• Kay

Gardening Can Be Painful


I am very glad to say that we seem to be receiving regular bookings for groups to visit the garden. The first Public Guided Tour Day is almost fully booked and our first Open Day on Easter Monday already has about 200 people booked to attend. This is extremely encouraging but I do have a moment of disquiet when I contemplate the amount of work that is needed to restore the garden to a presentable state after the building work. This does not include all the routine gardening work that is needed at this time of year. Luckily, it is a sunny, if cold, day today and I hurry outside to get on with weeding.

Aideen continues working through her list of jobs that need completing before the scaffolding comes down. This was scheduled for Friday but we receive a call asking to do it earlier, we agree Thursday, but this will make the schedule even tighter!

I walk down to the pond to admire the daffodils that are beginning to bloom around its edge and I’m just in time to rescue a bee that has fallen in the water. There are now quite a few daffodils blooming and considering I planted 5000 in the Autumn and 3000 the previous year, they should make quite a display when they all open. The hundreds of polyanthas that I have planted in raised beds below the nut trees are also providing a beautiful display, this is particularly satisfying as most were grown from seed. Other delights include the fragrant Daphne in the organ bed joined by some lovely hellebores and pulmonarias, and a particularly pretty polyantha denticulata.

The crocuses are very colourful in the mini orchard and the massed crocuses on the terrace are gradually building up in numbers of blooms.

By the end of the day, I have completed a bit more than a third of the fruit tree bed. I wish I could progress more quickly but it is a gruelling job and my arms are covered in scratches from the roses and scrapes from the Verbena Bonariensis, gardening can be a painful business!


A Cunning Ash


Today, I am determined to be outside as quickly as possible to maximise weeding time as the weather is beautiful and quite warm, but there is the slight issue of all the other things that require my attention apart from the garden. For example, there is grandad, the chicken and I couldn’t avoid doing some washing which could be hung on the line because of the good weather. However, I still managed to be in the garden by 11am.

One of the first things I discovered was quite a large seedling ash tree growing up through the middle of one of my Bottle Brush bushes. This is why these thorough weeding session are important because all areas of the bed get a thorough inspection. We have dozens of Ash seedlings and even small ones are hard to pull out. This one had been missed because it was growing alongside the trunk of the Bottle Brush bush. It was going to be extremely difficult to remove without damaging the bottle brush and it took some time and considerable effort to extricate, it had a very long root!

Aideen was working away in the building but I did encourage her to take some photos in the sunshine. We have some particularly large, beautiful crocuses in the mini orchard and I saw my first butterfly of the season, a rather skittish peacock. The weather was so lovely that even this particularly interminable weeding job was enjoyable particularly when I was joined by Tiggy doing her best impersonation of a Tiger stalking through the undergrowth, although she did roll over on top of some daffodils.

By the time I came in to teach, I had almost reached the halfway point. As I came in, out went Patrick and Diane, and then later Billy and James, to join Aideen in the building desperately trying to get ready for the scaffolding to come down on Thursday.


Panic Stations


This morning, Patrick picked up a message that was sent late last night, saying that the scaffolders need to come today! This was not welcome news, because although everyone worked incredibly hard until late last night, the scaffolding had not yet been cleared. Patrick, who had to go to an appointment, offered to take Diane to work so I could help Aideen clear the scaffold as quickly as possible. This was not where I had intended to be at 7am in the morning! I am not the ideal person to be rushing around on the scaffolding and my physique is not brilliant at squeezing through tight gaps with armfuls of tools or wood. But, there was no choice, it was me or nobody so Aideen and I got on with it for the next couple of hours.

Finally, exhausted, I was allowed to return to my garden…even the horrible, weedy fruit tree border full of uncomfortable verbena bonariensis was preferable to lugging blocks, massive bags of scrap wood and unwieldy heavy roof ladders! Unfortunately, this addition to my normal schedule did reduce my weeding time, so progress was less than yesterday. However, I am now beyond the halfway mark.


Building Unwrapped


Unbelievably, after all the panic yesterday, the scaffolders never arrived! Today, we were obviously expecting them to arrive but despite repeated phone calls they did not appear during the morning. Finally, a small lorry appeared with two men at lunch time and they spent a couple of hours removing the plastic sheeting and then disappeared.

We are praying that they will come for a full day tomorrow because we need to get on with digging the trench for the electricity supply and the people installing the connection will not work under the scaffolding. We are due to have a Zoom meeting with Historic England at 12pm, so whilst we are waiting for that I continue to transplant my tiny antirrhinums.

The purpose of this meeting is to introduce us to the lady who will be dealing with our case from now on, however, the original lady will still be available to answer queries. Our archaeologist is also on the call because they wanted to discuss her report. We were then asked about our estimated timeframe for restoring the remaining walls. I was relieved that they did acknowledge that this would be flexible considering we are largely carrying out the work ourselves and funding it completely. I did quietly point out that we have been quite busy building our visitors building and that it is this increase in facilities that will help us to encourage more visitors, which will provide the funds to enable the restoration. Another point which no one brought up was that all this work has been much more expensive because of the inflation in cost of building materials. We do sometimes wonder if these various official bodies really understand what it is like to be responsible for a project such as ours.

After the call, Aideen and I go back outside, it is a very warm and pleasant day. I carry on weeding and Aideen has a go at removing the little annual weeds out of the tulip display beds. She is understandably very tired and wanted an easy job. Later in the afternoon, we go to view the building, now revealed under its scaffolding cage.

We walk around viewing it from every angle, it is amazing to be able to see it properly. I think it fits in very well, merging into the adjoining workshop which has the same black cladding. Patrick has done a brilliant job with the design and it looks lovely. Aideen and I are quite stunned, it is hard to believe that we have this amazing new building, and it will make such a difference to future operations. A building for events and refreshments has always been the missing piece in the Church Gardens project and I believe its presence will be transformative.


Diggers, Scaffolders and Badgers!


When I woke up at 6:20am this morning I realised I could see the end of the new building from my bed and I was aware of movement. I put my glasses on and could see it was James and Aideen. Patrick had asked them to put a strip of polythene along the ridge of the roof weighted down with ridge tiles. The ridge tiles have not been cemented in place yet and as heavy rain was forecasted Patrick was concerned the roof might leak without them. Poor James, who had a morning off today, after working late last night, had been dragged outside by Aideen at 6:00am to help her with the ridge tiles. She straddled the top of the roof and he passed the tiles to her. It had to be done early before the scaffolders arrived!

Soon after this, Martin and the digger arrived and then the scaffolding lorries. Unfortunately, the digger had the wrong sized bucket and there was a delay whilst we sourced a smaller bucket. On a positive note, the scaffolding started to come down.

I started the morning by digging out three established clumps of comfrey from the small narrow bed between the two gates in the kitchen garden. This comfrey has been there for some years but it is not a good position for such a vigorous pant. Although I cut it back regularly to make liquid fertiliser it swamps everything in the bed. However, such a deep-rooted plant is very hard to completely remove but I did my best with the fierce saw-edged spade and transplanted it into the forest garden bed.

In the forest garden bed, I discovered the badgers had dug under the wall and into the bed! I decided to plant my comfrey around the new hole, hopefully the comfrey will withstand some badger activity! I then continue with weeding until the rain sets in and then decamped to the polytunnel to transplant antirrhinum, celeriac and celery seedlings.

By mid afternoon, a trench has been dug across the front field revealing the original services trench that Patrick and I dug about 25 years ago! The scaffolders took all the scaffolding down at the front of the building and alongside the garage. They could not finish the job today but cleared the area where the electricity trench connects.

It was so exciting to see the scaffolding gone from this end of the building and I had to keep going outside to admire it, despite the rain! The gap between the new building and the garage looks better than I thought it would. Inevitably, the buildings are quite close to each other however, the way Patrick has designed things gives the best impression of space that was possible. This was the only potential site for our new building so some compromises were necessary but now the scaffolding is down, I am reassured that it looks good. Aideen and I also walked out along the footpath in Park Lodge fields to view our new edifice and although the roof of the new building looks quite long, it fits in amongst the other buildings quite nicely. It is still very hard to believe that the building is there!


Ahead of Schedule


I am sad to say that I was awoken today by Grandad’s buzzer which was unfortunate as it is Saturday and I didn’t need to be up as early as usual. Needless to say, there was nothing wrong, he had just woken up. As I am now awake, I get dressed and get him up early…he did buzz after all…the benefit of this is I get outside earlier.

Martin arrives to dig the trench soon after 7am and Patrick, Aideen, James and Diane all work with him to get the trench dug. Poor Patrick comments later that these are the worst conditions for him to manoeuvre himself because every route seems obstructed by piles of earth and hardcore, or cut off by a deep trench, poor thing!

Later on, Meave and Billy come out and they start shifting the remaining logs into the pop-up shed. I concentrate on my border, imagining that I might even finish it today which was rather optimistic. By the end of the day I had reached the ¾ mark which was good progress, perhaps I will finish it tomorrow. Janet (James’ mum) very kindly came to help and spent a few hours removing moss from the brick paths which was very helpful.

At the end of the day, I went to find Aideen and James and I discovered them in the basement where they had set up some lighting and were playing a game of table tennis! I decided to brave the ladder and join them for a bit, even having a quick go at table tennis myself…I am very bad! I couldn’t quite believe we were down there, Aideen said, “Can you believe we are under the garden?!”. It is quite difficult to get your head around it!

After we climbed back out into the dark and fumbled our way back through piles of mud and paving slabs, I persuaded Aideen and James to join Meave and Diane to have a go at singing the Benedictus from Mozart’s Requiem which we are due to perform on Good Friday. This mini rehearsal resulted in complete hysterics as our singing rehearsals at home always do. Meave was literally crying with laughter. It was a good end to a very successful day, especially as Aideen says we are now a day ahead of schedule!


The Fickleness of Flowers


Today, we do not have so many people to help but everyone cracks on with their various jobs to try to keep up the good progress. Patrick and Aideen concentrate on battening the felt on the pond side of the building prior to attaching the cladding.

Diane busies herself with removing wood from the horrible sheds that are scheduled for demolition. This wood has to be sorted into ‘good’ wood and ‘scrap’ wood, the ‘good’ wood is moved to the pop up shed until it can be stored in the basement.

I am extremely impressed with the daffodils I planted in the Autumn. They now outline the hedge that encloses the caravan and pop up shed. They continue alongside the compost yard and down the length of the forest garden bed. Also, now several thousand daffodils run alongside the tall wall that separates the kitchen garden and orchard and they are now coming out more fully and make a very cheerful display.

I return to my fruit tree border and apart from some brief dashes into the tunnel to shelter from rain and transplant seedlings, I work there all day. I am pleased to report that by the end of the day, I finish the bed…this is not entirely true. I finish the main 2mx60m part of the bed. Now, I have to weed the thin section of the bed against the wall where the fruit trees grow, probably about 50cm wide and 60m long!

I am slightly puzzled by the crocus terrace this year, which although pretty, has yet to reach a thick display of crocuses like last year. The different colours of crocus seem to be blooming separately which is a shame. However, the polyanthas are gorgeous…you win some and you lose some?


Patrick The Stoic!


Poor Patrick tripped over as he came out of his office last night and fell, narrowly missing banging his head on the wall of the new building. He came in for his dinner looking rather dazed and I felt so sorry for him, a fall is the last thing he needs. It did not stop him from being up early this morning ready to help Aideen and Martin backfill the trench after the electricity connection people have laid the cable. Patricks stoicism never ceases to amaze me…it occurs to me that the Open Day on Easter Monday (18th April) is actually his birthday, we must go out for some sort of celebration that evening!

Aideen is certainly her father’s daughter because she worked away outside all day, just her and Martin (with the digger) backfilling the trench which must be 70m long!

My job for the day is to weed the back strip of the fruit tree border which is solid with weeds, mainly Herb Bennet and dead leaves. I almost manage a third of this bed (18m) before I have to go in and make myself smart before my teaching at 5:30pm. This is more important than usual as Aideen and I are leaving after my teaching to give another talk to the Trefoil Society at the Willow Tree Centre. This is a super facility for Guides and Brownies just outside Harefield.

At 7:30pm I gave the talk to a lovely group of mainly ladies who volunteer with guides and brownies, some of them have already visited and many are coming for a visit in June. They were a very warm and responsive group and Aideen and I answered questions for some time at the end. It is lovely at these occasions to talk to people about their own situations which might be gardens (big or small), allotments or in the case of one lady this evening, 15 acres of woodland!

People continue to enquire about volunteering which I feel more and more enthusiastic about. I come away feeling even more determined to work my socks off before the open Day!


Electricity Connected


Today is a beautiful, unseasonably warm day. Unfortunately, I have a tinnitus appointment at the hospital in the morning and although the therapist is lovely, I would prefer to be weeding. This situation is compounded by gridlocked traffic impeding my journeys (I had to drop Diane off at work first, come back home to get grandad up and whizz off again) and malfunctioning parking machines at the hospital – very annoying!

When I get back, the electricity supply are making our connection. Aideen spends another day of hard labour backfilling the trench with Martin in a small digger. When I come in at lunchtime, reinforcements are needed to bring up sand from the bottom of the driveway to cover the electricity connections to protect them. As we have no dumper truck, this had to be brought up in barrows, so Patrick and I joined Aideen for a while to help.

It was fantastic at the talk last night for our audience to have the opportunity to ask questions of Aideen as well as me, something I encourage. Our audience love the opportunity to find out what a young girl like Aideen thinks about her life at Church Gardens. One person asked, “How did you feel growing up on a building site?”. She is as well qualified as anyone to describe what a life like ours entails and I am so proud of the energy she has thrown into this latest project. She is now looking at some of my books to research creating a ‘cut flower’ garden on the land that will be vacated by demolishing the derelict sheds.

I work hard on the back of the fruit tree border and by the time I have to stop for teaching I’ve weeded about 35m. When I go to close up the propagators I notice that something, either a slug or a snail, has bitten off the top of some of my cosmos seedlings. This is deeply frustrating. I decide to raise the seed tray on a platform of pots topped with a glass sheet. Will this work? Who knows. Someone last night asked what do I do about slugs and snails and they asked if I use beer? Yes, lots of people in the house drink beer and no, I do not know what is best for slugs and snails, even though I’ve tried numerous remedies.


Replenishing the Propagators!


Today it is forecasted to rain and it does not disappoint. This change in the weather actually suits me very well as I need to finish separating my seedlings and sow new seeds. If the weather is fine, I am reluctant to come out of the garden but if it is a day of continuous heavy rain it is no hardship to stay in the tunnel.

Luckily, there was not so much to do outside today as we need the scaffolders back to dismantle the rest of the scaffolding. Therefore, Aideen stayed inside to work on the guide book, another job that needs to be done before the Open Day. We have used up supplies of our old guidebook which requires updating so we need to prepare a new version and send it off to be printed.

I finish separating seedlings of Sibela, Allysum, Brachycombe and Celery. I then put all the trays onto the bench, making platforms of glass sheets resting on large flower pots for certain vulnerable seedlings. I’m hoping this may prevent slugs and snails from chewing the cosmos and mice from digging up the chillies, peppers and aubergines.

Having completely emptied both propagators, I sow three 40 module trays of 12 different varieties of cosmos, an 84 module tray of four varieties of tagetes and two 84 module trays of 9 varieties of marigold. I still have space for four more trays but I run out of time and have to go into teach. Tomorrow is supposed to be lovely, so I will return to weeding.


St Patrick’s Day


Today is beautiful weather, as promised, but with a cool breeze. My plan was to finish weeding the back of the fruit tree border but my plan is thwarted by Aideen who needs help. Patrick has a plan to try and demolish the derelict sheds this weekend and he has booked a dumper truck to assist with the process. Aideen wants to finish emptying the logs out of the shed (that will be demolished) so the logs need to be transported to the pop-up shed and loaded into the crates inside. Aideen needs to climb up to reach the upper crate and therefore needs someone to pass the logs to her. I am reluctant to leave the weeding but she cannot manage on her own. Luckily, with two of us, it doesn’t take too long.

I work hard at the weeding for the rest of the day but unfortunately, I do not finish the bed, but I’m close.

Aideen makes good progress with the sheds and it is very exciting to see how close we are to seeing the back of them. It does strike me today how pretty the garden looks already even though we are only in mid-March. The edge of the bed I’m working in is thick with hyacinths and the smaller daffodils and narcissi look stunning and smell fantastic.

After tonight’s rehearsal, we make a rare trip to the pub as it is St Patrick’s Day. However, it is so nice sitting down beside the fire that soon we are all yawning and wanting to go to sleep!


The Big Prune


Today is another glorious day. In the morning, the scaffolders return and remove the last sections of scaffolding that were around the rear of the building. The new building just seems like part of the landscape, I’ve stopped noticing it. I take this as a good sign that it obviously fits in well. Patrick and Aideen continue to fill in the electricity trench, which apart form an indentation in the surface, looks as if it was never there. This is amazing considering the scene of devastation that it was only a few days ago. This scenario always baffles Aideen and I, we go through weeks of agonising labour, driving ourselves to the limit, making a horrendous mess and when the job is finished and cleared up we can barely remember what it was like before!

Patrick and Aideen concentrate on breaking up and clearing the bases of the sheds. This is another monstrous task, primarily because of the shocking building techniques of the previous tenant. Aideen, has to kango through several layers of concrete slab and rubble to reach the original ground level. Some of this rubble will be used as hardcore around the building the rest will have to be taken to the bottom of the drive for removal. Needless to say, it will be an awful job.

Meanwhile, in the garden, I finally finish weeding the fruit tree bed – horay! However, I then set about pruning the fruit trees in my usual haphazard manner. These trees have never been trained into the beautiful fans of cordons of my dreams. This is partly because it took several years to persuade Patrick to fix wires on the wall but also because of my own ineptitude in pruning. My main aim is to stop the trees from growing up too high and encourage them to spread across the wall. Generally, I am managing this and the trees are healthy and fruiting well, so I am satisfied. I also prune the self-seeded Eucalyptus that I’ve allowed to stay in the border. This is probably a silly, sentimental decision but the drastic pruning will produce beautiful juvenile foliage for Aideen’s pressed flower art.

I open up the cold frames and inspect the dahlias. The dahlias corms are all potted up but are not showing sign of life yet. I notice the pots are weedy but I do not have time to weed them. I water them and leave the frames open for the day. I then return to the big field border to start pruning. Depressingly, I notice especially in the first section quite a lot of weeds, particularly burdocks…oh no! I will have to attack them with the fierce spade! But first to the pruning, this is mainly the twelve large budlejias but also cornus’ and the Annabelle hydrangeas. I’ve decided to prune now because they are all coming into leaf although we could still have frosts. There is a limit to how late I can leave this job and sometimes I’ve pruned far earlier in the past. I cut, saw and snip my way through these large budlejias and pile up massive piles of branches on the path. Incredibly, I do this every year and they will grow back to full size during the Summer. When I go inside to get ready for my rehearsal it is difficult to walk on the obstructed paths. It will be a big job disposing of all those pruning!!!


A Tiny Posy for Ukraine


Today, I have a concert, so time outside is limited. The project for the day for the building team is to clear as much of the shed bases as possible. Luckily, they have a beautiful day for the job.

I decide I will not continue pruning today because there is little time and I need some energy for the concert which has a challenging programme. I continue to sow seeds and I sow one 40 module tray with petunias and another with three different varieties of nicotiniana. Before I go into get changed, I make up a tiny corsage of miniature yellow daffodils, grape hyacinth and forget-me-not to wear at the concert in support of Ukraine.

When I return home, I hear it has been a constructive day finishing with a bonfire which has even consumed some of my prunings from yesterday!


Badger Hooliganism!


Before I go to play in church this morning, I go outside to talk to Patrick about how he intends to deal with the ground levels around the new building and the site of the demolished sheds.

This is a complex issue because the contours of the garden have already been disrupted in the past. We believe that originally, there would have been a gentle slope up to the base of the Arcaded terrace. However, when the sheds were constructed, we think the slope was excavated to provide a level base for the sheds and the surplus soil was dumped behind them creating a long hump. We have now excavated a further area to introduce the new building. Now the sheds are removed, we have a choice between trying to restore the previous gentle slope or provide some kind of retaining wall. We also need to link this area to the surrounds of the new building. When I left for church, I was quite concerned about how we would resolve the situation. I was also fearful that it might require much more earth shifting than we had originally anticipated and therefore be very time consuming. At the moment, we have no time spare for extra consumption! This affected my mood all day as more negative things added themselves to my list of concerns.

When I got home from church, I was told that the bee man had visited and all of our bees were dead. This is terrible news and no one really understands what is the cause. Our bee man bemoans the fact that bee keeping is now so challenging where as in the past it was quite straightforward.

When I went to look at the hives, I discover that the badgers have excavated another large exit hole beside our viewing platform. They have also caused chaos in the stumpery which forms the path to the viewing platform. They have dug into some of the logs which are beginning to rot and piled earth and bits of log all over the stumpery path. It looks a terrible mess, the girls describe it as vandalism! When I went into the vegetable garden I could see one tulip display bed had been particularly badly filled with holes and had lots of missing bulbs. I then check my recently planted onion sets to find some unearthed! By this time, I was feeling quite downhearted and I headed off to the field border to continue pruning. The final straw is noticing burdocks popping up everywhere. It is time to pull myself together so I get stuck into the pruning. I manage to finish the big border and then move onto pruning the two large budlejias in the central borders, the budlejias around the bee hives and the end of the forest garden bed.

Whilst I am creating mountains of prunings, James, Meave, Aideen and Patrick are moving tonnes of flint to the sides of the stream prior to creating the stream edges. There is also considerable digging, levelling and adding sand around the side of the building. I then restore the stumpery and use my pile of cobnut poles to make wigwams in the forest garden bed which will be used for sweet potatoes and sunflowers later in the year. I then start on the mammoth job of moving the prunings to the compost yard to be burnt on the bonfire.

Having worked ridiculously hard, I finally begin to feel a bit less depressed. It’s probably time to write a list of things to do before open day. On a positive note, Patrick seems much more clear about how to resolve the landscaping dilemmas in the orchard!

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