Last night ended on a positive note with Aideen studying her spreadsheets to work out how close we are to matching the timings on her schedule. She is now quite optimistic (unusual for Aideen) that we will meet our target of getting the roof done, the exterior cladding on and the scaffold down in time for the electricity connection to be made on 14th March which will then give us four weeks before open day to back fill, demolish sheds, sow grass, finish the stream and generally make good. We have our favourite dinner of my meatballs whilst watching Trigger Point and go to bed…
At about 1am Diane comes into our room to ask where dad is and if he has switched off the pond pump? We are periodically using the new pump to keep the level of the pond down to avoid it overflowing in this terrible weather, however, we did not want to inadvertently drain the pond too much! Patrick went out to check and the next thing I know he is hurrying up the stairs asking for help. Diane and I get dressed and follow him outside because the pond overflow has blocked and the pond (despite the pump) has overflowed. Patrick couldn’t get to the edge safely to sort it out so sensibly he has called us. We certainly don’t want him falling in the pond as he can’t swim! Diane extricates a long piece of black plastic, ripped off a shed roof by the wind, which has blocked the overflow grating. The water is freezing and immediately starts to gush down the overflow. We walk around to check Mayflower and the stream. Distressingly, Mayflower’s supposedly dry dock has flooded and Mayflower has floated upwards, the gravel that should be supporting her has fallen underneath her hull and now she is shifted slightly to one side! We will have to come up with a better solution for Mayflower. We clear some stuff out of the stream and head back to bed.
Poor Patrick says he doesn’t think he can cope with the stress of keeping vigil on the pond. I point out that we are experiencing extreme weather and it will be much less worrying when the stream is finished and water cannot get under the main pond liner. I remind him that our present situation with the flooding issue is better than when there was no pond. Before the pond, the exit pipe for the stream would block and disappear beneath several feet of freezing water and a large section of the orchard would flood. Then some poor soul (usually me) would have to wade in and unblock it!
In the morning, I break the news to Aideen that Mayflower has been dislodged. Patrick is considering getting our friendly crane driver back to lift her whilst we clear out the gravel that has fallen beneath her and then we will set her back in.
Billy is sent back from the site where he should have been working today because of the weather so he and Aideen work on battening the roof of the new building and James and Patrick joins them after work.
I carry on with some very monotonous, disheartening weeding in the central border. It is the worst type of weeding which has to be done with a hand weeder to try not to disturb bulbs and other plants. But, the soil is cold and sticky and the weeds (herb bennet, grass and small dandelions) have covered the soil. Weeding the forest garden bed was so much easier. Although the bed is massive, the soil is soft, the weeds were more spaced out and progress was much quicker. I just need to keep going and not be put off.
Three Days to Germinate!
Today the weather is calmer and I’m determined to make some progress. Yesterday, it occurred to me that although I think I have quite a lot of gardening days before the Open Day, the problem is the amount of hours available in the garden each day. By the time I get outside, having dropped Diane at work and got Grandad up it is at least 11am, allowing for having some lunch I will only have 3 or 4 hours outside before I have to come in to teach. To do what I would like to do before the Open Day, I probably need 8 hours a day! I need to modify my expectations.
Aideen and I start the day with a quick discussion about the new guidebook…when will we get that done? She then goes out to the building on her own to continue battening the walls prior to cladding. Hopefully, later in the day she will be joined by Billy because it is not easy work on your own.
I start my gardening duties in the polytunnel checking the propagators. Amazingly, some seeds have already germinated, which means I have to lift the glass a little above the trays to allow them to emerge, whilst hopefully still putting off the mice. After carefully watering everything I return to my nemesis…the centre triangles of the central mirror borders. I do make better progress today, although not as fast as I would like. I trim the dwarf box hedges a little and give the lower leaves of the pampas grasses a haircut to give the little box hedges some breathing space.
I go in to teach at 4:30pm and when I finish at 8pm I discover that I need to cook because Meave is trying to meet a work deadline. It was a bit late to start cooking but I retrieved some butternut squashes from the store to make a trusty, family favourite…chicken, olives and pasta (and obviously butternut squash!)
A Fierce Looking Spade
Today, Aideen is on her own working on the roof. She has started to get a bit downhearted again because she had hoped by today we would be ready to start tiling and sadly we are nowhere near that stage. This is because battens have to be fixed along the length of the roof at 10cm spacings on which are hung the tiles. BUT the roof is 14m long and 3-4m wide. It is massive, Patrick thinks there may be as many as 40 lines of battens to be cut and screwed to the rafters on each side sides. The battens have to be perfectly straight and accurately measured, it is a very slow job. However, it is a job that Aideen can get on with on her own (she is the only one presently available). I am incredibly impressed with her dogged determination to get the job done. She goes outside before me in the morning and stays outside working all day and evening, sometimes she is still outside at 10:30/11pm, exhausted but refusing to give up! Building the tea room is an incredible achievement but it is a massive credit to her and her dad, with a great deal of support from James and Diane.
My days’ work is still in the central border but I also take time to tie up some climbing roses to the arches that span the central path, probably blown away by the wind. I make reasonable progress today moving onto the final two triangles of the mirror section. Unfortunately, these two triangles have been badly invaded by Valerian. I have mixed feelings about this native plant, which I did plant deliberately in the next two sections of the border. I planted red and white varieties and it has colonised these sections thoroughly. However, it is a prolific self-seeder and keeps appearing further up the border. When in flower, the clouds of red and white frothy blooms look lovely, even Patrick has remarked on them. Unfortunately, it smells quite unpleasant, Patrick doesn’t have much of a sense of smell! This year, I’ve decided to be firm and I intend to remove it from places where it shouldn’t be. Sometimes self-seeding is OK but this plant can be overpowering. I decide to use a new tool for the job which James’s mum gave Aideen for Christmas. It is a fierce looking pointed spade with serrated edges. It turns out to be very good at extricating thick, stubborn valerian roots!
Today is going to be a bit disrupted because I have a hospital appointment in the morning, which could potentially take up the whole morning. This involves an early start for dad and me swapping ‘Diane ferrying’ duties with Patrick. The day starts cold and wet but this does not stop Aideen from heading off to her roofing duties, at least she is under cover. Luckily, she will be joined by Meave in the afternoon because she is taking an afternoon off work to help with the roof. No one at her work would believe this, so she had to send a picture of herself on the scaffolding to prove it! When I get back from the hospital, having had a sneaky visit to the hospital’s second hand book shop, the weather is still miserable. I head into the polytunnel to sow sweet peas until it’s time to pick Diane up and get ready for the choir rehearsal. Whilst in the tunnel, I witness Minxy attempting to break into my cloche propagator with her paws. She’s not silly, she wants to sneak inside and sit on a warm seed tray!
I am delighted that all the girls decided to leave the roof to come to my rehearsal, although they were still in their working gear. We do have a Mozart Requiem to get ready for as well as a roof! Thank you girls!
Today is a beautiful, sunny day and it is so welcome to humans and bees. It is Friday, so I do not have teaching or a rehearsal so I am determined to make better progress with the central borders. When I go outside, I am drawn towards the miniature orchard which is planted with numerous different crocuses of varying size and colour. I love crocuses and so do the bees. It is a positive hive of activity with giant bumble bees rolling around in blooms bending under their weight and numerous honey bees busily filling their pollen sacks.
The epic roof construction continues with Aideen, Patrick, Meave (who takes another afternoon off work) and later James (who has a cold). During the day, the weather is good. The lovely weather raises the temperature and I’m down to a double layer of t-shirts. At the end of the day, light fades and the cloudless sky offers no shelter from plummeting temperatures and soon it is really cold.
It is not surprising that I am finding the central borders slow-going, they are 4m deep, 25m long and there are two of them…that is a lot of border! By the end of the day, I have finished the triangle sections. Maybe I can get the four sections that each contain an ornamental cherry tree done by the end of the weekend. I finish the day by finishing the sowing of the sweetpeas in the polytunnel. I now have seven, 32 module root trainers of sweet peas sown. When I come in, I take on the washing up. I am sad to say that our already quite low standards of housekeeping have declined whilst trying to build the tea room. I do my best, but with household numbers increased to eight, keeping everyone fed is as much as I can manage, housework has taken a back seat!
Tiling at Last!
Today is another bright but cold day with no rain, horray! I got dad up earlier than usual because he was buzzing before I’d even got up.
The positive side of this was that I got into the garden earlier. Whilst I was manically weeding, Meave, Aideen, Diane, Patrick and James were on the roof. At lunchtime, we were joined by Brook’s mum, Tracey, which enabled even more of them to be perched on the roof. By this time, they were actually tiling!
I managed to weed the final two sections on one side which included one of the Valerian beds. I decided to be ruthless and took out any valerian plants that were too near the box hedge. This was because they grow so big they flop over the little hedge which doesn’t look great. I am also keen to get this hedge to develop so there is more of an impression of the zig zag division of the bed. The box hedge looks healthy but is a bit small, so this year I want to ensure it gets more light. Another issue is a self-seeded creeping mint plant that has invaded the last section on this side. Only God knows where this plant/weed came from, it certainly was not planted deliberately. I attempted to remove as much as I could find. When the light was fading, I went to see the roof and was stunned to see the progress. The tiles look beautiful and there were Aideen and Diane perched on the roof nailing them in place. I went inside to put the dinner on and then came out to help. Mainly I was passing tiles, it is such a tall roof that you need a chain of people to pass them up onto the roof. I also got a chance to hang some of the tiles myself. By dinner time, 11pm, tiles were hung on about a sixth of the roof on both sides which is incredibly progress. Aideen and Diane were up for working all night but it was decided to get up early in the morning instead. It’s a good job that we do not have ‘living’ neighbours (we live next to a graveyard), considering the noise of the hammering!
Fuelled by Chocolate
Today is another cold, bright, sunny day. I am hoping to finish the central borders today but unfortunately the tea room roof has other ideas. Three times during the day I am called over to the new building to join the chain gang shifting tiles up onto the scaffolding. Each time we move about 1000 tiles, usually being passed a pile of 5 at a time! I am needed to either carry them down a section of scaffold or pass them around a corner. This is time consuming and pretty strenuous. As I’ve said many times before, if life was fair I should have the body of a goddess with all the exercise I have…life isn’t fair!
Today’s weeding involved more valerian removal but I did transplant four clumps to better spots. My fierce spade is also good at removing burdock and other deep rooted plants. There will always be some left in the soil but it will set them back. Incredible progress is made on the roof today with the sound of hammering echoing around the garden walls. In fact, one of the problems we are facing is a shortage of hammers and we keep running out of nails, it is such a big roof!
The girls have been magnificent. James keeps their spirits up with an excellent playlist of music, booming out of Aideen’s speaker. That and a commercial pack of 48 chocolate cream eggs seems to be keeping them going. This tea room has been fuelled by chocolate!!
A Hitch Hiking Ant!
Last night, when an exhausted Patrick came in and collapsed on the sofa in the extension I commented how amazing the girls were being working on the roof. He replied with unusual enthusiasm, normally being a man of few words. He agreed it was incredible what had been achieved and he is very impressed and thankful to them and James. He said he was particularly grateful to have delegated the hammering to the girls because on top of his other ailments, Patrick has damaged the nerves to the thumb in his right hand and it is extremely painful. But alongside our pride in our daughters is a great pleasure in seeing them grow in confidence as they work on something that few people get the opportunity to do. It is so good to be able to have a go at a project like this and it is a credit to Patrick that he always gives the girls a chance to do all aspects of the job, in a supportive, non-judgemental way.
Aideen and I spend the morning going around the garden righting benches, tables, chairs, gazebos etc. after we upended everything when the storms were due. We then went down the track to retrieve the final dregs of church compost to add to the central borders.
Patrick has called in his roofing friend to give us a quote for putting on the ridge tiles. As he drives out of the driveway, he stops to speak to us and congratulates us on the good job done on the roof…praise indeed!
We both then sit down with Patrick to discuss ordering the windows and doors for the building. This decision keeps getting postponed whilst Patrick attempts to find a better/cheaper quote. Today we conclude that we may have to accept the expensive prices as it is unlikely that we can get them at a lower price. We consider that maybe we should install the ridge tiles ourselves to save money.
Aideen then goes into the front field to remove turf from the proposed route of the trench that will be for the new electricity supply.
After spreading four barrows of compost on the first four sections of the central bed I return to weeding the last section. I have several moments of thinking I have an insect crawling on me but dismiss it as there is no sign of any ants on the ground. However, when I go into teach later, the crawling sensation returns and when I look in the mirror there is an ant on my ear! Where did that come from?
Tonight, l use our own potatoes in the dinner which will be a fish pie with broccoli and sweetcorn. We give ourselves a night off from working on the roof because everyone is exhausted!
Today is a bit wet and miserable and the day begins with Aideen needing assistance. We have had a delivery of pre-painted black wooden cladding and some sleepers. These need to be moved into the yard area outside the new building and inside the main gates. Aideen obviously cannot move the wood on her own and she did help me with the compost yesterday, however, this moving job is in another league. First, we had to shift three of the massively long and heavy scaffolding poles over to the other side of the orchard. Then we moved six oak sleepers, also very heavy, one at a time. After moving plysheets and pallets out of the way, we started on the cladding boards. These were lighter, but they were very long and there were at least 100 of them. We started carrying them three at a time and built up to 5 at a time. We then shifted two large pallets that had previously contained tiles to the other side of the orchard and then four more pallets to the other side of the parking area.
All of this effort is to enable Aideen to kango through the hardcore to make a start on the trench for the electricity supply. What a shame we didn’t lay a pipe in our hardcore last Autumn when we were laying it…’cest la vie’!
After this, we decide to have lunch before continuing with our tasks. I start by checking the propagators and discover I have allowed the trays in the big propagator to dry out, this system is harder to regulate than my other new, well sealed propagator. As a result, quite a few tall, spindly, cosmos seedlings have collapsed. I re-seed the modules and water everything thoroughly. I then return to the end of the central border which is thick with tightly packed small annual weed seedlings. This is fiddly to weed and it is not practical to wear a glove so my hand is soon wet, cold and very muddy! Tonight is pancake night which is technically Patrick’s annual cooking night, however, he is working on the roof so I brace myself for trying to produce sufficient pancakes for seven very hungry adults who have spent a cold, damp evening on the roof of the new building…that’s a lot of pancakes! Luckily, Meave comes to the rescue and I keep up a steady stream of batter and she cooks the pancakes!
Second Live Talk
Today dawned, wet and miserable which is quite convenient as Aideen and I are heading off this morning to give one of our live talks and it wouldn’t have been a great day in the garden. The talk for Northwood U3A is not far away but we need to be there at 10am. This requires an early start for grandad but as he was buzzing me early yesterday morning, he shouldn’t mind too much. We head off at 9:30am to a new church/church hall space in Northwood Hills which I hadn’t known existed before today. It was a lovely building, very spacious with excellent facilities. The group organisers were setting out lots of chairs and lots of people were arriving. Having done one live talk for Chiltern U3A I thought I knew what to expect but this situation was completely different. I had to stand on a stage and speak with a microphone! I must confess to feeling a little apprehensive as the hall filled up and I then realised that I had not brought my music reading glasses! Purely by chance, at the last talk I discovered my music reading glasses were better for reading a script on a lectern than my ‘multi-focals’. I came up on stage to start to speak and the lights were dimmed…I now had the wrong glasses and faint light! After a quick blip with the PowerPoint presentation which Aideen quickly resolved, we were able to start. Luckily, I know the talk quite well and I’m used to my short sightedness and the talk then progressed smoothly. As usual, I was quite taken aback by the reaction to the talk which was overwhelmingly positive and quite emotional with lots of questions, including the old favourite; “What do you do with all your vegetables?”. I did admit that recently our diet of organic fruit and veg has been supplemented by chocolate cream eggs which we have been using to bolster energy levels in the building team as they toil late into the evening! Lots of people came up to speak to Aideen and I at the end which was lovely and it would appear that Northwood U3A, which consists of multiple groups, had lots of people and groups that would like to visit us. It is quite a revelation that U3A’s are so large. I often think that a particular U3A has already visited and I then discover there are lots of other subgroups that have yet to visit. Quite a few people were enquiring about volunteering which is something we need to be more organised about.
On our way home, we called in at Harefield Collectables where I discovered two ornamental antique metal trough-like plant holders on legs (rather hard to describe) and a modern set of decorative metal shelves and plant stand so it did not take long to spend the fee from the talk!
When we got home, we had lunch and Aideen (who has a nasty cold) had a rest. Poor Aideen is exhausted from the long hours spent on the roof. It was still raining but I went around the garden deciding where to plant my onion and shallot sets and garlic. I then patrolled the borders checking on the emerging bulbs, weed re-growth and also the pond that was filling up high again. I put the dinner on using more butternut squashes before I started teaching…ironically, another question at the talk was “Who does all the cooking?”, well you know the answer to that one!
A Trug Full of Leeks
Today the weather is fairly dry which is a relief. There is a lot to deal with at grandad’s this morning so I am extremely relieved to escape into the garden. Aideen starts the day continuing with her trench where she is attempting to take out the hard-core prior to the digger coming to fully excavate the trench. I return to the top of the central borders to finish weeding in the bulb filled box hedged enclosures. When this job is done, I head into the vegetable garden to prepare beds for the Spring planting of garlic, onion and shallots. I decide to plant the garlic at the ends of the beds that already contain broadbeans and peas. I add some mushroom compost to the beds and dig up some self-seeded nigella and cornflowers to add to the companion planting in these beds. Unfortunately, when I look more closely at the garlic I am about to plant it is apparent that some cloves have started to rot which is very disappointing, I didn’t think I had left them that long before planting. This meant that the new garlic fitted into the end of the bed that contained the peas. The majority of my garlic crop was planted in the Autumn and is now growing strongly. I always plant a bit more in the Spring but I find the earlier planted garlic is superior.
I then planted shallots in the end of the bed that contains the broadbeans but first, I removed a stray thyme plant which I divided into three and I replanted the divided sections into the general herb beds at the top of the vegetable garden. Before I came in to prepare for my choir rehearsal I dug up a trug full of leeks. When I was walking around yesterday I was reminded of my leeks which are still looking good. In Winter, it is easy to forget what is still out in the vegetable garden to eat and I’m glad I remembered the leeks before they started to go-to-seed.
Tonight, I’m making a giant quiche containing broccoli, salmon and leeks. It was quite pertinent that I was asked about cooking at yesterday’s talk. It is certainly true that cooking is a major part of my life and I put a lot of thought into how I use the produce that I grow. I feel we are living in a brilliant time for cooking where every food culture is readily available to us online, on TV or in books. Meave (my eldest daughter) is the only other person likely to cook a meal in the evening and she looks at videos of people preparing delicious food from around the world. This is a brilliant way to learn more about food and cooking. I use my library of hundreds of cookery books and my imagination to concoct my own version of what I have read about or observed. Both Meave and I enjoy cooking because we love food and want to eat tasty, interesting dishes. The only problem is that cooking for 7 or 8 people every night is tiring and time consuming but it is intrinsically linked to what is happening in the garden. There would be little point growing all this food if you didn’t eat it! There will always be some vegetables that deteriorate too much before they get used…even I have some limits to what I will use…but these plants will be eaten by wildlife, provide groundcover for the beds and eventually go into the compost bins to return to the soil as mulch the following year. Without wishing to sound like the Lion King, it is all about the circle of life.
Today is quite damp but with the protection of my trusty hat inherited from Auntie Jean I intend to spend the day in the vegetable garden. Today is Friday, so Patrick is working outside with Aideen. When I go to look for them later in the day, I find them at the back of the new building where they have begun to fix the black painted wooden cladding. It looks very nice and I think the black barn like walls will work very well, stopping the building from looking intrusive in the landscape. Aideen and Patrick seem to have a good system going, Patrick is cutting and Aideen is hammering.
I start my days’ work by planting out the last of the shallots. I plant them at the end of a very long bed that already contains Autumn sown onions. These onions look a bit battered because Bella has a habit of running straight through this bed to bark in the corner of the kitchen garden at passing dog walkers.
I then weed another long bed in preparation for planting five lots of onion sets – Sturon, Hercules, Snowball, Centurion and Giant Stuttgarter. I level the bed after weeding, removing some self-seeded feverfew to the forest garden and some self-seeded lambs ears which I moved to the field border. I then go to the mushroom house to collect three barrows of mushroom compost. The mushroom compost is lovely but hard work to remove. I’m presently taking it from one of the lower beds (the beds are arranged like two bunk beds) which requires bending down and reaching in the dark (the lights are not working) to shovel the compost into buckets and then carry it up the steps to the barrow. Each barrow needs four buckets, I hope the onions appreciate it after all this effort! I then set out the onion sets, there are probably at least 100 in each of the 5 bags. They need to be pushed into the soil with a tiny bit of their top left sticking out.
When this is done, I weed the beds that contain the Autumn onions and garlic. I then break off the towering, dead cardoon flower stalks leaving the giant rosettes of new fresh leaves. I also cut back some large rosemary bushes which have been rather flattened by the wind. Then its off to empty the now extremely full, big green barrow. It is now almost dark but having emptied the barrow I head back alongside the forest garden bed to collect up more cardoon stalks and the pile of giant, dead sunflowers and take them back to the compost heap, before heading inside to tackle the washing up!
Today is another grey, drizzly day which isn’t ideal for the garden but doesn’t make much difference to the building team whilst the scaffold is in place.
Today is Saturday, so there are more people around to help. Patrick, Aideen, Diane and James concentrate on tiling the roof because tomorrow morning the power is being turned off until lunchtime because of some local utility works. The building team need the power to cut the tiles so the work needs to be done today. We also have Billy with us today and I am allowed to have his help outside which is brilliant. For the last couple of days, I have been working in the vegetable garden and I had noticed quite a few collapsed boards on the raised beds in this section. This is either because the supporting posts have rotted or sometimes the boards themselves have disintegrated. We originally constructed the raised beds in 2004-2005 and many of the boards have now been replaced. As the boards have been replaced, we have added a layer of damp-proof membrane between the soil and the board to give increased protection to the wood. It is a great luxury to have someone able to work on the raised beds for an afternoon and by the end of the day he had replaced quite a few boards and the section was looking much tidier.
Today I start work on the fruit tree border which I know is going to be hard work. This bed is badly infested with ‘The Weed of 2022’ – Herb Bennet! Also, there is quite a lot of cutting back required of Spireas, Russian Sage, Giant Achillea etc. also, the fountain grasses need their annual haircut and I decide to prune the roses as well. This will make progress very slow…there are 106 roses! When the rain became heavy, I took shelter in the polytunnel and planted a root trainer with a new variety of pea I acquired this year called ‘Spring’. I had noticed that not all of the young peas I planted out a few weeks ago have survived so these new peas can be added to them in a few weeks.
By the end of the day the tiling is finished which is brilliant and I’ve weeded about a twelth of the border which is less brilliant!
Night Time Harvest
Today is Sunday and I’m needed in church to provide music for the hymns. This is particularly vital today as the power is due to be cut off for the morning. Therefore, an electric organ is not going to be able to function. I get dad up much earlier than normal so he can have his tea and breakfast before we lose the power. Unfortunately, this change in his normal routine makes him restless and unsettled all day.
This early start gives me some time to kill before church. Although I’m dressed in clean, presentable clothes, this did not deter me from going in the garden and I decide to transplant some tiny antirrhinum seedlings. However, I shouldn’t have shifted a bag of potting compost because I got mud on my trousers!
When I sow the antirrhinum seed it is almost impossible to sow an individual seed into each module because they are SO tiny. This results in maybe 2-5 seedlings appearing in each one. Last year I carefully transplanted these tiny seedlings and ended up with twice as many plants which was great. However, it is an incredibly fiddly job, but this was a good opportunity to make a start.
Whilst I was at church, Patrick, Aideen and Diane continued with the cladding and Meave and Billy continued with the trench for the electrics.
When I returned, I went back out to the fruit tree border. Before resuming weeding, I popped in the tunnel to check my transplanted antirrhinums and found quite a few chilli seedlings had flopped since being watered earlier in the morning. This was very concerning, was this ‘damping off?”. I decided to keep a watching brief on their condition. I worked hard in the border for the afternoon and ended up completing about a fifth of its length by the end of the day. The building team managed to complete the cladding on the end of the building which means both gable ends are now cladded, this is brilliant progress! When I close up the propagators I am relieved to see the chilli seedlings have revived!
Rather foolishly, I leave collecting vegetables for dinner until it is almost dark. I then find myself digging up leeks, swedes red cabbage and picking sprouts in near darkness! Tonight, will be a hearty beef cooked in Guinness with red cabbage, sprouts and mashed swede.