• Kay

Early Christmas Presents


After a late start, (I do sometimes have to attend to non-garden matters, unfortunately!), I receive a delivery of the final plants for the Forest Garden border. This was the largest part of my plant order which I’ve been eagerly awaiting for some time (I made the orders in October). These are the plants from the Agroforestry Research Trust in Dartington, Totnes. This nursery is attached to the forest garden run by Martin Crawford, probably the UK’s leading expert on forest gardens. Many years ago, (2006) I slipped away for a rare weekend break, not for a ‘spa trip’ but to a ‘forest gardening’ course run by Martin Crawford in Dartington. Therefore, it seems appropriate that the majority of my own forest garden plants are coming from him. I spent ages going through the five large cardboard boxes checking off the plants and carefully placing them outside ready for planting tomorrow, as the weather is miserable today.

Most of the plants do not look very promising in their dormant state…James will have a field day teasing me about my latest collection of twigs, but they feel like early Christmas presents to me.

The names of these plants are very evocative and later next year, I’m sure the plants themselves will grow to match their intriguing names. Today’s delivery included two different varieties of Cornelian Cherry, a ‘Blue Violet’ damson, an Autumn Olive, two Gaultheria Procumbens, a Sumach, two Daisy Bushes, a Juneberry, two Pineapple Guava, two Japanese Wineberries, black and red Goji bushes, a highbush cranberry, an Arctic Kiwi, two Groundcover raspberries, a Creeping Dogwood, ten Rosa Rugosa, Danish Spoonwort, two Soloman Seals, the herb ‘Patience’, one small leaved lime, wild ginger, a burnt jelly plant, two Mountain peppers and a winter bark, a Chaste Tree, Potentilla Fruiticosa, three varieties of Mint (Swiss, Black Pepper and Chocolate) and last but not least, a small pack of Babington Leek bulblets. I am incredibly excited about this new venture, with its wide variety of interesting and useful plants and I cannot wait to share it with our visitors next year.

After this, I returned to the polytunnel to continue tidying up tomato plants whilst listening to Gardeners Question Time. The polytunnel is beginning to look much more tidy now. Before I came in, I went out into the vegetable garden to collect things for dinner, leeks, red cabbages and swedes. Tonight’s dinner will be beef cooked in Guinness, with dumplings, mashed swede and red cabbage & apples.


A Clever Collie


I did manage to go for my run this morning and I seem to have acquired my own personal trainer…Bella! Bella (our collie) runs in front of me along the paths, rather like the trainers of boxers who are often seen riding their bikes in front of their fighters to spur them on. Bella will only run just fast enough to stay in front, so periodically I have to say her name so she moves a little faster and I don’t trip over her. I then noticed something very amusing as we reached the top of the garden by my blue bench, Bella took a short cut and ran diagonally through the vegetable beds, thus chopping off the corner of my circuit. She did this every time, peeping out from between the box hedges to see where I was before continuing down the path just in front of me! It took me a few laps to realise what she was doing, but it really made me smile, which is much needed when I am trying to run! After getting grandad up, I had to go for a flu jab. I’ve never had one before but I had received a letter recommending it for those over 50. Diane went to the Co-Op and picked up some roses to refresh my wreath (2 bunches of 12 for just £10, half price!). I always put roses in my Christmas wreath but this year it had been created totally from the garden, including the roses. However, it is asking a lot from normal garden roses, already having been battered by rain and frost, to last very long once cut. Some of the buds were still fine after a week but I added in my new ‘bargain’ roses which Diane had chosen to suit the colour in the wreath, a white/pink and an orange/red and they look gorgeous. The wreath will last well if the temperature is low, but it is presently very mild which does not assist preservation.

The weather was not as good as expected today but had started to clear by 12. I decided I should plant out the ‘bare rooted’ plants I received yesterday. This included the 10 Rosa Rugosa’s, 2 Cornelian Cherries, the ‘Blue Velvet’ Damson, the small leaved lime, the high bush cranberry, the juneberry and the red Goji. I do have a plan for this bed, but there was a delay whilst I tried to identify some of the plants already in situ. There was a nasty moment when I couldn’t find my precious ‘Paw Paw’ and found a stem/root lying on the soil surface! Luckily it was just a discarded root and the Paw Paw was soon discovered safe and sound, as was the Thimbleberry. The plants will soon have clearly painted wooden labels, similar to the vegetable garden, which will make identification easier. James and Aideen are still barrowing leaves and James comes over to view my ‘sticks’. He has now decided to rename the Forest Garden bed the ‘Garden of Optimism’! He of little faith. My plan is quite flexible and I decide to plant my Rosa Rugosas on either side of the short path approaching the proposed site of the wooden arbour. This structure will be in the centre of the bed and will contain a plan of the whole bed on the back wall, with details about the plants. I think this will also give a focal point to the bed which is always helpful from an aesthetic point of view.

When I return to the polytunnel, something cataclysmic has occurred (well, at least in my world). One of the large oranges has fallen off the tree. I pick it up and give it a sniff…yes a distinct smell of orange…it isn’t plastic!

I bring it inside reverently to show everyone and they are suitably impressed. I will share it out later! I’ve also brought in a tray full of the most ripe tomatoes. I will prepare a tomato salsa and a red cabbage/red onion/ beetroot salad to have with tonight’s lasagne. The whole family gather to listen to Boris at 4pm. It is very sad and worrying news and effects everyone’s plans for Christmas. Thank goodness that at least our immediate family are together and I send all my love to everyone for what will be a much quieter Christmas than usual.


The Battle of the Sexes (Pampas)


Today looks like a ‘good weather’ day which is brilliant because I think we need to get outside, away from the depressing news reports! I am so close to the end of the bulb planting marathon and it would be great to get the job done by Christmas. I go down to the basement to sort out the final tray of Orange Dynasty and Mistress Mystic. When I ordered these bulbs to plant into the display beds in 2019 (and bloom in 2020) I would have ordered 300 per bed, 1200 in total. We dug them up when the leaves had died down and stored them, ready to replant them elsewhere the following year. What I have not previously mentioned is that the majority of the bulbs are no longer singular. The original bulbs have two or three bulblets attached, so they will probably produce three slightly smaller tulips rather than one large tulip. Also, many small bulblets have dropped off and also require planting. This means I am actually planting far more than 1200 bulbs! However, this year I am mainly planting bulbs in closely packed groups, by forking up a section of soil and placing a cluster of bulbs in the soil. This will result in the tulips coming up in closely planted bunches so I hope this will look OK, but it was not realistic to attempt to plant each bulb individually!

I split the bulbs into two buckets for the final two sections of the central border and off I go. James and Aideen go back outside and a little later, I am called in for tea. Having decided to drink our tea outside in the sun, I come down the slope into the Kitchen Garden and slip on a peach stone and fall onto my knee tipping the majority of my hot tea onto my arm! Luckily, apart from a bruise and a mildly scalded arm, I am OK, but I cannot believe I slipped on a peach stone! I only managed to produce about four peaches this year, what are the chances of slipping on one of their stones!!!

Towards the end of the day, I come across a pampas seedling where I want to plant bulbs. I try to dig it out and managed to retrieve it with reasonable roots intact. I have plans for these Pampas seedlings and I wheel my barrow around digging them all out. The mature Pampas grass plants are situated two on each side of the Central border. The four Pampas are supposed to give a dramatic, fountain like focus to the triangular design of these mirror borders. Three of the Pampas do this very successfully, however, one has always been disappointing. It is smaller and its plumes are always ‘dirty looking’, not magnificent and white like it’s companions. I consulted the RHS advice line about a year ago to see if they could explain the problem. Their suggestion was that it was probably a male plant and the rest were female! They suggested I could remove it and take a third away from the remaining three plants to create a new plant. This seemed very daunting, the plants have grown well since 2017 and are massive. My plan was to remove the front of the male plant and insert the seedlings which seem to be producing nice, white plumes like the females. This is not a perfect solution but may improve the situation. I only get as far as removing the front of the plant, it is hard work, Pampas are very tough and their leaves are like razors! I push the baby Pampas into the polytunnel for the night, I will continue with the job tomorrow.


Benefits of Books!


Today started most unpromisingly, with persistent drizzle that looked set in for the day. Patrick commented yesterday, having returned from walking Bella, that he feels the fields are wetter than they used to be. There must be lots of water in the fields because the stream in the orchard is running fast and broadening at points. I do not hold out much hope for working outside but after feeling guilty about the baby Pampas lying in a wheel barrow in the polytunnel, I decide to venture out. I quickly realise the weather is not too bad and get busy clearing the front of my ‘dirty plumed’ male Pampas to make room for my hopefully female seedlings. When I’m finished, the Pampas doesn’t look too bad, it looks like it’s had a rather ‘punky’ haircut.

Encouraged by this progress, I decide to stay outside, I don’t need much encouragement! I carry on preparing the final section of the central bed to receive the last of the ‘old display’ bulbs. When I finish this job, I collect the last few bags of tulip bulbs from the Parkers order and plant out the six containers around the two troughs outside the polytunnel and the small bed outside the house…another 80 bulbs…we really are reaching the end now!

When I came in, I put up the final Christmas tree in the extension, number 6! Luckily, this is a small tree but the most sentimental, as it displays some very old decorations that belonged to my mum and the decorations that used to be on Meave’s tree when she was little and loved everything lilac!

Whilst decorating the tree I am listening to radio 4 as usual, and I hear an item about improving mental well-being and reducing stress and anxiety, which has been put on to try and mitigate the relentless stream of depressing news reports. I am very happy, but not surprised, to hear that they are strongly recommending spending time outside which is apparently good for us in every way. But then they go on to say the other thing that is really beneficial to people is…BOOKS! Hurray, vindication at last! I am always trying to convince the rest of the family that being surrounded by books is a good thing, now I can point out that according to this report, my books will have a positive effect on everyone’s well-being! This is very good news as we are presently (or should I say, Patrick and Diane) are trying to construct enough shelves in the kitchen to house my cookery book collection. James has commented that practically the only things in the kitchen are cookery books. I have tried to explain before that just the presence of the books makes me happy, now I have expert proof!

Tonight’s dinner will be incorporating the latest butternuts that need eating, a chicken thigh tray bake with squash, yellow pepper, red onion and loads of garlic. The chicken is dipped in a sweet chilli/garlic sauce which I make using the tray of mango chutney from our latest Indian Takeaway, into which I mix three of our chillies and plenty of garlic. I find this is a good way to use up this mango chutney, I don’t like waste! The chicken was served with a side of Lyonnaise Potatoes.


Planting bluebells in the dark


Today, we have a bit of a break from the rain, which has turned areas of our back garden into a skating rink, I fell over again yesterday coating myself in wet mud! I get outside a bit late because of helping Diane to fill the new book case in the Kitchen. This is quite tricky as I like to keep some books grouped together if they are written by a particular chef, but the books are often different sizes. These shelves are now home to Elizabeth David, Jane and Sophie Grigson, Keith Floyd, The Hairy Bikers, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Delia amongst many others. It is very easy for a bookaholic like me to become distracted when sorting out books. I had already gone to bed extremely late, or should I say early, because I became absorbed in a giant book about Dale Chihuly garden installations whilst moving books around last night. Chihuly, (a glass artist) in my opinion, is quite possibly the world’s greatest living artist and was exhibiting his exquisite glass sculptures at Kew last year which were breath-taking. Finally, I tear myself away to make the most of the relatively dry weather.

First, I plant the remaining tulips into the beds around the back of the house, weeding as I went. I also decided this would be a nice place to plant the 45 Oxalis Adenophylla bulbs. This is a very pretty plant which is recommended for a sunny spot, as it is not invasive like some varieties of oxalis. I then planted the Exotic Erythroniums outside into the organ pipe bed. Although it was getting a little late in the day, I decided to replace the Yew hedging plants that did not survive in the salvaged Yew hedge planted around the compost yard. These Yew had originally been dug up and put in a skip and we rescued them (with permission) and replanted them last year, generally they have thrived. We lost one plant right at the start but now another five have expired. This is not a bad result considering there were over 50 in the beginning. I replant them with some new plants, that I bought recently. The light is fading and I suddenly realise that today is Dec 22nd, therefore, yesterday was the shortest day! Hooray, from now on the days are getting longer, I celebrate by fetching the bluebell bulbs and make a start on planting them. These are being planted alongside the new Yew hedge…I wonder how many I can plant before it gets dark, there are 450 of them! It is very pleasant in the orchard at this time, peaceful but not quiet. I can hear the stream running quite strongly and various birds singing their final songs before bedtime. The robin who live around the compost yard are particularly vocal and have the most beautiful songs. I can also hear the crows flying high over my head, clucking before landing in the tall trees on the arcade to roost. I was hoping to finish planting the bluebells, the final bulbs to be planted this year, but soon I am going by touch more than sight so I stop with 100 bulbs to go. Also, I find two stray bags of ranunculus in this box which will need a home. They will have to wait until tomorrow.

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