it clears up by late morning and the sun comes out.

Patrick is not a ‘happy bunny’ at the moment, he is stressed about everything. However, this would not be apparent to anyone outside the family because he is so uncommunicative!

However, we know the signs. Aideen starts each day by asking her dad to list what he is stressed about today. At the moment, number one on this list is the basement hole, which is an ongoing stress. Number two on the list is the flint wall around the pond. He is now worried that his flint wall, which is sitting on an extra piece of liner to protect the main liner, might slip into the pond. Aideen and I think this is highly unlikely as it is sitting on the shelf and the flints are extremely heavy and firmly in position, even before they have been set in cement. I think Patrick is just feeling overwhelmed. He commented today that because the pond is so big it makes building the edging wall a monstrously huge job. This is very true. Also, it isn’t easy for Patrick because of his bad leg, it is an uncomfortable job and he is in constant pain. However, I know Patrick doesn’t want to give up on doing things. He would be even more grumpy if he didn’t come outside and he is extremely good at these jobs. The wall looks wonderful and when Diane and I were doing a section on our own, we were far slower than Patrick. It is also important to have the right person choosing the stones for Patrick to use, Aideen and Diane are both good at this but I was useless! My forte seems to be sticking small stones into the mortar joints like a mosaic. This is a simple, monotonous job but it suits me perfectly because it’s hard to get it wrong and I can daydream about future planting schemes!

We were fortunate to have James with us today, he did some digging to create a mouth to the stream and he also started to dig out where the jetty will go. James also helped me find more flints for the ‘wall building’ team.

We came in as light fell and the gnats were biting. We discussed potential deck designs to make a terraced edge to the high side of the pond which will make it safer.


Dreaming of Streams


I did not get much sleep last night. First, I fell asleep in my chair and didn’t get into bed until 2am. I then woke up worrying about how the stream will enter the pond at about 5:30am and felt it necessary to look at several ‘pond’ books to reassure myself. Patrick was up at 6am to walk the dog, so we had a conversation about the stream and I then suggested that I accompany him on the dog walk. This would have been very nice except for our walk being hijacked by Minxy the cat! I don’t think Minxy approves of mummy and daddy leaving the house to go for a walk together, so she feels it is necessary to accompany us. This is not good as Minxy can be very silly, jumping in and out of bushes and running up and down trees. Also, she shouldn’t follow us too far because once out of her territory she would get lost. She followed us through the field around the outside of the garden wall and was showing no sign of giving up, so regretfully Patrick went on with Bella and I remained by a bush trying to coax Minxy to come out and come home. After a while, I gave up and thought she had lost interest in following us so I tried to catch Patrick up (poor man cannot walk very fast at the moment). I climb over the stile and start walking up the next field, I glance behind me and who do I see…yes, naughty Minxy cat! I finally give in and try to redirect her home, so much for going for a nice walk with my husband.

Aideen and I then went to church to play in band and then it was straight home and back outside. While we were gone, James and Patrick inserted some reinforcing steel rods behind the big flints on the steep side of the pond and backfilled with cement. When Aideen and I arrived, Patrick went back to flint wall construction which involves both Aideen and I, so James went back to digging the jetty. Whilst digging, he came across some large, interesting grubs which he brought over to show us. I suggested they were probably the immature stage of a beetle. On further investigation, it was discovered that they were cockchafer beetle grubs and then he found a new cock chafer. After the wall was completed up to the overflow drain, we all went to look at the mouth of the stream. We laid a slab under the liner to create a slight drop for the stream water to run over into the pond and covered the earth in sand to protect the liner. We had to adjust the shape of the mouth of the stream on one side to fit the shape of the liner we had available. We finished the day’s work laying flints on this section.

The wall looks brilliant and Patrick should be very proud of himself but he is still feeling anxious. We have now decided to construct a modest deck from the jetty around the section of the pond with a high bank to create a terrace. This will reduce the steep drop down from the edge of the pond which was potentially dangerous. We are very happy with this terrace idea which Aideen came up with yesterday and will give us a lovely spot to sit by the water.


A Backlog of Blogs


I am hoping to have a visit from the district nurse today for dad. In order not to miss the knock on the door, Aideen and I station ourselves in the living room to try and catch up with the blog. Unfortunately, the blog has not been posted on the website for ages because although I write it every day, it is quite time consuming to post it on the website and we’ve both been ridiculously busy. However, we do want to continue the blog and we know that there are people out there who enjoy reading it, so we apologise for its lateness.

It was actually quite nice to go through the old blogs because it is a reminder of what we have done. After some time passes, I suspect the district nurse is not coming so I phone their contact line to check. Sure enough, we are not on the list to be visited. This is frustrating as I have been trying to set up this weekly visit for catheter care for over a month.

The basement builders are back today but they have a bit of a disaster. Having put seven trench sheets in place around the final section of dodgy ground, there is another serious fall of earth. The trench sheets were not yet securely propped and they were all knocked over. The men had to dig out the earth and start again, luckily, no one was hurt. By the end of the day, the trench sheets are back in place and about half of the void behind is backfilled. Therefore, although the area of ground between the garage and the hole is even more reduced and scary looking, it does look much more secure. We now have a wall of trench sheets firmly propped and cemented in position with the space behind largely backfilled. This should now give a safe space to lay the floor slab and build the walls, thank god. I think the only other alternative to these works would be to fill the basement in, which would be rather a shame!

After looking through a lot of blogs, I finally get to do some proper gardening, rather than spending all day sticking small stones into cement. The first thing I notice is that the water feature on the mount has stopped working again (it had randomly started to work for a few days). This does suggest that maybe the problem is a blockage rather than the pump. I try to resolve this by spraying my hose through the top section but it doesn’t work.

My next job is to move the shallots, garlic and onions out of the tunnel and into the basement (root cellar). First, I have to clear some space in the basement and then I go through all of the onions to remove any that have rotted. I then have a good sweep in readiness for the potatoes. For lunch, I had cucumber and tomato with olive bread, and a pear from the garden. I sit in the tunnel eating my lunch and I can hear Aideen practising her harp in the distance, home grown fruit and veg eaten to the sound of a harp, how fortunate am I! The last thing I manage to do before I go in to teach is to dig up two beds of potatoes and bring them into the tunnel.


Moussaka Day


Today’s weather was surprisingly warm and very windy, therefore, Patrick was keen to dismantle the marquees before they blew away. We have two, large marquees that sit next to each other to cover the majority of the back courtyard. This gives us a large undercover area to serve refreshments to our visitors. The marquees have been up since the end of June (when visits started) apart from occasionally lowering them when bad weather has been threatened. We coaxed Meave away from her work to help us because the minimum number of people required to dismantle such large marquees is four. Inevitably, we are still in the midst of dismantling when the District nurse arrives and she has to climb over the roof cover to access grandad’s annexe! I was expecting a phone call from a district nurse to arrange a visit after they didn’t come yesterday so I was surprised to see one in person today. I then had to leave the marquee team to go and learn how to do a bladder wash-out. The district nurses have decided I should learn to do this myself rather than have a nurse visit because they are very short staffed.

After the nurse departs, I make my order for Autumn sown garlic and onions and attempt to phone the GP. Contacting the GP is very difficult at present and I have given up in frustration several times on previous attempts. Today, I am determined to get through to talk to someone and wait patiently by the phone, using the time to write words on choir music. I eventually reach number one in the queue and the house phone goes dead. I am SO cross I nearly throw the phone out of the window! I go outside to dig up potatoes, a good way of releasing pent up frustration.

It takes a surprising amount of time to dig up potatoes and today I dig up three beds and lay them out on the polytunnel bench to dry. I also pick tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers and my entire crop of aubergines to cook a moussaka tonight. This reveals that my aubergine crop was quite sparse this year!


Sowing for Spring Greens


There was quite a lot of rain last night and unfortunately, it has flooded the basement hole. Normally, the hole is quite well drained but now there is quite a lot of concrete blinding on the ground to help keep the trench sheets in place, flooding is much more of an issue. The men have to start the day by pumping the water out of the hole. After dropping Diane at work, Aideen and I have another marathon editing session on the blogs. Aideen and James are going on a short canal boat holiday next week (very appropriate) and we are trying to get the blog up to date before she leaves.

I am quite enjoying going through these old blogs because I’ve forgotten half of what we’ve done and it makes me feel better about what we have achieved. It is also very interesting how quickly you forget how hard a job was once you have done it!

The weather is very changeable today. Despite the rain, it is still very warm and there are outbreaks of lovely sunshine. I decide to sow my spring/winter greens that will need to be planted in the polytunnel beds when I have removed the Summer crops of aubergines, chillies, peppers and basil. I am a little late sowing these crops but I checked sowing dates with last year in my planting diary and it wasn’t much different. I planted a tray of different varieties of lettuce, one of spinach, one of calabrese and then two mixed trays containing Japanese and Chinese greens, salad leaves, green and lemon coriander, flat and curled leaf parsley, dill and sorrel. This should give us a good selection of vitamin and mineral rich fresh produce in the Winter months. It is very easy to forget to sow these plants but I would be extremely sorry not to have them. I will also be sowing peas and broad beans that will then be planted outside and it is nearly time to plant Autumn garlic, onions and shallots.

I listened to Dr Tim Spectre of ‘The Diet Myth’ fame On the Life of Scientific and he was talking about his work researching the gut micro-biome and its massive importance for health. It has now been proven that a healthy gut micro-biome is also critical for good Covid outcomes. It reminded me that he recommends eating 30 different types of plant per week, making it even more crucial to produce fresh veg in the Winter months. Today, I have eaten tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner but we’ve also had cucumber, garlic, onion, chilli, aubergine, carrots, beans and sweetcorn, hopefully this will keep the micro-biome happy!


Pond Madness


The rain was heavy and persistent last night which is not ideal at the moment. This morning, Patrick very kindly offered to take Diane to work to give me the opportunity to stay in bed slightly longer. He knows my night’s sleep is broken at least four times per night because I am woken up by various menopause symptoms, I’m usually only asleep for 1-2 hours at a time. However, he then shouts for me to get up anyway because I’m needed by the pond. Before 7:30am, Aideen and I are assembled by the pond which is now filling rapidly because the heavy rain has caused the stream to flow. The problem is, where we have been working on the flint wall, the liner has pulled away from the edge of the pond. Patrick had intended to pull it back into position before water covered the pond shelves but unfortunately, the stream was ahead of us. Now there is no alternative other than crawling along the shelf in several inches of cold, rather muddy, water whilst attempting to slide any creases in the liner towards the walls with our fingers.

Patrick disappeared to give Diane a lift, leaving Aideen and I in the pond for over an hour! By the time we had finished we could not feel our hands and feet. Goodness knows what the builders working on the basement hole must have thought of these mad women crawling around in cold water first thing in the morning. We resolved the problem on one half of the pond but I crawled along the other side and found similar issues, so I think we will have to partly pump out the water to adjust the big shelf. The pond has now filled sufficiently for the water to reach its edges, so it is possible to get the true effect of the full expanse of water and it looks amazing.

Aideen and I were then freezing and had to warm up. When we recovered, I got grandad up and Aideen raked leaves out of the stream and put an additional grill in place to try and keep them out of the pond. We then decided to escape and go shopping! This shocked Patrick who I think thought we should sit beside the pond all day, but I didn’t think there was anything else we could do. Thank goodness the overflow is in place, the stream mouth is functioning and the flint wall is almost complete, just in time as it turns out!

It is very rare for me to go shopping for clothes, I think the last time was before our last music tour in 2018 and I thought Aideen and I deserved some retail therapy after our watery ordeal, so off we went!

The pond was still there when we got back, the stream had stopped and all was well.


The Return of the Badger


Today, I started my gardening work by checking that all the dahlias are correctly and clearly labelled. I like to know at least the colour and type of each dahlia, even if I do not know it’s variety (many of our dahlias have been donated over the years and they are anonymous). Knowing the colour and approximate size helps me with planting plans. Some of them had lost their labels last year and I needed to check colours before the blooms are killed by the first frost.

Whilst grubbing about in a dahlia bed, I come across a large, fresh, poo filled hole…a badger latrine, charming! I have to confess, I haven't put my radio outside playing Radio 4 for the last couple of weeks in the evening. I had also popped any remaining sweet corn cobs, past their best for human consumption, over the fence as a peace offering, so I wasn’t expecting this latest attack.

When I looked around, I discovered they had been in the sweetcorn, although there was little left to steal! I peered under the Yew hedge and spotted the latest forced entry point. Later in the day, I blocked it with a piece of wood and two heavy blocks and put out my radio again on guard duty!

Today, Patrick has put two pumps in the pond to reduce the water level, if we can expose the shelves it will help us to continue working. I finished gardening jobs by digging up more potatoes, the crop this year has been quite good.

At the end of the day we notice that a pile of sandy spoil by the basement hole contains the rounded pebbles that we have previously been rescuing from the hole. Patrick, Diane and myself fill two barrows with pebbles which we will reuse either on the pond’s beach or the mouth of the stream, no one can accuse us of not recycling!


Wet and Miserable


Today, Aideen is deputising for the resident harpist at the ‘The Grove’, probably the most up market hotel in the area.

This leaves Diane, Patrick and myself to work outside and everyone is feeling a bit down. We are all tired and Patrick had his booster jab yesterday and his arm is very sore.

The basement men are here in the morning and they finish digging out the hole and lay the last bit of blinding on the ground. This is like a preliminary concrete layer prior to laying the slab which is a good idea as it makes it much clearer to see what you are doing when fixing the steel work. It also gives a clear impression of the buildings footprint which feels like progress at last. Thank god they’ve finished digging because we are running out of space to put piles of earth! We are holding onto much of the earth for backfilling, after the basement walls are built. The hole is very big now, partly because of earth falls but also because we decided to slope the sides to prevent further falls.

The pond is still being pumped out so we can work on the wall, this is a slow process because it is a lot of water. Foolishly, I thought the edging wall was nearly finished but I had not allowed for adding a levelling layer of smaller flints on top of the massive flints on the jetty side. I tried in vain to find something waterproof for my feet and failed, ending up in water filled crocs for most of the day. This did not improve my state of mind as I knelt on a soggy kneeler, endlessly sticking small stones into the mortar or searching, often fruitlessly, for correctly shaped flints. As I looked around the pond edge at the hundreds of flints and thousands of pebbles that we’ve put into the wall, I muse on our collective insanity for taking on such a massive job. By the end of the day I am cold and wet, Patrick at least had waterproof boots and Diane wisely remained on dry land. I think we have nearly finished…but I thought that before!


One Step at a Time


Today I’m feeling more positive, this is probably helped by the sun shining and also getting a bit more sleep. Normally I am relentlessly optimistic, the 'Polyanna' of Church Gardens. Patrick can be more circumspect, however, this is perfectly understandable due to Patrick’s superior knowledge about the building projects we are undertaking. He is the one we rely on to tell us what to do, it is his measurements that we trust and he (probably unfairly) accepts responsibility for anything that doesn’t go according to plan. His mood is not improved by his physical state, he has always had respiratory problems and we know that they will not improve as they are hereditary, but he is generally very philosophical about this situation. However, the accident which caused such a bad injury to his leg almost five years ago is a lot to cope with, giving constant pain and difficulty with mobility, so no one can blame him for being fed up some of the time. In the last few days, he has spoken more to me about how he feels about what we still have to do at Church Gardens and for the first time in a long time, I felt overwhelmed. Fortunately, I do not usually feel this way but it is a daunting prospect. Even after finishing the pond, stream and new visitors building, there is so much left to do. There will be a huge amount of making good where the work has taken place and large areas will need to be seeded with grass. Also, there is the mammoth task of planting the inside and outside of the pond, which is my responsibility. Aideen reminded us today that it is a year since we started to dig out our parking area…now look at it! All the diggers, dumpers, badly handed delivery and grab lorries have made a horrendous mess that somehow we will have to clear up in order to finish surfacing the drive and parking areas. We hope to make progress with the two ‘normal’ orchard walls next year but that will involve digging out foundations which will create more mess and be tremendous hard work. It will be at least a year before we reclaim the corner of the orchard. This is without even looking at the arcaded wall….

Thank goodness that today, I feel more positive. Someone needs to be! We will have to go ‘one step at a time’ and remember that without the new building (despite its problems) we would never raise enough money for the arcaded wall and most of the time, it is a labour of love!

I shouldn’t be surprised to discover when I get outside that I am needed to stick more little stones into the joints of the flint wall. Diane finds a little bit I missed yesterday and tells me off! Inevitably, this last bit of wall requires me to kneel in a puddle!

We then have a family meeting to discuss Patrick’s plans for building a jetty. This involves cutting some very heavy oak sleepers for legs and drilling into some very heavy York stone slabs which will serve as the foundation anchors for the jetty legs and also the fixing point for where the ladder goes into the pond.

Whilst this is happening, Aideen is digging out the beach area…this sounds elaborate but it is a very small beach that gives us an entry point into the pond. As I’m already a bit soggy, I decide to crawl around the pond shelf pulling the liner up towards the base of the pond wall and sweeping away any bits of cement. This is not easy, but it needs doing and no one else is daft enough to spend hours crawling through puddles and smoothing the shelf. By the end of the day I’ve changed my work trousers and socks three times but the liner is as good as I can get it. I will be relieved when the pond is finally full and I can stop worrying about the liner. We finish the day tucking the edge of the liner into a cement filled trench at the top of the beach to hold it in place. We also discussed how to lay the bigger bits of stone through the beach which will make the pathway to the steps.

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