The weather is very changeable today, there are frequent showers and gusty winds. I want to get on with my potatoes but I am distracted by Pecky. I check under her nesting box lid and find a few red chicken mites. This is a surprise, as this problem doesn’t normally become evident until later in the season. I contain Pecky in her run, which involves squawking from her, and me, when she attempts to escape out of the gate! I then thoroughly clean out the chicken house, spray for the mites and then leave it open to the fresh air.
I spend the next couple of hours raking compost and setting out chitted potatoes to plant. Intermittently, I run into the polytunnel when there is a shower to transplant some seedlings.
After a lunch of lasagne and salad, full of spinach and lettuce from the garden, it becomes evident that it will be hard to squeeze all the potatoes into the available beds. I remembered that I ordered my seed potatoes from a different company this year who send larger packs of seed potatoes for the same cost as my normal supplier. I had wanted to plant more potatoes this year because our stored potatoes were used up by Christmas last year. Normally, the potato quarter of the vegetable garden shares space with the courgettes, this year there is no room for the courgettes. When I mention this to Aideen, she says, ‘Oh good, don’t grow any then!” She is not a fan of courgettes, but it is too late, they are already sown and I couldn’t imagine a vegetable patch without courgettes, anyway, I like them!
The courgettes will have to join another group of vegetables. Luckily, this is not a problem as courgettes are not reliant on rotation to avoid disease like some other vegetables.
In the evening, I regretfully bring in the last butternut squash for dinner, a particularly fine, large specimen. I use half of it in the chicken/olives/chorizo pasta dish, popular with the girls since they were small. We have consumed 65 butternut squash since October (allowing for a couple succumbing to rot!). I’m surprised we do not look like butternut squashes!!!
Cat in the Compost!
The weather looked most unpromising this morning but luckily showers held off and both Aideen and I were outside all day until our teaching began at 4:30. Better still, Aideen was able to help me today. I started off by asking her to clear the only unused section of the cold-frames. I will imminently need to move plants and trays from the polytunnel to the frames in order to start planting out tomatoes, chillies, peppers, aubergines and cucumbers in the beds. The beds are presently overflowing with pots and trays.
I returned to the potato beds to prepare the last bed for two varieties of late main crop potatoes. Previously, this bed had a massive sage bush filling the entire central area. I think it had originally self-seeded and was so magnificent I didn’t have the heart to remove it, although it was taking up valuable space. Sadly, this sage was badly affected by the cold spell and much of it was killed off. I asked Patrick to take it out last weekend, and I have now finished weeding the bed, although I left in some chicory still growing from last year. Aideen very kindly fetched two barrows of compost to spread on the bed. However, there was a problem with this…Pip was sunbathing on the bed! I carefully spread the compost around her whilst she took a few swipes at the rake!
I am delighted to report that all potatoes are now safely in the ground. There was also some chard that was still good from last year that has been left in to grow with the potatoes for now. Also, the frequent showers have been really helpful to coax along the Californian poppies that have been moved.
We finished our day of gardening by weeding one of the onion beds. I cannot believe the carpet of annual weeds filling these beds but this is due to my lovely compost and the clement weather conditions.
Later tonight, Aideen and James put our upcoming events on the website so people can now book tickets.
Patrick's Special Powers
The changeable weather continues and Meave and Aideen are up early to drive their dad to St Mary’s hospital, Paddington, for the first face-to-face consultation about his ankle since the joint replacement operation in November 2019. I continue with my usual routine of sorting out a confused grandad and a stroppy chicken. Dad has now taken to watching Pecky through his window and says she glares at him with a beady eye!
I intend to plant out a tray of lettuces today that are beginning to outgrow their planting modules, but first, I have to weed their prospective beds. Luckily, these beds are small but I am driven back into the tunnel several times by rain. When I am in the tunnel, I use the time to transplant flower seedlings that require more spacious accommodation. I am slightly hindered in this activity by Pip, who is lying across the seed tray and catches my hand with a spiky paw if I try to extricate a seedling.
When the family return from the hospital the girls keep saying to Patrick, “Tell mum about your special powers”. It turns out that an X-ray has revealed that Patrick has grown a completely new bone in his ankle! Unfortunately, this bone is surplus to requirements and quite possibly causing some of his pain. I think Patrick has responded to his last operation like a pruned shrub, he has put on ‘new growth’. He will now have to have another operation to remove the bone and scar tissue.
By the time I start teaching for the day, I have planted out the lettuces and transplanted my Heliotropes and Sweet Sultan.
Illusions of Grandeur
Last night, we watched a programme about the creation of the new RHS garden at Bridgewater on catch up. I couldn’t help but be struck by the parallels with our own garden. Both Bridgewater and Church Gardens no longer have their manor houses, they were both destroyed by fire, so the gardens remain in isolation. They are both walled gardens, although Bridgewater has 11 acres of walled garden compared to Church Gardens’ 3 acres, therefore, both gardens require extensive wall restoration. Bridgewater is building a new visitor centre and so are we, all be it on a much smaller scale. Bridgewater is creating a new lake and so are we, although ours is more of a large pond! Bridgewater is building a paradise garden, we have already done that. I then read that Bridgewater is including forest gardening alongside traditional kitchen gardening, just like us! Later, Aideen mentions that Bridgewater is named after it’s neighbouring canal and at Church Gardens we have a narrowboat! We are like a tiny version of Bridgewater, without £30,000,000, armies of manpower and extensive machinery!
Today was very wet, so I took shelter in the polytunnel. I planted another tray of Italian basil…you can never have too much basil, think of Pesto! I then spent ages ‘potting on’ polyanthas. I now have 72 big enough for proper pots and I’ve managed to grow 324 in total. I will have to continue sowing because I need lots more. Whilst in the tunnel, I noticed my cabbages are completely immersed in wildflowers, some might call them weeds, but I prefer to consider it as companion planting.
When the rain cleared, I headed outside to start planting the sweet peas around the fruit cage. The beds need weeding first and it is a tricky job to squeeze carefully into the bed without damaging any plants to plant the sweet peas against the netting. This is a big job as I have 200 sweet peas to plant. I also popped into the fruit cage and weeded the raspberry bed.
This morning, I was woken up early by a phone call from a nurse to arrange a visit to see “my husband” after his recent hospital appointment. I liaised with Patrick and organised for the nurses to come at 11am, the same time as my zoom talk to Northwood Women’s ‘Out and About’ group. As I was just about to start the zoom talk, a confused, masked, Patrick appeared at the door. Apparently the two nurses were here to see grandad, not him! I do not know how this muddle occurred but I had to leave Patrick to deal with it because I was literally about to start the talk. During the talk, it occurred to me that the two nurses were probably there to do a memory assessment for grandad. It was quite hard to keep my mind on the talk and not to worry about how Patrick and dad were getting on with the nurses. Patrick, unsurprisingly knows little about dad’s care and poor dad can’t remember anything!
Luckily, the talk went well and hopefully the group didn’t notice that I was a bit worried! Afterwards, I rushed over to Patrick’s office to see how he had got on. Patrick felt it had gone well, dad had remembered how to count and tell the time. The nurses had asked if dad wanted any further intervention, like a brain scan, and dad politely declined, saying that his lack of memory didn’t bother him. Strangely, considering dad lives with his family, they asked if he was lonely. Dad said, “Not at all, there are always people coming and going” and told them about the animals and the chicken! I think dad and Patrick did really well and it’s probably me that needs the brain scan for getting the whole thing confused in the first place!
One of the main questions from the Zoom talk Q&A today was, “Do you have any gardeners or volunteers to help in the garden?”. This is quite an understandable question because even with the best will in the world, I know there is too much for one person to do! I replied that I would quite like to clone myself.
Later in the day, as I do not have extra versions of myself, I just stayed outside for longer and I managed to plant sweet peas and weed around three sides of the fruit cage.
Aideen, later helped by Patrick, was digging over the last part of the terrace in preparation for adding more soil because we are planning to start digging the pond on Monday which is very exciting. We spent part of today speaking to different suppliers about very large, very durable pond liners, which will be a substantial purchase!
Today, I decided that the mount looks a bit like a tiered wedding cake. I’m particularly pleased with my ground cover perennials that I planted along the edges of the terraces last year. I now have cushions of pink, purple and white flowers hanging over the walls I can’t wait for the alliums to open as well.
Some people may have noticed that there has been no recent mention of running or workouts. This has been because once Spring comes and the days get longer, so does the amount of outside work. This work has been particularly arduous recently as we prepare for our building project to begin. Sadly, this sort of hard physical labour probably doesn’t have the same effect on one’s physique as organised exercise. If we lived in a fair world I should have a fit and lean body, but that is not the case! Today was an excellent example, I probably did close to 12 hours of hard labour! I was expecting terrible weather but actually, I managed to spend most of the day outside doing a mixture of jobs. When I was in the tunnel, I spent ages transplanting nicotiana seedlings, potting on marigolds and perennial sweetpeas. Outside, I gave the salvias in the central border a bit of a haircut. I removed a large amount of blanket weed from the pond, surprising a large dragonfly nymph in the process. I then weeded the final fruit cage bed and planted out the sweetpeas. When this was done, I had about 30 left, so I added them to the corners of the fruit cage. It was a great relief to finish this job as it is so awkward and uncomfortable to plant the sweet peas. I have to bend or crouch in the bed to plant them as there is no space to kneel. Often, I find myself in a very contorted position in order to avoid sitting on an allium!
Whilst this was going on, Patrick, Aideen and Diane were working incredibly hard on ‘removals’. First they had to move the ridiculously heavy rectangular York stone slabs that we acquired last year. This is the second time we’ve had to move them! Then they shovelled up the sand that had been spread below the ‘above ground’ swimming pool. Then they moved the old lawn mowers, the picnic benches and the very heavy, old machinery by the garage. Then they covered the driveway and parking area with plastic membrane and boards to protect the surface from mud when we start digging on Monday.
During one of our tea breaks, Patrick commented to me… “Have you seen the forest garden bed?”. Unfortunately, the combination of warmer temperatures and lots of rain has caused an explosion of weed growth! The forest bed is now a sea of green with some sticks and plant labels sticking out! This is very demoralising, however, Patrick very kindly offered to help me weed it. I will have to weed around my precious plants because some of them are barely visible and it is not easy to differentiate between plants and weeds.
Late in the afternoon, we were visited by an electrician to look at some work for us and I heard him comment rather incredulously to Patrick and the girls (I was hidden in a flower bed), “Are you really going to do all this work yourselves?”. The girls laughed and said “Yes”, I think they are now as mad as we are!
A Plant Miracle
Today was supposed to be terrible weather but it was dry until lunchtime. Patrick wanted to do a combination of different jobs today to help distract him from his various aches and pains. He wanted to start cutting the main box hedge and he intended to interspace this with weeding the forest garden bed.
However, first I suggested that he could weed a small raised bed to enable me to plant out a tray of beetroot. By the time I’ve got Grandad up, Patrick has cleared the bed, so I happily plant out the beetroot. This is great because beetroot often gets left in the polytunnel for too long because the quarter of the vegetable garden where it needs to be planted has not been weeded. The onion/garlic/shallot (and later bean) quarter is the first section to be cleared and then the potato quarter. This means that half of the vegetable garden looks respectable, the other half resembles a rainforest! The beetroot are now occupying a small, neat bed in a sea of towering yellow flowering brassicas! There is no point clearing these beds too soon as the brassica flowers provide extra food for pollinators. I then spend some time weeding around plants in the forest garden where I make a wonderful discovery.
Last year, I planted two pineapple guavas, one survived, but in a battered condition, the other had looked dead for months. However, I am an optimist and I was reluctant to give up on it and today I spotted very tiny buds on it’s stems – a miracle!
Patrick, Diane and myself spent some time contemplating the pond area and marking out shelves for planting. It is very exciting but also rather nerve wracking to get this job right, it will be a very big hole, the pond is 21m x 15m! We’ve decided the digger will start with the deepest area first, digging to about 1.5m.
During this time, James and Aideen were on top of the arcaded wall clearing a line for fencing. We are trying to stop people straying too close to the edge of the wall. They then spent ages putting up an ‘Instant’ shed besides Aideen’s boat for her to work on things for the boat. The ‘Instant’ shed (quite like a small marquee) took hours to erect!
As the weather worsened, I started moving plants from the tunnel to the cold frames to clear the beds for me to plant out tomato, cucumber, peppers, chillies and aubergines. By now, the rain was torrential but this did not stop me from collecting cauliflower, spinach and elephant garlic for the dinner.