Today gradually became more and more sunny until it was the warmest day of the year so far. Unfortunately, I seem to have a dip in energy today, which is tricky as I am supposed to be barrowing compost for the fruit tree border all day. This compost is the remains of an old compost heap, piled up at the back of the compost yard. This requires quite a complex and lengthy barrow journey to retrieve it, but it is a nice trip through the trees, accompanied by bird song and usually trailed by Tiggy and Bella looking for a game.
Aideen is concentrating on shifting materials and she manages to move an entire pallet of old bricks up towards the arcades to be ready for wall repairs. She them moves some blocks into the compost yard.
Patrick comes out in the afternoon and spends ages getting the ride-on-mower ready to use. He then drives it right down to the bottom of the front field and then the engine packs up! There were some choice words as Patrick remonstrated with the mower which had chosen the spot furthest away from the shed, where it lives, to breakdown!
I notice lots of Peacock butterflies out today and a Brimstone butterfly over the crocus terrace. I then see a curious sight, three Peacock butterflies on one hyacinth, two with their wings firmly shut, not ready to open yet. The third butterfly had spread its wings to the sun and was waiting to be ready to fly.
It is touching how much faith Patrick has in my ability to revive creatures. Today it was a small bumble bee. The bee was in a hole in the old wall and a spider had spun a web around the hole and trapped the bee. Patrick had extricated the poor bee which was entwined in web and covered in lime mortar and brought it to me on a stick saying, “Can you save this bee?”. I then spent some considerable time trying to delicately remove the sticky web of the very cross bee with two small sticks. Eventually, I managed to detangle it sufficiently for it to fly away.
The tulips are beginning to get underway and presently we must have the smallest red tulip and the biggest red tulip blooming in the fruit tree border. The big red tulip is magnificent, the size of a bowl.
Unsurprisingly, I did not finish applying compost to the fruit tree border… I hope this bed will appreciate my efforts!
First day for shorts!
The weather was amazing today, reaching 23/24 degrees. The warmest day in March for fifty years. Before going to get grandad up, I completed all my ‘opening up’ chores…this involves removing a variety of plastic covers, fleece and glass sheets from delicate seedlings. These are put in place to keep them warm overnight, but also to protect them from mice attack! All the cold frames need opening…leaves are beginning to appear on dahlias and any watering is done, not forgetting the Auriculas. Whist the weather was so beautiful, Aideen and I walked around taking photos of giant red tulips, grape hyacinth and fritillary.
Grandad is positively perky this morning and did his train impression. I mentioned that Pecky will be moving into the back garden soon, which will give him something else to watch through his window. The interest will be mutual because she is a very nosey bird and will probably keep an eye on him!
Whilst walking around the orchard, I noticed some white wild violets in the far corner. We have lots of purple violets, but I’ve not noticed these white ones before. I wonder if they are unusual. On the subject of white flowers, the first lemon blossoms have now opened sufficiently for me to bend down and sniff them…as expected, the perfume is glorious. I was once lucky enough to visit Cyprus in Spring and we discovered an abandoned village and orange grove in bloom, it was the most beautiful thing I have ever smelt and I’ve never forgotten it.
Today, we had 55 thick, old sheets of ply delivered. These will be used to protect the ground and enclose the building works when we start our project. These sheets are incredibly heavy (two people are need to lift them). Patrick, Aideen and I help the two men lift them down from the van. Shortly after this, I go and change into shorts and find my sun hat. Aideen is already in her shorts!
I then finish putting compost onto the fruit tree border, hurrah! It looks very colourful, especially when you consider we are still in March. I then prepare lunch – Scrambled ‘egg à la James Bond’, with chopped garlic chives on top!
I then go to help Aideen clear the area next to the chicken run…all of these areas require clearing before we can start any new building work.
This area is the site of an old concrete out-building which Patrick used as one of our first material stores. It contains old bricks, blocks and various bits of old, rusty, metal machinery. It has become hideously overgrown with brambles, we probably haven’t touched it for about 15 years! It was a very daunting sight, particularly when you are wearing shorts! The brambles were an impenetrable mass with nettles underneath for good measure. No gloves fully protect you from the thorns and soon the soles of my crocs were imbedded with thorns. Crocs are probably not ideal footwear for such a job, but they are comfortable! We hacked away with shears, loppers and secateurs and seemed to make little progress. I even manage to get a short bramble stem lodged in my nostril which Aideen had to extricate. I decided to use my rake to pull at the horrible tangle, a lot of which are dead stems. This works quite well and we finally made some progress. Then we had to get the massive pile to the fire pit in the compost yard! What we needed at this point was Patrick, who luckily arrives just in time. Patrick is a master of gathering large amounts of brambles on a fork (which he calls a grape). I cannot master this technique, similar to gathering spaghetti on a fork. Aideen was on fire duty and I finally escape and took the opportunity to prune the hydrangeas at the front of the house, a much more civilised job!
Today is another incredibly mild day but without the sunshine, apparently due to Saharan dust and high cloud. Whilst I was in the chicken house cleaning out Pecky’s bed there was a very loud roaring sound, which got louder and louder. I rushed out of the shed to see the Red Arrows fly past overhead! Very exciting, the noise was incredible and I rushed out of the chicken run to get a better look and left the door open! Luckily, when I returned. Pecky was hovering uncertainly on the threshold and hadn’t made a break for freedom.
Today, Aideen with help from James, continues to move bricks to the pallets in the compost yard and I make a start on pruning the budlejias, which I am starting rather late this year. There are a lot of budlejias in the garden because I am very fond of them, their flowers are wonderful and they are not called the butterfly bush for nothing. I start with the younger specimens around the bee enclosure. There are six different varieties surrounding the bees and then there is also my recently planted budlejia hedge dividing the bees from the forest garden bed, made up of all the self-seeded wild budlejias that I have dug up from elsewhere in the garden. I then move on to the two, very large, self-seeded budlejias that grow next to the pampas on either side of the central borders. These plants are so large that the pruning from one alone fills the giant green barrow. Then, I start on the budlejias in the field border which are planted in six pairs of Budlejia weyeriana ‘Sungold’ & Budlejia Flower Power along the border. Budlejia Sungold has clusters of yellow flowers which have an amazing fragrance.
At lunch time, I make egg mayonnaise with garlic chives and chopped green garlic from the garden, which we have with ham and a large salad. By the end of the day, I have pruned seven out of twelve of the field border budlejias and there is a mountain of prunings next to the fire pit!
I also decide to cut back the aloe in the alpine bed which has got so big that it now obscures my bottle bottom spiral. I experiment with putting the aloe offcuts into a tub of water to see if they root.
The Walking Wounded
When I was pruning budlejias yesterday, I got jabbed in the eye by a small twig. This obviously hurt at the time, but then it seemed to be OK. However, in the evening, my eye became very uncomfortable and started to stream. Despite repeated bathing and finally painkillers, I had a restless night. My hope was that the more the eye was shut, the more chance my body would have to flush away the problem. It was a bit better in the morning but I felt very fragile and decided to leave off pruning for the moment. I decided a gentle morning sowing seeds would be sensible.
I am conscious that I have a long way to go with my primula/polyantha mass production. I have only sown two 84 cell trays and due to propagator mismanagement, only about 20% so far have germinated. These trays did not even use up one seed pack and I have 24 packs of seed! The seed packs include mixtures of normal primulas, large flowered polyanthas, candelabra and denticulata. I prepare two more trays, which will fill my old propagator. Realistically, I can only set aside this propagator spare as I do have other things to grow apart from primulas. My plan is to germinate the seeds quickly (a vain hope) then move the trays onto the bench and start off another four trays.
I sow more than 3 packs of seed. I am now sowing several seeds per module, I can always transplant if more germinate. I also add more seed to the existing trays. I then sow two root trainers of peas to replace those lost in the cold spell.
For lunch, I reverently remove 8 large leaves from my delicious looking lettuces in the polytunnel for paté, cucumber and lettuce sandwiches. I think lettuces win the prize for the most appetising looking salad crops!
After lunch I am feeling much better, my eye is still a bit sensitive but much better than last night, thank goodness. Therefore, I return to the pruning and fill the green barrow to ridiculous proportions with the prunings of the five remaining budlejias. I then get stuck in the kitchen garden gate and have to be pushed and pulled through by Aideen and our lovely mechanic, who was here to fix the tractor! The compost yard is now full of budlejia cuttings! I then went back and pruned the six Anabelle hydrangeas (these hydrangeas produce flowers the size of footballs) and three large Midwinter fire cornus. I will save the twigs from cornus albus sibirica to save as colourful plant supports.
During the course of the afternoon, I pop inside to order extra sweet peas. I should have had more than 120 plants already grown but only have half that number due to mouse larceny!
Tonight’s dinner is chicken dopiaza and I bring in three lemons from our trees to use, but I decided to let them ripen in the sun for a little longer as they are rather hard. The tulips are beginning to get going, particularly on the Mount which shows them off well. However, perhaps it is best that we cannot open on Easter Monday as the date is very early and the tulips need a bit longer, also, I am hearing predictions of snow!!
Today is probably the most significant day in the Christian calendar. It is hard to contemplate that it is the second Good Friday to be spent in lockdown. This is particularly significant for music in church because it is the time for performing some of the most beautiful liturgical music. Normally, on this day I would be directing the most important musical performance of our Church choir’s year for the final hour of the three hour Good Friday service. Last year, we had planned to perform a large part of Mozart’s Requiem. This was obviously cancelled shortly before Easter as part of the first lockdown. I think last year, I naively assumed that we would perform it this year…well here we are. I have not attended an indoor church service for more than a year due to caring for two extremely vulnerable elderly people (now only one) and also because Patrick was shielding. This important part of my life stopped along with my work and any performing. Normally, the choir would have come back to the house after the service for tea and cake… I do miss them…I wonder if they can remember any of the Mozart Requiem that we worked so hard on? Will we be able to perform any of it at our Remembrance Concert or will it be performed at Easter next year?
We did have an outdoor visit from one member of the choir who came to deliver a painting of Mayflower.
Nick is our longest serving tenor and a boat enthusiast, and it was he who first told Aideen about Mayflower (she sings tenor in the choir aswell!) Nick is very knowledgeable about narrowboats, having restored and lived in one, and has offered to help Aideen with Mayflower. The painting was done randomly by a lady artist who gave it to the Harefield Marina office, who have passed it to Aideen via Nick. It is such a coincidence that she painted Mayflower and so lovely that we have a record of her on the water before she retired to our garden. It was lovely to chat to Nick and we sent our love back to anyone he was likely to see. Hopefully we will be able to return to singing soon.
Today, Patrick, James, Aideen and Meave are working at the end of the compost yard on the new log shelter. They almost finish it by the end of the day and it looks brilliant. The only issue is, will it have sufficient space for all of the logs?
We produce a great deal of wood at Church Gardens and our original intention when we first moved in was to coppice a number of nut trees each year and use them in a wood burning stove, to heat the house and hot water. Sadly, we have now given up on this idea partly because wood burners, even highly efficient ones, are bad for people with respiratory problems and also, burning solid fuel is not good for the environment. We will probably use the logs for outdoor cooking if we can find an efficient way of burning them.
I start my work outside today by finishing pruning the large, red stemmed cornus and put the cuttings to one side. I used these last year to help support peonies and delphiniums. I then started to weed the field border. This was where I started my weeding marathon at the beginning of the year and I put some compost on the bed, but now I am having to redo the first section because it is already sprouting new weeds! We spend all day outside and there are periods of sunshine but the temperature is definitely dropping.
Death of a Propagator
On opening up the polytunnel this morning I noticed that the compost in the primula trays that fill the old propagator was suspiciously damp. Normally, by morning the heat of the propagator has dried it out. I plugged in the tunnel lights to check the electrics and sure enough, the power was off. I then tried to put the power back on and it refused to go back on. It wasn’t until I was getting dad up that I had a eureka moment which I discussed with him over a flannel…could the old propagator be tripping the system? I told dad I would try switching the power on after disconnecting the old propagator, dad nodded sagely in agreement. After all, he had spent his entire life working for the electricity board and he hasn’t forgotten everything! This solved the problem and on reflection it is unsurprising. I’ve had my Jumbo propagator for many years and the heating mat is in a terrible state with exposed rusty wires!
I move the primulas into the new propagator, moving out a tray of zinnias, cosmos and mixed annuals onto the bench and then I checked out a few catalogues for possible replacements. This was very exciting and presently I have my eye on Double length and double layer Vitopod Heated Propagator with grow lights, which apparently is a BBC Gardener’s World BEST BUY! Isn’t it strange what some of us get worked up about!
Today, Patrick and Aideen start preparation work for moving Pecky to the back yard. Presently, her chicken house and run occupies the space where we hope to build our new outbuilding. By the end of the day, they have dug out an area for the chicken house and put in some posts for the run. I continue with weeding the field border, which as predicted is even more nightmarish than the fruit tree border. This border is 3m x 60m and has not had a really thorough weeding for several years and as a result it has a bad infestation of grass and ranunculus. It is also on the more shady side of the garden and therefore a bit damp and mossy. It will benefit from a layer of compost but the trouble with our compost is that it’s full of weed seeds!!! I do seem to be in a rather ‘catch 22’ situation here!
Last night I forgot to close the cold frames, luckily there wasn’t a frost! I put everything to bed with great care tonight! When I come in, Aideen recounts a very entertaining Minxy story. Whilst Aideen was attempting to delicately lay out tiny forget-me-not flowers in her flower press, Minxy was seeking attention. As Minxy kept brushing past Aideen and the flower press she managed to sweep up a large quantity of forget-me-not flowers in her whiskers and deposited the rest onto the front of Aideen’s jumper.
Today began literally at the crack of dawn, we were up at 5:30am to attend the dawn bonfire and outdoor service in the church yard at 6am. This is a very special occasion and features an incredibly impressive bonfire that burns lustily, with a towering shower of sparks. It also gave us a rare opportunity to sing as we were outside. My voice feels like a rusty machine creaking into action but at least this time I managed to sing a hymn without crying. We sang ‘Jesus Christ is Risen Today’. Meave commented, why do we sing such a difficult and awkward to pitch hymn outside and we respond that today is the only day when you can sing that hymn! We finished with ‘Thine be the Glory’ which I love.
When we get home it is still very early and I decide to sow seeds in the polytunnel. At 8am I listen to the service at Canterbury Cathedral and guess what hymns they sang, ‘Jesus Christ is Risen Today’ and ‘Thine be The Glory’!
The early start proves to be extremely fortuitous because today is chicken moving day and we need as much time as possible.
Yesterday was the grand procession in Egypt to move the mummified remains of 22 Kings and Queens of Ancient Egypt. Today, we used the same techniques the Ancient Egyptians used for moving heavy stones to shift Pecky’s chicken house (which is a converted shed) in one piece to its new home in the backyard. We moved it on a heavy ply board with scaffold poles underneath to serve as rollers and pushed it along a path of ply sheets. We took a ‘time lapse’ video of our own Grand Procession.
The combination of dismantling the run, shifting the shed and converting it for its new location (which necessitated moving the door) takes all day. Pecky views the entire performance from her chicken ark and clucks away to herself disapprovingly. At the end of the day, she is put to bed in the house but the run is not ready, this is tomorrows job.
When I am in the tunnel, I sow a tray of tagetes (84 cell), Golden Gem, Yellow Gem, Starfire mixed and Neem mixed. I also transplant some celeriac seedlings. I then continue weeding the field border. By this time the weather is fantastic, not at all what I was expecting and I started to worry that my onions, garlic and shallots may be getting dry, I can’t remember when it last rained. So I bring out the long hoses and give the beds a good soaking, the first proper outdoor watering of the year! During the weeding I removed some very tatty, almost dead, carnation plants from which I managed to salvage some shoots. I pop them into a tray to try to root, ever the optimist!
At about 4pm, I drag the family away from the chicken run to come and admire the Mount, which looks an absolute picture. The terraces are packed with a kaleidoscope of colour it is a joy to behold and a perfect way to mark Easter Sunday. Later in the evening, I sat down with Aideen to order the new propagator. After finding out the Vitopod was too small for my seed trays, we chose a large Geopod Heated Propagator with Lights.