This is probably not the way that most people would like to spend their half term, although, on the plus side, our vitamin D levels probably do benefit from being outside constantly!
We are now attacking our humongous hard-core pile from both sides. The back of the pile, which has been there for decades, is buried in the undergrowth behind our remaining old sheds. It is completely encased in brambles, nettles and a thick mat of ivy. Patrick started attacking this end of the pile and has a system of digging rubble out from underneath the ivy, which then leaves the roots suspended over a void, making them easier to pull away. Nobody could ever accuse Patrick of not working hard and this morning he was up at the crack of dawn pulling out a pile of hard-core to give us a head start on loading the dumper. Aideen and Diane were outside at 7:30am breaking up the hard-core that was left in a heap the previous evening.
I had a few things to attend to before I could join them and I must admit, I was not ready to start hammering hard-core at 7:30am! My osteoporotic body was still stiff and suffering from the previous day. I sorted out the chicken stock I had made for soup, fed the chicken, took out the compost (quite a trek in our house!) and went to get Grandad up. Then I joined the girls outside. The highlight of the day was when Diane convinced me to have a lift in the body of the dumper truck with Aideen to the hard-core pile. This was probably very fool hardy but certainly made me laugh which Aideen then filmed and put on Instagram! It was quite intriguing rummaging through this end of the hard-core pile and this is certainly part of the garden that I’ve never spent time in before. It is quite horrifying to sort through what was dumped here years ago and shocking to find yet more broken glass!
The weather is mainly good today and we make better progress than yesterday. The grab lorry comes twice and all the soil dug out from the drive is removed. Another job between grab lorry visits was shovelling all the stray soil that had come off the boards back onto the pile of soil so none is left behind. On the second grab lorry visit, there is a horrendous hail storm…just what we needed! Food is what keeps us going and for lunch today it was homemade chicken soup and cheese sandwiches, with tomato, lettuce, spring onion, sweet peppers and chicory from the garden. We manage to complete another 10 metres today which is pretty good going, only 37m more to go! When Patrick’s secretary left for the day, picking her way delicately past us, she commented “Isn’t there a machine that can do that?” as we smashed at the bricks, lumps of concrete and broken paving slabs! At the end of the day I am fit for nothing and sit in bed, with my books, listening to radio 4 hoping that dad will not buzz too much which proved a vain hope last night!
An Alternative Universe
It is not cold today, but pretty wet and miserable. We do not get off to an early start because we are a bit distracted because Diane has her driving theory test today at 1pm. I am supposed to be taking Diane to the test in Patrick’s car because we have left my car stranded on the grass next to the ‘dug out’ driveway and it is impossible to drive it out. Diane is naturally quite agitated and we are all tired so we do not get a lot done before we have to leave for the theory test. Aideen is glad to have the opportunity to work on her boat while we are gone. She puts on her special ‘boat overalls’ and disappears off to start sanding rust off the inside of the roof of the boat, which she will then treat with her rust treatment.
Diane and I leave really early because we are unsure where the test centre is. Apparently, it is somewhere in the Pavilions shopping centre and Diane persuades me to come with her to try and find it. I find these expeditions quite surreal as I have been living in an alternative universe, where I have barely left Church Gardens since March! This impression is further enhanced as I am viewing the world through mist, because my glasses are permanently steamed up because of my mask. I find the outside world quite alarming as people seem to be carrying on completely normally, quite a few without masks, as if everything is fine…this is not the impression that I get from radio 4! I am quite relieved to deliver Diane to the test centre and retreat to the car with a gardening magazine while I wait for Diane. Diane returns within the hour very relieved that she has passed the test and that she can leave the shopping centre, which also makes her feel uncomfortable. She decides her reward for passing the test should be a McDonalds...so much for bringing up your children on organic vegetables! We all have a McDonalds for lunch, which we agree is nice for a few minutes, but then does not make you feel great. We then change back to our soggy, gritty, muddy work clothes and go back outside. There is a definite lack of enthusiasm at this point, the hard-core pile is not a very hospitable place in these conditions. However, we do agree that it is exciting to be uncovering and opening up a part of the garden that we’ve never seen before and it is quite a large area with lovely views of the arcaded wall. I have found over the years that I have to fix images of what we are working towards in my head in order to keep myself going when the work is hard. We do the best we can and Pip joins us for the final hour as we trudge backwards and forwards. Pip is wonderful in this way, she often joins me in the garden even if it is cold and wet and just sits close by to give me moral support. It is well and truly dark when we come in and we have only advanced another 4 meters but Aideen wants to go back to her boat to apply red oxide paint over the newly treated area. She asks me to come with her to help set up a light, unfortunately this does not work, but I do climb in (with Pip) to see how she is getting on. We decide to leave the paint until the morning.
Today did not start well…it began by being nagged by Diane for not going outside early enough. Apparently, Aideen and I had promised to be outside by 7:30am, I do not remember making this commitment! Diane (bless her) was outside hammering hard-core at 7:30am, I’m afraid I didn’t make it outside until just after 8:30am. Sometime later, Patrick appeared and after eyeing the driveway critically for a few minutes, pronounced that the last few metres were too high. Apparently, he had told Aideen (very unwise!) to check the levels with the edging boards at the beginning of the week. Needless to say, she did not share this information with anyone…she has a terrible history of not passing on messages and forgetting things as soon as she has been told them (we think this is due to having memorised so much music). I have been finding this week so strenuous that I have been dumbly dropping hard-core, whacking it and laying type 1 at a similar level all along the drive. I have not considered anything as subtle as an edging board. The last part of the hard-core had been deposited in the dark and I had no idea if it was too high! However, the thought of having to redo any of our painfully achieved metres filled me with horror! When Patrick unwisely commented “had we removed dead leaves from the hard-core”, I departed in a mega strop. I do not often become depressed and downhearted but when I do, I find it hard to pick myself back up and nobody knows how to deal with me because I am usually the ‘Pollyanna’ of the family! I think I might be over tired and Patrick tends to judge everyone by his own high standards!
Most of the day progressed in gloom, everyone has had enough of hard-core and we are all exhausted! Diane reminds us later in the day that we had planned to bring in the pumpkins today and have a pumpkin carving competition this evening. At first, I could not have been less enthusiastic, but as the light disappeared and I counted up the days progress I realise we have advanced 35m in total which is incredible. Patrick came out to help in the afternoon and as a result we progressed another 12m. This renewed my usual ‘Tigger’ like enthusiasm and Aideen, Diane, Meave and I went off to fill two wheelbarrows with a fine assortment of pumpkins.
The colours are beautiful, rich orange of Connecticut Field, creamy white Polar Bears, dark orange Amores and pale orange ‘Orange Hundred Weight’. We fill the table in the extension with pumpkins, open some wine and look on the girls phones for inspiration.
This results in a very entertaining evening of competitive pumpkin carving which becomes even more intense when James returns from work. It’s a shame that probably no one will see them tomorrow, because even without Covid, people are usually too scared to walk past the graveyard on Halloween!
A Very Inhospitable Spot
Halloween dawns, unpromisingly. The wind is blowing and the rain is coming down which is very disappointing as it is the weekend and therefore we have reinforcements to help with the drive. However, I’m pleased to receive the majority of my Parkers bulbs in a morning delivery of 10 large, heavy cardboard boxes! Good to know when the drive is done, I won’t be short of something to do!
The teams are organised, James, Aideen and Diane are stationed on the driveway to ‘hammer down’ the hard-core (there are only three club hammers) and cover it with ‘type 1’. Diane drives the dumper to the diminishing hard-core pile where Patrick and I are digging out the hard-core which then gets loaded into the dumper with Diane. It is hard to describe conditions in the hard-core pile, I would certainly describe it as inhospitable! We are digging it out from the back and the rubble has been there for more than 25 years, therefore much of it has become buried in a horrible gritty, muddy mess of old lime mortar, cement, soil and sand. Patrick and I are on our knees, mainly pulling it out with our hands and digging at it with a fork. We are sorting it out as we go, into hard-core, rubbish and useable old bricks. It is raining, sometimes pouring and windy. We are both soaked and filthy and it occurs to me that probably not many people are spending their Saturday this way!
I have had to do some horrible jobs over the years, the worst being digging up and replacing a failed septic tank, but I have to admit, this latest job probably should be included in the ten worst! Looking on the bright side, this is probably our biggest piece of recycling ever. It is very satisfying to see this huge pile of rubbish becoming our new driveway and parking area. Patrick also reminds me that we used even more of the hard-core when we laid the foundations for the kitchen garden paths. So at least it has been put to good use.
By 11:30 conditions are so bad that we are driven inside, but I manage to track down three pairs of plastic trousers, which I give to the girls and me, which helps a bit!
Despite the weather, we manage to make great progress and we reach 48m down the driveway. Unfortunately, we have a massive puddle at the end and we might have to dig a soakaway to cope with the water.
When we come in, in-between waiting for Boris to announce details of the latest lockdown, we started to transport our many pumpkins outside and arrange them around the front door and light their candles. They looked brilliant all lit up and they lifted our spirits, they were joined by a large full moon and some drier weather. It’s good to see all the pumpkins being used and any that are not used will be eaten.
I brought in a very muddy bucket of vegetables and tonight we will eat a giant quiche, beetroot, sweetcorn and Lyonnaise potatoes.
1/11/2020 Patrick was outside very early this morning, long before anyone else, digging out useable rubble from the hard-core pile. This was partly because he is very good in this way…he had quickly realised early in the week that digging decent hard-core out of the pile was very time consuming, so he started to carry out these early morning excavations to help Diane, Aideen and myself on our way, before he then went to work in the office. This is typical of Patrick, he might be very demanding of all of us, but he always works harder than anyone else. He was also anxious that we would not have enough hard-core to finish the job.
I was next up and hurried about feeding the chicken and sorting out grandad so I could get outside to help. Meave came to join Patrick and I with the hard-core, and Aideen, James and Diane continued to break up the hard-core and add type 1. It was very windy but not nearly as wet as yesterday, so the work today was not as unpleasant, particularly as the end was in sight.
By about 2pm, we reached the end of the drive and we did have enough hard-core…who would have thought that could ever have been a worry.
The hard-core pile looks horrendous, like the scene of an avalanche or earthquake, it will require a great deal of sorting out. There are quite a few salvaged old bricks, flint and some pieces of stone that we will retain. BUT there is still some hard-core, rubbish and a great deal of horrible gritty, mucky, composty soil that needs to be dug out and removed. However, that is for another day, in the meantime, it was ‘all hands on deck’ to dig out the ‘type 1’ pile to add to the sides of the drive that had been left without type 1 until we reached the end of the drive.
This was all finished by the time the light was fading and we came inside and James and the girls helped lift the mega boxes of bulbs into the polytunnel so I can sort them out tomorrow and get back to the garden which I will do with a massive sigh of relief!
Figs in November
I did feel quite stiff when I got up this morning which is probably unsurprising, but I am very keen to get back to proper gardening. I am also keen to eat some fruit for breakfast, so I pop outside to investigate the fig tree, thinking there might be one ripe fig left. Most of the leaves have blown off this fig tree and it is still full of figs. Some are not going to ripen now and will need removing, but quite a few are ripe, so I pick three for breakfast which I combine with an apple and pear with Greek yoghurt and honey. I think it is quite amazing to be eating figs in November!
When I go into the polytunnel, I decide that the next job is to plant the tiny plants from Kore nursery in the forest garden bed. The weather is being very unpredictable, one minute deep blue sky and sun, the next, rain. I first pot up the raisin tree which I’ve been advised to keep inside for now. I then depart with canes and the planting plan and I plant out the Salmon and Balloon Berries between the Snow Bell tree and Loquat. I plant the Date Plum against the wall next to a larger more expensive Date Plum. The three Sea Buckthorns are planted beside the Lingonberries and the Paw Paw and the White Thimbleberry is placed in front of these. The Salmon Barberry and the two Treacle Berries are planted at the far end of the bed.
All of the plants are marked with a cane so I don’t lose track of them. The next job I need to attend to, I am not looking forward to. There may be figs in the garden but it is November and this task required entering the pond! James’ mum has dug some bulrushes out of her pond and sent them over to me via James and I need to pot them up (to restrain their vigorous growth) and put them in the pond. I use a big pond planter which I fill with stony soil, nothing too rich, and wheel the heavy pot back to the pond. The problem is, I need to set it on a pile of blocks so the pot is at the correct level. I have a redundant spot with some small blocks low down in the water which were previously used by oxygenators, but I know I will have to build up something more substantial and higher for this pot. Going in the water is unavoidable and I do not have the luxury of ‘Monty style’ waders! I enlist Diane’s assistance and grab a towel, luckily the garden is private! The water is absolutely freezing, not OK for skinny dipping! The blocks and pot are very heavy and it is not an easy, or pleasant job. I put the ‘cut back’ bulrushes in position and they peep out of the water. My tower of blocks is not particularly sturdy but it will have to suffice because I wasn’t going to hang about in the pond for long! I nip out of the water and run inside in my towel for a cup of tea thinking you couldn’t have put that little episode on ‘Gardeners World’! When I’ve warmed up, I return to the polytunnel to start sorting out the bulbs. This is partly to check the order is correct, but also so I can organise the bulbs for planting. This is a massive undertaking as there are 10 large boxes containing thousands of bulbs. This is not a straight forward job because when you make the order, the tulips are ordered as a collection, for example, I might order four collections of 50 Fosteriana tulips. I will know where I want to plant these tulips so I need to find them in the boxes, but the many packets of 10 bulbs will be labelled by variety, not ‘Fosteriana’. The 5 varieties are Purissima, Orange Brilliant, Madame Lefeber, Candela and Poco Loco. One collection will be 5 separate bags and the total Fosteriana order will be 20 bags. the bags are often mixed between boxes and you don’t know what is in each box! Therefore, I have to go through every box and when the bulbs are put away, I correctly group them in their collections, which I write on the side of the box and number it. This means I know when I am due to plant a particular bed or border I will be able to quickly locate the bulbs. It also gives me the opportunity to fish out any dodgy bulbs. Today I managed to get through nearly two boxes…only 8 to go… no job round here is small!