Updated: Mar 22
Today felt like a mini-break, which was lovely, but it is also probably a measure of how limited my horizons have become. We started the day with a walk, even that for me is a major event because I barely venture beyond the gates of Church Gardens. We go down the drive, past the church, across the road and head off across the fields, which involves climbing up and down a steep hill towards the canal. It was very muddy but extremely invigorating to be up on the hill, in the wind, looking out at the lakes and hills. Although, it is concerning to see the changes in the landscape associated with HS2 and it is hard to imagine a massive bridge spanning our beautiful lakes. We headed down towards the little café at Black Jack’s which was a real treat, despite the midges, and we sat by the canal on a bench with cups of tea and coffee and cake…well it was Mother’s Day! We returned home along the canal, having to take a short detour around a fallen tree which led us to the lakeside. I felt as if I was by the seaside and couldn’t resist standing in the edge of the water – I did have boots on.
When we were nearly home, we met a neighbour of one of my pupils walking their ten-week-old collie puppy who came to say hello. A perfect end to a wonderful, if rare, trip out. I was then treated to a mammoth brunch (no diet today) and the girls gave me flowers and cards, I felt very lucky to have such lovely daughters.
We then walked around the garden as a family discussing our plans for the coming year. The terrace is really starting to look floriferous now, although it is hard to photograph effectively. We resolve to have the garden open with our new facilities for Mothers Day 2022, God willing.
I spend some time in the polytunnel trying to improvise a cover on my old propagator using polycarbonate sheeting, electrical tape and bubble wrap! I then sow two 84 module trays with primula seed, I will have to grow thousands to plant out the orchard, so it is good to make a start to see how I get on with germination.
The girls help Patrick put the waterproof cover back on the top of the wall until we are driven in by the rain. Tonight, everyone will have a break from cooking and we will have a takeaway. It has been a super day and a real break.
Lemon Tree Blossom
This morning was an indoor workout day because there has been a bit of rain. Diane is steadily increasing her demands and Aideen commented that Diane is counting seconds too slowly, which is pretty critical when you are trying to hold a difficult position. I offered to fetch a metronome but this gesture was rebuffed!
I am having to concentrate my attentions on the middle of the fruit tree border, behind our metal arbour seat. This section of the border is completely infested with grass and will take hours to weed. Aideen helped me to pull the seat to one side because it is extremely heavy and I set to work, distracting myself with radio 4.
Aideen continued work in the vegetable garden and has now started to clean off the paths as well. The damp weather has encouraged a great deal of moss growth on the bricks and weeds sprout out from the base of the side boards of the beds.
I was very encouraged this morning to see little sprouts of new growth on the orange trees and even little white blossom buds on the lemon trees. This is a hopeful sign for potential future fruit for the coming season, which was something I had doubts about.
Tonight’s dinner will be a vegetarian creation, a layered dish of potato dauphinoise, topped with a mixed vegetable in tomato/herb sauce, topped with butternut squash mash and cheese, served with cauliflower cheese.
The weather is considerably milder today, which is good as it is a ‘run day’. Bella is a very faithful member of our running team and insists on taking the lead, even if this involves her sneaky short cuts! Diane comments that Bella has probably joined the group because she knows that she also needs to lose weight. This is probably true because although Bella spends her life running about like a maniac, she is a very greedy dog and is always attempting to steal food from the cats or us…this is in addition to her own food.
Presently, there is a lot of event planning going on for the garden. We have decided to open again to the public in July and already six different groups have booked in for Guided tours. We will also have a public open day on August 30th, Bank Holiday Monday. Unfortunately, we will not be going ahead with our NGS Open Day as this was planned for the 31st May, whilst Covid-19 restrictions are still in place and the girls would not have received a vaccination by then. However, we will be giving a talk for NGS instead. We also plan to have public guided tour days, where we will offer a general tour to people who haven’t had a tour before but also a second tour concentrating on new features of the garden for people who have visited us previously.
When I get outside I start by tidying up the Auriculas, cutting off any dead leaves, prior to putting them back in the theatre. One of them (dark red) is already flowering, so it is put on display in the central, gold frame. Quite a few of the others have buds so they will soon be putting on a show.
Now is the season for primulas, the multi-coloured polyanthas in the organ bed are really getting into their stride, along with the primula denticulatas. I spend the rest of the day barrowing and spreading compost from the orchard onto the fruit tree border, which I am still only half way through. Aideen carries on with the vegetable garden.
The garden is now the main focus of our working day and although I hope to go back to face-to-face teaching (still with masks) in the Summer term, I have made some pretty momentous decisions about my pre-covid workload. I have regretfully decided to resign from my music school job in order to have more time to devote to the garden. Most importantly, this will free up my weekends for the first time in 35+ years. Aideen is also imagining that a large part of her future work will be ‘garden related’. Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on musicians and she seems more than happy to devote her attention to Church Gardens projects, which we are all very happy about. This also seems to be in Diane’s mind as well. I feel extraordinarily blessed and grateful that something led Patrick and I to Church Gardens all those years ago and now, after Covid has rendered three of us practically unemployed, our garden is offering us a new future.
St Patrick’s Day
It is a sobering thought (literally) to be spending another St Patrick’s day in lockdown. This is very sad for Patrick, who rarely goes out except for Boxing Day, birthdays and St Patrick’s. We have managed to source a card and we will go out on a hunt for Guinness (in a can) but it is not the same as visiting the pub, we will have to make it up to him next year!
It was a workout day today and it is remarkable how poorly I retain a memory of how to correctly position myself in the different exercises. Worryingly, Pip and Minxy choose to meander in and out of Aideen and myself during the workout. Considering my ineptitude in balancing, jumping etc. I feared for their safety! Fortunately, tomorrow is a ‘rest day’ and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief!
I started today with a general ‘house-keeping’ session for the succulent collection. Most have survived the Winter, but they all needed their lower, dead leaves removed and they looked like they needed watering. I have generally kept them quite dry through the Winter to avoid rot which has been quite successful as we have only had a few causalities, but now they need boosting for the Summer season.
Whilst I was in the tunnel there was quite a prolonged period of rain but the weather soon cleared up quite nicely and I was able to finish adding compost to the next section of the fruit tree border. Mid-afternoon, Diane called Aideen and I out to the crocus terrace because she felt it was looking particularly beautiful. The crocuses are really getting going now, there is a mass of purple Ruby Giants, with bright orange stamens, and dotted about there are large, white, ‘Jeane d’Arc’ and brilliant yellow crocuses giving pops of colour amongst the purple. It is quite a sight. The only problem is that it is incredibly difficult to photograph effectively, photos do not do it justice. It will just have to be our own private spectacle for this year and hopefully, next year we will be able to invite visitors to see it.
I then return to weeding the fruit tree bed and Aideen goes back to the vegetable garden. We talk about the amount of work required to get the garden ship-shape after the Winter. This is her first year being so involved in this work and I think she is quite shocked. It is lovely for me to have some help because it is an impossible task on your own…there is always something that has been overlooked, forgotten or neglected. I find an optimistic ‘Polyanna’ attitude is essential!
Capitalising Gardening Assets
Today begins with a civilised chat and cup of tea with Aideen on Mayflowers tiny deck. This is a very good vantage point to plan the day as Mayflower has two, nifty little round stools fixed to the deck rail and she is presently perched on a frame and is therefore much higher than she would normally be.
Aideen and I are discussing plans for the day and we both agree that we need to spend some time on the forest garden bed. Unfortunately, the surface of our lovely church compost is now sprouting a carpet of weeds. Luckily, only some of these are definitely unwanted and they are in the minority, including, a bit of ground elder, some small docks, a few baby nettles and cleavers/Goosegrass. The compost mulch and our heroic initial clearing efforts have done a good job at reducing unwanted, troublesome weeds and it doesn’t take us too long to remove them. However, the bed contains a large amount of Lesser Celandine which carpets most of the orchard. I am resigned to the presence of this plant in the bed because it would be impossible to eradicate and the intention of the forest garden bed is to be natural and to work with the surrounding environment. It is not supposed to be immaculate, therefore the lesser celandine can serve as a ground cover, maybe suppressing other weeds and retaining moisture. The bright yellow flowers are a lovely herald of Spring and a useful pollinator. As it is going to inhabit the forest garden bed, I look it up to see if it has any culinary or medicinal uses. Apparently, historically it has been used as a treatment for haemorrhoids (piles)! The other plant popping up in the bed is Arum Maculatum, also known as ‘Lords and Ladies’ and ‘Cuckoo Pint’. It is also sometimes known by the longest common name I have ever come across; ‘Kitty-come-down-the-lane-jump-up-and-kiss-me’! This striking plant produces bright red fruits which will not be a good forest garden plant as they are poisonous to humans, but birds like them. However, the spike in the centre of the flower is packed with carbohydrate to attract the pollinating ‘owl midge’. This starch was used as a laundry starch in the Elizabethan age, to stiffen their elaborate ruffs! Maybe our predecessors, such as The Countess of Derby who commissioned this wonderful garden with her husband, made use of these beautiful woodland plants.
Aideen and I raked the surface of the forest garden bed and picked out any remaining plastic debris out of the compost (the church compost is made of funeral flowers). I spent the rest of my day in the tunnel sorting through my overwintering plants and tidying away any dead foliage from them. I also planted up some rooting succulents and aubretia cuttings, and made new cuttings of geraniums and petunias. I also have bacopa, Anagallis, Monellii ‘Skylover’, Glechoma Variagated, and Brachycombe that have all successfully overwintered. I potted on 34 white foxgloves and 8 lupins. It is very satisfying to have a bank of plants for summer planting, on top of the new ones growing from seed. This is another valuable use of the polytunnel which allows me to preserve my garden assets.
Tonight’s dinner is a new recipe from the ‘Superfood Diet’ book by Gurpareet Bains, ‘Turkey Meatloaf’ – which includes fresh Dill. This is the first decent Dill I’ve managed to grow which is also in the polytunnel. The plants are not huge but they are big enough for me to use in my meatloaf! I served the meatloaf as a healthy burger substitute in baps with a salsa of tomato, spring onions and red pepper.
Onion set planting
Today was a beautiful, sunny day, which was rather timely as Meave had a well-earned day off work. Aideen and I were hoping to coax her outside to help with the weeding by extolling the benefits of sunshine and fresh air, a wonderful antidote to sitting in front of a screen all day.
The morning started with our running session, which has worryingly moved on to the next stage, this means there are longer spells of running. I manage to survive the run and after I have got grandad up, I take a moment to sit on the wall inside the little herb garden with a cup of tea in the sun…bliss. This is a lovely place to sit but I find it very hard not to be distracted by removing straying pieces of Oriental Limelight and I’m up and about before the tea is finished.
I then discover Meave lying on a bench between the fig trees in the sun…I suspect it might be hard to motivate her to help with the weeding. Like the cats, she is very adept at finding a good sunbathing spot and this place is particularly lovely as the bases of the fig trees are crowded with early flowering giant peach/orange tulips.
I’ve decided that today I will plant out the onion sets, which I have been rather hesitant about. I would normally have planted them by now but I read an article in the paper that warned not to plant them too early. Well, I think I’ve waited long enough, after all, the Autumn planted onions, shallots and garlic are already well away. Some of the varieties are familiar to me like Sturon, Centurion, Stuttgarter Giant, Snowball and Hercules. Some are new, like Rosanna and Cupido and some were substitutes and therefore unknown to me, like Crusato and Contado, but we will soon see what they are like. I had a larger than normal selection of shallots including Mikor, Golden Gourmet, Bistro, Yellow Moon and Vigamor, some of which were enormous. Finally, I planted out a tray that I had grown from seed in October that included Showmaster, Senshu Yellow, Exhibition and Ailsa Craig. All in all, there are now hundreds of onions planted out.
Meave started to help Aideen weed in the adjoining quarter and I suggest that we go and check out the crocuses, which is now a daily pilgrimage.
It is easy to lose a lot of time just staring at this mass of ‘jewel like’ colours, they are mesmerising. The end of the terrace that is closest to the garage has come into full bloom before the far end because it has more sun and this section shows the crocuses at their best. They are much more open and therefore larger when the sun shines on them. I am delighted with the display and it should be relatively long lasting, which is a relief as 21,000 crocus bulbs is a big investment!
Late in the day, I decide to transplant some self-seeded Nigella (I think) and the odd Cornflower from one of the un-weeded vegetable beds to add as companion planting in-between the onion rows. At this point, Patrick comes out and points out that one of the boards of the raised bed where I am working has come away and therefore, I shouldn’t have planted fully up to the edge before he repaired it. I point out that the board has been like that for some time, so I was just ‘getting on with it’. Repairing raised beds is probably a long way down his list of priorities. Patrick disappears to collect his tools and I have to temporarily remove some onion sets in order for him to be able to fix the board!
We stay outside until it gets quite chilly, it is March after all, but what a lovely day. There are bees everywhere and the variety of bird song is astounding, we are so lucky!