Oh dear, it is still extremely hot! After watering, I pause to admire the citrus trees in their new pots and then I pop down to the mushroom house to sprinkle the newspaper with water. After dragging myself away from the cool, gloomy depths of the mushroom house (there isn’t really an excuse for staying down there, however tempting), I decide to go up to the forest garden bed with Aideen hoping it might be at least in partial shade. Unfortunately, the forest garden bed is turning out to be considerably sunnier than I had expected.
First, I spread out the piles of cut grass which I intend to use as a mulch, not a very pleasant job in such extreme heat. Aideen stays firmly in the shade weeding. I decide to erect ‘pole wig-wams’ to support my sweet potatoes. This is not very easy as the poles are quite substantial and very hard to push into the soil, so I have to dig them in. I make four tripod wig-wams as I have 12 sweet potato plants.
I then make a final four pole wig-wam for my Mashua (tropaeolum tuberosum), which I’ve now learnt has edible tubers (it is a member of the nasturtium family).
This all helps to fill up some space which is what’s needed at the moment. I do not plant the plants at this point as it is far too hot. I feel myself feeling a bit unsteady and I notice I am getting sun burnt, quite unusual for me nowadays.
After lunch, I return to planting containers and plant out three pots for the children’s garden, two urns presently situated beside the fruit-cage and a small hanging basket that goes on the mock Tudor playhouse.
Finally, before I begin teaching, I carry Colin the cactus out to the polytunnel and give him some new compost.
When I finish teaching, I do some watering and I plant out the sweet potatoes and the Mashua.
Box Hedge Root Dilemma
The uncomfortable heat continues and now my watering is hindered by the pump for the rainwater harvesting system breaking down. This would not normally be a problem as I would just use the mains tap, but this requires several long hosepipes and they are presently set up in the orchard to water the new grass seeded area. I check on my small sweet corn, celery/celeriac and nicotiana companion plants and decide they will probably be ok until Thursday when rain is due.
Today Aideen makes a start on digging out the tulip bulbs from the display beds prior to me planting out the dahlias. In the morning, we have a visit from Derek and Sheila the blacksmith couple who have fabricated the fruit-cage, vine support and arches. This is to discuss handrails for the mount and also some shaped steel containers to fit into the box hedge enclosures next to the fountain.
These small areas have always presented a dilemma as you cannot plant straight into them because of the roots of the box hedge. The plan is for the metal container to fit into the enclosure made by the hedges and for it to finish a little higher than the top of the hedge. We would then fill it with soil and plant something pretty, maybe incorporating an obelisk in each container. It will certainly be a better solution than the few weeds these enclosures presently contain.
I then started to clear another large bed for beans, which are still waiting to be planted. I will have great fun trying to unravel them from their poles in the polytunnel! We keep going in the sun for a while, Aideen resorts to wearing a face mask to help with her dreadful hay-fever, this works quite well!
Eventually it becomes unbearable and I start working on a bed at the back of the house where there is more shade.
After my teaching, Patrick calls me outside to finish mulching the forest garden bed with the grass he has just cut and then I do some watering before cooking dinner. No peace for the wicked!
Today is hopefully the final day of hot weather and rain is forecasted this evening, thank God! Aideen and I decided to stay inside to finish the talk. We have tried to work on the talk in the evenings but we end up staying outside and the talk just isn’t getting done. I finished the text weeks ago, but it takes ages to edit and rationalise the text, so it flows smoothly. Also, finding lots of good quality, relevant photos is very time consuming. It also seems quite sensible to stay inside because of the heat and Aideen's terrible hay fever.
However, before we start, I do spend some time in the polytunnel dead heading sweet peas and tying in the cucumbers.
This involved starting a new ball of string which I find very exciting. I muse on the fact that my life is such that I find starting a new ball of string an event!
By the time I start teaching, we are both happy with the text and we have checked the photos that have already been selected. We have also made notes about which further ones to include.
When I finish teaching I will go outside to continue digging up the bulbs in the display beds.
Thank God the forecast was accurate, and it started to rain last night. Aideen and I were eager to get back outside and for most of the day we only had light showers, so working outside was not a problem. Aideen has been a complete hero today and has helped me in the garden all day. She started by finishing the weeding in the second bean bed that I started a couple of days ago. This is an annoying bed that is infested with fennel which is hard to remove. I was working in the forest garden bed planting things out and periodically she brought me some fennel that looked as if it might survive transplanting. Unfortunately, fennel has a tap root which makes transplanting difficult. I dutifully dug deep well watered holes for all of her offerings and hopefully some will take.
I was also planting out my Amaranthus seedlings which apparently have the most protein rich leaf of any veg and are good at surviving in higher temperatures, which means they could be a very valuable plant in these times of global warming. When Aideen finished the bed, she moved onto sorting out the dahlias prior to me planting them out. This involved weeding the tops of their pots, removing them from the cold frames and grouping them according to colour on the path. This can be tricky as they may have lost labels, so there is always a group classed as ‘unknown’!
I then moved onto planting out about 80 nasturtiums in groups all over the forest garden bed. One tray of nasturtiums was quite leggy, but hopefully they will rectify themselves.
I also noticed that a massive bramble had invaded my ‘bee friendly’ planting around the hives, so I waded into the undergrowth to remove it. The planting around the bees and viewing platform has really matured and the deutzias in particular were flowering beautifully.
Meanwhile Aideen had bravely moved onto the cannas. The canna pots had become ridiculously overgrown with weeds, so this was not an easy task. Having finished at the forest garden bed I realised that my weeding tool had disappeared. I had probably covered it accidentally with the grass mulch as I was planting. I wandered hopelessly about in the 40m long bed trying to spot it, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack! Thank goodness I bought more than one! I resolved to return later and headed off to finish planting the pumpkins and squashes.
Aideen had now moved on to the smaller display beds around the fountain, weeding and removing bulbs. This was incredibly helpful as it will give me clear beds to plant the dahlias. However, we notice that two of the dahlia beds have rotten boards, so we persuaded Patrick to replace them.
Aideen finishes the evening by dead heading roses. I finish planting the pumpkins and then return to the forest garden bed for another search for my weeding tool. I poke around the grass cuttings with a stick and miraculously, I find it! I go inside tired, muddy but happy!
One Extreme to Another!
Today, the weather is horrendous, heavy rain all day. Aideen, very sensibly decides to stay inside to finish putting together the images for the talk. I decide, very unwisely, to go outside. My first outfit for contending with this weather consists of shorts (I’m thinking my legs are waterproof!), my new, supposedly waterproof, jacket, a shower cap and my new waterproof Birkenstock clogs.
I am outside before 8:00am and my first job was to try to rectify the damage caused by the rain in the fruit tree border. Peonies, delphiniums and the giant achilleas were flailing about all over the place.
I spent two hours trying to tie things up and support them also taking the opportunity to remove the worst of the large weeds. We are suffering terribly with cleavers but in this area there are also giant thistles, nettles and a wild clematis! However, I did find one ripe cherry which I ate!
I came in prior to getting grandad up and I was dripping. The jacket was not waterproof, the Birkenstock’s filled up with water like two boats and the shower cap didn’t work either!
After getting dad up, I tried a different outfit; plastic trousers (supposedly waterproof), a different jacket, my Auntie Jean’s hat and my big boots. This time I went outside the front of the house. First, I weeded the front areas of the organ bed and the small bed by the front door. Then, I tackled the long bed that stretches from the main gate to the front door. This bed has been completely neglected since we dug out the parking area. Its edging has been moved out and it needs extra soil. Unfortunately, the salvias that had been growing between the hibiscus bushes were all killed in the cold spell and needed digging out. Another problem was some rampant flowering ground elder in my hydrangeas. This bed was hard work, but a job that desperately needed doing. I was soon soaked again, but Auntie Jeans hat was an improvement on the shower cap.
I then moved into the back courtyard and continued to weed the beds outside the house, again neglected since last year. I regretfully decided to remove my vulnerable sage that lived in an equally vulnerable, rotten, half barrel. It was very badly damaged in the cold spell, along with all the other salvias. Although it had grown back to some extent, it was past its best. By removing this container, which fell apart as soon as I tried to move it, the whole area was opened up. I am hoping to create a whole new look with the salvaged terracotta pipes from the orchard and the metal obelisk that I won in the Passionate Plotter competition in 2019.
Part way through this section of weeding, I changed into another pair of plastic trousers and another jacket! By this time, I am cold, soaked to the skin, filthy and almost beginning to wish it was hot again! What we need is normal weather, neither excessively hot nor ridiculously wet, have we got climate change to thank for this?
After a very late lunch, I went out into the Kitchen Garden and started to weed the manuka beds which are largely infested with seedling salsify. Salsify have very attractive, purple flowers, but these quickly turn to fluffy seed heads which need to be avoided and are the cause of why we have so much salsify.
It was a relief to come inside!
Everything was wet outside today after yesterday’s rain, but further rain held off until the evening. Patrick, Aideen and I walked around the garden first thing assessing what needs to be done before our first guided tour on Thursday and deciding what jobs to do for the day. Patrick is going to finish replacing some rotten boards on the dahlia beds and put up my bean poles amongst other things. Aideen is grabbing the pause in the rain to fix mosaic tiles to the risers of the steps to the paradise garden.
We’re all given a bit of a shock when a couple arrive at the front door talking about a guided tour! Luckily, they did not mean today! They were out on a recce for the group that is coming on Thursday… I’m afraid they did not see us at our best!
I started the day adding some gypsophilla and ammi plants to my pots beside the pond where I notice an amazing sight… multiple dragonfly nymphs clinging onto the leaves of the bulrush. It looked as if they had all climbed out of the water together. At first, I thought that the dragonflies had not hatched out, but after staring at them intently for some time, I decided that these were empty ‘shell bodies’ clinging to the leaves. It was an amazing sight and a tribute to the pond for providing such a good dragonfly habitat.
Whilst awaiting my beanpoles I continued to weed the manuka beds. The manuka plants have grown quite tall and have been flowering for ages. Unfortunately, the bean poles are a little late in arriving because of all the other ongoing projects in the garden. As a result, the beans have been growing in their root trainers in the polytunnel. The delay in planting means that the beans have climbed up the tunnel tomato support poles entwining together and have rooted into the bed through the base of the root trainers. When the poles were installed, I started on the complete nightmare of trying to untangle the plants. I do my best, but some plants snap and are lost. Sadly, all the beans look quite miserable when they are planted out. I manage to plant out the two root trainers, but it was a long, fiddley and depressing job, I can only pray that they will pick up.
Aideen manages to cover all the risers with tiles, and they look fantastic, she then covers her work for the night.
Patrick manages to fit in some final mowing and then attempts to clear a bed before darkness falls.
All hands on deck!
I think the reality of preparing the garden for re-opening to the public and putting on a new zoom talk at the end of this week is beginning to dawn on us. There is so much to do…
I continue to try to untangle and plant my beans, and finish preparing the dahlia beds. I then start to sort out all the dahlias and cannas and arrange them in the beds. Aideen carries on weeding the potatoes and then the onions. Luckily, later in the day Meave returns home and joins her. Patrick and Diane keep weeding beds and Mary arrives later in the afternoon and helps them.
When we come in, we try a ‘run through’ of the new talk. This goes quite well but inevitably the consensus of opinions is ‘It needs more photos!’. Everyone starts trawling through their phones for extra images…it is amazing how time consuming it is to find the best photos. It is also frustrating to find that some things were never recorded.
Then I realise that I am due to give a rendition of the original talk the next day. I had completely forgotten about this and had intended to spend the day planting Dahlias! I start to panic… I am teaching on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening, we need to bake cakes and I am due to play my bassoon on Saturday, so it might be a good idea for me to get it out of the case and check I have a reed that works!
Well, it wasn’t very good weather considering it was the longest day of the year! We all got up really early (6:00am), which was unfortunate as I went to bed really late (2:00am). Meave had booked a day off work to help in the garden, but she doesn’t really ‘do’ early, so she appeared a couple of hours later.
I started planting out the dahlia beds, this is quite a big job. There are four large beds and four smaller beds, all containing dahlias and cannas. I was worried that this may take all day, especially as from 1-3:30 Aideen and I had to come in, get cleaned up and present the talk and I was due to start teaching at 6:00pm. Luckily, Meave had volunteered to help me… when she surfaced. Meave has never planted anything before, so I showed her how to remove the plants (some very large and heavy) from their pots, how deep to plant them and what to do if they needed support. She did very well and thanks to her, we finished the dahlia beds before going in for the talk.
Diane was running around doing numerous jobs, a bit of painting here, a bit of weeding there. She very helpfully tidied up the edge of the forest garden bed, no mean feat, where she made a tiny friend. We have numerous robins at Church Gardens and one little fella in particular is very confident and was constantly hopping very close to where she was working. I think he particularly likes the grass mulch which attracts lots of insects.
After the Talk, we had a late lunch which was a beautiful meal prepared by Meave. It included lots of broad beans and peas from the garden, mixed in with salad, couscous and mint, salmon, and roasted small potatoes in rosemary – delicious! We then went back out into the rain and we all carried on weeding and weeding and weeding!
In the evening Diane managed to get locked in the Kitchen garden whilst collecting strawberries and Patrick manages to get shut in the chicken run putting Pecky to bed!
Help from the whole family!
Today, we were up a bit later because everyone is tired, not surprisingly! I am glad to say the weather was much better, dry and quite warm. I started off with some renovation work on my alpine beds, cutting back a rather rampant Euphorbia that was covering most of my old bottle bottoms. After weeding and adding some fresh gravel, it was time to put up the marquees.
Would they fit into the back courtyard with the new chicken run? Just about! Pecky took a keen interest in proceedings as Patrick, Diane, Aideen and myself put up the marquees. It should be said that I am almost completely useless at this job, but I can help lift up the roof!
Everyone was busy all day, including Patrick, who took most of the day off. He was strimming in the orchard, weeding in the vegetable garden and cutting back weeds on top of the arcades. It is also very satisfying to see that the grass seed is coming up on the terrace which is brilliant and very good timing!
Diane was very busy as usual and she took out all of the succulents from the polytunnel, removed their dead leaves and arranged them beautifully on the outside table, she also cleaned out the mock Tudor playhouse, which inevitably had been invaded by spiders.
Aideen was weeding vegetable beds, sweeping paths and brushing the dead leaves off the box hedges.
I weeded the lettuce beds and planted out the swedes, companion plants and lots of cosmos. Everything is beginning to look lovely, although, there will always be more weeding to do, thank goodness I’ve had help from the whole family.
I ended the evening practising, an almost unheard of occurrence, but I have to try and get my lip used to playing before Saturday. Lockdown has got a lot to answer for, I’m sure I’m not the only musician who doesn’t practice if there are no concerts! There must be a lot of rusty players out there!
Late Night Baking
Today was a very long day, I was up soon after 6am and I am too embarrassed to say when Aideen and I went to bed. She took charge of the baking but I stayed up with her as her sous chef, washing up, grating chocolate etc.!
It is a month since we had the film crew here, for which we had a massive clear up and none of us can believe that everything is so messy again. It would be wonderful if paths stayed swept!
I begin my morning tidying up in the polytunnel, tying up all the tomatoes, again! They are growing very fast. Then I weeded around the peppers and aubergines. I then cleared two bays of cold frames, added manure and planted out ten melon plants.
I then spent the majority of the day planting things out; one tray of Endive, one tray of Chard and two trays of chicory. I then plant out over a hundred tagetes and marigolds in the potato beds and around the chard, chicory and celery. Meave makes an amazing lunch of broad beans mashed with lemon, garlic and olive oil which was then served on toast with chilli flakes and sundried tomatoes, amazing!
After my teaching, I tidy up the edge of the wildflower meadow and weed one of the short beds around the fruit-cage.
After work, Meave joins us and weeds the fruitcage. Apart from baking, Aideen was weeding, dead heading and sweeping. Patrick and Diane slogged away all day and I finished by weeding on the mount.
First Guided Tour Visit!
I crawled out of bed this morning, aching all over and exhausted. However, the effect of adrenaline is wonderful! I finish the washing up and generally attempted to spruce up the kitchen. Diane and Patrick had been up at 5am and they were roping off areas that visitors shouldn’t visit, sweeping etc. and Diane was cleaning our visitor toilet, weeding etc. Aideen was sorting out the refreshments, the vintage crockery, urn etc. I was just trying to help everywhere and I finished up by removing obvious large weeds from the borders, trying not to mess up the newly swept paths.
Our first visitors arrived 20 minutes early! We had 39 people which we split into two groups and I started the first guided tour almost on time. It was quite a challenge to get the group around the garden in a reasonable time. My tour is about 1 hour and 15 minutes but it can be quite tricky moving people along! Also, we now have more things to show people so I brought the group back for refreshments about 15 minutes late. I then immediately set off with the next group. The group was very enthusiastic and interested in everything. I was particularly pleased that they were very keen on the new compost yard and everyone was very complimentary about Patrick’s rustic fence!
As a family, when we visit gardens, we are always intrigued by the ‘behind the scenes’ workings. This was why I wanted to make the compost yard accessible to visitors and this seems to have been the right decision. They also seemed engaged by the forest garden bed despite no-one knowing what forest gardens were!
All in all, it was a successful event and the feedback at the end of the tours was very encouraging. One gentleman was particularly pleased about us mentioning Milton, pointing out that many people haven’t even heard of Milton.
The group departed at about 4:30pm, having bought quite a few guidebooks. We were tired, but happy. The 24th June is our wedding anniversary (32 years) and Grandad’s birthday (89 years), so we took some chocolate cake to grandad and had a glass of wine on the mount.
2nd Zoom Talk
Tonight, we are giving the first public rendition of our new Zoom talk, ‘Church Gardens – Going Public’. This talk has taken a long time to put together and we were still going through it this morning; reading through, making corrections and adding images. Aideen and I are both very tired.
We work on the talk together until about 2pm then I go outside. I finish planting cosmos around the beans, but then become distracted by the multitude of little caterpillars munching their way through the leaves of the jostaberries.
I spend ages picking them off before taking the asparagus peas out of the tunnel to plant out. I have cleared an area of bed next to the broad beans that I hope will give enough space to plant these very attractive plants. I have never grown asparagus peas before and they have a very pretty, dark red flower.
Whilst watering earlier in the day, I noticed three, very beautiful, green dragon flies laying eggs in the pond. Maybe these are the dragonflies that left the nymph body shells attached to the bull rush leaves.
Just after 6pm I come in to get cleaned up for the talk. It was lovely to see our friends gathering on the screen and the talk went off without a hitch, except for Bella running past the window barking! She does like to be involved!
After the talk, I went off to do some practice, because scarily, I have got to spend the day playing my bassoon tomorrow. We have four hours of playing scheduled, including two symphonies…at present I think my lip (the vital muscle for playing a wind instrument) might last an hour!
The Bassoon Emerges
I was up early this morning in an attempt to get dad safely up and breakfasted, and the plants thoroughly watered before setting off for a day of bassoon playing. I have very mixed feelings about this, I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, some of which I have played with for 40 years, but I am doubtful about my stamina. Apart from the last few days, I haven’t played for 15 months! This is very naughty, but I’ve been rather busy and I tend not to practise if I do not have a concert on the horizon. Today, we are supposed to be playing Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony, Brahms 2nd Symphony, Brahms Tragic Overture, Ruy Blas Overture, Kodaly Hary Janos Suite, Rossini William Tell Overture, Dvorak Slavonic Dances!
This is a terrifying number of notes but I am looking forward to playing the music. As anticipated, it was lovely to see my friends and painful to get through that quantity of music. Fortunately, the conductor had one Dvorak Slavonic Dance score missing, so we only played four dances as opposed to 8! However, all repeats were in!!!
Amazingly my lip lasted, but it was sore, as were my cheeks and my thumb – bassoonists have many thumb keys to deal with.
When I came home I was delighted to discover that most of the ‘wild flower’ vegetable beds had been weeded, this means I can start planting the brassicas which are very late going out. When I arrived home, I planted out a huge bed with three trays of kale, with cosmos as companion planting.
Whilst I was doing this, everyone was helping. Aideen was dead heading, Patrick was replacing rotten boards on the raised beds, Diane was tidying and Meave and her boyfriend Billy brought out barrows of compost to put on the newly cleared beds. This is fantastic because now the whole process of planting out has accelerated and I will be able to get the remaining vegetables and companion plants into their beds far quicker. Whilst checking my planting diaries for last year, I noticed the brassicas were planted out in mid-May, so I am much later this year. However, every year is different and the 2021 season got off to a late start because of the extended early cold spell and the very wet May. I think the brassicas (cabbages, kale, sprouts, calabrese and swedes) will be fine but I certainly do not want to delay planting them out any further.
Today, I want to get outside quite early to carry on planting the brassicas. We have another guided tour visit on Monday and I would like to get that quarter of the vegetable garden into a neater state. Amusingly, one of our visitors last Thursday asked me if I did any weeding! He did not mean anything critical with his comment but he was standing in the area of the vegetable garden that was yet to be cleared and planted out. It was full of self-seeded companion plants from the previous year.
There is a generally naturalistic and overflowing look to my planting in beds and borders, and there are certainly weeds…but I only have one pair of hands! However, it is hard to describe the quantity of weeds that we remove. After jokingly pretending to be offended, I suggested that he looked at the compost heap which is a mountain of what has been removed from the garden.