Last night, Meave and I watched a little Great Tit fluttering against the walls and windows around the back door. It would perch briefly on the trellis and then flutter against the walls, at one point, it hung inside the back-door handle. Finally, it disappeared into a tiny space besides a beam that spans the top of the tall living room windows, it was very cute!
Last night’s dinner, produced by Meave, was quite delicious. It was her first attempt at bœuf à la bourguignonne. Prior to cooking, we walked around the garden collecting ingredients…she used lots of shallots, a courgette (good girl), plenty of herbs (including rosemary for the roasted new potatoes), and lots of kale which she roasted with garlic which was very tasty.
We had an impromptu visit from our dear friend Anne this morning and Aideen and I spent a lovely couple of hours with her catching up. After this, Meave prepared a delicious lunch, roasted vegetables with chicken, halloumi and couscous.
Today, Aideen decided to attempt paper-making for the first time. She wants to produce textured paper for her dried flowers and eventually I think she wants to make paper with plant material, all very admirable. I am required intermittently to lend a hand and help work out how to manage certain stages of the process. As it is now raining, I decide to stay in and write my book and be close by if required. Aideen has utilised an old food processor to make her paper pulp and she uses any scrap recycled paper card and tissue for these initial experiments. She produces 9 sheets of paper but unfortunately Bella treads on one, so one sheet has a dog paw print! Otherwise, it is a successful session and is another way of recycling. Aideen is enjoying the freedom of having wet hands, unbelievably, another restriction when playing the harp…no wet hands prior to playing because it softens the skin on the fingers!
A welcoming home for plants and old lawn mowers
Today, I am out quite early taking Diane to the dentist. Not wishing to waste any time, I slip my Autumn Parkers catalogue into my handbag in case I get a moment whilst waiting for her, to start planning my Autumn bulb order. This is a major thing each year, I think I planted abut 6000 bulbs last year. This year, I am intending to do a mass planting of daffodil bulbs around the perimeter of the front field, amongst other things!
Shortly after returning home, I am called in from the garden because some friends have called in bearing plants. A lovely thing about gardening is how generous people are and we are often the grateful recipients of plants that have become too big for their owners gardens. I was given a Canary broom (cytisus) and a Francoa sonchifolia (Bridal wreath) and two clumps of crinum Powellii (Elephant flower). I have one canary broom already and I found a corresponding spot in the field border to put the new one. Ironically, only yesterday I was looking at an area in front of a giant ‘palm like’ phornium (also a gift from another friends garden!) in the field border where I grow Armeria and Nepata, that has become infested with grass. I had been contemplating digging out the grass and putting in something new and as if by magic these plants arrive. I split the crinums into four clumps and having dug out the area, plant them and the Francoa into the space. I do not have either of these two plants in the garden so I hope they settle in and thrive. Having watered them all in, I decide to have a deadheading session. I deadhead all of the cosmos and the dahlias in the larger beds.
I then return to my courgette and zinnia beds to finish weeding them after consuming a sneaky bowl of raspberries and cream, my favourite treat!
Tonight, I am planning to cook a substantial curry because I’m feeding seven people so I visit the polytunnel to pick chillies. I cook chicken dupiaza (chicken and onions), Jeera potatoes (from the garden) and a crispy white cabbage curry dish for which I cut three small heads of white cabbage. Whilst I’m cooking, I receive a phone call from a charming gentleman wondering if we would be interested in his old lawn mower. He had noticed our collection of old machines on a past visit to the garden. I naturally said we would be glad to give it a home.
Biggest recycling job ever!
The trusty dumper truck was delivered back to us yesterday, I actually think we should offer to buy it as it spends more time here than at the hire yard! Its presence heralds another weekend of hard graft and the troops are gathering accordingly. All the girls are at home, plus James and Billy, hence the substantial curry last night. On the subject of food, the Jeera potatoes and crispy cabbage curry last night were two vegetable dishes I hadn’t made before and they were very successful. It is always useful to have more ideas for using cabbage.
Today is the start of laying hard-core into the parking area at the front of the house. The dumper is for transporting the hard-core that is in a massive heap in the orchard, out to the front of the house.
This pile of hard-core has been fairly hidden amongst the nut trees since we first moved to Harefield. The original tenant allowed builders to dump hard-core on the property and it is the last pile of actual rubbish left to remove. Unfortunately, since removing the nut trees growing in the terrace, the pile is no longer hidden and it is a complete eye sore!
My dearest wish is to get it out of the garden as soon as possible and it is an added bonus that it can be put to good use as the foundation for the parking area, hence my description of it as our biggest recycling job to date! Patrick had to finish fixing a wooden edge to contain the hard-core. Then the permeable ground cover sheet was laid down and then hard core shifting could begin. It is a huge area and when the hard-core is brought out I then has to be broken up. Meave, Aideen and Diane (driving the dumper) collected the hard-core out of the pile and James, Billy and Patrick broke it up at the other end. Whilst they get stuck in to the job, I continue with the garden. Today, I weed the celery bed and the beetroot bed and two permanent herb beds.
Periodically, I pop out to see how they are getting on at the front. It is such a massive area it is obviously going to take forever! Later in the day, I go out to discover that they are digging again. One of the problems of such a large area is it is hard to get the levels correct. Patrick is worried that it is a bit high in the middle and he is keen to get a ‘fall’ on the area for good drainage. When I come out at about 7pm everyone is looking a bit desperate. The ground is ridiculously difficult to dig because you keep hitting flints, cobble and brick. In between these obstacles the ground is terribly hard. The boys are attacking it with pick axes and the girls with forks and it is terribly hard to see where it needs to be taken away. I offer to join in and there are some sarcastic comments, especially when they see what I intend to dig with. This is my favourite fork, left behind some years ago by a builder when it broken a tine. I like it because the prongs are quite slender and sharp, the fork isn’t too big and the missing tine can be helpful when there are obstructions in the soil. I also decide to change out of my customised crocs which shows I mean business, which causes even more hilarity. I dig with them for over an hour and although it is hard going I think they are quite surprised at my progress…they forget I’ve been digging since long before they were born…Patrick knows better than to doubt my capabilities in this area. I’m always willing to have a go at all of the labouring jobs although I have to be careful with heavy lifting. However, someone has to actually do the garden, which is not exactly a small job!
A very itchy day!
Unfortunately, the troops are diminished today, Meave and Billy are supporting a charity football event in aid of one of Meave’s school friends who is tragically suffering from bone cancer. Later in the morning, James departs to play cricket leaving Patrick, Aideen and Diane to today’s job which is moving the scaffolding. Mickey is coming back from his travels to continue with the wall next week. This means the scaffolding has to be dismantled and reassembled for the stretch of wall up to the corner of the orchard including the viewing platform. This may sound simple but it is a major enterprise. It is about 60ft long section of scaffolding that has to be erected on uneven ground and across the viewing platform and surrounding planting. Then bricks have to be put on the scaffolding ready for Mickey to use. They start work at 8am and even when reinforcements arrive in the shape of Mary in the afternoon, they do not finish until teatime!
Whilst this work is going on, I carry on in the garden on my general weeding duties. Before going over to get dad up, because I’m up quite early with the scaffolding team, I start with some general weeding and cutting back at the front of the central borders. I cannot quite believe how beautiful these borders are, I think it’s because the planting has matured and filled out (the borders were planted in 2017). The pampas grass in particular (well three of them!) look magnificent with a wonderful array of towering plumes.
When dad is up and tucking into his breakfast I return to the vegetable patch. I would like to weed the two permanent herb beds on the opposite side of the vegetable garden to where I was working yesterday. However, I decide against this as my wild bee colony has expanded to cover almost every bed in the brassica quarter. I cannot believe how many bees have moved in, there are hundreds of them swarming over the soil surface. I know it is sensible to treat them with respect, if I start trying to weed a bed they are inhabiting, they might decide to turn on me!
I then do a bit of weeding around the runner beans and then decide to plant out about 60 spring onions into the top of a leek bed. After this, I decide to tackle the potato/courgette quarter. This part of the vegetable garden has been left to its own devices and has become very messy. These beds can look untidy purely because of frequently digging up potatoes. I’m not sure that I’ve weeded the potato beds at all this year. As a result, they are overrun with their companion planting, official and unofficial. The first early potato bed in particular is full of large borage plants which have faded. I decide to utilise my big green barrow and remove all of the borage. Even wearing gloves this is still a potentially unpleasant job. Borage is covered in fine prickly hairs and can be very irritating to the skin. I am already feeling quite itchy with stinging nettle stings on my legs. This is due to nettles growing in the outer section of Pecky’s chicken run which I walk through in shorts. Having pulled up lots of borage and dead Californian poppies, I then start clearing the paths on my knees sweeping up multiple Californian poppy seed heads, moss and general debris. I soon realise that everywhere I go I am also sweeping up red ants! Red ants have a worse bite than black ants in my experience and by this point I am scratching all over my arms and legs. I decide to retreat for a while and water the polytunnel and I take the opportunity to water myself which is a great relief!
I take in a big harvest tonight for dinner which is going to be giant quiche – this time to contain rainbow chard, two beautiful leeks, baby courgettes along with bacon, onion, mushrooms. I also dig up potatoes (for potato salad), beetroot, and pick tomatoes and basil. That should cover the ‘5 a day’ twice over!