Today would have been an Open day if we were in ‘Pre-Covid’ times. I would be concerned if we had been opening today because Easter is so early this year and there might not have been enough tulip bulbs open to make a good display. Also, the weather forecast was predicting snow and sleet! In fact, after some early flurries of snow/sleet and a chilly start to the morning, we ended up with a beautiful sunny day. Although the tulips were not at their peak, we do have a good tulip display on the mount, there are clumps of magnificent, giant, red tulips in the borders and other purple and cream tulips are coming out to join them. The tulip display beds are beginning to open as well, and as it is still so early, we have plenty of daffodils, hyacinths and grape hyacinths. Even the crocus terrace has a reasonable amount of yellow and white crocuses still blooming, although the more delicate Ruby Giants have faded. The wonderful mimosas are still blooming, the polyanthas are glorious and the auriculas are beginning to get going, so I think we would have had enough to show visitors.
Patrick, assisted by Aideen, carried on with Pecky’s run. I think Patrick was expecting this job to be relatively simple but it was very fiddly and took all day. However, the end result is brilliant and Pecky loves it. She seems happier in her new location, there is much more for her to see which is good because she is very nosey!
I decided to continue with preparing the pumpkin patch for gravel and Meave kindly barrowed some around for me. In the evening, when Meave and I were preparing dinner, (Roast beef with all the trimmings, including some of the last swedes from the garden) we were serenaded by Aideen. Aideen, amazingly, has got a gig playing a light classical/Disney recital on her harp and violin for a one-year-olds birthday partly and she wheeled the harp into the kitchen to play the programme through to us. This was a real treat and it was lovely to be on the receiving end of a mini concert.
Trying to Restart Teaching
I started today with administration. I sent emails to all of my pupils in the hope of going back to face-to-face teaching next week. Sadly, I fear that I will probably lose some of my students after such a long break because although I offered online lessons during lockdown, only a few took up this option. I was able to do about eight weeks of face-to-face teaching in the Autumn term but seven of my pre-covid pupils decided not to continue at that point and I suspect I will lose a few more after this lockdown. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on all aspects of the music industry, including music tuition, and I fear it will take a long time to recover.
Aideen is outside very early this morning in her overalls, sanding the bottom of her boat…quite a contrast from playing Disney music! However, I admire her versatility, it has always been necessary for musicians to have more than one string to their bow and in today’s climate it could not be more true!
Whilst I walk around outside I notice evidence of badger activity. Turf has been dug up in the orchard and the front field, this happens when they are hunting for worms. There are also the remains of tulip bulbs left scattered on the paving in front of the metal gate that links the front field to the kitchen garden. This is a previous badger entry point which is now blocked by a metal mesh, held in place by a heavy metal chair. I could picture the badger peering through the gate munching my tulip bulbs and eyeing up all of the beautiful tulips in the kitchen garden!
I walk around the front field admiring the mixed hedge and the daffodils, which are still glorious. I cannot believe how brilliantly the forsythia is flowering and I stare into its mass of yellow flowers. These are now beautifully set off by the dark red berberis leaves and the fresh green hawthorn. I’m pleased to note the hedge is full of singing birds.
I’ve decided to tackle the pampas today, removing the old plumes and also giving some of the lower foliage a bit of a haircut. This is to give my zigzag box hedge some breathing space. The Pampas have inevitably filled their planting triangles and the box hedge is swamped. I stand back to judge my handiwork and I think it looks OK, the Pampas doesn’t look as if I’ve given it a Mohican haircut!
The weather cannot make up its mind and changes back and forth from sunshine to snow, so I retreat to the tunnel to plant seeds. I plant a 40 module tray of beetroot (Bettolo, Detroit 2 and Boltardy), another 40 module tray of lettuce (Gustav’s salad, Clarion,
Relay, Little Leprechaun, Tuska and Robinsons Lactuca) and an 84 module tray of fenugreek, a new plant for this year. I also pot up 11 Babbington leek bulblets for the forest garden bed. At the end of the evening we notice that Pecky has not gone to bed again, so I scoop her up and post a fluttering, reluctant chicken through her hatch!
First Gig In a Year!
We seem to be going through a series of very cold nights and frosts. Last night went down to -5 degrees so it is a good job that I made Pecky go to bed! When I came out this morning there was an icicle hanging from the outside tap and shockingly, many of my beautiful tulips looked as if they had fallen over.
When I looked out into the front field it was the same story with the daffodils at the base of the hedge. I have been planting large amounts of bulbs for the last six years at Church Gardens and I don’t remember ever seeing this before. Prior to this, I didn’t really have decorative gardening at Church Gardens, just vegetables. I sincerely hope this doesn’t mean our personal tulip festival is stopped in its tracks before it even gets started! My baby magnolia, which had lots of big flower buds partially opened, has been burnt by the frost and the edges of its petals are browned.
I do notice by the end of the day that the daffodils and most of the tulips have started to stand up, but the big red tulips and purple ballerinas refused to open all day. These very low temperatures in Spring are a worry for people who are new to gardening and might plant things out too early. I’m very glad that I haven’t planted my ‘outside’ sweet peas or my replacement broad beans yet and I intend to err on the side of caution. What this weather does highlight is how efficiently the newly restored polytunnel protects the plants. Despite these low temperatures, it does not feel particularly cold in the tunnel, even if I open it quite early. It is now constructed of polycarbonate plastic which is far better insulated than a polythene sheet and so far, nothing in the tunnel appears to have been affected by the low temperatures, thank goodness!
Before I go into dad’s annexe to get him up, washed and fed, I take the opportunity to tie up all the sweet peas growing along the side wall of the tunnel to their supports and pinch out their tips to promote bushy growth.
Today is a very special day for Aideen as she has an actual playing engagement! As a result, she is not dressed in working clothes or overalls and she looks very clean and smart! She is giving a private recital on harp and violin of popular classics and Disney tunes for a one-year-olds birthday celebration. This performance takes place in a back garden, to an audience of three and by the end, her fingers were so cold she can hardly play.
However, it is a concert, although small, the parents loved it and I am delighted to see her playing again. I think this sort of gig could really catch on, what a lovely idea to have your own private concert in your garden and to hear a live musician again. I am very proud of Aideen who is determinedly ‘Keeping Calm and Carrying out’ having graduated in classical harp into an abyss! She has started a little online business selling her pressed flower art, she is restoring the Mayflower singlehandedly to potentially use in some sort of Air B & B and she is still working at the music school as a secretary as it struggles to re-open. She also does secretarial work for her dad, helps me in the garden and is working to prepare Church Gardens for our upcoming building and restoration project as we attempt to re-open to visitors to raise money for the garden and now she has started performing again…well done Aideen!
Whilst I wait for Aideen to come home and tell me all about her latest venture, I continue battling with the Pampas. I can see that there is a build up of dead, dry material that needs to be removed and now the little box hedge is being uncovered I can see it has suffered from being swamped. I will now need to spend some time giving my little hedge some TLC and generally tidying up the pampas beds and dealing with dead leaves.
For tonight’s dinner, Meave is cooking ‘Pesto meatballs’ and she requires fresh oregano…luckily there is some!
Church Gardens Under Siege!
On entering the polytunnel this morning I discovered that one of the root trainers at the back of the bench had been broken into! This is despite its lid being weighed down by a piece of glass! I now realise that the lid might not have been fitted over the modules completely, giving my O.M.G (Organised Mouse Group) an opportunity to sneak in. At least one good sweet pea was felled in the attack which involved them digging in the module to retrieve the seed pea. I come inside to cheer myself up by ordering the mushroom spawn. This comes from a nursery in Scotland and this year I am determined to order the correct amount which should be 100g per 0.5m2. I over ordered last year due to misleading catalogue directions. I have four, 3m beds giving me 12m2. Therefore I need 1200g of white button mushroom spawn and 1200g of Chestnut Mushroom Spawn. I can plant this in June or a little earlier if my mushroom house is frost free.
I then go out to Aideen, who is looking for my assistance, and on the way I pass a scene of devastation on our newly mown grass in the orchard. The badgers have been busy digging up the turf. I later discover holes all over my forest garden bed and a large hole full of annihilated tulips at the front of my organ pipe bed. By this time, I am so disheartened I nearly return to the house to do housework! Fortunately, I am distracted by pleas from Aideen.
I then go out to Aideen, she needs me to facilitate the removal of hundreds of bricks, blocks and roof tiles from the horrible bramble store besides the old chicken run. The plan is for her to stand in the area and pass things out to me, this will be much quicker than clambering in and out by herself. We load two barrows at a time and push them to the compost yard, which involves pushing up a hill, and stack the contents of the barrows onto pallets. Pushing heavy barrows all day is hard work but Aideen comments that we get a nice view of the Arcades on the way back…nice try Aideen! I hope to be back to gardening tomorrow! However, one very pleasant diversion was the presence of a very friendly robin hopping about us as we removed mossy, muddy bricks which were probably unearthing a good supply of bugs and insects.
A Sad Day
I started the day trying to finalise my teaching timetable, which as predicted will be reducing again. I had 27 students when I restarted in September and now I might be down to 20. Although this does make me sad, I am extremely grateful that I’ve got any pupils re-starting, I’m sure there are many music teachers worse off than me.
Aideen is keen that I continue to help her in the brambly store because there are still piles of heavy concrete blocks to move. This takes some time and we now have what looks like a little reclamation yard in the compost yard. This is no bad thing as it is surprising what ends up being recycled. For example, when we moved the chicken house, we set it on a base of old concrete blocks. I start to have ideas about our bug hotel which will be built into the end wall of the log shelter. These creations can look quite artistic and can be comprised of a variety of different materials. I mention that some of the things that had been in the brambly store could be used in the bug hotel rather than getting rid of them. This would be great because I don’t like having to take things to the dump if they can be recycled!
Whilst we are moving blocks, Patrick comes outside to inform us that the Duke of Edinburgh has died. Maybe I should have expected this as he has been ill of late, but I found the news very upsetting. We went inside to watch the coverage of his life on the TV which was excellent and very moving. I continued to feel very emotional all day and it brought back memories of when I heard about Princess Diana’s death. I was working at Church Gardens that day on my own, before we had moved in. I vaguely remember being up a ladder with the radio on. Although Prince Phillip had a long life, I felt so sorry for the Queen. Maybe I felt particularly affected because over the last year, we have lost so many of dad’s elderly friends. This, combined with watching my Dad’s and Aunt’s deterioration just brought it home to me the sheer sadness of them reaching the end of their lives. It is also incredible, and relatively unusual, that the Queen and Prince Philip were together for so long. Married for 73 years but friends since children, it is unimaginable how hard losing someone after all that time would be.
I decided to spend the rest of my time in the polytunnel, always a good place to be when in a contemplative mood. My new sweet peas had arrived and I sowed them into five root trainers (32 modules each). It is extraordinary how therapeutic it is to sow seeds whilst listening to the radio.
At the end of the day, I helped Aideen and Patrick clear the area inside our main gates to give us a spot to move our pile of recycled York stone to. Over the years we have collected a considerable amount of York stone and the eventual plan is to use it in the back courtyard. However, inevitably it is presently in the way of the new outbuilding. It will be a massive job to move it, but hopefully tomorrow we may have some help from some of the girls’ boyfriends!
Dry Stone Walling
Today is an early start and we have the massive bonus of some extra help, in the shape of James and Billy, who both arrive at 8am! It is impossible to overestimate the difference it makes having extra help when a big heavy job is on the agenda, especially when the extra help is young and strong! The team organised themselves very efficiently…Meave stationed herself at the York stone pile to pass the stone to James and Billy who loaded it into barrows and pushed the barrows to the new storage site, luckily, this was quite close by! Then they passed the stone to Aideen, who passed it up to Patrick (the new storage area is raised) to carefully stack in a wall of stone. Patrick then arranged the stone similarly to a drystone wall, with help from Aideen. Incredibly, the stone was shifted by 12 o clock (with a couple of tea and chocolate breaks), which was fortunate because this was when Billy had to leave. It would probably have taken Aideen and I a week to move it by ourselves!
Our friendly robin monitored the whole proceedings, hopping closer and closer. We also had a visit from a much bigger bird when a heron swooped into the kitchen garden to check out the fountain pond, luckily it doesn’t contain fish!
Whilst this wonderful dry stonewalling working is progressing, I go in the tunnel to sow seeds because it is very cold and intermittently raining. I sow a root trainer (32 cells) with asparagus peas and re-sowed some Golden Gem tagetes with a new pack of seed (my old seed had not germinated). I also transplanted any other varieties of tagetes that had germinated more than one per module into some empty modules in my cosmos and tomato trays. I am assuming I will be able to distinguish these plants when they get bigger, otherwise I will be waiting a long time for tagetes to produce tomatoes! However, I am determined to not waste any spare seedlings or propagating space (the transplants are going into modules where other seed has not germinated). The two trays of tomatoes have now moved out of the propagator which gives me space for two new trays. I plant another 84 cell tray of Zinnias and a mixed 84 cell tray of Asters (Balloon Mixed and King Size Apple Blossom), Cleome (Colour Fountain), Cephalana Giganta, Alyssom (Violet Queen), Amaranthus (Velvet Curtains) and Delphinium (Raider Pink Shades, Centurian Lavender and Centurian Sky Blue).
I then go and make a lunch of baked potato, beans and cheese. We eat together, by the fire in the compost yard, which was brilliant as it was so cold!
The work party have moved onto removing seedling elders growing through concrete and generally tidying up the old store area. After lunch I return to the tunnel and sow a tray of eight different varieties of nasturtium. I could never be without nasturtium in the kitchen garden as it is such a valuable companion plant, fantastic for pollinators and edible! I then sowed another mixed 84 cell tray of more Amaranthus (Crimson Fountain and Love Lies Bleeding), Centaurea Dealbata (Persian Cornflower), Gypsophila (Monarch White), Salvia (Blue Denim), Californian Poppy (Apple Blossom), Prickly Poppy and Poppy (Amazing Grey).
I finished up with another mixed 84 cell tray of Chrysanthemum (Rainbow Mixed), Flax (Charmer Mixed) and Godetia (Dream Double). By this time, it was after 6pm and I was freezing!
Before I came inside, I spotted Patrick having a scout around the kitchen garden for interesting items to put in his bug hotel, he is getting quite excited about the project. I pay a final visit to the compost yard where Meave has been tending the fire. It is much clearer now all the Budlejia cuttings have gone on the fire. We are surprised by some mysterious squeaking noises from the most recent compost heap but although we try to peer into it’s depths, we can’t see anything. However, I had noticed that a really big hole has been dug in last years capped compost heap which is big enough for a badger.
On my way back to the house, I look at Patrick’s neatly arranged wall of York stone, it looks like a sculptural installation.
Bug Hotel Construction
I was very keen to get started on the bug hotel today, but Aideen was trying to be sensible by keeping us on task with the job of clearing the site for the new outbuilding and processing and tidying up all the piles of logs around the orchard.
I trundled around the garden looking hopefully at our piles of old building materials destined for the dump, collecting interesting things for the but hotel. My plan being that, if I collect everything together then I might be able to tempt Patrick and Aideen off the ‘straight and narrow’ to come and build our insect refuge.
Later in the afternoon, Patrick is suffering with his foot and he really wants to play with the bug hotel, so Aideen relents as we hope this interesting project will distract him from his discomfort.
The three of us then have a very pleasurable time putting together this luxury resort for bugs. What we have planned is quite large because it fills the entire end wall of the log shelter. Apart from the fun we had coming up with a design and working out how to make it all stay in position, it was incredibly satisfying to find a use for so many things that would otherwise be dumped. We managed to use lots of logs of various sizes, several packs of cement tiles, various old engineering bricks, air bricks, normal blocks and bricks, a bucketful of broken bits of slate, some small bits of broken sandstone, bits of old pallet and scaffold boards, two decorative concrete wall blocks, an old tin bath with no bottom, broken terracotta pots and some old terracotta fan tiles. Most things we used had been dumped on the hard-core pile long before we moved to Church Gardens and there were some building materials so old that I couldn’t even put a name to them. It was so good to know that they were not just going to the dump and although they were no longer useful for building, all of their cavities, crevices and holes could be an ideal home for a solitary bee, some beetles, spiders or lady birds.
We were so engrossed that we didn’t come inside until 8:15pm, by which time the temperatures had dropped dramatically. Although despite the freezing temperatures, it was fantastic to have daylight at that time. We were not finished, but we were well on the way and Aideen and I plan to continue tomorrow. We will need to fill in some of the interesting cavities with lots of bamboo canes, this will give lots of potential nesting sites for bees which is good as Church Gardens is full of wild bees.