Updated: Oct 20, 2021
I was up before 6am and opened the door of the extension to find all three girls sleeping on the floor! They had laid down at 5:30am (it is a heated floor)! Their alarm was set for 6am so up they got again, they are real troopers.
The morning was a blur of different activities which for me included; cleaning out the chicken, watering, finishing the hamper for the raffle, washing the kitchen floor and getting grandad up. Alongside this, signs were painted and erected, more mowing was done and the small gazebo for the harp was erected. Poor Diane attempted to sweep out the bee enclosure and was stung on the knee. You have to get up really early to avoid the bees!
Our helpers arrived and the mammoth task of setting out the refreshments began. By this time, we were expecting about 550 people, not including people who had not pre-booked. In the end, about 580 people came!
Just before 11am, I started playing the organ to entertain our queuing visitors. Getting the visitors into the garden was far easier than usual because the majority had pre-booked and paid. Although this system was in place due to Covid, I think we will retain it as it was so successful. We had divided the day into three, two hour slots, which spread the visitors evenly from 11am-5pm. This was incredibly helpful for the parking. We had five people directing the cars, four people serving refreshments, Patrick doing the money, two people clearing and washing up (which later became three), Meave and Aideen were registering people coming in and Aideen played the harp. I played the organ as people arrived for each slot, gave a talk for each group and sold raffle tickets, courgettes and guide books, and answered as many questions from visitors as I could!
It all went much more smoothly than I had anticipated and the visitors were lovely. Many visitors had previously visited with groups and had returned bringing family and friends, which was very encouraging. It was a long day, but remarkably successful and everyone was happy. We ended the day by sharing pizza and drinks with family and helpers, and had a relatively early night!
After a decent night’s sleep, we all started to drift into the extension to spend most of the day discussing everything about the Open Day, whilst consuming left over pizza and far too much cake! Despite selling a massive amount of cake, including to takeaway, there was still a substantial amount left. It is very difficult to gauge the correct quantity to prepare. Aideen and Meave started to compile a spread sheet of which cakes sold best to give us a better idea of what to bake next time. It is fair to say that however much coffee and walnut sponge you make, it will be sold, this is the all-time favourite! Another huge success was Diane’s Victoria Sponge, not bad as she has only started baking in the last few weeks! We also had cakes baked by friends and Janet (James’s mum) had produced a substantial contribution of lots of different goodies that we were very grateful for.
We literally spent the entire day chatting, surround by the detritus of the day before. Later in the day, we were joined by our friends Emma and little Bobby so then we told them everything as well! We were very tired but still on a high, not quite believing that we had nearly 600 people pass through the garden smoothly and appreciatively! Even Patrick, a man of few words, made a point of praising the girls and I on how well the day was organised! This was greeted with hushed silence as he is not one to throw compliments around. However, he is correct, the girls were fantastic and we are very lucky to have such amazing children. We are also extremely lucky to have such kind friends that are prepared to come and work hard for a day to help us raise money for the garden.
Patrick was a bit sad that we hadn’t managed to have the pond ready for the open day. This project has been delayed due to his latest foot operation, which unfortunately has only caused more problems rather than alleviating them. But, I pointed out that it will be a lovely thing to have ready for visitors to see next year. Many people left saying they would be back next year to see the pond, so it will encourage our visitors to return. Also, I had realised that as the Summer wore on, it was getting too late to plant the pond. It would be best to do this job in the Spring. Therefore, if we can finish the construction and fill it with water by the end of the year, then I can concentrate on the planting, for which I intend to channel my inner Beth Chatto.
Patrick and I ended the day travelling to Wembley to water the new planting at his site but no gardening took place at Church Gardens…although, I did start to think about adding more Heuchera and lavender to the rose bed in the front field!
Major Building Projects
Today started with a family meeting, to plan a schedule for the progress of the major garden projects. The most serious item on the agenda was the new outbuilding, or ‘café’, as we call it. Unfortunately, this building project has been seriously delayed because we decided to accept an offer from a builder colleague of Patrick’s to do the underpinning of the workshop and the floor slab of the basement. We had been considering doing the work ourselves with the assistance of Martin, our wonderful digger driver, but we were tempted to have the work done (despite the cost) because we knew it would be a very hard, time consuming job. We have never done this type of work before and it was daunting. Also, Patrick needed to have another operation on his foot and we were very busy with garden visits. Inevitably, and very frustratingly, the builder, after lots of broken promises, has now let us down completely! We are very upset about this as we had hoped to now be erecting the building and actually, we are still looking at a hole in the ground! This is why we usually do work ourselves. We might be slow and inexperienced, but we can rely on ourselves and we always try to do the best possible job. I cannot understand builders, in my profession (music) if you let someone down for a concert you wouldn’t work again!
Aideen, Diane, Patrick and I sit around the table with Patrick drawing on the side of a newspaper explaining how to underpin the existing shed. First, you have to dig out under the shed’s foundations in sections, these are then reinforced and filled with concrete. It is discussed whether we mix our own concrete or get it delivered and pumped into the hole. We phone Martin and find out when he is free, thank God we can rely on Martin! A date is set for two weeks hence and we then discuss the pond which has also been delayed by Patrick’s foot.
It is frightening to think that it is nearly five years since Patrick’s accident, ironically caused by falling off a ladder putting the roof on the workshop that we will now be underpinning. He is still in terrible pain and can only walk with difficulty. The only positive thing about that situation is that it was being laid up with his foot that led to him investigating opening the garden to the public for NGS!
We decide we need to get the liner into the pond in the next two weeks. We order more sand to spread over the hole (which still requires smoothing) and decide on a date to amass a group of friends to help us move the unfolded liner over the hole. This will require lots of people because of its weight and size. We also discussed the wall which was scheduled to be repaired in the orchard this year. Mickey and his family were at the Open Day and he promised to return to Church Gardens to work on the wall in a couple of weeks. This is brilliant, but we will have to work out how to combine labouring for Mickey with working on the underpinning, especially as by then, we might not have Diane during the week as she is presently interviewing for jobs! It looks like Aideen and I will be busy… Meave books some time off work and Patrick organises to at least be present on the days we are attempting the underpinning!
After the meeting, I decide to distract myself with another trip to Nik’s nursery for some retail therapy! As discussed yesterday I had decided that the rose border needed more infilling along its edge with Lavender and Heuchera. I also decided that the fruit tree border would benefit from additional Fuchsias and the Manuka beds needed extra Lavender and Penstemons. I am also very pleased with the Carex in the organ bed…although again, more Carex would be even better. The problem with Church Gardens is the scale, the garden literally eats plants, which is why I grow the majority from seed or propagate them myself. However, it is a lovely treat to buy a good quality, fully grown plant.
When I return with a car full of plants, I plant out the organ bed with the extra Carex…it could still benefit from more! I then start on the rose bed until it is too dark to see!
For tonight’s dinner, I bring in potatoes (another new variety we are trying this year – Winston), which I cook with our garlic in butter and olive oil, beetroot (still tender despite its enormous size) and sweetcorn. Diane spends the evening surrounded by crockery which she attempts to sort out and put away logically – it’s nice to keep cups and saucers matched. I attempt to tidy up the bombsite that we’ve been living in since the Open Day.
Today my intention is to finish planting out the new plants. We are also having a delivery of various bits and pieces that I bought at the ‘collectibles’ shop in the village when I was delivering our winning raffle prize vegetable hamper yesterday. As I was in the village, a rare occurrence since Covid, I popped into this favourite treasure trove of antique and salvaged goodies. I acquired a bird bath (that matches a sundial we have already), an old decorative concrete pot, some metal tables and chairs and a selection of bench ends and a wooden bin.
We were also being visited by Emma and Bobby, because Emma was going to cut grandads hair and beard which was brilliant as he is beginning to resemble Father Christmas! Then, between visits, I planted out the lavenders and Penstemons in the Manuka beds and thoroughly watered everything. I then planted out the fuchsias in the fruit tree border. Whilst doing this I spent some time cutting back plants and dead heading. I also clambered through to the back of the border and picked a large bowl of plums – three different varieties. I tried the small round green plums for the first time and they were wonderfully sweet. September is definitely the month of mellow fruitfulness… this morning I picked a bowl of beautiful raspberries to have on my cereal and yesterday I picked five large perfect apples. I am a little nervous about losing this delicious fruit to the badgers. It was apparent when I was picking plums that they had been eating them as well. The ground was littered with stones and there was another badger latrine by the trees. Fortunately, my latest badger deterrent (leaving the lights and radio on) is still working. After Emma left, the girls did some work on the pond and Aideen continued preparing to put her new windows into the boat. I do admire Aideen’s willingness to tackle new things. Restoring Mayflower has been a steep learning curve for her.
After I finished planting out the fruit tree border I gave it a thorough watering as I noticed the ground was very dry when I was planting the fuchsias. Finally I planted out the field border and watered this whole area and the mount.
Today I am ‘home alone’, or at least alone with grandad. We are scheduled to return to Patrick’s Wembley site to plant the hedging, fix a hedge and spread mulch. I had assumed I would have to go but late last night it was decided that I should stay at home, as someone always has to be at home because of grandad. We knew that digging a couple of hundred holes for hedging would be challenging because of the state of the beds (full of rubble, concrete etc.) and also, the fence had to be done before planting the hedge, so I would be surplus to requirements for hours and would be far better employed at home. The girls are more than capable of planting hedging plants from pots. I was delighted by this decision, having resigned myself to another lost gardening day at Church Gardens. I was more than happy to forgo another day the Wembley site which is on a busy main road and therefore extremely noisy and also surprisingly exposed and windy!
We all got up before 7am and I watered everything with the hoses before they disappeared to Wembley and at 8am the family departed followed by Billy. It is so peaceful at Church Gardens when you are on your own, not that it is ever particularly noisy, the contrast with Wembley is stark.
After a washing up binge, I went outside to the vegetable garden and after dead heading dahlias and removing cabbage white caterpillars from the brassicas, I started clearing the ends of brassica beds in order to plant out my young calabrese and cauliflower plants. There are brassicas in every bed – swede, cabbages, brussel sprouts, kale and calabrese, but many of the beds have space at the end currently inhabited by companion planting primarily borage. I removed quite a lot of borage to clear inside the bed leaving companion planting around the edge. I then planted out a tray of calabrese (about 36 plants) and a tray of four different varieties of cauliflower.
I enjoyed a wonderful lunch of bruschetta using our own tomatoes, cucumber, basil and garlic and later in the day I ate a large bowl of raspberries. At this time of year, there is so much to eat in the garden that even I begin to feel almost self-sufficient.
At the end of the day I pick my borlotti beans, a very precious, if paltry harvest, the beans have been a disaster this year. I only pick enough to fill one colander! BUT we will enjoy them in a mixed sausage dish which also uses some of our onions and courgettes…the girls will be pleased!!
Cat in the Cement!
Patrick and Diane disappeared early this morning to do the final bits of clearing up on the Wembley site and then it is finished, thank God! It has certainly confirmed my decision of years ago that the job of a landscape gardener is not for me.
Today, Aideen, with help from Patrick and Diane, put the second window in her boat. This was much more successful than the first window where mastic had spread everywhere and really upset Aideen. Now both windows are in.
She then joined Diane and Patrick in the pond. Aideen is on a long mission to try to smooth the surface by removing stones before installing the liner. Diane and Patrick were working on the overflow/drainage system. This is a tricky operation involving gauging levels from the stream to the drain to check the overflow is in the correct position. The large pipes were put in place and cement poured in around them. Later in the day, Minxy peered into the hole, and despite frantic cries from us, she jumped in! She jumped out again hastily, but her paws were covered in cement. She then jumped down to the base of the pond and into the sand making the situation even worse! Aideen picked her up and held her like a baby whilst we attempted to clean off the sand and cement…what a silly cat!
Whilst the pond work was going on, I decided to continue planting my polyantha bed. I ended up planting 6 trays of 15 polyanthas, 90 in total. Some of the polyanthas I’ve already planted are now flowering. The beds will look amazing when they are all flowering. I actually feel quite proud of myself for producing so many strong, healthy plants. Polyanthas are very slow to germinate and it takes a lot of care to get them going but I’ve managed to grow hundreds.
I finish the day helping in the pond but soon it is time to harvest dinner! I’m making a big quiche which uses our onions, garlic and courgettes and also Pecky’s eggs. I pick sweetcorn, beetroot, Jazzy potatoes and red onion for potato salad.
Gentle English Summers
Today the weather was beautiful, cloudless blue skies and sunshine and really quite hot. This was especially noticeable as we were trying to work on the pond, not a great job on a hot day.
Generally, I feel that we’ve had a pretty perfect English Summer. It has not been too hot or dry for long periods, like it has in recent years, the weather has been gentle with quite a lot of rain (although not for the last few weeks). The advantage of this gentler weather is that flowers last much longer. As a result, our floral display at the open day was much better than usual, even the giant golden achilleas were still yellow. There were still plenty of gladioli and the phlox is lasting brilliantly, I even still have sweet peas. The star of the show is the rudbeckia Goldsturm and the pink echniaceas which are still going strong. The disadvantage of the very wet May in particular is that some things are late. I’m not convinced the figs will develop fully and ripen, the butternut squash got off to a slow start and the pampas and fountain grass are only flowering now.
Today I felt we were making some progress with the pond. Patrick and Diane continued to construct the drainage chamber for the overflow which I think will work really well. We also all had a useful conversation about the beach area and how that will work. This will be the entry/exit area into the pond and there will also be steps down into the deep area. I am extremely excited about the whole project and I cannot wait to start planting it out. It will be a massive job, including a massive amount of pond marginal plants to plant in the shelf areas of shallow water, oxygenators and lilies. There will also be a lot of planting around the exterior pond and Mayflower when she is moved to her permanent position. Finally, there will be 60m of 'stream side' planting and planting around the top pool at the other end of the stream. We will also be building a bridge over the stream and putting a small jetty into the big pond. I am now quite pleased that planting will be delayed until next Spring because it will give me lots of time to plan it!
Later in the evening, I embark on a massive watering session. Although the weather has been gentle, we now have not had rain for a few weeks and I’m conscious of my newly planted plants from Nik’s nursery and also my baby brassicas.
We woke up this morning to a scene of devastation in our back courtyard. Our badgers seem to be on a mission at the moment. Apart from their ‘break-ins’ to the kitchen garden before the Open Day, they have been digging up the turf in the orchard and in the front field. Last night they obviously decided to have a go at the grass in the back courtyard. They had left a terrible mess and the grass underneath and in front of the marque looked awful. They had dug deeply around the chicken run and pooed in the holes. They also dug out some of my newly planted fox gloves. Patrick was very upset as grass is his domain, I tried to restore the damage as we were expecting visitors in the afternoon. I thoroughly raked over the damaged areas, picked up the debris and pressed down areas that could be salvaged. I then watered all the damaged areas and thankfully it looked a lot better when I had finished but we will have to try and keep the badgers out of the courtyard.
This afternoon we were due to be visited by an elderly lady who has been very supportive of Church Gardens. However, because she uses a wheelchair, it had been difficult for her to visit in the past, so we arranged a private visit for her and a friend. Aideen baked some of her beautiful raspberry muffins and we shared afternoon tea …how civilised!
After our lovely visitors left, Diane, Meave and myself spent some more time in the pond, removing more stones. Before coming in for the evening, Patrick and I attempted to block entry to the courtyard and we also blocked off a hole under the front field fence. We can but hope that this will deter marauders!
An Unsuitable Job For Kay
Today was horribly hot, 30 degrees is not a good temperature to spend the day in a large, dusty, stoney hole! As a result, nobody wanted to be in the pond. In the end, it was mainly Diane and I, until Diane went out in the evening and then it was just me! We have visits booked in for the next two days so Aideen was on baking duty and Patrick and Meave were at work. Although I understood that other people’s unavailability could not be helped, this did not stop me from being in a very bad mood! The last place in the world I wanted to be on such a hot day was stuck in the bottom of a deep, dusty hole hopelessly picking out stones.
The day was broken up by a meeting with the historic gardens Trust to discuss their forthcoming zoom talk. I also periodically left my hole to do some watering and to dead head a legion of Cosmos, but I kept coming back to the hole. Diane made a good job of digging out the beach area and I picked at stones and barrowed away soil, but I generally felt inadequate. I did suggest to Patrick that he orders more underlay so we can lay a double layer over the sides to protect from any stray stones. As Patrick says, it is not a job we want to do twice!
Too Many Raspberries
Today was very hot again and we were up early to prepare for a visit from Hayes Towns Women’s Guild at 10:30am. They were a lovely group, who happily chatted to me about what they were doing in their own gardens. Aideen produced a fine array of cakes, including coffee and walnut, lemon and orange, Victoria sponge and raspberry muffins which went down really well. Later in the day I complimented Aideen on the incredibly high standard of her cakes, I know I could not produce such uniformly professional cakes, my cakes are a bit more haphazard, rather like me!
After the visitors left, I made a big salad of tomatoes, cucumber, basil, garlic and mozzarella and I managed to reach a particularly large cucumber that was growing near the top of the tunnel roof.
Unfortunately, later I found myself back in the pond hole on my own again sweeping up stones from the bottom. All the girls were busy but I was eventually joined by Patrick. I decided to cheer myself up with a very large bowl of raspberries and strawberries, however, I think I ate a few too many. Too much fruit can upset one’s tummy!
I am very glad to say that we had a reasonable shower of rain last night. This was much needed by the garden and saved me a long evening of watering. Today was another early start with a small group visiting at 10:30am, Ruislip Women’s Guild, followed by a larger group visiting us at 2pm from Eastcote Methodist Church, this group included our first blind visitor who was the minister of Eastcote Methodist. I was very pleased to see that the garden seemed to provide her with an enjoyable experience of touch, scent and sounds. Both groups today were extremely engaged in the garden, particularly the upcycling/recycling ideas and I had several conversations about potential projects in our visitor’s own gardens. Increasingly, the interest in our future events is building. Some of the second group were involved in Ruislip Operatic Society and they were keen to explore Church Gardens as a performance venue, people are asking us about Christmas events and everyone is keen on next years planned weekly openings on Sunday afternoons…we better hurry up and build the building!
After our visitors left it was time to get back in the pond, but we are all daunted by trying to remove stones. We have already ordered more underlay, now I think we should order more sand, anything to smooth or pad out the surfaces. We had a discussion about how many people we had asked to help move the liner on Sunday and decided it wasn’t enough and started to call in more support. It is a nerve-wracking situation and we will all be relieved to get the liner in!
Today should have been a lovely day out to Wisley to see the new gardens but this treat has been postponed to next week. This is because we are running out of time to finish preparing the pond prior to attempting to install the liner on Sunday. This deadline is critical because we have asked a group of friends to come on Sunday to help us and we do not want to put them off. Fortunately, the weather is cooler, but we do have to contend with showers of rain which is not ideal when you are sweeping up mud.
Today is crucial because tomorrow is a Public Guided Tour Day and we have more than 60 people coming on two different tours. This obviously also means baking, Aideen prepared brownies and muffins on Thursday and Diane got up heroically early this morning to make sponges.
Just to complicate things further, the cats had a 9am appointment at the vets for their annual vaccinations. It is always stressful trying to gather the cats together in the house and then put them in the cat baskets! Once this adventure was over and I had got grandad up and fed, I did a few essential gardening jobs…watering and deadheading dahlias and cosmos.
Interestingly, our visitors yesterday were very curious about our Cosmos. Apparently, it is a very bad year for cosmos and even Wisley is having difficulty getting it to flower. This is puzzling, as it has clearly been flowering with us, otherwise I would not be deadheading!
After these few jobs were completed, I went into the pond to continue removing stones and sweeping them up. This is a thankless task and leaves lots of holes in the pond walls. Patrick resorts to filling them with cement. Diane then starts bringing in barrows of sand and Patrick spreads it around and starts patting it against the walls. To our surprise, the sand sticks to the sides of the pond well and smooths off all the lumps and bumps. Perhaps we will get things ready after all.
In the late evening, Diane ices the cakes (Aideen is on a rare night out) and Meave and I prepare the dinner and work our way through mountains of washing up. We are left exhausted!
Today we have another public Guided Tour Day which is fully booked! For various reasons, a few people could not attend today but we still welcomed 56 people for two tours at 11am and 2pm. Public Guided Tour Days are very interesting because of the variety of people who attend. Many are local but some have travelled some distance, one lady who visited today had come from Dorset and our youngest visitor was five. The tours were given an extra dimension today because Patrick, Meave and Diane were working in the pond hole covering it in sand. This was very interesting for our visitors because it is always intriguing to see work in progress.
The reception from our visitors continues to be incredibly gratifying, today we were compared favourably to Sarah Raven’s garden, Wisley and even Buckingham Palace. We were also given excellent reviews on Instagram and Facebook. It is really quite overwhelming and we are very lucky and extremely grateful to receive such a positive reception.
After the visitors left we all went into the pond to cover everything with sand and we worked until it was dark.
The Liner Goes In
Today is a very important day…today, we put the liner in the pond. The timing is very specific because we have had to arrange for a group of friends to come at 2pm to help move the liner. This is necessary because it is massive and heavy – 24mx21m and weighs over 500kg. We have been working towards this deadline all week and both Patrick and I are very apprehensive about how we will get on.
Inevitably, at 4am Grandad’s buzzer went off. I hurry over to find dad sitting on the side of the bed telling me that he thinks he has grown and no longer fits in the bed! More worryingly, I suspect there may be catheter issues, not what we need on such a critical day and a Sunday as well…very bad timing!
We all get up at about 6am because we still have lots of preparation to do. We are still digging out the ‘beach’ area, Diane is pressing down and levelling the sand and then underlay needs to be spread over the whole area and taped together. At about 8:30am I go to check on Grandad and my fears are confirmed with regards to the catheter. I then have to contact ‘out of hours’ district nurses to come and assist us, not ideal today when my presence is required in the pond! Luckily, late morning two lovely district nurses arrive and resolve the problem and I am able to return to pond duties. By this time, the underlay is almost fully down and taped together like a crazy patchwork.
Unbelievably, we appear to be ready in time. James moved the rolled-up liner on its pallet using a borrowed pallet truck and we try to figure out how it is folded in order to position it correctly. We put a long scaffold pole through the cardboard roll in the middle of the rolled liner in order for us to lift it, which takes all of us – Patrick, Meave, Aideen, Diane, James, Billy and me! We soon realise that we will need to unroll it over the pond hole, it will not be possible to unfold the liner next to the pond and move it unfolded.
Everyone arrives at 2pm, we now have James’s parents and two other friends…Ryan and Derek. Derek has brought his baby daughter and she oversees the proceedings from her pushchair. We are not expecting her to help! We line up on either side of the pond and start to unfold the liner and pull it in bursts across the massive hole. Meave, Diane and Aideen are in the hole to pull and guide the liner and Meave is in the deepest section. It is not easy to be in the hole because the underlay is surprisingly slippery and it isn’t easy to get safely down the slope into the deepest section. I’m glad it’s not me in there!
The force of us moving the liner nearly knocks Meave over several times. Amazingly, the liner, with this number of people moving it, moves surprisingly well. It settles into the hole smoothly with few creases, whilst emitting a strong smell of rubber (It is a Butyl rubber liner). I love the smell of rubber, it was one of my cravings when I was pregnant with the twins!
Although we bring the liner successfully over the pond hole, we realise that there are some suspicious lumps under the liner and realise that some of the underlay has moved and bunched up. This is very annoying and we decide to pull back half the liner to try to rectify the problem. We discover that some sheets of underlay have rolled up into long sausages! The girls smooth it out as best as they can and we pull the liner back into position. I cannot believe that we’ve managed to move this monstrously heavy, unwieldy liner relatively easily. The pond already looks quite good, with the liner outlining the shape of the pond beautifully.
We thank our helpers with tea and cake and after they leave, Patrick, the girls and I start on the delicate operation of folding the liner where necessary to give the flattest, smoothest surface. Patrick decides we should start to fill the pond with water at least up to shelf level. This will mould the liner and hold it in place. As the water starts to trickle in we sit and watch it in awe, barely able to believe that the day has gone so well. We then tidy up, I do some watering and the girls go in to start baking…we have more than 50 visitors coming tomorrow and I’m supposed to restart my teaching!