My trip to Great Dixter left me inspired with renewed determination to work even harder on the garden to make it as good as it can be. Spring is a wonderful time of year but the amount of jobs to do can ramp up alarmingly. At the moment, I am on my own because Aideen, who had been helping previously, is now fully employed clearing the site for the outbuilding. This is because we are having a large trial trench dug on the 4th May, followed by a Site Visit from Historic England on the 5th May. Unfortunately, the route of the 10m trench ploughs straight through two, old, concrete floor slabs, which were the remains of yet more horrible old sheds. We hadn’t even realised one of these slabs existed because it was hidden beneath soil and rubbish. These slabs have been laid on a conglomeration of unpleasant hard core which is difficult to remove. The result of this is everyone else in the family is fully occupied and at times I am asked to help as well.
However, someone has got to steer the garden from Spring to Summer and it is a big job that increases every year as the garden develops further. I am used to gardening on my own, but I could do with my days tripling in length in order to keep up to the standard I would like. Presently, I have to finish sowing the vegetable seeds (there is a long list!) and finish planting potatoes, which also means clearing beds. I have yet to finish weeding the biggest herbaceous border adjoining the field (I have three quarters left to do) and the rose border in the front field. I need to order straw-based manure to fill the mushroom house beds (not an easy task) ready to sow mushroom spawn. Half the vegetable garden needs clearing in readiness for planting and paths cleaning off. Someone will need to cut the box hedges and spray them with XenTari against box tree moth caterpillar. Imminently, I need to plant out sweet peas and finish putting gravel in the pumpkin patch – this doesn’t include the watering! In the midst of this, I am repeatedly on the phone to the hospital because we are hoping to get grandad discharged. I want him back now that his medicinal emergency is resolved, to bring him home before the effects of hospital impact on his mental and physical state. I am also trying to maintain my teaching and write my second talk…I am not short of things to do! Unfortunately, trying to remain in contact with the hospital impacts on my sowing schedule and my productivity is low. I manage to sow a tray each of leeks, swede, red cabbage and green cabbage, not a great result.
It is hard to explain how it can end up more stressful and time consuming having a relative in hospital than it would be having them at home, whilst giving them full-time care. My dad is in hospital for a relatively straight forward reason, which required some medical intervention. Unfortunately, I now have to be available to speak to doctors, nurses, OT’s and physios all day and I find it very stressful, I worry that I might miss a call. I have made it very clear that I want dad home as soon as possible because the longer he stays in hospital the more sad he will become, which gives the doctors and nurses the impression that he is not doing so well and makes it harder to get him discharged. I feel that we are in a ‘catch 22’ situation, made far worse by not being allowed to visit, which would reassure dad and give me an opportunity to explain things to doctors. Not surprisingly I am getting very little done in the garden because I am distracted by worrying about dad. I sowed a few more seeds, another tray of cabbage and a tray of Brussel sprouts, a rather pathetic effort.
What I need is my dad out of hospital, away from unnecessary investigations and intervention, all of which he has already received when he was first ill at the end of 2019. His wishes to be with his family, peacefully at home, should now be respected.
We did have a visit from the bee man who informed me that the swarm, split into two small boxes at present, is doing well. He thinks there may be a queen in each box and the bees seem content and calm. But our original colony are not happy and in fact, attacked the bee man in his suit and flew at his visor, so he decided to retreat. This could be due to losing their Queen or possibly, the bees are the progeny of the Queen mating with a nasty drone. If this situation doesn’t improve, he will remove the hive because he doesn’t want unfriendly bees in our garden!
Proper Rain at Last!
This morning, when I made my daily call to the hospital, I asked if it would be possible to speak to dad. The nurse set up a call an hour later and I was able to chat to him. This was great because I was able to reassure him that I was phoning every day and he should be discharged soon. He sounded quite good and seemed ‘with it’, which put my mind at rest. His proposed discharge day is now Friday.
Probably because I spoke to dad today, I was far more productive in the garden. I made lots of progress with the sowing and I am now moving trays down onto the polytunnel beds to give myself space on the bench.
Today, I sowed three, ‘40 cell’ trays of kale. I plant lots of varieties, in different colours and leaf shapes. Not only are they good to eat, but they look beautiful. I also sowed ‘40 cell’ trays of calabrese, chard, endive and two trays of chicory. I also sowed ‘84 cell’ trays of Toadflax, Achillea (Cassis), Tagetes (Starfire and Lemon Gem) and Nicotiniana. I also sowed a ‘40 cell’ tray of different nasturtium varieties. I then filled in spare places in existing trays with chrysanthemum and more polyanthas. This is much better progress.
Later in the day, it started to rain. This was proper, lengthy, penetrating rain that was desperately needed in the garden, after a few hours, the golden oregano was practically glowing with appreciation. The rain was probably less appreciated by Diane and Aideen who are still trying to clear up rubble!
Whilst I was teaching, Diane knocked on the front door to draw my attention to a scene of devastation in the organ pipe bed. My border edging hoops have yet to arrive and the badger has wreeked havoc in the bed. Multiple tulips have been felled like nine pins, polyanthas dug up and large holes were everywhere. This, combined with the serious frost damage on my baby magnolia, is very disheartening.
Everything looks refreshed this morning after the rain. I start my day by facing the damage in the organ pipe bed, it really is a sorry sight. Numerous tulips felled left, right and centre. Multiple holes where polyanthas have been partly buried or dug up, bits of newly emerging hosta broken off and even my only Exotic Erythronium (Pagoda) that managed to flower has broken off. It is very demoralising, badgers are no respecter of property. I sadly pick up broken blooms, carefully try to uncover partly buried plants and return compost into holes. I contact Harrod Horticultural to enquire about the whereabouts of my edging hoops and discover they are coming today. The gothic hoops arrive at lunch time and I start inserting them in the ground. They overlap each other to make a very attractive edging, gradually they will rust, which will blend in with our other metal work. They form a sturdy barrier which a badger would not fit through, but I am slightly worried the badger might climb over them as they are not very high. Also, I had not ordered enough so I will have to get some more. Hopefully it will work!
I then head off to the tunnel to continue sowing. My plan for today is to start sowing the root trainers with the more tender vegetables. I start by sowing five, deep, ‘32 module’ root trainers with Sweetcorn (Bodacious, Swift, Incredible and Rising Sun). I sow two root trainers with Runner Beans (Butler, Lady Di, Aurora, Firestorm and Firelight). Then two root trainers with Climbing French Beans, mainly my favourite bean, Borlotti, but also some Cobra. I then sowed 40 Butternut Squash (Butterscoth, Butternut, Harrier, Walthan Butternut and Tahiti Melon), 10 Jack O’Lantern pumpkins, 4 Hundred Weight Pumpkins, 2 Bennings Green Tint, 2 Custard White Patty Pans, 2 mashed Potato Squash, 2 Boer White Pumpkins and 2 Amora Squash. I am making good progress with the sowing – the bench is now filled with 30 large trays, 10 more trays are in the propagators and both raised beds are packed with dozens of pots, trays and root trainers amongst the crops already in situ.
The girls continue to work steadily on the site using a Kango hammer and driving the dumper. I help for a while as we try to shift the old saw bench which must weigh over a tonne. I have various conversations with the hospital and I also chat to dad who is becoming quite impatient, hopefully he will be discharged tomorrow.
At the end of the day, Aideen, Diane and Patrick start to draw up a list of what needs to be done before the site visit on Wednesday…the list is definitely over-optimistic. One thing I realise is that the top soil from the trial trenching is supposed to be added to the terrace (now the crocuses have finished) to even it out. Before this happens, I had planned to remove big weeds because we intend to then sow grass seed. When I look at the terrace, I realise it is infested with big healthy thistles, masses of them…maybe 21,000! Somehow, I need to get at least the early potatoes in the ground and remove these thistles before Tuesday!
Solid Gold Mushrooms!
We are hoping that Grandad will be discharged from hospital today. I speak to the hospital several times and although this appears to be the plan, there is no indication of when it will be, so we are on standby. Patrick is off work to help and the day starts with a grab lorry arriving to take away the hard-core. Patrick and Diane head off to the dump with a car full of old scrap metal. I head into the tunnel to finish off some essential sowing, the courgettes (Partenon and Zucchini) and lots of different varieties of sunflowers.
I managed to get Aideen to help with some ordering online; more gothic edging hoops (there didn’t seem to be a badger invasion last night!) and also, manure. There has been an ongoing dilemma over manure, I need straw based manure for my mushroom house beds, mushrooms do not like wood-shavings. However, it appears that straw-based manure is hard to source. Various suppliers could not guarantee that their manure was not wood-shavings based. In the end, we found some but it was very expensive, bagged manure rather than being supplied in a large bulk bag. I am embarrassed to admit how expensive the manure was, but at this late stage I had run out of options. Needless to say, these will be ‘gold plated’ mushrooms. The one advantage will be that because the manure is in bags, it will be much easier to put into the beds. Like so many things with ‘growing your own’, it rarely leads to saving money! I then returned to the garden to finish weeding a raised bed in which I plant the last of my ‘first earlies’ potatoes – Winston and Early Premiere.
I had just started laying chitted potatoes on the surface of the bed, having added three barrows of compost, when I heard the hospital transport arrive.
Dad was very pleased to be home, pointing out the chicken to the two ambulance drivers as he was wheeled into his house. I then spent some time settling dad in and he was soon joined by Pip, who took up her familiar place on his sofa to keep an eye on him. It is wonderful to have dad back in his annexe safely. I finally returned to my potatoes and finished the evening removing two barrows full of thistles from the terrace.
Aideen, Diane and Patrick worked incredibly hard cutting up a very large, old wood pile and stacking it in the shelter.
Presently, we are working to a tight schedule and trying to cross things off Aideen’s list before the Historic England site visit on Wednesday. This includes clearing vegetation (including trees) away from the lower orchard wall, on both sides, so they can view it clearly to decide on the method of recording the current condition of the wall. This recording process has to be carried out before any restoration work can commence. Clearing the wall is a major operation as it is completely overgrown with brambles and scrub on the field side.
Patrick, Aideen and Diane work heroically all day hacking away the undergrowth and taking down a seedling nut tree on the field side (they get everywhere!). The branches from the tree then make a useful infill in an area of bramble cover that had disappeared. This bramble presently forms a protective hedge between the field and our wall, but it was open at one point, maybe due to people trying to get a closer look at our garden. Having uncovered the wall on the outer side, the debate is reignited about whether the leaning section could or should be saved…it is in a perilous condition.
The site visit will also look at the arcaded wall, the trial trenches and we might walk around the kitchen garden as the Historic England representative has not seen it before. This means there are many things on Aideen’s list to do with general housekeeping, like removing unsightly heaps of rotting logs and any other piles of bricks, hard-core, organ pipes etc. that are lying around. It is physically impossible to have the kitchen garden in pristine condition but it would be good to clean off paths and take away very overgrown vegetation from the vegetable patch.
James comes over to help and he starts by barrowing gravel to me in the pumpkin patch. This is brilliant as it is so much quicker if you have a strong helper. We are done in a couple of hours and it looks lovely.
However, during this time I discover three webbing cocoons in one of the box ‘topiary’ bushes, each containing a reasonably sized box tree moth caterpillar! I knew we were getting to that time of year but this is the first sign of Box Tree Moth Caterpillars that I have found this year…one always hopes they won’t come back...wishful thinking! After the site visit we will have to cut the hedges and spray with XenTari…I will check supplies.
Aideen starts to clear rubble from the outbuilding site and James then goes to help her.
Remarkably, Janet (James’ mum) also comes to visit to help with the weeding. She is a very welcome visitor, she arrives with her own trug and tools and we are very grateful for her help! After the pumpkin patch is finished, I return to my mega-thistle removing operation. Generally, we make good progress and the day finishes late. Just before I go to bed, I realise that no one has put the chicken to bed and I have to post her back into her hatch at 1am!
Thistle Marathon Continues
The weather appears undecided today and at one point there was hail, fortunately the majority of the day turns out to be fine.
While it is still wet, I add a tray of 15 Tithonia (Mexican Sunflower) to my propagator. I am planning to mainly plant my sunflowers outside this year. I will put a few in the polytunnel but I will not swamp my cucumbers like I did last year! I have not planted sunflowers in the kitchen garden for years because I have been put off in the past by them having their tops bitten of by rabbits. Nowadays, it is rare to see a rabbit, so I will add them to my vegetables as companion planting and put them in the borders.
Whilst watering in the polytunnel, Aideen came to talk to me about her boat. She has now decided to set it up as a little studio where she can work on her pressed flower art. I think this is an excellent idea and it will make a very interesting feature in the garden. It will also alert visitors to the fact that there are pressed flower pictures, using Church Gardens flowers, being made by a member of the family, being sold to raise funds for the garden. I said she could become our ‘artist in residence’.
My days’ work is mapped out…to continue removing thistles from the terrace. It is a good job that I am a patient soul and that I have radio 4 to distract me. On Gardeners’ Question Time today there were extolling the benefits of a little light hand weeding as being good for mental health. I’m not sure they meant removing thousands of thistles from a 60m x 5m terrace!
I do not stop weeding until nearly 8pm, by which time I am being bitten by midges and my hands are sore and aching. I’ve still got some left to remove but not many, thank God!
Whilst I am crawling up and down the slope of the terrace on my hands and knees, Patrick, Diane and Aideen continue with operation clean up. There is strimming, mowing and endless tidying up. They all work extremely hard, I cannot begin to imagine how Patrick is coping with his various aches and pains.
However, I know there is nothing Patrick likes more than tidying up the garden. In fact, I have to keep an eye on him when he has the strimmer in his hand! Amongst this hive of activity, we are constantly popping into the annexe to check on Grandad. Grandad seems to be doing very well and spends the day watching the snooker with the cat!
In the evening, I bring in all the spinach from the polytunnel which is beginning to bolt, this was only one variety, the rest is behaving itself. This will be added to tonight’s curry made with mince, potatoes and peas.