Apparently, according to research, the key to happiness is to have a project or projects to work on, to work very hard to achieve it and probably endure a tough time in the process. Generally, I would agree with this assessment, but there are days when an easier life seems very appealing and today is one such day.
I go back to teaching today, after what euphemistically could be described as my Christmas break. The only day we did not work outside was Christmas Day, even this is not technically true because Patrick worked outside in the morning whilst we were playing at the Christmas Church Service. I also made Christmas dinner for seven people which meant I didn’t sit down until we ate at 5pm!
Today has been a bit stressful basically because however much a family may be working towards the same goal, they do not all proceed towards the goal in the same fashion.
Poor Aideen is attempting to project manage the Church Gardens development plan and the strain is beginning to show. Patrick keeps saying, “We have never worked to schedules in the past”. He is very relaxed about this approach, where a job sits unfinished for years at a time. The conservatory style extension on the side of the house sat built but unfinished and unconnected to the house for 5 years and then we finished it by staying up until 5am on Christmas Eve 2011. I could speak at length about my lack of kitchen and my beautiful range cooker is still in its packaging just inside the kitchen door! However, this ‘laissez faire’ approach will not work when Aideen is trying to plan for us to potentially reopen to the public.
As she pointed out today, we cannot finish the building the night before and then say, “Now all we need is some table and chairs”. This will not do and we have to plan. No one would ever criticise Patrick for not working hard enough, he works far too hard, but pinning him down to finally decide on an order of materials can be frustrating. I try to sail the middle ground between father and daughter but today my more ‘easy going’, philosophical, make do approach did not go down well with Aideen. We certainly do need tables and chairs and they will need to be sourced, collected and stored until the building is ready.
In the end, Patrick limped back to his office sneezing (he has a cold), I return to my damp border and Aideen finishes practising and then starts working on the new edition of the guide book. My main concern is the garden which I need to get visitor ready in the next 2-3 months, probably single handed. A visitor’s café is lovely but not much help without a garden to visit!
A Sad Grey Day
Today is heavily overcast with a relentless drizzle. The atmosphere is sombre and depressing which is appropriate as we are attending a very sad funeral this morning. This is the funeral of the twin sister of a very dearly loved member of our church choir who has tragically left this life before her time. The funeral was beautiful and incredibly moving and I’m sure reminded everyone present to make the most of their lives.
After the funeral, I had to rush Diane back to work and the weather showed no sign of improvement, so Aideen and I sat down to catch up on the blog. We do get very behind with this editing stage of the blog. We made a new year resolution to be more efficient, sadly, I suspect that we will struggle to keep to this plan.
Later in the afternoon, the ‘bee man’ arrived on his bicycle to inspect the hives. When I spoke to him on his way out, the report was mixed. The bees we presently have were from a swarm rescued last summer, most of our previous bees did not survive last Winter. The new bees were split between two hives but one colony was always stronger than the other. Inevitably, the weaker colony have perished. There were not enough of them to keep warm in the cold weather. The other hive appears to be fine and there were even bees flying in and out because the weather, although wet, is mild. I hope they do not use up precious energy foraging for scarce pollen.
Avalanche of Pots!
Today is a beautiful day, blue skies and sunshine. However, on the negative side, Meave has tested positive for Covid this morning so will need to isolate. Aideen decides another stab at the shed is in order so once I have seen to grandad, Pecky and watered the newly planted salads and greens in the tunnel, I join her.
The first job is pots. We have masses of old plastic flower pots. I have hundreds stacked under the bench in the polytunnel and I use hundreds of them every year when starting off vegetables and companion plants for the summer. There are more, mainly larger, plastic pots piled up in our old ‘potting shed’ just outside the gate between the kitchen garden and orchard. However, there were two 1 tonne sand bags full of hundreds more outside the derelict sheds.
Recently, a friend mentioned that she had spent the day washing pots, if you tried to wash this lot you would probably be there until February! Why do we have so many? Most of these pots were here when we first bought Church Gardens, the gardens had been used as a nursery and we have naturally acquired more ourselves every time we buy plants. The best way to deal with such an excess of plastic is to keep using them. I am conscious that in the future when we are opening more regularly that I might sell surplus plants and I never want to be in the position of having to buy plastic pots!
Aideen and I bag up the pots in old compost/manure bags and I attempt to lob them to the back of the potting shed and we hastily shut the door, sorting them will be a job for another day!
We then have a long, exhausting time, slowly shifting stuff to different places as we try to empty the sheds. This included a pile of sodden, extremely heavy, partially rotten sleepers that went to the compost yard to close up the bottoms of the leaf mould piles (this inevitably involved some leaf gathering). We shifted steel ‘deck chairs’ (the collapsible steel supports that hold the steel reinforcement mesh in the floor slab). We moved old metal fencing and windows, old wire litter bins and some massive plastic planters to the compost yard. We moved random plastic containers, offcuts of polycarbonate sheeting to the basement and moved apple storage trays to the compost yard shed. We then moved massive folded lengths of weed suppressing membrane (used to protect the drive) and put them in the trailer and at the end of the day, we moved a giant box pallet and an old play house to the orchard.
After this, I was exhausted and the day finished with yet another family meeting where Patrick and Aideen drew up a detailed list of the dozens of jobs still left to do on the new building with estimates of how long they will take. This sobering information revealed that it will be physically impossible to have the building sufficiently completed to be able to use it for the Open Day. We revise our plans to trying to get the building completed externally with the sheds removed, the surrounding ground restored and the stream in place for our next opening. This will be difficult enough to achieve! For now, we will continue to use our trusty marquees and postpone Sunday weekly openings until we can open the building. For now, we will need Sundays to complete the work!
Exit Pursued By Two Cats!
Today is another beautiful sunny day after a heavy frost during the night. Today, Aideen and I have decided to work in the kitchen garden so I eagerly suggest that we go and collect some compost. This isn’t just any compost, this is church compost. Earlier in the week, I noticed that the men that maintain the church yard have been emptying their compost bins. This happens periodically and they dump the compost at the side of the track and I’m allowed to collect it. Obviously, it is a bit of a trek but it is better if there is two people making the trip together. In fact, it wasn’t just the two of us heading down the track as we were followed by Pip and Minxy. The cats are very curious if they spot us leaving the house on foot and they have a habit of following. Luckily, we were not going far and we were coming straight back. Inevitably, Minxy had to show off and shot up a tree. Luckily, it was quite an easy tree and she managed to get back down.
The very nice compost was destined for the field side border which I continued to clear. Aideen took herself to the brassica quarter where she removed dead borage and cosmos. Then she had a go at taking moss of the brick paths which she did with a hoe.
Tonight, it is back to church choir and band rehearsals. My intention is to restart the Mozart Requiem which we had been about to perform for Good Friday 2020 when Covid struck. We are now preparing for the Good Friday three hour service and also a Platinum Jubilee Concert on the 3rd June.
The Last Courgette
The weather at the moment is beautiful. We are waking up to a frost coated landscape, brilliant blue skies and sunshine. It is hard not to just stand and stare and I catch myself doing this repeatedly throughout the day, thanking God that I am outside surrounded by such gorgeousness! Aideen draws my attention to the big pond which is covered in a mosaic of thick ice and is steaming in the sunshine. We go down to take a closer look and the water has cleared sufficiently to see all the stepping stones and pebbles on the beach through the ice. Pip appears and stretches out a paw because she can see water boatmen swimming below the ice. Her paw breaks through the ice and immerses in the chilly water, she is not impressed!
Today we receive delivery of our first set of table and chairs for the café. These are from our local salvage shop in the village. We need about 10 sets in total and Aideen is industriously sourcing them on Facebook Marketplace, then there will be a lot of driving around to collect them and then we will have to store them until the building is ready. I think we will soon be watching the TV through a forest of tables and chairs! Aideen spends the day removing moss from the vegetable garden paths. They look great cleaned off but it is very time consuming. I continue with my bed, observed by hungry robins and Pip sunbathing on top of the fruit cage which she treats like a hammock! At the end of the day, I make soup with the last courgette, or should I say marrow, potatoes, onion, garlic, leeks and butternut squash. I’m using up some butternut squash that have started to rot in the store. This seems to be more of a problem than usual, could it be because the crop was late to produce squash so they had not been fully ripe for as long as normal? I intend to avoid as much waste as possible and make a massive bowl of thick, delicious soup which should warm us up tomorrow!
Pulled Through a Hedge Backwards
As I get dad up this morning, I am conscious again of the ‘Groundhog’ situation we are in. We follow exactly the same routine every day, largely because this helps with dad being able to understand what is happening and I want him to keep doing simple things that he can manage for as long as possible. Naturally I chat away to him, I basically tell him everything that’s going on which he seems to appreciate, but most of it probably goes over his head. It did strike me today that it is a bit sad when starting a new bar of soap or tube of toothpaste is a major event in our lives!
Today, Patrick receives delivery of some very long, heavy pieces of wood which will be the main supporting beams of the roof and he works on this all day with James, Aideen and Diane. Meave, who is still isolating, goes into the orchard to rake up leaves.
The last couple of days I have been concerned that I have another badger break in. Bulbs have been dug up in the back courtyard and all the way down the fruit tree border and there is a tell-tale poo! I checked the fence behind the Yew hedge at the top of the kitchen garden yesterday and I checked again today. There is one section where the vertical slats look as if they could be pushed away from the gravel board. I fetch heavy blocks, some offcuts of concrete beam and a piece of wood. Then I have to get these heavy and unwieldy objects through the yew hedge to wedge against the dodgy bit of fence. This is very hard as the Yew hedge is very dense and strong and not easy to push things through or push myself through! When I’m finished, I literally look like I’ve been pulled through a hedge backwards! I then spend my day in the field border which is beginning to look much clearer. The soup I made yesterday provided a much needed lunch as it was a very damp and misty day.
Work continues apace in the new building, Patrick is working with James, Aideen and Diane. Meave is generally at a distance in the orchard because frustratingly she is still producing a faintly positive Covid test, although she seems perfectly fine.
This stage of the build is progressing carefully as Patrick works out how to cut these massive pieces of wood to form the triangular trusses that make up the framework of the roof. He is taking great care because a mistake will be very expensive. The beams are also extremely heavy to manoeuvre and everything has to be in exactly the right place so measurements are key. When I come in later in the day, two of these triangular sections and one section of top ridge beam are in place. It looks very impressive! Patrick seems happy but it is clear that this stage will take some time.
I then shout for Meave to come and help me collect some of the church compost to add to my field border. She doesn’t hear me at first because she’s listening to music whilst raking. With Meave’s assistance, we collect four barrows of compost and I then carry on with the thankless task of weeding the bed. I do not feel I’m making much progress, there are so many distractions at the weekend. At the end of the day, I decide to pace out the border to measure my progress because I haven’t even reached the central crossing path of the garden which I regard as the halfway point. This measuring proves to be quite revealing, I have weeding more than 30m of this 3m wide bed but I still have another 6m to reach before the central path. I pace out to the top of the border from the central path and it is about 25m. Interestingly, the cross over path which has the fountain in the middle is not the central point of this side border. This cheers me up a bit because I have therefore weeded about half of it. The nature of the weeding is demoralising because I know that although I’m doing a pretty thorough job the type of perennial weeds I am attempting to remove are omnipresent and will return in the not too distant future.
However, I am very glad that I’m attacking this border first because I do think it is the hardest one to deal with and I’m hoping it will look better as a result. When it starts to get dark, I head off into the vegetable garden and pick sprouts, kale, swedes and some very unpromising looking green cabbage for tonight’s dinner.
The weather is fabulous at the moment but the frosts are hard, literally! It takes ages to scrape the ice off my car this morning. One of my first jobs this morning is replacing a rope to tie one of my mimosas to its supporting stake. I am thrilled with my mimosas, they are growing so well and look beautiful and they both are smothered in blossom which will soon look like a mass of little yellow pompoms which last for ages and smell divine.
I look up at the brilliantly blue sky through the bright green ferny leaves and it makes a fantastic picture.
I then address the peach tree that is beside the orchard gate. Last year, Patrick cut this tree down to about 18 inches. This drastic action was taken because it had grown completely out of control before we attempted to train it and it also suffers from horrendous peach leaf curl. Amazingly, it then re-sprouted two strong new branches at this new low level. I tie these into the supporting wires, grateful to have a second chance with this tree although it already has the dreaded peach leaf curl.
This bed is also home to some large comfrey plants, which although they are useful are not ideal companions for the peach tree because they grow very big. Their leaves are dead and flopping all over the path so I remove them and contemplate trying to remove the comfrey roots altogether. However, I know this is practically impossible as it is so deep rooted. It’s main benefit is to pull minerals up from deep in the soil via its elongated tap root.
After tying back and pruning some lemon scented Winter honeysuckle, I return to my monster bed to continue weeding. During this time, Aideen is moving bricks and then helping her dad in the building. For lunch, Aideen and I enjoy cheese, tomato and garlic chive sandwiches. The stored tomatoes are still going strong and are very tasty. The presence of some new garlic chive leaves is very welcome.
We received several deliveries today and one nearly ended in disaster. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a little black shadow hop into the back of the van and as the delivery driver went to shut the doors out jumped a rather startled Pip! Imagine if she had got shut in, where would she have ended up?
Later, whilst I was buried in the bushes at the back of my border, I heard low growling. I look up and Minxy was sat on top of the wall growling at a cat on the field side of the wall. We have a couple of large strays that hang around the garden. I squeeze and push my way through two Budlejias and an Edgeworthia to try and coax her down, I do not want them to fight! The strays are much bigger than her and I think they are male, she will come off worst. She tells me very clearly to stop interfering, as Queen of Church Gardens she is defending her territory. Luckily, I’m making so much fuss, the invader backs off and minxy re-joins me on the garden side of the wall.
I come in to teach and spend the evening picking bits of twig out of my hair. James and Aideen head off to Hitchen to pick up a circular table. Ironically, they were there last night picking up a square table and four chairs. We are now sharing the living room with a large dismantled table and six chairs, two medium tables with four chairs each and one round table!!!
Patrick’s Mad Moment!
It was extremely misty this morning but it looked as if we could have a good day, there had also been a very heavy frost. The disadvantage of these very cold nights followed by sunny mornings is that condensation falls like rain from the inside of the ‘tin-roof’ hat covering the new building. This is rather unfortunate as the tin hat is supposed to keep things dry! Last night, I helped Patrick cover up all of his wood with large sheets of polythene because it is harder to cut when it is wet. After getting grandad up, I was heading for Patrick’s office when I realised someone was in the new building. I look inside and discover Patrick standing on top of a polythene covered pile of wood trying to manoeuvre a massive length of wood through the central scaffolding platform and up onto the outer scaffolding platform. I am aghast, has he taken leave of his senses? I am very cross with him, he should not be balanced on a slippery, unstable pile of wood and he cannot possibly move the piece of wood on his own. I ask if he was he expecting Aideen to join him and I think he was but had neglected to ask her or even tell her he was planning to work outside! I rush to get her and both of us help Patrick move the piece of wood and then tell him to come down so we can tell him off properly!
I do not do much more today because I’m singing at another funeral at 1pm. When I return, I spend some time with Aideen deciding on dates for the website and working on the new guidebook, then it’s time to teach.
We are being very fortunate with the weather at the moment and after a brief trip out to the bank I head back to my border.
I start working on the section of the border behind my mum’s memorial bench, where there is a set of ornately painted organ pipes that look like a set of pencils! Behind the organ pipes is a red stemmed cornus. This is a very vigorous plant and during the year it pushes branches in-between the organ pipes. My first job was to prune these branches but they had sneakily rooted themselves firmly into the soil in front of the pipes. I had forgotten how good cornus is at setting root in the soil and it wasn’t easy to remove. This is necessary because if I allow them to grow, soon we will not be able to see the lovely organ pipes.
I set aside five rooted sections, which I will grow on and use elsewhere. Maybe they would look good alongside Mayflower?
The cornus was not the only plant rooting branches in the soil, the main unwelcome culprit of this habit are the brambles that are coming over the wall from Park Lodge fields. Unfortunately, there is a massive stand of brambles growing alongside our wall on the field side. Last year, Aideen and I attempted to partially clear them from the wall but they have grown back. One has to grudgingly admire brambles, they grow so fast, their thorns are very off putting and the opportunistic branches set root as soon as they hit the ground! We really need to attack them from the field side but we do not have time at present. For now, I will cut branches off at the top of the wall and uproot any rooted branches and remove them. This is not an easy job as I have to squeeze myself in-between the shrubs at the back of the border and the wall to cut the branches and my gloves, although quite thick and waterproof, are not bramble proof. I completely fill the big green barrow with bramble branches…that’s a lot of brambles! I am making reasonable progress with the border, maybe I will reach the end by the end of the week, then I need to finish applying compost!
Barrage of Brambles
Today the cold weather continues, it is so chilly and shady on the side of the garden where I’m working that the little piles of leaves and soil that I’ve swept up on the path are frozen and never thaw out!
I start the day by emptying the big green barrow, which is no mean feat as the compost heap towers above my head. I attempt to use the two pronged fork to hurl the brambles, dead stalks and leaves high onto the top of the heap but I find this difficult and they often fall back down again. I’ve even resorted to scooping up the leaves etc. in my arms and climbing up on top of the neighbouring heap which has rotten down to toss it onto the back of the heap!
On my way back, I spot a medium sized bumble bee in the winter flowering honeysuckle. I was glad to see he had very full pollen sacks on his legs. It is good to see our garden providing food for bees even in January.
I continue working in the border, there is still plenty to do even in frozen conditions. I pull away lots of dead dry stalks, remove moss and a lot of surface rooting weed growth and I remove lots more brambles coming over the wall. It is a sobering thought that if I wasn’t tending the garden it would be reclaimed by brambles in a couple of years. It is supposed to drop in temperature to -5 tonight which should really freeze the pond.
Life Under The Ice
It was very cold last night, but Patrick and Aideen worked together bolting the big roof timbers despite weather wearing woolly hats!
The pond is staying frozen at the moment and first thing this morning Pip and I went to take a closer look. It is fascinating watching the different pond creatures going about their business under the ice. Apart from water boatmen and pond beetles, I saw what looked like a rolled leaf walking across the curved surface of a large pebble. On closer inspection, I thought it was probably a dragonfly nymph. Where do all these creatures come from? It is not long since our pond was just a hole in the ground and I’ve yet to put any plants in, but it is already colonised. Pip inspects the ice edge with her paw and then licks the ice at the edge of the pond.
I continue working away at my border and spot my little witch hazels cowering between the much larger budlejias. When I first planted this border, using tiny plants from the Parkers catalogue, I chose many of my favourite shrubs and herbaceous perennials but I fell into the usual trap of not always checking the specific requirements of each plant. I bought a set of three witch hazels and planted them at intervals beside the wall. These intriguing plants that produce their spidery blooms between December and February have survived but not thrived. They haven’t grown very much and they are swamped by the budlejias. I now realise that they need a sunny or maybe light shaded position. I decide to dig up the two worst affected specimens and move them to more central open positions. If I have found the right location, they could grow to 10 feet!
Compost Heap Meltdown
When I finally got outside today I was determined to get lots done. I didn’t manage to finish the border yesterday so I definitely needed to finish it today. When I checked on my broad beans, peas and sweet peas under the cloche covers in the polytunnel I discovered the tips of some of the beans have grown mould. I brought them out onto the bench and trimmed off the affected leaves and resolved to plant them out soon. As I finished weeding the top of the border, I realised that the clumps of wild rush that are growing amongst my phormiums and cordylines are obviously vigorous plants and they shouldn’t really be in my mixed herbaceous border. One particularly large clump is growing right on the edge of the path and overhanging the path quite substantially. I decide to wrestle it into my barrow. It then occurs to me that this is an evergreen rush which could be exactly what I need to plant alongside Mayflower. It has been my plan to plant something reedy between Mayflower and the pond, preferably evergreen, to blur the water’s edge to try and create the illusion that she is on the water. Could this vigorous rush provide the desired effect? I count five clumps of it in my border and decide to dig them up.
Before doing this, I have to empty the big green barrow and because it is Saturday, Diane is able to help me. The difference between us is stark, unsurprisingly as she is 23 and I’m 58, also she is slim and fit, and I’m…not! Normally it takes me sometime just to heave the barrow to the compost yard, the barrow is heavy and the compost yard is distant! Emptying the barrow is a struggle because it is hard to throw it up on to the heap which is taller than me! Diane races off with the barrow and empties it onto the heap, maybe her basketball skills enable her to throw it much further onto the heap. Delighted, I push the empty barrow back to the border in double quick time…then I realise I can’t find my snips! These are not just any snips, these are my very posh snips which I love and use all the time, however, sometimes I accidentally leave them in the bucket! I frantically look around for them but I know with a sinking heart that they’ve been thrown accidentally into the green barrow and then hurled far back onto the monster compost heap by my strong daughter. I head miserably back to the heap, calling for Diane, who finds me weeping helplessly peering into the mass of tangled weeds, brambles and dead stalks. The heap is about three cubic metres of dead vegetation! Diane climbs up on top of the neighbouring heap and her youthful eyes spot the snips right at the back of the heap. She says, “Either that’s a banana or that’s your snips mum” (my snips have pale yellow handles). She then heroically climbs into the heap and retrieves them. I give her a big tearful hug, much to her amusement, and head back to my border clutching the precious snips. I then transport my giant clump of rushes to Mayflower and then dig up four more and position them, with difficulty (they are very heavy), along the side of Mayflower where they look quite good.
I then dig up some clumps of rose campion from the bottom bed of the mount and put them into the holes left by the rushes and bed them in with church compost. Removing rose campion that were overcrowding grapevines had been another job on the ‘to do’ list. I finish the day shovelling five barrows of compost onto the border kindly brought to me by Meave and Mary.
Producing My Own Plants
This morning, Aideen and I are playing in church and she jokes with James and Patrick when she gets back to find them struggling with measurements that they always run into problems when she isn’t there. Joking aside, erecting and assembling the ridge beam and trusses has been a challenging and time consuming job. Patrick commented today that we are definitely behind schedule again! However, by the end of the day they only have one more truss to install and Patrick seems happy. One of the issues has been the amount of bolts that the engineer has stipulated, at each joint 6 bolts are required. There will be hundreds of bolts used by the end of the build and they are not cheap!
Once I am changed back into my work clothes I go to look for volunteers to help barrow compost. Today, only Meave is available which means I have to barrow as well. This is hard work and saps my energy, but by the end of the day the bed is done, weeded and covered in compost and it looks great. I now decide to cut and dig up sections of rooted cornus sibica because I have a plan to plant a large group of them alongside part of the edge of the pond, their red stems will look very effective in Winter. I also have quite a few young penisetum red heads which I’ve nurtured in pots since last year and I intend to plant them in a group as well. Not only should these massed plantings look good but it is satisfying to know that I have propagated them myself. I heel the sections of cornus into the cold frame. My last job before light falls is to dig up any more rose campions that are too close to grape vines and replant them in the field border. The rose campion looked stunning around the base of the mount last year but the plants were very big and swamped the grape vines and as a result, the vines on the bottom of the section of the mount were much smaller than the vines on the higher terraces.
For tonight’s dinner I collect leeks, red cabbage and sprouts and shallots. I’m cooking coq au vin, with red cabbage and sprouts.