• Kay

Foxes and Mushrooms


It is raining today but I’m relieved to see that the pond and stream seem to be under control. Although, when I peer into the water, I can see a layer of sand covering the liner, pebbles and slabs on the beach.

Today we have Billy and James here which is brilliant as they are helping with the building. Today’s job is to fix the wooden plate on the low brick walls around the perimeter of the building. Aideen’s ambition is to reach roof level by 1st January which is probably unfeasible, but with the boys help…maybe?

I consider my options for the day. I do not have a giant tin-hat over the garden so I will get wet working outside in the rain. I contemplate clearing out the vegetation in the polytunnel prior to planting out the Winter greens but then I decide that as the rain isn’t that bad, I will continue planting bulbs. I still have two large apple trays of last year’s tulip bulbs to plant out. I finish planting them in the fruit tree border and then I start clearing and planting in the field border. Despite the drizzle, it is very mild and I am extremely happy to be outside, there are even glimmers of sunshine in the afternoon. When I pop down to the mushroom house I find to my surprise quite a few small mushrooms in the lower beds. Unfortunately, I do not think they are the right type of mushrooms. They do not look like white button or chestnut mushrooms so we will not risk eating them. I am concerned that the woodchip that was in the manure, rather than straw, is now producing its own fungi. I resolve to chat to my mushroom spawn supplying lady in the new year.

Earlier in the year, we started to put stale bread on the wall outside the extension windows for the birds. We were quite shocked when a young fox hopped onto the wall in the evening and took the bread away. We also had a badger investigating left overs at that time but they cannot jump onto walls! Since then, I’ve put all leftovers on the wall and they disappear by the morning. We often get to watch the beautiful young fox as he peers in the window at us, only a couple of feet away. Many would disapprove of feeding a fox which I understand, but we have no neighbours to be affected by the situation and I believe a well fed, quite tame fox is less likely to go for our chicken. It is also a brilliant way to avoid food waste. The chicken has veg/fruit scraps too good for compost, the dog quite often has kitchen scraps, we compost masses and foxy eats everything else! Yesterday, I put the turkey carcass (which had already been used to make fantastic turkey stock) on the wall, and by the morning everything had gone…result! This avoided putting the bones in the dustbin, which was good because I cannot risk the cats and dogs eating turkey bones.

We are still having major issues with our electricity supply. Aideen got a head torch from James for Christmas and she has now resorted to wearing it whilst practising!


Baptism of the Waders!


Today looks stormy but it is still mild. These weather conditions mean rain is coming. The winds have picked up, resulting in a loud flapping noise from the plastic cover on the scaffolding around the building. There is heavy rain forecasted for tomorrow so Patricks anxiety levels are rising again as he worries about the stream and pond.

Patrick, Aideen and I set off first thing to assess the situation. We decide to add lots more slabs to the sides of the liners in the stream. Presently, it is flowing well along the liners but if we have a heavy flow of water combined with a strong wind, we fear that the liner could be blown out of position and that the water could go underneath the liner again.

The main problem is at the top small pool. Originally, we had roughly covered the pool hollow with a section of liner which was crudely pinned to the banks around the pool with pins made out of reinforced steel. This temporary, crude job was partly because we were working in the dark that night, and also because we were in a hurry because we knew the water would start flowing imminently. However, now we had to come up with a slightly more robust temporary fix for the situation.

It was agreed that I would christen my new waders by climbing into the pond and I would try to reposition the liner and fix it more securely.

The waders were brilliant because the water in the pool reaches half way up my thighs. I pinned back the liner more securely and (with some difficulty and splashing) managed to manoeuvre two heavy slabs in the pool to close the gap that was previously allowing water under the liner. I was in the pool for some time rearranging slabs and by this time, my feet were numb, the waders are waterproof but not insulated! When we were satisfied we could do no more, we went in for a cup of tea. When Patrick sat down, muddy and wet, he said “We do make our lives difficult, don’t we?”. I couldn’t help but agree with him, we love Church Gardens and I wouldn’t want another life, but it is a struggle. Ironically, at every public visit/guided tour there is always at least one person who says, “I would love to do this, you are living my ideal life, can I move in?” This is very sweet but I don’t think they understand what they are wishing for. Church Gardens might look idyllic on a summers day, but the day to day reality of it is much harder than people realise. To be fair, there are also plenty of people who appreciate the garden but think we are completely mad! Last night, I tried a new dish, mashed Beetroot with Horseradish, using some of my very large beetroot which have been in the ground for ages but are still good. I also made an enormous pie using turkey and gammon with carrots, leeks and parsnips and we had mashed potato and braised red cabbage. The turkey and gammon have been wonderful, feeding 6 or 7 very hungry people, per night, for three nights and providing turkey soup and sandwiches. I think we got our money’s worth!

Today it is just the family working outside and Patrick, with help from Aideen, starts to build the wooden panels that form the framework of the walls. We will need 14 of these in total!

Meave and Diane have a go at some tree surgery and climb up behind the garage to cut away large overhanging trunks and branches that are covering the garage roof. Whilst they are there, they also clear out the gutter. I continue working in the field border, clearing areas mainly of rampant creeping buttercup so I can plant bulbs. I’ve resolved to make clearing this border my first priority after essential jobs are completed. Last year, this border was left until last which was a mistake and it was never tidied properly. There is a lot of weeding, cutting back, pruning and maintenance required. Brambles are coming back over the wall and the wisterias need attention – it needs firm handling!


The Cavalry Arrives


Today, the very mild, wet weather continues.

When I went outside this morning to look at the new building, the family team (Patrick and the girls) had already erected four wall panels along one side of the building. These looked really good!

We are building a timber framed building partly because this is something that Patrick can do himself with the girls help, but also because we want the building to look like a barn. It will have black, feather edged timber cladding on the exterior walls, the same as the workshop. This will help it to merge in aesthetically and unobtrusively with the other buildings. Later today, we are expecting to be joined by Billy and James, which means extra hands and extra tools. This should speed the whole job along!

We have told Patrick that he has to do his best to communicate clearly and audibly to make the most of this extra man power. This is not easy for Patrick, he is used to managing by himself and is a man of few words. However, when I pop into the site at various times during the day, everyone seems to be working away industriously. Billy, Meave and Aideen were cutting and fixing sheets of ply to the exterior walls whilst Diane and Patrick constructed half of one gable end. This was a massive panel, 4.8m high! It took all six of them to lift it into position and it looks magnificent. The building should have a good acoustic with such a high roof, this bodes well for any musical events.

With all this extra help, I can get on with gardening jobs. I start by raking up leaves on the grass of the miniature orchard. This little area is also our wildflower meadow and contains several thousand crocus bulbs. The crocus’ are beginning to come up so I felt I should clear the leaves which were swamping them in places. I also trimmed some long grass at the walls edge which is difficult to reach with a mower. After this, I continued with my weeding and bulb planting in the field border. Thank goodness I am nearly at the end of bulb planting, I hope to be finished by the end of 2021!

Unsurprisingly, I received quite a few books for Christmas, one of which was on a subject dear to my heart. It is called, ‘Plant Partners – Science Based Companion Planting Strategies For The Vegetable Garden’ by Jessica Walliser. My vegetable garden is a veritable jungle of different types of planting. Amongst my vegetables, herbs and fruit there are a multitude of different flowering plants creating an extensive polyculture. Some of these plants have got some very specific benefits others are there because they are beautiful and attract pollinators. I am always keen to learn more about this fascinating subject as it is only relatively recently that we have come to understand properly these symbiotic relationships between plants. The benefits of companion planting are multiple and Walliser lists.

1. Reduced pest pressure

2. Reduced weed pressure

3. Reduced disease pressure

4. Improved soil fertility or structure

5. Improved pollination

6. Improved biological control

7. Improved aesthetics

I would agree with all of the above, it seems incredibly obvious to me that crops should not be grown in splendid isolation, the phrase ‘sitting duck’ comes to mind! This book makes me even more determined to do more. She describes the garden as an ‘eco system’ comprising of many different complex layers of plants, fungi and animals all of which are connected in a massive web of life. Well, I wouldn’t argue with that.


Unseasonable Temperatures


There is a lot of reporting on the news about the unseasonably warm weather, it is about 16 degrees instead of 8. Well, we are not complaining and we are certainly not the only creatures making the most of the ‘Spring-like’ conditions. Today I saw a bumble bee, a ladybird and a woolly bear caterpillar.

First thing this morning we receive a big delivery of wood, insulation and plasterboard for the roof of the new building. We are trying to accumulate the materials required to complete the job partly because of the threats of a lockdown that were being reported before Christmas but also because of the escalating prices of building materials. The general opinion amongst the construction industry is that costs will continue to rise, so it is sensible to buy what you need as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, some of the insulation and plasterboard sheets are damaged and will need to be returned.

It is really helpful having extra help and soon the second half of the far gable end is ready to be lifted up into position. There was a slight delay with this section because Patrick forgot to include a space for an extra window which was only decided on last night. It is incredible how the building is taking shape and Aideen is already looking at ‘job lots’ of traditional tables and chairs being sold online to furnish our café area.

I return to bulb planting in the field border of the kitchen garden. Today, I finally finish planting last years left over bulbs. This is a fiddly job because when you dig up the bulbs for storage there are multiple little bulblets as well as the original bulbs. Therefore, 1200 bulbs becomes a far greater quantity. Although I dig a trench and close plant masses of bulbs, they still all have to be individually picked out and placed into position which is a slow job. By 4pm I have finally finished planting these multiple mini-tulips. I then sweep up under the auricula theatre and push the big green barrow back to the compost yard. Then I attempt to rake up as many leaves as possible before it gets completely dark. For some reason, the compost yard has become a magnet for fallen leaves, it is as if they have all been blown in through the entrance to the yard. I rake away for some time until it is too dark to see anymore but I only make a slight impression on the leaves.

After going inside, washing up and putting on the dinner I take tea and snacks out to the building team and find myself taking over from Aideen who has to practise (the Ravel performance that should have happened before Christmas has been postponed to Jan 16th). I am supposed to help James which involves me climbing up a ladder onto the first level of scaffolding. This is my first venture onto the scaffolding and I am very impressed with the structure, it feels very secure.

Meave soon takes over and I return to preparing the evening meal and hope to find some time for more reading, I am now completely distracted by a brilliant book called ‘Breath’ by James Nester which is a complete revelation. Yesterday, I received a late Christmas present of ‘The Forager Chef’s Book of Flora’ by Alan Bergo which is also quite brilliant. I should really be updating the Church Gardens Guide Book but I’m desperate to read these books!


New Year’s Eve!


Today is the warmest New Year’s Eve on record and there are even glimmers of sunshine. We still have James helping today but later, everyone will head off for their various New Year plans with their respective boyfriends, leaving Patrick and I to bring in the New Year with the cats and dog! Tomorrow, we will probably only have Aideen and James with us so the building team crack on enthusiastically today to make the most of having the extra help.

Unfortunately, later in the day Patrick realises that he is running low on wood. How this is possible I do not know, as to my eyes we seem to be surrounded by wood. He also manages to walk into a metal clamp and gives himself a nasty cut on his forehead. I think Patrick needs a break to gather his thoughts, he has been working so hard in the last week. He will order more wood but assures me there is plenty to do in the meantime.

By the end of the day, which is also the end of 2021, almost all of the timber frame work panels that make up the walls are up…hurrah!!!

Whilst this is going on, I plant out the absolute last bulbs into the central borders alongside the central path. These were a bag of allium bulbs and bulblets passed on by a friend and a pack of 150 Ipheion bulbs which were the last thing left from the Parkers order. These bulbs should probably have been planted ages ago, many of them looked a bit mouldy, so I’m uncertain that they will be OK. However, everything is worth a try and I do not give up on plants easily. In order to plant the bulbs, I had to weed and clear an area at the front of four different sections of these borders. The mirror borders are divided into triangles and there are three triangles of contrasted planting on each side of the wide path. The centre triangle is home to mainly warm coloured plants and the neighbouring four triangles have cooler coloured plants. I was planting the alliums (probably blue/pink/white/lilac) and the Ipheions (white/blue/pink) in the front of the cool triangles. Later in the day, some friends who sing in my choir very kindly deposited an anonymous water plant in a pot and a bag of oxygenators (Elodea Crispa) outside the front door.

I spent the last bit of fading light sitting by our ‘normal’ pond in the kitchen garden bunching up strands of Elodea Crispa and securing them with wire and floating them amongst the pots at one end of the pond ready for me to retrieve and pot up when I plant out the big pond. I must order lots of multi sized pond planters and start putting some of my nursery of donated pond plants out into the big pond.

Tonight, Patrick and I will have a well-deserved ‘night off’ and raise a glass to the New Year and all the exciting new adventures that it will bring. I feel our lives will change quite a lot with these new additions to Church Gardens, hopefully for the better.


New Years Day


What is it about bank holidays and catheters? I am very happy to say that yesterday I received a small delivery of bladder washout kits from a different supplier so I was able to do this job for dad on New Year’s Eve. However, this morning the catheter was being completely by-passed and I feared something was wrong. But how easy would it be to get a district nurse to visit on New Year’s day? I got through to the call centre and was promised a visit which was a great relief, so I spent the next few hours close to the front door in case I missed the knock. Inevitably, during the few minutes that I was called away to help lift the final half of the end wall panel into position the district nurse arrived.

After making lunch, I spent the daylight time I had left making a start on clearing out the polytunnel beds prior to planting out Winter/Spring salads and greens.

Patrick and I had a lovely peaceful New Year’s Eve and he came up with a wonderful idea. He has suggested that we create a ‘Minstrels Gallery’ above our disabled toilet. This is a fantastic idea! We could maybe put the Grand Piano up in the gallery which would give us more space below for tables and chairs. We have always planned to include musical events in our calendar at Church Gardens and as we are a family of minstrels, this would be a brilliant addition to the building. I was very excited but there is a slight problem, we haven’t quite worked out how to fit in stairs to access the gallery – we will leave Patrick to ponder on this. I can’t wait for the girls to come home to tell them about the new idea.

Whilst clearing out the polytunnel, I removed all the fading chilli and pepper plants and collected a reasonable amount of multi-coloured chillies and little peppers – I will use these in a chilli tonight. I add a small amount (1/4 of a teaspoon) of my homemade chilli powder to the dinner. I hope all of those small peppers were peppers…otherwise I may be burning some mouths later! Meave made a curry the other night and put in a full teaspoon of my chilli powder and nearly killed her twin sisters! By the end of the evening, every wall panel is in place in the building and we are only one day behind Aideen’s schedule!


Shifting Strawberries


I thought we were due some brighter weather today but as the day wears on it becomes blustery and at times, very wet. I hope grandad is not developing a UTI. He buzzed at 2am and when I asked why, he said “I thought I should get things moving”. Well I wish he wouldn’t get me moving across a lethally muddy, slippery garden when I was happily asleep in bed. He then buzzed again at 7:45am, several hours before his normal getting up time of 10am. Unusually, I was still asleep, after all it is a Sunday and I had a disturbed night!

Our man/woman power is decreasing every day, Meave and Diane are still away and James is going to a Christening today. Patrick has a sore arm, which is unsurprising as he has screwed in about 600 screws and cut hundreds of pieces of wood by hand. Patrick is very pleased with how the building has worked out but he is tired and has a new dilemma…how do we create stairs to reach the minstrels gallery?

I am working in the polytunnel today and I have decided to remove the strawberries. I have had strawberries in the tunnel since it was first built in 2004. I think some runners were originally given to me and they have been gradually spreading along the back of the side bed ever since.

Theoretically it seems a good idea, strawberries in a polytunnel should give an early crop, plus they are protected from birds. However, the reality is rather different. The bushy plants offer shelter to a range of slugs, snails and masses of woodlice who all eat the strawberries! The plants also take up valuable space at the back of the border. I like to grow ornamental climbers up the wall of the tunnel and the only way I can do this on the stretch inhabited by strawberries is to sink compost filled pots with their bottoms cut out through the strawberry foliage and try to grow the climbers in the pots which is never very successful. Last year, I removed some strawberries from the tunnel and I replanted them in the forest garden border where they have thrived. I now plan to remove all the remaining strawberry plants in the tunnel and replant them next to their fellows in the Forest Garden bed where they will provide fruit and ground cover. Naturally, as soon as I start to work outside it rains quite heavily. I am determined not to be put off and stay outside and plant them anyway. Some are big established clumps others are runners, but I’m sure they will all do well, it will certainly improve the polytunnel bed.

After lunch, I return to the tunnel and start removing dead tomato plants and the Ipomea and sunflowers that grow through them. I remove any unripe/semi-ripe tomatoes as I go and put them to one side to bring inside.

This is quite a job as the plants reach the ceiling of the tunnel which is about 10ft high. They are tied in multiple places and have wrapped themselves firmly around my numerous hanging shells, wind chimes and the cable of light bulbs. Every year, I accidentally cut off the hanging striker of one of the wind chimes and have to tie it back on. As the light fades I decide to stop before I accidentally cut through the light bulb cable and electrocute myself!


Wood Sorting and Chocolate Treats


Today does not start well. It took much longer than usual to get dad up and dressed this morning. At this time of year, it is particularly depressing. Usually, I do not get Dad up before 10 AM, therefore I’m unlikely to get outside before 11 AM, even on a good day. If you take time out to have lunch, you have very few hours outside until light fades at about 4:30 PM. This is incredibly frustrating when there is so much to do.

Last night, Aideen, Patrick and I had a meeting about where we are with the building schedule; what needs to be done next, what things need to be ordered, how much things will cost and how we will pay for them. We also discussed the horrendous amount of tidying up and re-landscaping that we will need to do before we can consider reopening to the public. Also, there is the small matter of sorting out, emptying and demolishing the line of hideous derelict sheds that stretches out from the new building into the orchard. The main purpose of our basement was to give alternative storage areas to enable us to get rid of these eyesores. However, there is a slight problem. The basement will not be ready to store anything until the building is watertight, i.e. it has a roof. The roof has to be on before the basement can be ‘tanked’ and finished. Aideen and I would like to get on with clearing and maybe demolishing the sheds because this is something we could do when Patrick is at work but where do we put stuff that is in the sheds that we want to save? By the end of our conversation, I felt quite stressed and demoralised but today I resolve to try and make a start on this work with Aideen.

There are basically three sheds and they mainly contain wood and logs that we had saved for future use. We can move some of the logs to our new woodshed in the compost area but this wood shed will not hold them all. There is a lot of rotting wood to get rid off so we light a bonfire. I should be attending to the garden because I have tonnes to do to get it ‘visitor ready’ and I’m the only one doing gardening work. However, I decided I will have to sacrifice this week to help Aideen because otherwise it will not get done. I’m not restarting my teaching until next week and she has had her Ravel solo postponed again due to Covid so we are both more free than usual. This clearance job has been made even more daunting because the builders who built the basement used a lot of our wood and then just threw what they didn’t need back into the shed, chopped up and full of nails. Whilst we make a start on moving logs, James and Patrick continue attaching ply sheets to the wall panels of the new building. To reduce the time we take out for lunch, I serve up my famous chocolate trifle which we eat in the new building. All Patrick wants to eat at the moment is chocolate so this was the perfect thing to keep him going. Aideen and I find the best way to keep everyone positive is a constant stream of treats. I made bread pudding yesterday and Aideen made lovely cookies the day before that!

Later in the day, Diane and Meave returned and Mary came to help for a bit so we made reasonable progress with the logs and sheds. We finished the day sat around the fire. I then came inside to cook a pie and the rest of the family continued with attaching felt to the building. It is certainly true that anything worth having has to be worked hard for.


Wind Chimes and Bird Song


Today the weather is very wet but the good news is, we still have James for one more day before he goes back to work. Therefore, Aideen and James continue to work in the building. They carry on with felting the walls and spend ages moving insulation, wood etc. into the building to bring it under cover. They also do lots of general tidying; folding up tarpaulins and polythene sheets, and lifting the monstrously heavy ply board sheets that are laid on the ground around the building (supposedly to protect the type one surface from mud deposited by dumpers and diggers). These sheets soak up a tremendous amount of water making them almost impossible to lift. Once up, it is clear that they have done little to keep the ground clean.

I grabbed the opportunity to get back in the polytunnel. Aideen and I will continue shed clearance duties tomorrow when James has returned to work. I managed to finish removing the forest of tomatoes, sunflowers and entwining Ipomoea from the central border. This does involve some time on my step ladder cutting away the very strong, winding stems of Ipomoea from the top of the chimes and shell ornaments. There were several casualties that I will have to mend later!

The sound of my two tuned and pentatonic chimes became a very loud at one point as I tried to free them from the Ipomoea’s clutches! People may wonder at the presence of these dangling ornaments amongst the plants but I feel they fit in very well. I have always loved shells, some of the first books I bought as a child were about shells. I love their exquisite forms which share much with the perfect patterns found in flowers and seed heads. I also have a passion for the sea; each shell ornament is associated with a different visit to the sea and helps me to remember these past holidays. The sound of the chimes (metallic and bamboo) and the clatter of the shells make a gentle aleatoric, faintly musical soundscape amongst the plants which I think they enjoy as much as I do.

Whilst removing the tomato plants, I select all of the unripe and semi-ripe tomatoes which I lay on trays on the windowsill of the extension to ripen in the sun, giving us tomatoes well into February.

At one point in the tunnel my radio was almost drowned out by the fabulous birdsong. I have been joined inside the tunnel by one of our many robins, it was unbelievable that one small bird could produce so much sound. I was convinced that there must have been at least three robins!


Logs, Logs and more Logs!


Unfortunately, Grandad is going through a difficult spell with his levels of confusion. This morning it was the concept of moving sideways that has completely defeated him. Hopefully this confusion will improve because I’m not sure how I will cope if he forgets how to move altogether!

This morning we have a heavy frost, the sky was clear last night and today it is cold but sunny… a good day for clearing out the sheds.

Aideen had already made a start whilst I was sorting out dad. She had moved some old plastic barrels to the compost yard (these are useful for making compost teas to use as plant food). We then moved some rolled up enviro-mesh to the compost yard shed. I used to use enviro-mesh supported by water pipe hoops to protect the brassicas in the vegetable garden from cabbage white butterflies. It is quite an effective pest barrier but it is not a perfect solution. Cabbage white moth pupate over Winter in the soil and therefore can still access your cabbages and it cannot prevent slug and snail damage. My main reservation is it hides the crop and they cannot be seen which means damage can be missed and it makes weeding harder. For these reasons, I have not used the tunnels for the last few years. Later, we also have to move the big blue water pipe hoops, which we slide in beside the garage.

However, for most of the day we move logs and we are still nowhere near finished by the time light fades. This is a soul destroying job and we are both covered in wood dust from the wood worm that lives in the log pile and I lose count of how many times I bump my head on the low roof of the wood shelter.

Why do we have so many logs? Every time we cut back or have to remove a nut tree, Patrick chops them up for logs. Originally, we intended to have a wood burning stove in the house which would have been brilliant as we have a regenerating source of logs and we could have been self sufficient for heating and maybe hot water. Sadly, we now understand that the particulates from burning wood are very unhealthy particularly for asthmatics – Patrick has chronic asthma and Aideen also has asthma. Also, we now know it is not environmentally friendly. We may use our logs for an outside stove if we can find one to burn cleanly, or use them in log piles around the garden as they are so brilliant for insects, perhaps we could sell logs for that purpose!

At the end of the day I realise it is the 12th night and spend the evening taking down Christmas decorations. Aideen tries out a new baking recipe ‘Summer Fruit Slice’ on her quest to find good things to sell in the café.


A Herculean Task


This morning there was an even heavier frost and after dropping off Diane at work I crunch across the garden to dad’s annexe to get him up a bit earlier to give me more time outside with Aideen.

I then head out to find Aideen who had been moving garden furniture. We have a lot of garden furniture which we use for our visitors when serving refreshments under the marquee. Soon, we will have our café type building to use for this function but we will still have patio/terrace areas outside for people to sit and enjoy their tea and homemade cake. BUT, not at the moment, the proposed patio area is presently a pile of mud! Aideen is desperately trying to clear the area around the new building and garage to tidy up so the furniture is neatly stacked outside grandad’s annexe. When I joined Aideen, we spent some time clearing the proposed greenhouse area in the kitchen garden as this will have to be the temporary home for the wood that we remove from the sheds. We then move a pile of metal frame poles which were originally from a fruit cage and the left over reinforcing steel bars which we lay on the path between the polytunnel and the rhubarb. I use the steel reinforcing bars for plant supports so we will make a new home for these in the Kitchen Garden so that they are close to where I need them.

Neither Aideen or I are in a very positive frame of mind, it is cold, muddy and we are both tired and achy. The job of clearing these sheds is incredibly daunting, there is so much wood, much of it in a big, messy heap. There is also lots of stuff heaped up on the poor grass in front of the sheds. Piles of terribly heavy York stone slabs on pallets which will eventually form the patio, piles of concrete blocks and bricks which are needed for the music room extension. These pallets of materials are surrounded by wood, pallets, plastic covers etc. It is basically one big, horrible, muddy mess, making it very difficult to access the sheds. In front of this Armageddon the ground is churned up mud from when the digger and dumper were driving back and forth into the orchard. This makes moving the big green barrow extremely difficult as it gets stuck in the mud and easily overbalances, which happened several times during the day! Needless to say, we still have loads of logs to move and the log shelter in the compost yard is now full.

Aideen and I get steadily more and more depressed, although this was briefly alleviated by trying out her summer fruit slice with some ice cream. Frustratingly, all this hard work does nothing to help my figure but I’m sure testing out recipes for the café will do a grand job of making me bigger!

When we are finally driven inside by rain, Aideen writes a list of all the things that need to be moved and suggestions of where they can go, an admirable attempt to make this herculean task more approachable. What we are both really thinking is, when will we ever be able to stop moving things from one place to another and shall we just order a skip!


Gardener of Scaffolder?


Today is very cold but sunny to start with. Unfortunately, we are working in the shadiest and therefore the chilliest part of the orchard. Our job for today is to dismantle the scaffolding that has been built along side the wall in the orchard which was used for repairing the top of the wall. This is our own scaffolding, which is quite old and very heavy. Patrick wants us to build a long scaffolding platform in the centre of the new building so that we can reach the roof to fix the rafters and beams, however, before this can happen the scaffolding platform in the orchard has to be dismantled and carried over to the new building. Patrick and Aideen had already made a start and when I arrived I helped support various sections whilst Patrick unbolted them. Then it was time to move it and many of the poles had to be carried by hand because they are 6m long. It is at this point that I discover what I already suspected, a job as a scaffolder is not for me! Aideen and I then have to trudge across the orchard, down the valley shape and up the other side, through the mud to the new building, carrying these enormously long and heavy poles. There is no comfortable way to carry these poles which are too heavy for one hand, even when you are sharing the load. Aideen suggested lodging them under your armpit. I ended up trying to hold the very end of the pole in front of me with two hands. By the time we have shifted them all, I can hardly walk and it is with considerable relief that I retreat to the kitchen garden.

First, I rearrange my modular trays of Winter salads/greens and the root trainers of sweet peas, peas and broad beans. The root trainer plants have grown too tall for their covers which now leaves them vulnerable to mouse attack so I move them to the end of the bench where I can cover them with propagator cloches.

I then go outside and pick sprouts, two fairly grotty red cabbages, leeks and swedes for tonight’s dinner which will be beef cooked in Guinness with dumplings. The vegetable garden does look in a bit of a state at the moment, it is desperate for my attention but there are still lots of good vegetables amongst the collapsed borage and cosmos. However, most of the red cabbages look terrible, their outer leaves blackened and slimy. I’m sure they would be rejected by the majority of people but I know that below the unpleasant exterior, there is plenty of good cabbage which I’m determined not to waste. I would not want to sell my vegetables because often, they would not look appealing to customers. My mission is to use as much of what I grow as possible and to feed the family with healthy, varied, seasonal, chemical free fruit and vegetables but the produce will not necessarily be beautiful!

It is very heartening to notice bulbs coming up everywhere and quite a few of my new polyanthas planted around nut trees are now flowering which is lovely to see.


Winter Salads and Greens


Today the weather is extremely wet. Luckily, the plan for the day is to construct the scaffolding platform down the full length of the new building. Fortunately, everyone is here to help, including James and Billy. unfortunately for them, this means traipsing backwards and forwards across the orchard with poles in the rain. I’m glad to say that this influx of helpers means that I can retreat to the polytunnel. My plan is to plant out overwintering salads and greens in the side bed.

Firstly, I wash off the skeletal remains of leaves that have become stuck to the walls and ceiling of the tunnel. Now I have removed the strawberry plants I can have climbers along the full stretch of the side wall. I decide that I may as well plant out my Sweet Peas now. The plants are very juvenile but they are a couple of inches high and they may as well establish early in the bed to give us a nice early display. Sadly, some of the Sweet Pea varieties have either not germinated completely or very poorly but having planted 24 different varieties. I still have plenty to use and I plant out 44 mainly double sown plantlets along the wall. The remainder will go around the fruit cage and then I will sow a new batch to give later flowers.

I then start to plant out my modular trays, the first contains four varieties of winter hardy lettuce. Then I plant out a tray containing Mizuna, Japanese Greens, Japanese Spinach, mixed Oriental leaves, Chinese Kale, Rocket-Astra and red veined sorrel. The next tray contains red Pak choi, Rocket-Wasabi, plain leaved parsley, curled parsley, coriander and dill. The fourth tray had three varieties of spinach and the fifth tray two varieties of calabrese. When I had finished, I had filled about three quarters of the bed.

I then went to look at the scaffolding platform which was very impressive and I’m glad to say, sturdy. This is a relief because I am quite apprehensive about the roof construction stage of this project, the last time Patrick and I constructed a roof, we were a lot younger!

Having had a very late lunch (4:30!) of sausage and chips, I went outside to put the left-over chips on the wall for the fox and slipped over in the mud. I was laughing before I hit the ground because I must have looked like a cartoon character with my legs skidding backwards and forwards beneath me before I finally went splat! The girls rushed outside to check I was OK but were soon in hysterics as well…I was plastered in mud. I attempted to retrieve the chips and put the salvaged, slightly muddy offering on the wall. Apparently, the weather is due to improve so hopefully the mud situation may abate.


Taking Down the Christmas Light Display


Today is a beautiful sunny day but we have less help because Diane and Meave are not around, also Aideen and myself are playing in church this morning.

James and Patrick are working in the new building adding plyboards the walls. The scaffolding is in place for the roof and Patrick is very happy with it, luckily we had enough poles to stretch the length of the building.

When we get home from church we share out the remains of the Summer Fruit Slice with James and Patrick and get changed into our work clothes.

Aideen has the unenviable task of taking down the outside Christmas decorations and says she will call me when she requires assistance. I head off into the kitchen garden, first checking that my newly planted out winter/spring greens and Sweet Peas have survived their first night. I am glad to see that they appear to be intact not nibbled or dug up by any passing rodents! I then head for the field-side herbaceous border. I am determined to get this border in good shape early this year as it has been left a little too much to its own devices in recent years. I filled a barrow with dead foliage and stalks from last year and cut back ivy and brambles that are coming over the wall from the field.

I had just started to prune a wisteria when Aideen called me to hold a ladder in the organ bed whilst she started the tedious job of unwinding lights from the organ pipes. I’m not great in this situation as I easily become distracted but I’m pleased to report that the hellebores, pulmonarias and hardy cyclamen and even the very unpromising anemones that I transplanted from one of our visitor’s gardens have all taken well and are putting out buds. This was what I was looking at when I should have been concentrating on winding up a string of lights into a ball!