Last night, Patrick decided to switch off the water going into the pond. We made a note of where the water had reached and we will check it if has dropped below this level by the morning. If the level drops, we know that we have a leak and considering the liners eventful delivery, we have reason to be mindful. I’m pleased to report that come the morning there was no sign of a change in the water level – thank goodness!
Before switching the water back on, Patrick wanted two paving slabs (wrapped in spare liner) placed on the bottom of the pond to serve as a base/foundation for the legs of the ladder which we will use for climbing into the pond. Poor Aideen was given the job of placing the slabs which meant she had to put her feet in very cold water! Patrick then asked her to walk around the base to see if there was a deeper end. Aideen obliged but with considerable squeaking about the temperature! We then put the water back on.
Tomorrow is forecasted thunder and heavy rain all day, so Patrick rigged up a very long drainage pipe linked from the drain pipe on the workshop to run into the pond. This will enable us to take advantage of an extra water source.
Today, we had a big group visiting from Sarrat U3A. This group have visited the garden before but they were mainly new members. We had to split the group in half and I did two consecutive guided tours to cope with the numbers. This is quite hard work but it is brilliant to have such a large group (47 people). They were lovely people and most appreciative, they were particularly pleased to see a large Painted Lady butterfly.
After they left and we had eaten lunch, I retreated to the music room to have a good tidy up before I started my teaching. The music room has been a bit of a dumping ground over the summer holidays and all 'visit related' detritus has found its way into my room. There are boxes of guidebooks, leaflets, a gazebo, fairy lights and all of Aideen’s harp equipment. After a couple of hours of tidying, the room looked much better and I was ready for teaching…then I remembered I never arranged for a piano tuner to visit!!!
Tour and Talk
Today I overslept, waking at 8am, not good as we had a visit at 10:30am from the Friends of the Chorleywood House. There have been some questions about today’s visit because of the forecast, which was heavy rain and lightning. In the end, it is decided to go ahead, this is good because we have already baked the cakes!
It is raining when the group arrives, so I conduct the first part of the tour under the marquee. We then set off and the rain doesn’t seem too bad! However, by the time we reach the mount, the rain is torrential. Diane comes out to offer me an umbrella but I decide to rely on Auntie Jean’s faithful hat! I ask the group if they wish to continue or break for refreshments, they vote to continue. This is a brave decision as the heavy rain continues for the rest of the tour. I offer them the opportunity to return to shelter several times but they are a hardy bunch and we complete the tour, returning to marquee soaking wet!
Ironically, the group were even more enthusiastic about the garden than usual, which was most gratifying. It was still raining when they left, so we decided to take a break. I spent some time reading and ordering more books! I was having a bit of a rest because we have a very important talk tonight. I was giving the opening talk for London Gardens Trust Winter Lecture series.
Before getting ready for the talk, I went outside to empty the kitchen compost and luckily went via my new polyantha bed. To my great dismay, I discovered that something…a badger?... or a squirrel?... had dug out about 30 polyanthas, so I paused to replant them. We then got set up for the evening talk which went extremely well.
After the talk, I went outside to shut everything up and discovered a large toad outside the polytunnel. I carefully picked him up and took him to the reflective pool pond.
The new pond filled twice as fast today due to heavy rainfall and Patrick’s extra rain water harvesting from his workshop. However, that evening we decided to turn off the tap because we will need to get into the pond to install the steps and we do not want to do this in water that is too deep!
Today we start underpinning the workshop. This would have started yesterday but the weather was too wet. Martin the digger driver arrived bright and early and digging commenced. This was the work that should have been done by the builder (who let us down) more than 2 months ago! We have now decided to do the work ourselves because all the subsequent quotes from different builders have been very high. Today, it is mainly Patrick and Aideen working on the holes. Martin digs them out as much as he can with the digger and then Aideen (primarily) finishes off the sides. This is tough work for a diminutive harp player, but she throws herself into it with gusto and does brilliantly. A huge advantage is that we are now at a level in the ground that is predominantly sand. I do feel that God is on our side…yesterday he sent lengthy rain to fill the pond and today he has provided sand to make digging easier!
I had an appointment at the optician and whilst there, I naturally popped into Harefield Collectibles and spied a curved stone/concrete bench which could pair up with the one we have already, so I made an offer. On returning home I went to check progress with the underpinning and it was all going well, so well in-fact, that Patrick ordered ‘ready-mix’ concrete for first thing tomorrow morning. Everything has gone brilliantly, our only regret is that we did not decide to D.I.Y earlier!
Back to Choir
Today was a bit nerve wracking because the ready-mix cement was being delivered at 8am to fill the first three underpinning holes. Unfortunately, last night Patrick realised he had underestimated the size of the holes by half a cubic meter. We repeatedly rang the concrete company this morning to increase the delivery but could not get through. Very luckily, the lorry arrived with a full load and it was not a problem to give us more concrete. Aideen and I then left for a dentist appointment and when we returned the concrete was in place. Martin decided to spend the rest of the day digging the basement hole and Diane ordered a five-tonne dumper truck to replace the three-tonne truck so she could keep up with Martin! I spent the morning and early afternoon sorting out music for my rehearsal in the evening. This is our first choir and band rehearsal since lockdown March 2020 so it is a momentous occasion. I must confess to feeling a little apprehensive, it is 18 months since I last ran a rehearsal, even when I had Meave (our first child) I only took 16 weeks off work and that didn’t include playing or private teaching. Meave came on tour with me when she was only 9 weeks old! I have never stopped working prior to Covid, so it really does seem strange.
Apart from tending to my dahlias, not much gardening happened today and it was soon time to go to choir. It was a good turnout, everyone was very eager to get back and it was lovely to see them all. I shouldn’t have been worried. It is a terrible irony of Covid that singing in a choir has been deemed a risky activity when actually, it is such a beneficial, uplifting and positive activity. It was incredibly rewarding seeing people walk out of the rehearsal so happy.
Today was the day of our postponed trip to Wisley. I have really been looking forward to this because I haven’t been to Wisley since before lockdown and I am keen to see the new Hill Top Building and Gardens.
But…typically of the McHugh family, there were jobs to do before we left. Yesterday, the first three underpinning holes were filled with concrete, however, they cannot be shuttered up to the top because you have to be able to get the pumping pipe in and out, therefore there is a gap that needs to be filled. This means it has to be ‘dry packed’. This requires a dry concrete mix being pushed into this section by hand and then packed into place with a piece of wood. Patrick and the girls were outside by 6:30am mixing cement and packing it into place. The areas to fill are still quite large so this is time consuming. I joined them at about 7:30am, but we were still not finished until 10am.
Yesterday, Patrick trimmed the surplus liner off the pond and he wanted these sections rolled up and moved before we left because they were killing the grass. This sounds simple but even these pieces were very large and extremely heavy. With watering and getting dad up, it felt like we’d done a day’s work before we finally left about 11am!
On arriving at Wisley, I was quite struck by the difference since I was last there, particularly being able to see the rear of the beautiful main building from the car park.
The first thing we visited was the new Hill Top area, via the beautiful main lily canal in front of the old building which was stunning as always. Then we walked up the main herbaceous border lined avenue. The borders were wonderful and the girls photographed various plants and labels that they would like me to add to our borders. The new Hill Top Building was very impressive and I really liked the World Food Garden. I wasn’t quite so convinced by the Wildlife Gardens and pools, but perhaps they will look better when the planting becomes established. I enjoyed showing the girls the exotic garden and everyone loved the bonsai walk and spectacular rock garden. We knew we would not be looking at everything because it is so hard for Patrick to walk, so we then headed back via the trial area where much time was spent admiring and noting dahlias varieties…now I just need to source them!
I had a good look around the nursery area which was huge, but the prices in my opinion were very high, so I will stick to Nik’s nursery! Inevitably, I ended up in the incredibly well stocked book section of the shop and came away with five books, quite restrained for me!
We had a drink by the River Hey on the way home which was lovely. Aideen scrutinised people using the locks as she has booked a short canal boat holiday with James and is trying to figure out how the locks work!
It was lovely to have a day out and there is so much to learn at Wisley, they had a beautiful exhibit. of succulents planted in frames, placed on easels. I would like to try my own version of this.
Chilled Vegetable Growing
Today it is a return to underpinning. Martin arrives early to dig out the two remaining areas between the three underpinning sections that have already been filled with concrete and have set.
This work is going on whilst the cakes that Diane baked last night, for the visit today, are being iced by Aideen. As usual, I am doing a variety of jobs; watering, weeding, sweeping a path, trimming back plants that have finished flowering and replanting polyanthas dug up by the badger. I will need to deal with that problem later. I also pop out to pick up a prescription for Grandad.
Our visit is at 2pm, it is a small group of friends who have been collected together by a lady who has heard our Zoom Talk. Some of the visitors had come from Norfolk and left considering fixing up a Zoom talk for their gardening group at home.
One thing I have noticed from some visitors since we’ve been opening the garden is an intense interest, sometimes bordering on anxiety, over what we do with all of the fruit and vegetables. Repeatedly, it is suggested that we should sell the produce or organise ‘pick your own’ days. I do not share these concerns; I acknowledge that I produce a lot of fruit and vegetables, but we have a large household of at least 6 and often more when feeding the girls’ very hungry boyfriends! Therefore, we consume a large amount of food and we eat extremely well, easily reaching the new recommendations of 10 portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
We sell a few courgettes and cucumbers at visits because it can be hard to consume them all and I give some produce away to friends and family. However, even if I picked everything in the garden and put it out to sell to visitors, only a small amount would be bought and the rest would deteriorate because it is no longer on the plant. Even if I sold every last thing, the amount of money raised would be less than organising one guided tour visit. I do not understand why people worry if every last apple or raspberry is eaten by a human, we don’t worry about eating flowers that we grow from seed and I can guarantee that everything will be eaten by something (insect, bird or animal) and then it will be composted. It worries me that people are put off growing their own food because they are anxious about utilising it all…it doesn’t matter…I say relax and enjoy your garden.
Once the visitors had left, we ate fish and chips…which didn’t come from the garden! We then trooped off to the orchard to mark out where to dig the dry dock for Mayflower. It is a mystery to me how we will move her, so a text was sent to Barney, the miracle mover of large objects who originally brought her to Church Gardens.
* Diane and Kay trying to look like a boat!
I then finished putting my gothic hoops around the organ pipe bed and moved a little Kolkwitzia bush that had been swamped by anemones. I then used the remaining gothic hoops to barricade my polyantha bed to hopefully protect it from badgers.
Today is quite a momentous day because it is the first day that the choir have been allowed to sing in church since the start of Covid and it is Harvest Festival. It is also the first time that I’ve been to a service inside the church during this time. Only Diane was available to come with me. I’m glad she was there because it felt very strange. It was lovely to be back and there were lots of hymns to sing!
After church, Diane went to help Patrick sort out the scaffolding by the wall and clear/strim the area in preparation for Mickey to continue wall repairs on Wednesday. It is amazing that all of our projects have reignited simultaneously having been at a standstill for months. The liner is in the pond so we can progress with that, we have managed the underpinning of the workshop ourselves having been let down by our builder, so that job can now move on, and now, Mickey has contacted us to say he can come and work again. This is all very encouraging but challenging at the same time, as we have three visits next week and I’m back at work. Also, Aideen has suddenly received quite a few bookings for the harp which will require extensive practice and she has a wedding today, so she is far less available to help with projects. There will be a considerable amount of juggling over the next few weeks to cope!
My job is to put in some hedging plants around the caravan. This requires a bit of levelling and weeding and then I have to dig 52 holes for the plants. Unfortunately, the ground is very solid and full of roots.
Later in the day, Diane and Patrick start building the flint edging to the pond. This will be quite a time-consuming process because they have to select the best suited flints and fit them all together. They only complete a small section but I think it will look really good. The evening is spent clearing up the kitchen in preparation for tomorrows visit.
Today we were expecting the concrete to be delivered at 8am so everyone was up and ready very early. The plan was to have the concrete in and the lorries gone by 10am which is when the visitors for the 10:30 visit are likely to start arriving. However, the concrete does not arrive… After a while, Patrick calls the company and we discover that we are on a delivery anytime between 11am-2pm. This was very frustrating as we had definitely asked to be booked in for an early delivery. I already had my own frustrations because dad had buzzed at 4:30am to ask me to book a taxi for the people in his house to go home in. Obviously, there was no one in the house and I’m not sure that my dad has ever been in a taxi! I laid him back down and tried to bring his mind back to where he actually was, in bed, and hopefully going back to sleep. Unfortunately, it is very hard for me to go back to sleep after such an interruption to my sleep.
The visitors arrived early as usual and I organised the parking to leave space for the concrete lorries to manoeuvre should they arrive. The visitors were a group of volunteers from the Chiltern Open Air Museum and therefore, were quite knowledgeable about old buildings and gardening. They all appeared to enjoy themselves and apparently requested a follow up visit next year when the crocuses are out. Apparently, the garden also gave them some inspiration for a Gertrude Jekyll style bed that they are currently planting. The visitors left at about 1:30pm and still there was no concrete. Follow up calls had been greeted with further explanations about pump problems. They finally turned up at about 3pm and the holes were filled…I don’t think they understand that we are working to a schedule!
After the visit, I went outside to plant my hedging plants. I had nearly finished when it got to the time to come in for my teaching. I then dug up some potatoes to make meat and potato pie…that should cheer up Aideen!
All Systems Go!
Today, grandad’s increased confusion was explained by a malfunctioning catheter and a probable UTI. I called the district nurses at 8am and they promised to visit. Rather fortuitously for me, the district nurse arrived at the same time as a large lorry delivering the hundreds of steel rods for the basement. This was fortuitous as they had sent out this very heavy delivery on a truck with no crane and only one driver, so we would be required to unload the steel. I however, had to depart to learn how to do a bladder wash-out, a bit of a Hobsons choice, but on balance I think I got the better end of the deal. Grandads catheter had to be replaced again and another course of antibiotics recommended. He decided to remain in bed after the nurse left, a definite sign of him not feeling well. My time was then absorbed by speaking to doctors and then finally getting dad up and collecting antibiotics from the chemist.
Eventually, when I got outside I finished planting the hedge and watered all the hedging thoroughly. The hedge has now given a lovely enclosure around the caravan which perhaps can one day be a little woodland garden. At some point in the future, the caravan will be ‘done-up’ and maybe used as a little self-catering unit for a couple who would enjoy staying in the furthest corner of a historic walled garden, where you can only hear birds.
I then went on a dead-heading spree before my teaching started at 4:30, conscious that we have a visit tomorrow.
Elsewhere in the garden was a hive of activity. Martin was furiously digging out the basement which is now almost pure sand and Diane was whizzing up and down the drive in her dumper truck and coordinating numerous grab lorries to take away the muck. She also found time to negotiate with the concrete company to reduce our final payment to compensate for all the hassle they caused with yesterday’s late delivery.
Aideen and I chatted to Barney about arrangements for moving Mayflower which is now scheduled for 3rd October. This is close to a year since her arrival and it doesn’t seem possible that we now have the pond (almost), last year that was still a dream. During the evening, work continued. Patrick and the girls did the ‘dry-packing’ on the two latest sections of underpinning and bricks were sorted and put into position for Mickey to start work tomorrow. When I finished teaching I started on the considerable job of clearing up the kitchen and then Meave and Diane came in to bake the cakes for the next day…it’s all go chéz McHugh!
Restoration in Action
It was a very early start today. We were up at 6am finishing off preparation for Mickey to start work on the wall and various things to do with the basement hole before Martin arrived. Meave even joined us before she started work! It was tricky getting Grandad up this morning because he is not in great shape and getting him up is a delicate operation as he is so confused about even the basics of movement.
Aideen is more limited with what she can do at the moment because of practising, so she iced the cakes for the visit. Diane was determined to spend as much time as possible shifting sand/clay from the hole before the visit. However, our dumping area at the bottom of the drive soon fills up and today there was a delay in grab lorries which did hold things up. When she got ready for the visit she even continued driving the dumper in a dress!
Mickey arrived with his mate and got started, but by late morning realised he was running short of lime, it gets used at a very fast rate in lime mortar, so Aideen and I shot off to Travis Perkins to try and get new supplies. Travis Perkins did not have the correct lime and we did not have time to go elsewhere before the visit, Patrick ended up collecting more lime on his return from hospital, where he had been having an appointment with his consultant about his foot.
Our visitors arrived, a lovely group gathered together by one lady as a ‘thank you’ gift. The weather was beautiful and it was an extremely enjoyable visit, made more exciting by the various building and restoration activities taking place. The visitors were quite surprised to see Diane driving the dumper truck (still in her dress) then not long after, serving them refreshments! They also got to see Mickey in action working on the wall. He received many admiring and encouraging comments which I’m sure he appreciated. Several of the visitors had been before and they were delighted to see projects previously described on the tour now actually taking place. One lady described going through the gate into the garden like going into another world, which I thought was a lovely thing to say and it is exactly how I feel when I go into the garden every day, although increasingly, I spend less and less time in the outside world! During the day, we also received various heavy deliveries, including, special props to install into the basement hole when excavations have ceased and Aideen’s new electric stove for the boat.
As soon as the visitors left, my first pupil arrived. The evening ended with me having a quick practice as I have a rehearsal tomorrow…ironically one of our visitors today was a bassoonist!
Unsurprisingly, today is another busy day. The basement excavation continues, Mickey continues with the wall and I am hoping to finally get some gardening done.
When Aideen and I return from walking the dog, we are told that someone needs to be in the basement hole checking levels to help the job progress smoothly. Aideen and I slither and slide down the sand into the 3m deep hole so she can attempt to show me how to operate the laser level so she can continue practising. We both know this will not be easy considering my lack of skills with technological equipment. I am the woman with no mobile phone, no computer, no dishwasher and a pathological fear of microwaves! As we peer at the level, a large section of the sandy wall of the basement slithers gracefully to the ground behind Diane. Aideen and I stare at it with open mouths… Patrick is at a meeting and only one prop is in place in the basement hole.
From that moment on I was very proud of the girls. Meave came away from her work screen to help and luckily Diane knew what to do with the props because she had been with Patrick the previous evening when they were trying out the first prop. The props are like giant pieces of meccano which are bolted together and span the width of the hole you are trying to reinforce. They screw against ply boards that you put against the walls. They are very heavy, so the first one was resting on scaffolding towers to support it. So together, with Martin (the digger driver), the five of us set about securing the first prop whilst phoning Patrick to get him to come back home. There was no fuss or flapping, just calm determination to secure the walls of the hole. Luckily, Patrick returned fairly quickly and we all spent the morning fixing two more props in place until we were satisfied that things were fairly secure. The rest of the day was partly spent deciding whether to stop digging and put in the floor slab in the first section before continuing with more excavation in the rest of the hole. Another problem was working out how to remove the last section of clay/sand and get the digger out of the hole…would we have to do it manually?
In the end, it was decided to continue digging the entire hole and make a long ramp through the existing paving to exit the digger. We agreed it was best to get the hole finished as quickly as possible while the weather is good and get the floor slab and basement wall in as soon as possible. So, late afternoon, before my rehearsal, Diane and I took up the paving slabs where the ramp needed to be positioned. I did get a bit done in the garden. I potted up some baby polyanthas but the garden must think I have gone AWOL at the moment!
Digging continued today after the creation of a new ramp, but unfortunately the job did not complete today and Martin will have to return on Monday.
Today, I was reminded of the great generosity of our visitors. I had a message from two ladies, one who has visited the garden several times who on several occasions has asked me to come to her garden to dig up surplus plants and she wants me to come again. This is brilliant because these surplus plants will be great additions to the garden and I always have spaces to fill. The other call was from a lady who visited our garden quite recently with a friend to assist her as she has limited mobility and she wanted me to have three sculptural pieces that she has in her own garden, which sadly she can no longer get out to enjoy. This is incredibly kind and thoughtful, and I will find special places for them where they can be fully appreciated.
Today was a very warm day and I started to think how nice it would be to go in the pond. The girls encouraged me to go for a swim and promised to help me get out of the pond afterwards, at present, we have no steps, just a slippery slope.
There is only about half a meter of water in the pond, not really enough to swim in, but I slithered in anyway and bumped about on the bottom and sort of swam. It was amazing, I cannot believe the size of it and when you look up, you are surrounded by trees. Unfortunately, almost as soon as I got into the water, the peace was destroyed by a police helicopter circling above us. The helicopter then hovered very low, besides the house like a big nosey, noisy bird! I was pulled out by Aideen and Diane and was sitting on the side drying in the sun and suddenly remembered I had put a hose into the central fountain to top it up, hours previously and forgotten about it! We all rushed out to find the fountain overflowing and the lights immersed in water! We all frantically bailed out the pool. I will be in terrible trouble if I have messed up the garden electrics!
Public Guided Tour Day
I was awake very early this morning and found Patrick awake and worrying about his basement hole. Poor Patrick, I don’t think he will sleep easily until this building is out of the ground! We chatted about the best ways to secure and prop the walls, and we also discussed how quickly we can put the floor slab in. Unfortunately, this has been delayed because of a mistake in the steel order that was delivered and we are now having to wait for a new delivery of steels at the beginning of October. The stress of this building job is being aggravated by delays and increased costs due to a shortage of most building materials.
Soon after 6am, Patrick and I take Bella for a walk, something we’ve not done together for ages and it was helpful to chat things through, however, I know I cannot stop him worrying.
On our return, we bustle about getting ready for the visit. I go into the kitchen garden to do a few little jobs and I spend some time attempting to tie in the top of the tomato plants. Most of the tomatoes now reach the roof of the tunnel and they are full of delicious fruit.
Soon it will be time for the visit and we welcome a varied group, some of whom I knew. There were also people from further afield who had heard our talk for the London Gardens Trust. The visit went well and afterwards I made lunch which included a big salad containing our tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, radish and garlic. I then spent what remained of the day weeding the organ bed in preparation for installing the plants that have been gifted to the garden. In the evening, I brought in a bumper harvest from the garden; shallots, leeks, garlic and herbs for the Beouf bourguignon, potatoes, swede, red cabbage and dwarf French beans. It is a wonderful selection but as always with home produce, took a while to prepare!
Some time ago, I decided it would be a lovely idea to take the girls to the Chelsea Flower Show. They have never been before and I haven’t been for quite a few years so I thought it would be a lovely experience that they would appreciate. It was also a historic year for Chelsea because it was the first time in its 108 year history that it was to be held in September.
I was really looking forward to making this into a special day. We were up early to get there at a decent time, although the train route we had planned was hampered by Central Line closures. On reaching Sloane Square Station we treated ourselves to a very posh breakfast at a French restaurant where we sat outside surrounded by Porsches!
When we arrived at Chelsea, we started by looking at all of the trade stalls and we saw some beautiful art work. Aideen particularly loved the work of Rachel Dein, where wild flowers are pressed into plaster, or concrete to produce different sized panels or tiles with the flowers in relief.
The show gardens were beautiful but there wasn’t one that particularly made an impression on us. I actually preferred the smaller exhibits. I thought the house plant cabin/rooms were lovely and probably it was one of these artisan gardens that were my favourite.
I loved the house plant room that looked as if it was suspended from a tree in a giant hot pink macramé holder. The colour scheme of the design was hot pink and green neon which certainly caught the eye!
There was also a container garden called ‘hot tin roof’ which had multiple different types of coloured containers and brightly painted wood. I also adored a sculpture of a long horned cow/bull made of chains which I would happily have taken home! Diane and Meave amused themselves by guessing how much different sculptures, urns, water features etc. cost, a game which started when they discovered an antique stone urn for £45,000! It was a nice urn, but really???
I am probably a heathen, but I can pick up a couple of old concrete urns on plinths that are well weathered because of their age and therefore look remarkably similar to stone from our local salvage/antique shop for £20/30 each! The same style urn in antique stone would set me back thousands!
The grand Pavilion was spectacular, but not as packed as previous years, partly due to increased spacing due to Covid and the lack of displays from other countries.
Unfortunately, our special day out was rather spoilt when we received a call from home to tell us that a large section of the basement hole wall had fallen down bringing one of the props with it.
Patrick and James had been fixing the boards around the edge of where the floor slab will be and luckily, had just walked out of the hole when the soil fell. Patrick and James then spent the afternoon replacing the prop and digging out the fallen soil – largely clay and sand. Poor Patrick is at a loss as to the best way to proceed, whether to finish digging out the hole or to concentrate on the half already dug.
This news was a very serious blow and rather put the dampers on our day. Although the boys told us to stay at Chelsea, we do come home earlier than planned to see if we can help. On arriving home, we get changed and come down into the hole. There is not much we can do…we dig out some soil, move a prop slightly and prop it up with acros. Patrick is completely miserable, we decide to call in some specialists for advice and leave things to the morning.