16 MAY 2020
Today is a very exciting/scary day, Patrick and I are going out in the car to a brickyard. I haven’t been further than the road at the top of the church driveway since March, and Patrick has only been out sealed in a car, to check sites for his work. But today we need to look at the reclaimed Tudor bricks that we saw advertised earlier in the week, and to match them to our own bricks and see if they will be suitable for our restoration. The new government ‘Be Alert’ guidelines say that you can go out at some distance as long as you take sensible precautions. We have made an appointment at the brickyard, and I have made Patrick change the car’s windscreen because it had cracked and I didn’t want to risk driving with it. We pack a mask, antibacterial wipes and spray and set off for Essex, a drive of more than an hour. I am apprehensive, I have watered my sensitive plants and washed, medicated and fed my elderlies, anyone would think we were leaving for the week, and off we go.
I decide it hasn’t changed much outside, the roads are less busy and I notice the pubs are shut, and I spot one face mask, but otherwise all seems ok. After an uneventful journey we arrive at the brickyard. The man, at a safe distance, shows us a good match to our larger bricks, but presently does not have any of the smaller bricks. If we can agree a good price, we will order 8000 of the larger bricks. We head for home; I am very relieved to turn into the church drive. However, this feeling is perfectly normal for me, even prior to Covid-19. Living at Church Gardens does feel a bit like living in Narnia, a land apart, I can go days normally without venturing further than the top gate, which I might need to open for a delivery. In normal times I view the busy road beyond the gate rather like a ‘lost tribes’ person might view loggers encroaching on their jungle. The busy people rushing past seem to belong to another world. I am very happy to quietly turn around and head back to my own little kingdom. After grabbing some lunch, which involves lots of lettuce as usual, I decide it is time to ‘spawn the mushroom beds’. I retrieve my boxes of spawn from the fridge, grab my Harry Dodson book and the instructions from the Scottish nursery, and head for the mushroom house. This really is to retreat from the real world as I descend into the small underground room below the vine mount. It is dimly lit, rather damp and musty in this room and incredibly peaceful. I smooth over the beds which look like bunk beds on each side of the room and I then notice a potential problem. My well rotted manure looks as if it has wood chips amongst it and the instructions specify it should be straw, saying wood chip/shavings are unsuitable. Oh dear… well it is too late now, we will have to hope for the best. Firstly, I have to spread the spawn over the surface of the bed, then rub the spawn down about 2/3 inches into the compost and finally cover the beds with damp newspaper. You then wait 2/3 weeks for the spawn to run white fibres across the surface and then you add the casing (peat/compost/chalk) mix over the top. I decide that the temperature is a little cool so I bring in an old builders’ heater and switch it on. As I pull the old Moroccan doors shut behind me, I leave the dark cellar with the orange glow of the heater and it really looks like a scene from a previous age.
This job has taken quite a while. It is now about 5pm, and I decide to water the potatoes to try and cheer them up after their nasty brush with the frost and grandad comes along for his walk, with his woolly hat which is a bit pointed, and his white beard becoming bigger and bigger, he is beginning to resemble an animated garden gnome! (I do mean that affectionately). I then have a look at the pond and spend quite a while removing yet more blanket weed.
During this time Meave and Diane have been pointing the new path and James has been trying to coax our petrol shredder back into life. We have had the shredder for many years but rarely used it, amazingly he gets it going. This is to help Patrick who is removing the nut trees that grow out of the side of the terrace in front of the arched wall. These trees should never have been planted in this position, and have grown very large and completely destroy the original design of the renaissance garden. The council have now given permission for their removal, and the result, even with the few that Patrick has started to remove is dramatic. There are still lots of nut trees in the orchard, and they deserve their place in the historic story of this garden, but as I stand back and look at the section of arched wall that is now so much more clearly revealed, I am transfixed. Finally, we have been given a glimpse of how the wall would have appeared 400 years ago.