• Kay

New String

Updated: Oct 18, 2021


Today we are visited by Highbury Women’s Group, who last visited us in 2019. Thankfully, most of them have worn sun hats because the heat is intense. It is the first tour I’ve given in shorts and I grab my gardening sun hat as I go past the tunnel. I’ll have to invest in a smarter sun hat for public appearances! Fortunately, quite a lot of the tour is in the orchard and therefore, under shade. I succeed in bringing the group safely back to the marquee for refreshments with no one expiring from the heat. Despite the weather, the group seems to enjoy themselves and enthusiastically talk about returning.

After the visit, I decide to give myself a treat and visit Nik’s Nursery. This is under the usual pretext of ‘needing new string’, however, I think me borrowing Patrick’s car was a bit of a give away… I wasn’t going to fill a Volvo Estate with string. Aideen and Diane came with me for the ride and it did not take long to fill three trollies with goodies…Nik’s bedding plants were half price!

I was looking for plants to put in my new bed of terracotta pipe planters. I collected five ferns, some Alstroemerias, Mandevilla - Dipladenia Care (Beauty Plant) and Gerberas. I bought a climbing hydrangea and a clematis for the obelisk and two passion flowers for an arch. I then filled a trolley with New Guinea impatiens, begonias and some very pretty mixed pots of bedding. Aideen found some hanging pots for her house plants, Diane picked up a door mat and a dust pan-and-brush, and then there was the string.

Before my teaching started, I planted out my pretty begonias in the Children’s Garden. After my teaching, I planted out the decorative urns at the end of the kitchen garden and started adding to the containers on the central path. This job was complicated by many containers being infested with ants. The ants continuously swarmed over my hands, feet and legs. This was most unpleasant as they bite. There is little that can be done about the problem so I attempt to live alongside them.

Aideen spent the afternoon insulating her boat. It was lovely to see Nik and his wife, and good to hear the nursery is doing well.


Too Hot for Gardens


The temperature is now 31 degrees and very uncomfortable. Apart from watering, everyone is trying to find jobs out of the sun. Today, the pond liner is redelivered and the delivery driver was very helpful. He used his pallet moving trolley to take the liner as close to the pond as possible. This was incredibly helpful because the liner weighs at least 500kg and is extremely hard to manoeuvre.

We also had a delivery of Aideen’s beautiful new windows for her boat. Mayflower is presently docked under trees, in the shade, so Aideen continued with fitting insulation into her boat.

After some deliberation, I decided to work on the second polyantha display bed. This is similar to the first, consisting of top soil mounded around a nut stool, but this new bed is bigger than the first. Interestingly, both nut stools are re-sprouting which is quite astounding as they had previously been cut down and dug up!

I chose this job because I was in the shade and also, I’m conscious that my seedling polyanthas are waiting in the cold frames where it is quite sunny. I’m sure they would prefer to be in their new, shady bed. I do not make great progress but I do fix logs around the base and add some leaf mould.

One interesting thing I’ve noticed today is that the peach tree that Patrick had to cut down because it had grown too tall, with barely any growth in the lower areas of the tree, has re-sprouted. Maybe we will do better second time around!


Small Miracles!


Whilst watering the tunnel today, I had a really nice surprise. New sprouts had appeared on Betty the Bourgonvillea! Betty has been looking completely dead since the end of Winter last year. I took the brave decision to leave her in the polytunnel over Winter. Normally, I bring her inside with ‘Colin the Cactus’ and they spend Winter together in the music room. However, Betty does not respond well to being indoors, she drops all her leaves and then comes into bloom prematurely and then looks miserable. I thought it was worth risking leaving her in the tunnel, a decision I regretted when there was no sign of life in the Spring. I have been scrutinising her for any indication of survival for months with no luck, but I was reluctant to give up on her and this morning I was rewarded with the sight of several new leaves! I rushed off to grab family members to witness this horticultural resurrection!

Today, we have a visit from Bushey and Oxhey Women’s Group and it is extremely hot again! This group have been before but had brought lots of new people so they had an introductory tour. Unsurprisingly, one member of the group felt a bit ill in the heat and returned to the refreshment area where she was looked after by Aideen and Diane. When I returned with the rest of the group, we found the lady sitting with her feet in cool water in the old tin bath! She seemed fully recovered and was very appreciative of the girls’ ministrations. Thank goodness for the tin bath, which is proving itself to be very useful. I have asked Patrick to put a hook on the wall at the back of my new drainage pipe bed to hang the bath, so we can display it but also keep it convenient for using! The group were very appreciative and most enthusiastic about us opening more regularly next year which is encouraging.

After the group left and I finished teaching, I went back outside to fill my terracotta drainage pipes with a mixture of compost, leaf mould and the nice crumbly soil from some mole hills. I then planted them out with ferns, Alstroemerias, Mandevilla - Dipladenia Care (Beauty Plant) and Gerbera. I hope the ferns do well in this position because the height given to them by the terracotta pipes is very effective, making them look a bit like tree ferns (which I cannot afford!).

Later, when I stepped out of grandad’s annexe and looked across at the bed, I was very happy with how it looked. The different heights of the planters looked really effective.


One Extreme to Another


I have put two days of blog together to illustrate how differently and unaccountably a day’s work can turn out. I had great plans for Thursday because we did not have a visit scheduled and I wasn’t teaching. However, it was still unbearably hot which massively influences what can be done. I did a large amount of watering because threatened rain had not materialised. Apart from my normal morning watering of tunnel, cold frames, auriculas, pumpkins, children’s garden and containers, I also watered the fruit cage, sweet peas, the young vegetables, the rudbekia and roses in the fruit tree border, the organ bed and the front garden side border. This took nearly two hours and was on top of my normal night time watering…mount terraces, leeks, brassica quarter, dahlias and containers (1 hour).

I spent the majority of Thursday being a mum which involved lengthy chats about various issues! I did manage to start planting my new polyantha bed, after relaying the log edging and applying leaf mould. I planted out more than 80 polyanthas but there was still more to do. Thursday night was difficult because Pip persuaded me to let her out after her dinner and didn’t come back until 4am, despite promising not to be long! Because I am a ‘big soft Nelly’, I slept fitfully on the sofa until she knocked on the cat flap to come in. Having gone to bed at 4am, I was then awoken by Patrick’s alarm at 5:30am. He had to be up early to be driven to hospital by Meave for another operation on his foot and then I had to get up to drive Diane to an interview at 7:15am! Hardly worth going to bed! However, despite the lack of sleep, Friday was far more productive than Thursday.

Before getting grandad up, I did the watering and tied up all of the tomato plants.

After grandad was up, I dug up all remaining garlic and most of the onions and arranged them in the tunnel to dry. At the same time, I cut back or removed any companion planting that was too big or blocking paths. I also dead-headed the dahlias and cosmos around the beans. I tied up, cut back, tidied up and swept around the cardoons who are reaching the messy part of their lives. Normally, I anchor these towering plants to metal supports with rope…but my cardoon ropes were used to anchor the marquee when it was windy. I then dug out lots of new potatoes in readiness for the lunch we are giving to a group visiting tomorrow. I cut back some globe artichokes and then deadheaded all remaining cosmos, calendula and marigolds in the companion planting. I trimmed and tied in the fremontodendron and white passion flowers on their respective arches. I planted out two sinks, one pot, two drainage pipes and planted out two passionflowers on an arch. I cut back the cornus and any other obstructing plants from the painted organ pipes and put a new sedum in the urn. I tied in all of the vines on the mount to their wires. I then cut back all the dead flower heads on the Valerian…no mean feat! By the time I had come in, I’d walked more than 17000 steps!

I then prepared and cooked the potatoes and lots of Pecky’s eggs so that they were ready for an early morning sandwich making session.

Poor Patrick had his operation late in the day and then they decided to keep him in under observation.


A Big Visit


Today is our biggest group visit since we re-opened and we were not sure if it would even go ahead. The weather forecast was terrible…lengthy storms and torrential rain. The group leader only confirmed the previous day that they would go ahead but warned us to prepare for decreased numbers. The visiting group, Hatch End Horticultural Society, is one of our greatest supporters. They visited us initially in April 2019 and have had both of our Zoom talks. Today, their plan is to arrive and have their tea and cake (43 people), then I will give an introductory guided tour to those who have not visited before whilst the remainder of the group explore the garden. Then we are giving lunch to 28 people and then finishing with a Guided Tour for the people who’ve been before. We expected rain in the night, but it did not start until about 8am and there was some thunder. Then, miraculously, it stopped and thankfully the full group arrived and everything went ahead.

Meave helped me prepare the lunches, which included as much of our own produce as possible. We planned to serve a selection of green leaf salad (lettuce, chicory and endive) and cucumber, our own potato salad with red onion and garlic chives, some fruit (raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries) and a selection of sandwiches which included some containing egg mayonnaise made from Pecky’s eggs! Aideen tried to find enough tables and chairs to seat 43 people simultaneously under the marquee.

We received a message from Patrick to say that apparently, the surgeon thought he had done an excellent job, removing lots of surplus bone and manipulating Patricks ankle to get much more movement but unfortunately, he may have broken Patrick’s big toe! We planned to send Meave to retrieve Patrick after we had served lunch.

At 10am (half an hour before the visit) Diane and Meave went off to direct the parking and I was entrusted with a walkie-talkie! It was quite a long day, our final visitors did not leave until about 3pm, just as Patrick returned home on crutches with Meave. The visit seemed to go well and I spoke to lots of lovely, enthusiastic people who had multiple questions which I hope I succeeded in answering. We received a heart-warming email from the group leader that evening that made us all feel very encouraged. After the visitors left, I spent some peaceful time in the forest garden bed weeding around the sweet potatoes, which seem to be growing well.


Peach Harvest


Everyone is quite tired today and Patrick is completely wiped out. However, it’s hard to keep Patrick in a chair and soon he is hopping out into the Kitchen Garden to join the family harvesting the first of the peaches.

The peaches have looked splendid for some time but were not ripe. Today, Meave decided to climb through the border to give them a tweak. There is a narrow service path in front of the fruit trees but at the moment, it is obstructed by Verbena Bonariensis. I have not had time to go along the back of the border to tie back the Verbena Bonariensis, therefore, you would risk injury walking along the path, particularly if wearing shorts. Verbena Bonariensis has stems like sharp sandpaper and will cut your legs if you try to push through the stems. Poor Aideen got a nasty cut on her thigh only a few days ago.

Luckily, Meave has long legs and is wearing tracksuit bottoms, so she starts picking large juicy peaches. Some of them had been nibbled by wildlife, so we cut these up and had them for breakfast, wonderful!

I busied myself with various jobs. First, I weeded the alpine beds and then I dead headed the sweet peas around the fruit cage. Whilst attending to the sweet peas, my eye was caught by the magnificent blackberries so I slipped into the fruit cage for a quick snack!

Whilst enjoying the massive, tasty blackberries, I spent some time tying back and trimming stray blackberry stems. I keep doing this in the fruit cage because I like to walk the guided tours through the fruit cage, but it is becoming quite overgrown. On the subject of the fruit cage, I am very pleased to note that my poor, defoliated jostaberries have re-sprouted a new set of leaves…the horrible caterpillars that had been attacking the bushes must have departed. It is worth remembering that most garden problems rectify themselves in time. For example, leaves affected by peach leaf curl drop and new leaves grow, my poor swedes riddled with flea beetle holes now have new leaves and the ‘pigeon pecked’ calabrese have now started to re-sprout new leaves.

Aideen has a rehearsal for a wedding today with three of her friends (2 violins and a cello) which means she cannot get her hands wet (harp players cannot allow their hands to soften before playing) therefore she delegates baking a cake for tomorrows visit to Diane, her first sponge! Diane produced a beautiful sponge so she may have earnt herself a job for the future! I carry on planting out bits and pieces, including some very overgrown Ammi into the fruit cage borders and some Cassis Achillea into a space left by cutting back a delphinium.

All of these jobs were made extremely pleasant because they were accompanied by beautiful wedding music wafting out of the extension windows.


Church Gardens, Vitamin C!


Today we have a visit from Redbourn U3A, who will have travelled the furthest out of all of our groups to visit us (about 25 miles), which is quite significant!

I am up early and go outside to do various little jobs. I decide to look up wild carrot in my little book of seaside wild flowers to confirm that it is the tall plant with white flowers in the wild flower mini orchard. This little, unprepossessing book is one of four in the same series which were probably the first books I ever bought, aged 8 years old with my pocket money on holiday in Cornwall! I learn a very interesting fact; one tiny floret in the centre of the white bloom can be dark red or black, this is to give the impression of a fly on the flower in the hope of attracting more flies to pollinate the plant…fascinating. I rush outside to check the flowers and sure enough, I can see dark red florets in the centre of some of the plants, which darkens to black as the flower ages. I resolve to point it out to my visitors.

It has rained quite a lot which is brilliant but as a result, quite a few plants are drooping. I cut back quite a lot along the edge of the wildflower area because the path is quite obstructed.

Soon, it is time for our visitors to arrive, this is a smaller group which makes it a lot easier to move around the garden in a reasonable time. They are a lovely bunch of people and seem very keen to have a talk and visit again.

As soon as they leave, I have to take Patrick to Hillingdon hospital to have his foot redressed as it is bleeding quite badly. It is very frustrating that this cannot be done at the GP’s and it turns into a nightmarish, lengthy wait at the Emergency Unit.

After waiting for one and a half hours in the car for Patrick, I go back in the hospital to see how he is coping and discover that he will have to wait another 2-3 hours. Patrick tells me to go home and he will call us, poor thing! It was awful at the hospital and when I got home I dived into the fruit cage and ate lots of blackberries and raspberries. I felt I needed a hefty dose of Vitamin C to revitalise me from the unhealthy hospital environment. I then eat a large plate of salad, including a whole (small) cucumber…I sound like ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’. I then collected barrows of leaf mould to add to my new ‘drainage pipe’ bed in the courtyard prior to planting it out.

Poor Patrick called at 5:30pm and I drove back to collect him, he wasn’t happy. The hospital was chaotic and was certainly not a good place to sit for hours, surrounded by people coughing and spluttering. Diane makes him a cheese and ham toasty and I continue planting out my bed. I am planting about 34 white fox gloves, 16 white aquilegia and 30 heliotropes which have been waiting patiently in the polytunnel to be planted out. Unfortunately, the fox gloves were in the middle of the central bed in the tunnel, completely blocked in by giant tomato plants! I had to get Aideen to help me feed the trays down the bed to the middle which was the only spot where they could be lifted out without damaging them or the tomatoes… I should have retrieved them earlier!


A Lost Day


There is something about hospitals, once you are drawn into their orbit they keep pulling you back! Last night, when I went over to the annexe to put grandad to bed I found he had fallen in the living room. He had hit his head and cut his finger badly and there was blood everywhere. We called the ambulance immediately and they were with us relatively quickly. By 1:30am, dad and I were in A&E (I’m allowed to be with him as his carer). There were warnings of a 10 hour wait, not ideal for an 89 year old with a head injury. Luckily, we were seen by about 6:30am and after three CT scans it was discovered that dad had several fractured ribs and a compression fracture in a lower vertebra.

Amazingly, dad was in good spirits and no pain, he was wide awake for the entire time I was with him. I left at 4:30pm the next day, 15 hours later, when I knew he would be admitted to a ward. I arrived home in a zombie like state having neither eaten or slept. I had a quick sandwich and one of our cucumbers and then we were visited by a very old friend who had not seen the garden for many years. It was amazing to experience the revival capacities of the garden as we walked around with her, it is like plugging me into a battery charger!


Poppies by Post


Missing a night’s sleep has left me feeling under the weather, but I do finally get outside. It is a little challenging today weather-wise, as we are hit with intermittent torrential showers with thunder and lightning. I cope with this by running in and out of the polytunnel. When I’m outside, I plant out my giant apple blossom asters and then I concentrate on the borlotti bean bed. I have a thorough weeding session and then I plant out my new runner beans. On my frequent dashes to the polytunnel I do some weeding amongst the peppers and chillies.

I am very happy to be outside but there is no escaping my tiredness which also affects my mood, which is rather low because of dad being in hospital. His absence makes me anxious and unsettled. I try to remain in contact with the hospital to keep up with his progress but this can be frustrating as communication between different bodies in charge of his care can be poor. I will not be able to relax until he is home, which is a pity as I therefore gain little benefit from the brief respite in caring for him. Later in the day, I receive a letter containing poppy seed from a recent visitor who had promised to send me some from her garden. This was very kind and it cheered me up!


Fairy Lights


After lengthy chats to doctors and OT’s it sounds as if dad can come home tomorrow, thank goodness. I’m feeling much better today, maybe helped by a big breakfast bowl of blackberries, raspberries, peach, gooseberries and a few black currants with natural yoghurt and honey.

The garden has many ways of reviving you and eating the produce definitely gives me a lift. It is a good day for eating from the garden because we have a big bowl of our mixed lettuce leaves and cucumber for lunch and in the evening some of the first courgettes find their way into the lasagne…shhh…don’t tell anyone!

Today is windy but no rain. I start by carefully watering the containers, containers can be deceptive, heavy rain can bypass them. Aideen works incredibly hard today, cutting the grass under the marquee in preparation for an evening visit tomorrow. She also cut the grass on the terrace, obviously, Patrick cannot do this at the moment. In fact, we had to take him back to the GP to check his foot was not infected. Then Aideen had to bake. I returned to my bean beds to finish weeding the climbing beans and then start clearing the neighbouring bed to plant out the cannelloni beans. In the evening, Patrick and Aideen put up fairy lights in the marquee and I finished the evening under the marquee with the magical lights, writing the blog with a glass of wine, listening to Aideen practising her harp for the wedding on Saturday, life is not so bad!


Dad Returns Home


Today, the weather is terrible; repeated heavy showers of rain and incredibly strong winds. The hospital transport is booked for dad by late morning but that is no indication of when he will get home. In the early morning, I do some general tidying because we are having an evening visit. At about 10:30 we are visited by Emma and Bobby to do our hair which is a good thing as it wasn’t a good day for the garden. The wind grew so strong at times that the marquee was being lifted from the ground. Despite it being tied down to concrete blocks, it shifted itself across the garden by about a foot. Dad was brought home by 3pm. He was quite vague and subdued but in a remarkably good physical state and was able to mobilise as normal, despite his injuries. At 4:30pm we were visited by Rapid Response to check dad had settled in OK and to see if we needed anything.

After this, I went around the garden to check we were ready for the visit. I soon discovered wind damage, nearly half of the beautiful sweetcorn in one bed had been knocked over. I then spent nearly an hour staking the fallen plants. There was also a large branch felled in front of Mayflower, quite a lot of Amaranthus requiring stakes and at least one towering sunflower snapped at the base.

I rushed inside to get ready before the group arrived. The visit went well and luckily, Billy and Meave were available to help push a visitor in a wheelchair around the orchard which was much appreciated.

The group were having a little party with food at the end, they brought plates of food and we provided the cake. The only sad thing was that there wasn’t really an opportunity for them to go back into the garden after refreshments because of failing light. Luckily the weather behaved itself!


Missing Mimosa


Today, Patrick, Aideen and myself (Diane and Meave are away) are feeling rather tired. The combination of frequent garden visits (and all the preparation involved) and coping with medical issues (grandad in hospital and Patrick’s latest operation) has left the three of us a little weary.

Patrick’s foot is very sore, so after spending a long time with grandad getting him up and ready for the day, I then attempted to re-bandage Patrick’s foot. The weather turns out to be much wetter than expected which was good because it encouraged Patrick to rest. Aideen and I endeavoured to catch up on the ‘blog’ which was very behind. Although I write the blog every day, finding time for it to be typed, checked and pictures added can be tricky. When the weather starts to improve, I go outside to prepare another bed for French beans and Aideen practises for the wedding she is playing at tomorrow.

Dad is doing well but is still quieter than normal, he later tells me he would rather die than return to hospital. This is quite disturbing, but I cannot blame him for feeling this way. I strongly believe that our entire A&E system needs overhauling and we need much better care for vulnerable, elderly people going into hospital via ambulance who currently have to wait for enormously long periods of time to be formally admitted. It is not OK to leave an elderly person on a trolley for hours (often surrounded by people behaving in a frightening manner) without any attention to their medical, personal or hydration needs. I will continue to do my best to keep him out of hospital unless absolutely necessary.

I manage to plant out two root trainers of French beans and weed two beds of leeks. Whilst walking around the garden with Aideen, I gesture to the mimosa tree in the central borders saying how well they are doing and suddenly realise one is missing! I rush around the back of the border to see that one of the beautiful, and luckily flexible, Mimosas has been blown over by yesterday’s strong winds. Luckily, it has not snapped, so I find some rope to tie it more securely to its stake.


Brassica Recovery


Today, Aideen is playing for a wedding so she spends the morning preparing and then heads off with Patrick. My plan for the day is to continue with the bean quarter of the vegetable garden. This is a combination of weeding, sweeping paths, cutting back rampant companion plants and clearing beds in preparation for planting out new crops.

After working hard for a while I decide to give myself a treat and collect a big bowl of raspberries and a few strawberries which I have with a bit of sugar and cream – very naughty, but nice!

Earlier in the morning I check the brassicas for cabbage white butterfly eggs. Everything is growing strongly under the protection of dead twigs and ballast defences, but I did pick off some cabbage moth caterpillars from the red cabbages. It is good to see the swede and the calabrese both looking much healthier.

When Aideen returns from the wedding she comes outside and weeds the dahlia beds and even Patrick limps down the garden to trim the yew hedge. Aideen and I express concern that this is unwise, but he takes frequent breaks and sits on the blue bench talking to Bella. We know from experience that there is little point arguing with him!

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