Today is cold but a beautiful, with sun and blue skies. It will not be a day for the garden but the garden will play its part this Christmas, providing herbs and vegetables for dinner, which I will start cooking today.
On Christmas Eve, I cook the gammon and make the giblet stock, both of which require bay leaves. The giblet stock also needs parsley and luckily there is still one small clump of parsley growing in the garden. Later, I will make the sausage meat stuffing which needs bay leaves. I was very tempted to plant out the remaining broad beans and peas today but no, I will be firm and give the house my attention! The house certainly deserves our love and ministrations. Progress is being made with a bit of decorating and a new book shelf, it is looking much smarter than this time last year. Church Gardens is a very comfortable home so it is easy to turn a blind eye to everything that needs doing. However, it would be a fantastic achievement to finally finish off at least some of the rooms over the coming months…that is definitely a good New Year’s resolution. There is no where I would rather be at Christmas and we are determined to put doom and gloom to one side and have a festive time!
I had an extremely late night last night…I seem to be in a very bad habit of staying up long after everyone else has gone to bed, looking at books and enjoying the Christmas tree! Maybe a little foolish as today will be hard work. Government restrictions or not, we are already a big household even with no visitors, so there is still a big dinner to prepare. We are also a ‘support bubble’ for Patrick’s sister who lives alone, so our plan is to spend a few hours together outside. However, it is much colder today, this is one of the reasons that we have got the stove operating outside. Our plan is to spend some time together outside and then Mary will go home, bringing her dinner home with her. Despite the late night, I am up bright and early and I am out in the Kitchen Garden scrutinising sprout plants by 9am. I’ve grown a lot of sprouts this year and quite a few different varieties but only a few have reached full size, although I’m confident that they will continue developing. My sprout production has improved over the years and I’ve been very happy with crops recently. Years ago, I found that the individual sprouts didn’t set into hard buds, but this is no longer a problem. I dug up two plants, collected some swedes and bay leaves and headed back to the kitchen to start putting things together for a traditional Christmas dinner…turkey with sausage meat and sage and onion stuffing, gammon with a honey and mustard glaze (using our honey), pigs in blankets, roast potatoes, parsnips and red onion, mashed swede and carrot, Yorkshire puddings and sprouts, with bread sauce and cranberry sauce. Everything went well, although dinner was later than I planned because the turkey was large and needed longer to cook.
Everyone survived outside with coats, hats and blankets but it was cold and I hope the family don’t catch colds. This may sound strange as we are permanently outside but it is very different when you are working and moving about, to when you are sitting for prolonged periods, thank goodness it wasn’t raining! It was a lovely day with lots of gifts exchanged. Apart from lots of fantastic books, I received a gardening bag with pockets for tools and a pair of Niwaki snips and secateurs which is very exciting as this brand of tool is superb. I already had their golden shovel and I bought their long handled shears for Patrick for Christmas, brilliant for cutting the box hedge. Funnily enough, I find myself sitting up at the end of the evening, firstly to keep an eye on the turkey stock bubbling in the kitchen, there is nothing better than turkey soup, but also to look at my new exciting pile of books!
Today is the biggest change in our family Christmas traditions that has been brought about by Covid. Our actual Christmas day, apart from being spent largely sitting outside, was broadly similar to normal. Obviously from a Church and professional aspect (Christmas is normally our busiest time) it was very different because there have been no concerts, no special services, no Christmas Celebration at Westminster Cathedral (which I’ve played at for more than 30 years) and no carol singing. But the next casualty was Boxing Day. Normally, we go on a long walk with a large group of people from our church, finishing up in our local pub where we then spend the rest of the day. We hardly ever get to the pub during the rest of the year and this is when we make up for it, meeting up with family and lots of friends, playing silly games…well not this year! We did manage a short walk as a family first thing and then returned home for a very substantial, cooked breakfast which filled us up for the day and amazingly used our own tomatoes, still going strong at Christmas! Then everyone departed to do their own thing and I retreated to my bed with a pile of books and Tiggy, a rare indulgence which was very appreciated by me and Tig and even involved a nap!
The book I was reading was ‘Windcliff’, A Story Of People, Plants And Gardens By Daniel J Hinkley. I have never come across this ‘plants man’ before and I find it amazing how by chance, you can find unexpected links between admired gardens and gardeners by reading a lot of books. He is a great lover of Great Dixter and was a friend of Christopher Lloyd which was interesting as the Great Dixter ethos is probably one of the greatest influences on me. Reading these books randomly, often turns into a fascinating voyage of discovery leading me onto other new places, ideas and books to explore. The book is excellent and the garden on Washington States, Kitsap Peninsula is spectacular. I couldn’t put it down and it gave me inspiration for an idea in our own orchard. Finally, I come downstairs and James has been setting up a Wildlife Camera he received for Christmas, ironically Patrick also got a Wildlife Camera from the girls. At the end of the day, we go out and attach it to a tree hoping to pick up some badger activity…watch this space!
The Logjam Shifts
We are all having a few days off the garden, other than looking at it fondly through the windows and gathering any produce required. There was an awful storm last night, storm Bella, which had some effects outside but nothing too serious. The 12 foot tree in the back garden is now leaning, but thankfully is still upright due to the ‘washing line guy ropes’. Unfortunately, the tree at the front of the house blew over despite its supporting stakes and a head came off one of the reindeer! Nothing too disastrous, all easily fixed. Slightly more concerning was a slate that slid off the roof later in the day.
James was outside bright and early to check his wildlife camera…which contained two short videos (it is set off by a sensor). One showed half of James’ own face, presumably filmed as he put up the camera, the other showed a bare patch of earth! James has now re-positioned the camera and has put out Patrick’s camera as well… watch this space! (Take 2!)
Aideen decided to spend the day making handmade paper for her pressed flower art, which she is now intending to start selling online on our website…coming soon! Paper making is a slow, messy process so she was doing it outside, which was rather chilly! She wore her heated waistcoat that James gave her for Christmas. I spent the day reading through the manuscript of my book (still far from complete) checking that it makes sense and editing where required.
The most significant thing about today was the WARDROBE!!! For many years, there has been one job that has been in the ‘McHugh holding bay’ that has been blocking every other job in the house…the construction of Diane’s wardrobe! Work on this custom made, fitted miracle, began before Christmas. Patrick is building it with assistance and lots of nagging from Diane. Today, although still unfinished, the wardrobe/storage area has reached a useable point. I could almost hear the house shifting as all the other DIY projects start to stretch and yawn, thinking, now it’s my turn…maybe a little fanciful but that is how it feels to me!
The wardrobe means…Diane’s clothes can move out of what should be Aideen’s bedroom…Aideen can then decorate her room and move out of the loft…the art equipment also stored in Aideen’s ‘proper’ bedroom will go up to the loft, which will finally fulfil its destiny and become a studio.
Patrick is even planning to build the wardrobe in our bedroom and has already started on the inevitable book shelves that will embrace our bed…I am holding my breath…this could mean the upstairs rooms of Church Gardens finally being finished…Hallelujah!
There was a heavy frost last night, probably with the lowest temperatures this winter. The kitchen garden looks like a Winter wonderland, there are so many intricate shapes for the frost to highlight, it is quite beautiful to behold.
James heads off to examine the wildlife cameras. They reveal another short film of James in the dark and some mist…this is due to the lens being frosted over. Well the cameras have proved that we have a ‘James’ living at Church Gardens, which I suppose is a type of wildlife!
DIY continues apace at Church Gardens in this rare window of opportunity when we are inside, rather than outside. Patrick, assisted by James, continues with planning and constructing the shelves that will encase the head of our bed. The idea for this came from a tiny photo in a magazine, which I cut out and saved, some years ago! It showed a cleverly designed wall of books that the bedhead fitted into, complete with reading lights. This obviously appealed to me hugely, my side of the bed is already surrounded by a make shift collection of salvaged shelves and piled high with my favourite books of the moment… ‘Entangled Life’ Merlin Sheldrake, ‘Reluctant European’ Stephen wall, ‘The Well Gardened Mind’ Sue Stuart Smith, ‘A Life on Our Planet’ David Attenborough…sorry, I digress, I could literally spend all of my time reading, but then my body would seize up altogether!
These signs of progress are very exciting, our bedroom is probably the most neglected room in the house. It is the only room never to have been decorated, the walls are still bare plaster and the windows are not boxed in, so ugly insulating foam bulges around the frames and green plastic membrane (vapour barrier) flaps out of the plaster. There are holes cut in the ceiling for where lights were planned to be inserted that never were. It has also become the dumping ground for anything yet to find a home in the rest of the house. It literally resembles ‘Steptoe’s Yard’, but potentially it could be beautiful. It has just never been a priority and I think it is probably quite common that parents do tend to put their own needs last.
Meanwhile, in the other bedrooms…Aideen is now puzzling over beds as space is an issue. Originally, Church Gardens had no proper rooms upstairs only partial partitions, so Patrick had to formulate a completely new plan for the rooms. Space was always limited; Church Gardens is not a big house and we are heavily restricted with any modifications and extensions because the property is listed. Patrick cleverly fitted in three bedrooms, one with a tiny en-suite and a family bathroom. However, this means the girls’ bedrooms are quite small, although Aideen already has a spacious fitted wardrobe at one end of the long narrow room. Therefore, ingenious storage solutions are the order of the day, as the girls have extensive collections of clothes and shoes and in Diane’s case, trainers!
When Patrick puts his mind to these tasks, he is brilliant. His self-trained carpentry skills are excellent and he has his architect brain to devise innovative solutions to the family’s various needs, be they, collections of books, sea shells, trainers or pressed flowers and frames!
I busy myself with my book and at the end of the day, create a pie with the left-over turkey and butternut squash to reinvigorate the workforce.
Today was a very unproductive day for me. I had intended to concentrate on my book but I barely wrote more than a page. Frustratingly, a lot of my day was spent on the phone trying to pay for a cooker. Luckily others were more productive than me. Patrick and James carry on with the shelves in the bedroom and make good progress. The bed/shelf construction is taking shape and suits the unusual shape of the room.
Meave, Aideen and Diane continue with organising to sell some of their unwanted clothes on Depop, a clothes selling app. This is a time-consuming process as the clothes have to be modelled, photographed and described, but if it means we have less clothes to fit into wardrobes, I will be happy.
I think the depressing news reports are beginning to get to me, so it might be time for some garden therapy…there is a limit to how much time I can spend inside before I go ‘stir crazy’, so maybe tomorrow I should plant some plants! I comfort myself that when reading Monty’s book (‘Down to Earth’) he mentions that he barely does anything in the garden in December, beyond opening and closing the greenhouse!