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Ant Antics!

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

2/8/21

Today does not start well, grandad’s buzzer goes off before 7am. I go over to the annexe to discover he has got himself up and is sitting in the living room as if I had never put him to bed! This is worrying for several reasons…dad should not get up on his own, another fall would be disastrous. Also, moving with no thought for his catheter will also cause problems. I put him back to bed but resolve to contact the district nurses first thing because his catheter is not performing properly.

Eventually, after the district nurse visits, I get outside and plant out the remaining French beans and Aideen gets on with baking because we have a visit tomorrow.

In the afternoon, our friendly electrician visits to investigate why our main garden lights are tripping. We suspect it is due to the fountain lights which are prone to letting in water, however, the actual problem with the lights was very surprising…ants!! The garden lights consist of three fountain lights, three pairs of lights by three benches, wall lights in each corner of the garden, two playhouse lights and two lights by the viewing platform. It turns out that one of the viewing platform lights, which is fixed to a log, has been infested with ants. The ingenious creatures had filled the fitting with soil and eggs causing the entire system to trip. Our poor electrician had to withstand getting bitten to fix it!

It was a long day, I cleared enough space in some beds to finally plant out the sea campion and the day ended with Aideen and I putting away grass in near darkness!


 

Church Gardens Illuminated


3/8/21

Today we are due a visit from Hillingdon U3A Garden Appreciation group. So, we are up quite early to be prepared. Thankfully, grandad has remained in bed during the night. I spend some time on ‘mindful’ watering…I am not keen on the description of mindfulness being attached to different activities but it does occur to me, that this is how I water. I walk around with watering cans inspecting pots and containers and newly planted plants checking how they look and watering accordingly. This is a good system because I will be quick to notice any problems.

After dad is up I spend some time in the tunnel tying up tomatoes, some of which can now easily touch the highest point of the roof. The self-seeded sunflowers are also massive and provide useful extra supports to tie the tomatoes and cucumbers to. Everything is growing well in the tunnel, lots of peppers and chillies, delicious cucumbers and plenty of tomatoes that are beginning to ripen.

I finish up in the forest garden bed, sadly removing the bodies of two towering sunflowers blown down in the wind. I tie up the sweet potatoes which are growing vigorously and resolve to return later to do some weeding.

The legions of Church Gardens budlejias are beginning to gather steam, much to the delight of the Harefield butterfly population. One particularly beautiful budlejia specimen beside the bee enclosure is smothered in Peacock and Red Admiral butterflies…it is good to see them back in force. The wet weather in May did subdue the butterfly population.

The group are due to arrive at 1pm and although it is their second visit, about half of them have not been before, so they plump for an introductory tour.

It was another lovely visit and the visitors expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for our proposed new building and increased opening times next year. Aideen proudly pointed out that our visitors would never be more than a few minutes away from refreshments and a toilet, an advantage of being a relatively compact garden.

After our visitors left, I head for the forest garden bed for a mammoth weeding session where I am joined by Pip. Before coming in, I switch on all of the garden lights and sit on the mount enjoying the garden in its illuminated state with Minxy, queen of cats.


 

Verbascum Bee Magnets


4/8/21

Today we are being visited by Harefield Fellowship, which will be lovely as we know most of the visitors and it will give us an opportunity to catch up.

Patrick has to go into London to have his foot checked by the hospital and is driven there by Meave. With help from Aideen, he has managed to cut the grass throughout the garden on his tractor. The grass looks lovely but now the rose bed in the front field looks very untidy. I set about weeding the bed and trimming the edges before I get dad up. Roses are funny plants, there is a peak of beauty in the early Summer and then leaves often become affected by black spot and drop, leaving many bushes quite bare. I try to dead head correctly which is like a light pruning session and then the roses start to perk up and produce more blooms and leaves. We are now entering that phase and many of the roses look much happier.

I am particularly impressed by the tall spikes of verbascum in the rose border that have taken over from the fox gloves. The flowers are very attractive, long lasting and they are also a magnet for bees.



I manage to finish the bed before the visit and dead head all of the cosmos in the vegetable garden. I also pick a basket of courgettes to put out for sale for our visitors. Patrick returns before the visit with the worrying news that his foot is infected. He has been given antibiotics and told to rest with his foot elevated, preferably above his heart! Obviously, Patrick did not disclose to the doctors what he has been doing since his operation, which certainly included ignoring our nagging to rest! We will clearly have to nag louder!

The Harefield Fellowship group arrived at 2pm and it was lovely to see so many familiar faces, but disturbing to discover how out of touch I am with everyone. I have been in a Church Gardens bubble for over a year. The group included our oldest visitor yet, he was 101! Admittedly, he was in a wheelchair, but he did the entire tour (being pushed by Diane) and seemed to enjoy himself. He was accompanied by his daughter and two great grandchildren who were very young but seemed to cope well with the tour.

There were lots of comments about how much everything has grown and how much has been done in the garden since their last visit. It’s reassuring that returning visitors find lots of new things to look at.

I finished the day dead heading the sweet peas and watering everything that is newly planted…rain is forecasted for later tomorrow but I never know whether to trust the forecast!


 

Keeping Up the Crop Supply


5/8/21

Today we have a day without visits which gives us an opportunity to get bigger jobs done. Aideen decides to tackle the yew hedges which back the central borders. These hedges are intended to be kept at a moderate height and they give a dark green backdrop to the planting in the border. Aideen decided to intervene with this job to stop Patrick doing it, we are really trying to encourage him to rest properly.

I decide to start on the late season sowing. This is to keep a succession of vegetables moving into the garden to keep the harvest going through the Autumn. Before I get going, our archaeology team arrive to do the wall survey and record, this needs to be completed before we continue with any rebuilding and repairs.

The first thing I do is clear out any available space in the cold-frames to sow carrots interspaced with spring onions and radishes. By sowing the carrots in the cold frames, the low walls offer them some protection from carrot fly, a low flying pest which can be deterred by a low barrier. Also, the scent of the onions will also contribute to disguising the scent of the carrots from pests. The radishes are vulnerable to flea beetle which fill their leaves with small holes. I find the cold frame walls help prevent this pest as well.

Later in the day, the weather deteriorates into frequent heavy showers of rain (I’m not complaining about the rain!). I divide my time between weeding the end of the chard bed so that I can plant out the next tray of beetroot, and deadheading the beautiful calendula. The orange and yellow colours of this particular patch of calendula are almost luminous on this overcast day. When the rain gets too heavy, I retreat into the tunnel and sow some trays of later crops that can still be started off in August. Turnips, Kohl Rabi, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Rocket and Wasabi Rocket.

Eventually I am driven inside and I pick some green chillies for tonight’s chicken curry and cucumber for the raita.


 

A Magnificence of Sunflowers


6/8/21

Today is a day of bits and pieces because we have a big day for visits tomorrow. Tomorrow is our second Public Guided Tour Day and both tours are fully booked, so we are expecting at least 60 people. Aideen is spending the day baking and James has come over to help her line cake tins and chop walnuts!

Diane is rushing about seeing to a variety of jobs, mowing grass, weeding, sweeping and moving garden furniture. I am a little distracted because the dressing fell off grandad’s finger this morning and I noticed that the finger looks infected, so I need to get a district nurse to come out.

When I get outside, I decide to start by pruning and tying things back in the fruit cage to make access for visitors a little easier. Whilst in the cage, I make a most unwelcome discovery…the horrible caterpillars that defoliated the jostaberries, gooseberries and currants a few weeks ago have returned! I was so happy that the poor jostaberries had managed to grow new leaves and now these monstrous pests are eating them all over again!!! I spent ages picking them off, a horrible job and you can never get them all, I ate a few raspberries to cheer myself up.

The weather today was awful, very strong winds and torrential downpours of rain. It is not easy to keep plants standing in such conditions so I spent some time walking around tying things back up. I managed to finish weeding the area for the baby beetroots, planted them out and swept the paths around the bed.

When I went out to the Forest Garden bed, I found another giant sunflower on the ground, a victim of the wind. Luckily it had not broken its stalk so with Diane’s help we were able to carefully re-erect it. I then stayed in the sunflowers in the rain, tying each of them to their poles with ‘doubled-up’ string at several points to try and anchor them more firmly to withstand these extreme weather conditions.

When I first planted the sunflowers out, the poles seemed excessive, but now, many of the sunflowers are towering above the poles. I never expected the sunflowers to do so well. The forest Garden bed actually receives more sunshine than I realised and the tallest sunflower is higher than the wall. As I walked amongst them, looking up at the flowers, with a backdrop of evening sunshine and rain with dark clouds, I am captivated by their beauty. I call Diane to come and photograph them.


 


Lucky With the Weather


7/8/21

Today was our Public Guided Tour Day. The weather forecast was dreadful but as the day approached, it seemed to improve and I was hopeful we would avoid the rain. However, Saturday dawned with continuous rain. I was already tired as dad had woken me buzzing at 1am, having got out of bed convinced he was not in his own home. That is not an argument you want to have in the small hours of the morning. I was up early and dressed myself, in waterproof coat and ‘Vera’ hat and set off around the garden to empty barrows, tie up water logged plants and generally tidy up.

Whilst I was trying to get dad up, Aideen appeared requesting a family meeting, on what to do about people phoning to say they did not want to come due to inclement weather. I insisted that most people would still come because the British are generally troopers when it comes to bad weather. The first tour was due to begin at 11am, people arrived early as usual and it was still raining. We settled them under the marquee and prayed. Miraculously, at 11am the rain switched off and the sun came out and off we went. The rain held off beautifully, thank God. 1:30pm arrived and it was time to head back outside to direct traffic for the second visit. This was the visit with people threatening not to come. Again, the rain started to fall. By 2:05pm, we decided to start the tour despite no-shows from a few visitors and again, the rain ground to a halt, thank you God!

Both groups were full of questions and incredibly lovely comments. Patrick came out and sat with me on a bench and we both agreed we could not believe the positive feedback that we are receiving. One visitor took me to one side to say our charges are too low and the National Trust would charge twice as much for what we offer! I just about manage to bring the second tour back for refreshments in time to avoid the next downpour…all I can say is thank you God!


 

Grape Vine Hair Cut!


8/8/21

Everyone is a little zonked out after yesterday and we wake up to more bad weather; wind and persistent rain. I decide to make a start on the artistic version of the planting plan for the forest garden bed. It has always been my intention to have a permanent information board fixed to the back wall of the arbour seat which sits in the middle of the bed. The board will consist of a planting plan, an explanation of what a forest garden is and pictures and descriptions of the uses of many of the plants. Aideen has discovered that we can have notices printed onto aluminium sheets at quite a reasonable price and she would like to produce something similar for the arcades and the kitchen garden. I collect my colouring pencils and borrow fine liners from Patrick and set to work.

Later in the day I do get outside and I give the old grape vine beside the pumpkin patch a good trim. This is an incredibly vigorous vine and it is full of grapes, although sadly, they are inedible! I’m pleased to notice quite a lot of pumpkins and squash forming amongst the leaves. I am worried that we might not have sufficient decent weather to produce a good crop, where will we be without our bounteous butternuts. I then weed the two little lettuce beds, removing the old lettuce that had gone to seed. I retrieve any decent leaves before disposing of these plants for composting and I fill a large bowl for tomorrows salads…Patrick will be pleased! I then plant out the beds with baby lettuce. I will have to sow a new tray to follow on. Before going inside, I pick five cucumbers to add to my salad bowl. Tonight’s dinner is homemade meatballs which include fresh oregano, and the vegetable tomato sauce includes some courgettes, don’t tell the twins!


 

Good Drainage


9/8/21

Today is another day of torrential downpours and the publishing of a very sobering, long researched report on global warming. The report makes reference to the extreme weather conditions presently being experienced being directly linked to climate change. This makes one look at the torrential rain in a different light. However, we are fortunate in comparison to the parts of the world suffering extreme heat and catastrophic wild fires.

We are very fortunate at Church Gardens because of our excellent drainage. When the garden was originally constructed a lot of thought was given to the fall of the land and the construction of drains. Sometimes we unearth a drain and I’m sure there are many we are unaware of and they do an excellent job. It doesn’t matter how heavy the rain is, it is possible to go straight back into the garden. Patrick has continued this tradition and all the paths in the kitchen garden fall correctly and have drains to collect any run-off.

After the district nurse has visited to check grandad’s finger, which appears to be healing, Aideen and I go outside. On our initial tour of the garden, we discover both cabbage moth and cabbage white caterpillars on the red cabbage which we pick off. Then I continue this unsavoury job, picking the gooseberry sawfly caterpillars off the jostaberries.

I decide today to tackle the mammoth task of cutting down the giant rose campions that inhabit the ground level bed of the mount. These plants have given a magnificent, long lasting display with their brilliant magenta flowers but they are finishing and their extreme size is smothering the other residents of the bed; the grape vines, peacock tigers and gladioli. This is a time consuming job as each plant consists of numerous stems, which require cutting individually in order to leave the new part of the plant intact. The rain soon becomes impossible to ignore and I go in to wash the massive bag of lettuce leaves I collected yesterday to make a garlicky salad with our cucumbers to eat with Pecky’s eggs and smoked mackerel.

I then do some more work on the Forest Garden information board before returning to my outside job. Whenever the rain gets too bad I sheltered in the tunnel pricking out tiny polyanthas.

It is a good day for garden produce. For dinner, I dig up a big bucket of beautiful Jazzy potatoes which I cook with garlic and courgettes. I will use the remainder in a potato salad for lunch tomorrow. I also collect some sizeable beetroot to have with tonight’s dinner of haddock cooked with sweetcorn and cheese.




 

Second Zoom Talk


10/8/21

Today the weather is much brighter, no rain and at times really warm sunshine.

First thing this morning, Aideen is in her boat. Soon she is inside with her faithful sous chef, James, baking. We have a visit tomorrow from Chalfont St Peter Gardening Group and tonight they are having the second zoom talk. This is another very supportive group who visited us initially in 2019 and were the first group to have our first zoom talk.

My first job of the day is to plant out some rather sad tomato plants in the forest garden bed. These sorry specimens were forgotten about and I discovered them hidden in between their massive cousins in the central tunnel bed but it is a shame to waste them.

I am so happy with the Forest Garden bed which now looks quite full. Later that evening, whilst looking at the images during the talk, it is shocking to think how recently it was bare earth! Diane comes outside in-between decorating her bedroom to weed a sweetcorn bed and has considerable difficulty differentiating between young borage, calendula and evening primrose plants, honestly, the youth of today! I then continue with my Rose Campion removal job which is hard work but I finish shortly before I have to get ready for the talk. The talk goes down well, leaving Chalfont St Peter the best prepared group ever for a visit! They were really encouraging and we look forward to seeing them tomorrow.


 


Caterpillar Inside my T-shirt!


11/8/21

Today the weather was absolutely beautiful, what I describe as a perfect Summers day. I was up early due to being phoned at 6:50am by a delivery driver with 7 boxes of disposable pants for dad. Unsurprisingly, considering the earliness of the hour, the height restriction on the gate was closed. I then went outside as we were due to be visited by Chalfont St Peters gardening Club at 11am. I started by emptying the big green barrow, this is a good excuse to visit the compost yard which is lovely early in the morning because the bird song in that corner of the garden is amazing. I spent the rest of my time tying up the tomato plants again and generally putting things away. The group arrived in very good spirits, partly due to the glorious weather and also because they had enjoyed the talk.

I did wonder if I would have enough new things to talk to them about on the tour as they had literally only just heard the second talk which was all about out latest projects. However, there still seemed to be plenty to say. The group were really enthusiastic and chatty. There was a lovely moment as we walked towards the mount and we were greeted by numerous butterflies which flew up from the border.

The favourite flowers of the moment are the Peacock Tigers which are popping up everywhere, even in the polytunnel.



After the tour, I set to work at the back of the fruit tree border making the access path accessible by tying back the Verbena Bonariensis. The back part of the border is full of multi-coloured Echinaceas which are beautiful and I noticed some of the plums are beginning to ripen. A few tomatoes are also starting to ripen so I had a couple of them with a cucumber and some garlic chives in a sandwich for lunch.

In the evening, I collect blackberries, black currants, jostaberries and gooseberries to mix with cooked apple for a crumble.

When I come in to cook, I am convinced that something is crawling on my back. I whip off my top and ask the girls to look. They retrieve a very furry caterpillar that has found its way under my T-shirt!


 

Artists in the Garden


12/8/21

Today the weather is difficult to predict and periodically there is a light shower. We have a big visit today for Harrow Arts Society, which will require a split guided tour because potentially 40 people may arrive.

I go outside in the morning to try and finish the fruit tree border. This involves clearing the access path, cutting down spent delphiniums which can produce fresh growth, tying the giant Achilea and Russian sage more neatly to their metal supports and doing some work on the fruit trees. This involves removing suckers and any branches growing in completely the wrong direction, tying in any loose branches and trying to remove the rampant bind weed and wild clematis that has invaded the fruit trees on the first part of the wall.

Whilst doing this job, I notice that we have a heavy crop of plums on the Victoria and Seneco trees which are starting to ripen.

When I have finished, I am left with two holes in the border where I have cut down delphiniums but hopefully, new growth will soon come up to fill them.

I sweep up the path and takeaway the big green barrow and one normal barrow brimming with vegetation to put on the compost heap. This is a challenge in itself as the compost heap is now considerably higher than myself and I have to really toss new material a long way to get it to balance on the top of the heap! I rush outside just in time for the first visitors. It was a very pleasant discovery to find that one of the visitors was an old musical friend of mine who had come to the garden with his wife. The two tours ran immediately on from each other and I must admit to being in need of refreshments after returning with the second group as I hadn’t had time for lunch. The group were most appreciative and could see lots of artistic possibilities in the garden. Some of the group are returning in a couple of weeks to spend the afternoon painting in the garden.

After the visitors leave, we have some very welcome fish and chips and we have a family meeting to discuss advertising for the open day and ordering some more guidebooks. After dead heading the sweet peas, I spend the evening working on the forest garden information board.


 

Tingling Hands


13/8/21

One of the visitors commented yesterday that the girls had told them that I am inspired by the visits. This is true, showing people around and talking about the garden fires me up with enthusiasm to work harder to make the garden the best it can be. Yesterday was a good example, having taken two tours around with no break, I worked on the forest garden information board which involved looking at about six books on forest gardening which was very interesting. I went to bed at about 1am and then read some of Kathryn Bradley – Holes book, ‘The Naturally Beautiful Garden’. I then woke up before 6am and read some of the Inspirational ‘Miraculus Abundance, One Quarter Acre, Two French Farmers and Enough Food To Feed The World’ by Perrine and Charles Herve – Gruyer. I did then have another doze before getting up. Today there were no scheduled visits so I was hoping to get lots done. My first job was to attend to the front of the fruit tree border, the main jobs were cutting out the brown dead flower heads of the Ladies Mantle, cutting down the Rose Campion and clearing the finished flower stems of campanula. Alongside this, I was removing any prominent weeds, dead heading roses and trying to remove bindweed and the wild clematis which I think is the native plant, ‘Travellers Joy’. I have been too tolerant of this plant in previous years and there are now several, well established plants at either end of the bed. The worst one had become horrendously entwined with a peach tree and the kiwi. I eventually removed it and attempted to dig out the base and it bent my fork, I don’t think it was a very strong fork!

Aideen had persuaded Diane to join her in the pond crater, which I’m ashamed to say is now getting weedy! All of our building projects have ground to a halt which is very depressing. Wall restoration has been held up by the photogrammetry recording being delayed. Obviously, it is much more important to have a perfect, expensive record of a wall in a derelict condition than it is to restore it! (I am being sarcastic!)

Our new outbuilding for visitors has been delayed because we decided to employ builders to underpin the workshop that adjoins the new building and they keep promising to come then do not appear! We originally felt this job was too challenging for Patrick, assisted by us, but we could have done it by now if we had done it ourselves!

Poor Patrick had more foot surgery a few weeks ago and it has become infected which has put him out of action for the time being. This is why the pond has sat untouched growing weeds! But, enough is enough. Aideen and Diane spend most of the day weeding the crater, neatening and levelling the edges and removing more soil. Pip joins them for a while rolling about in the sun at the bottom of the hole, not a very hospitable spot for a cat!

After finishing the fruit tree border and sweeping the path, I go out to the Forest Garden bed to weed. There are plenty of weeds but the soil under the grass mulch is lovely and soft with plenty of worms which is extremely gratifying. Despite putting on gloves, I am soon tingling all over my hands and arms with stinging nettle stings! I am surprised at how much weeding I manage before biting insects become a problem, quite an issue in the orchard in the evenings! I decide to move the surviving Pineapple Guava to the front of the bed because it is getting engulfed by re-sprouting nut trees at the back.

I finish the evening weeding a cabbage bed. In this bed, the cabbages have become so immersed in self-seeded nasturtiums that they are barely visible! However, I still had to remove some cabbage white butterfly eggs!


 


Weeding the Pond


14/8/21

Last night I was dreaming about trees with giant flowers, is this a sign that the garden is getting to me? Luckily, some dear friends have invited us for lunch and we found a ‘Grandad Sitter’ (James very kindly offered to remain at home). In the morning, I did some more weeding in the brassica beds, pulling up the massive parsnip plants that I had allowed to go to seed. They certainly had gone to seed because they showered hundreds of seeds all over the paths which I then had to sweep up. I also removed blanket weed from the pond which I’ve wanted to do for ages, but I’m always nervous about disturbing creatures. I’m ever hopeful of frogspawn appearing in the pond, but this has not happened yet and it certainly will not be happening at this time of year so I judged it would be safe to remove the weed. Everything removed from the pond is then left around the edge in case any creatures need to crawl back into the water. The pond looked much better without the blanket weed. There is not much to recommend blanket weed, it is even very hard to rot down in the compost heap!


Aideen, Diane, Patrick and myself departed to have lunch in our friend’s garden and it was absolutely lovely, both Aideen and I said it felt like going on holiday! Our friends have done lots of new things to their garden over lockdown and it was really nice to see it, they’ve done a brilliant job.


 


Classic Cars


15/8/21

Today I am being abandoned by my brood, all three girls have been invited out for a very posh lunch. After they had understandably accepted the lunch invitation, our friend Nick from the choir asked if he could bring his classic car group for a visit. Luckily, James and his mum Janet offered to come and help me. I was very grateful to them because it is a little ‘full-on’ to bring a guided tour back after 75 minutes and then have to serve the refreshments single handed. I have done this in the past when we were opening pre-covid, because Aideen was still at Guildhall and Diane was at uni, but it wasn’t ideal. I have now become very spoilt and I have handed over the catering side of visits to the girls, which I’m very happy to do and they do an excellent job.

During the morning, I managed to fit in quite a few jobs. I had a quick weed at the front of the house and I weeded the edge of the border at the back of the house. I also gave the edge of the wildflower meadow a good trim where the vetch has finished and gone to seed and then swept up. I weeded the top of the second compost heap (adding it to the first), emptied numerous barrows, watered the containers and dead headed the dahlias…I almost forgot, I also quickly weeded the alpine beds!

The ‘classic car’ people might have been a little bemused to find themselves in a garden but they seemed to really enjoy themselves particularly when they found a narrowboat in the orchard!

They were a lovely group of people and I think there might be future events organised with them. After they left, I ate two cucumbers and made a tomato and garlic chives sandwich, I was very hungry. I then returned to the garden to continue weeding cabbage beds. For dinner, I picked two peppers (one black and curiously shaped), new potatoes, a chilli and courgettes and mixed it all together with carrots, onion, garlic, bacon, salami and olives to have with pasta…plenty of vitamins in there!





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