Today is a work-out day and I actually think Diane is trying to kill me…maybe that is a bit harsh as I have survived to be able to write my blog…but this morning was very tough. She is trying to steadily increase the intensity of exercise but I feel my potential for development is very small. I believe this situation is similar to when I am teaching a beginner oboist or saxophonist, their dynamic range is very limited, loud or louder, and it would be unreasonable to expect them to play quietly.
Last night, I brought in a few Swedes and some (forgotten) Parsnips for Meave to use in the dinner and tonight, I intend to use the last of the red cabbage in my Polish Chicken and Red Cabbage Bigos. We are beginning to come to the end of last year’s crops.
Today brought a surprise delivery of more onion sets! I always struggle to fit in all of my onions so it took some deliberation to work out where to include these three extra bags but I managed to find some spare spaces. It is ridiculous to think that in a vegetable garden the size of four allotments that I often don’t have enough space, but it is true! Whilst planting onion sets, I spot a strange object in the box hedge.
It is a cocoon type object, like a slightly oval golf ball with a fine web surrounding it that attaches it to the hedge. It has trellis like lines on its surface. I have no idea what it is and later I ask the bee man for a second opinion, he also has no idea what it is…could it be the home of a solitary bee, wasp or a spider?
The bee man has come to sort out the hives and investigate further what could have caused the bees sad demise. When investigating the two large hives at the back of the enclosure, he discovers one has a few remaining dead bees, no queen and plenty of honey and in the other large hive, there is a large cluster of dead bees and plenty of honey. Finally, when he opened the small hive at the front of the enclosure, which faded out at the end of the Summer, he found lots of wax moth and startled two mice who were making a nest in the hive! He has decided to take an even more natural/relaxed approach to the bees care this year; to interfere as little as possible and allow the bees to live a natural life. We are not alone with our bee problems, lots of people in the Society have lost their bees, it is very sad.
After planting the onion sets, I continue transplanting Nigella and cornflowers as companion planting. I pause to admire the wonderful job that nature has done producing companion plants for me. I have two large beds overflowing with cornflower and Nigella plants...no worries here about modular trays, compost or propagators. Last year’s plants have gone to seed, the seed has dispersed and germinated in the soil and the plants have grown thick and strong without any human assistance! I remove dozens to plant around my new onion beds and then I start moving the cornflowers from the middle of the nursery bed (where they seeded) and plant them around the edge, to leave a space in the middle for crops.
At the end of the day I walk around the orchard in the fading light listening to the incredible mixture of bird song as they prepare for night and it occurs to me, we might have lived at Church Gardens for more than 22 years but it has probably taken being locked down in a pandemic for a year to make us really appreciate living here. By which I mean, being at home all of the time and living according to the garden’s timetable rather than our own, and making use of everything that it has to offer in terms of food and materials. We are still not self-sufficient, but our sufficiency is substantially enhanced by our environment and we are considerably more self-sufficient than previously because we have the time to notice and utilise our surroundings.
The Cutest Tulip
The weather today looked very promising and we were joined on our run by Meave and very briefly, Patrick. This was obviously very worrying as Patrick can only walk and breathe with difficulty! Luckily, he only joined in for one circuit of brisk warm up walking of the kitchen garden and then cut off to return to the house. Whilst running around the kitchen garden, we noticed a tiny bright red tulip that has opened up in one of the olive tree urns. This adorable little tulip definitely deserves the prize for ‘cutest tulip’!
Patrick starts the day by continuing his maintenance on the ride-on mower which is quite venerable. Diane is his apprentice/assistant in this job, partly because he wants someone else to learn how to maintain it and also she has long, slim fingers, that are good at reaching awkwardly positioned bolts.
Later, he continues with the rustic fence, assisted by Aideen and Meave. The fence poles are now set behind the line of tiny yew plants which frame the entrance to the compost yard. This creates a much more defined entrance to the yard and it looks really good. It is quite hard to create an area in the garden that is primarily for service/maintenance that looks attractive. Our compost yard, which also houses leaf mould, ash, logs, organic/natural fertilisers and recycled materials is essential for the successful running of an organic garden. The compost yard has to go somewhere but by its very nature it will look serviceable. However, I am very satisfied that we have maintained a very natural/woodland look to the area. It reminds me of the sort of place in a wood where coppicing and charcoal burning would have taken place, I think Ben Law (author of The Woodland Way) would appreciate it!
I checked all of my seed trays, potted on plants, tubers, newly transplanted plants, auriculas and polytunnel crops and watered where necessary. I then returned to work in the fruit tree border…yes, unbelievably, this job is still not finished. Luckily, it is very pleasant working in this bed amongst the beautifully scented hyacinths and miniature daffodils, even though the work is horrendously fiddly. I will not be impressed if this grass grows back too quickly! Most things are now showing signs of growth, the delphiniums on this side of the garden are doing really well. There is a clear developmental difference between the different borders according to aspect. There are tiny new leaves on the Russian sage and the Peony shoots are pushing through. I particularly like this time of year when the perennials are starting into growth. Their shoots are fresh, compact and often beautifully coloured. Oriental Limelight still has its lovely, yellow/lime green new foliage, and the monster Achillea is short and ferny, well within its metal supports…maybe I will keep some of the unruly giants upright and tidy this year…I can dream!
At the end of the day, we come in to complete the census. This does seem a little surreal as three members of the household (including me) presently feel in a state of suspended animation. There were no boxes for gardening, flower pressing and memory quilts! It will certainly be a snapshot on a very strange time!
A Unique Pumpkin Bed
Today was a beautiful sunny day, and also a rest day from running or workouts. The sun makes such a difference to all the various flowers in the garden. The crocuses on the terrace open and the grape hyacinths seem to swell and expand. In the last week, the newly planted daffodils in the front field have really got into their stride. The right hand side of the field is the most advanced and makes a beautiful picture with the mixed hedge, which now has thick bands of yellow because the forsythia is blooming. The forsythia looks particularly effective because of the generous planting of daffodils and narcissi now blooming at its base.
I felt quite confident about the daffodils because they are so reliable, however, I confessed to the girls that I didn’t feel so convinced about the crocus terrace. I spent several weeks anxiously revisiting the terrace looking for signs of flowers and when they started to bloom I was still doubtful. They seemed quite lost and diminutive for at least a week to ten days, but then, the display started properly. We have now had this beautiful show since before Mother’s Day and I’m so relieved. It would have been devastating to have invested all the effort and time (not to mention money) if the crocuses had let us down. Generally, flowers from bulbs are very rewarding and I was incredibly impressed with the quality of the bulbs we received from Farmer Gracy, based in Holland.
Aideen and I started work today in the pumpkin bed. Yesterday, Patrick cut 40, four inch lengths of left over drainage pipe, which Aideen and I then pressed into the pumpkin planting holes, leaving about two inches above the soil surface. Presently, there is a black plastic cover covering the pumpkin bed with about 60 squares cut out for planting the pumpkins. My plan was to put the cut out pipe sections into these openings and then cover the polythene with gravel to make it more aesthetically pleasing. Aideen fetched barrows of gravel and I swept up the polythene and added any extra polythene where required to stop weeds growing through. I even made collars out of the polythene to go around the pipes to stop any earth being exposed beneath the gravel. The 1 tonne bag of gravel only covered about a fifth of the area but we were very happy with the results. We don’t think there can be another pumpkin bed like this one anywhere!
It now has a fence decorated with ornamentally arranged organ pipes, a large organ pipe sculpture in the centre and ten Tudor rose, faux lead, planters containing box topiary, set in gravel. It is very smart and will make a very nice outlook from my chair at the end of the polytunnel. It is particularly nice to think that many of these materials were recycled; organ pipes, fencing made from pallets, reused polythene sheeting and drainage pipes.
For the rest of the day I carried on with the fruit tree border…I’m still not finished! Aideen carried on with the onion/bean quarter of the vegetable garden where she is trying to clean up the brick paths. The ones she has done look great but there are loads to do. Aideen says we need to make a list of what needs doing before our first visit…not another list!
Today is another workout day…help me!! I said to Diane that if this was a film, the comic heroine (me) would start her attempts to lose weight and get fit like me, completely inept, complaining and being completely annihilated at the end of each session, but after a period of time we would see her become more svelte and athletic. Unfortunately, this is not a film and I just seem to remain inept, complaining and completely annihilated at the end of each session! When I get grandad up he asks what I’ve been doing. I attempt to explain and he replies, “That doesn’t sound very nice, have you tried cycling?”.
Today, Aideen continues with the vegetable garden paths. They look really good where she has cleaned and swept them, and we are reminded that if the paths and bases of the boards are clean and weed free, it makes everything look good. If the vegetable beds do not contain crops, they do not need to be weeded. It is actually better to leave something (even weeds) in the beds to give the soil cover and nutrients, it also keeps pollinators happy. Beds do not need clearing until there is something ready to plant.
No one will be surprised to hear that I am still sorting out the fruit tree border, and no, I am still not finished! When it was time to go inside for my online teaching, I realised that the power was off in the polytunnel and therefore, the propagators were off…no wonder the primulas have not germinated!
24/3/2021 Thankfully, this morning’s run was substituted with a walk for Bella. This made a lovely change and it is always immensely enjoyable to walk around our surrounding fields which climb up high above Church Gardens. On our way back, I spotted a gorgeous but rather disorientated robin just standing in front of us on the path. I bent down to look more closely and he just stood there with his beak slightly open. After a fairly lengthy pause, he fluttered into the neighbouring hedgerow and sat there, still looking rather stunned. Maybe he had had a territorial spat with another male robin. I know they can be quite aggressive towards each other and we are presumably heading for the breeding season.
My plan for today was to prune the roses in the rose border in the front field. One of these has reached monstrous proportions. I now realise that a large proportion of the rose must have grown up from the root stock below the graft. It has taken me a while to realise this and on previous seasons, I have just pruned the bush back hard. Today, I cut the entire mutant part of the rose out with a pruning saw which leaves about a quarter of the bush left! This does bring the whole bed into proportion because this rose has previously swamped all the other occupants of the bed.
Whilst in the front field, I walk around the edge to admire the beautiful daffodils. Their addition has definitely been a success, whereas, the few remaining tulip bulbs that have attempted to grow in the rose bed have been brutally dug up and chewed, presumably by a badger. Luckily they don’t touch daffodils.
After completing my pruning, I return to the fruit tree border… I have to keep attending to other jobs, which is probably the reason it does not get finished!
I am attempting another method of mouse deterrent in the polytunnel. I am draping fleece over any tempting seed trays…the mice will still dig up the pepper and chilli seed trays even when the seedlings are growing and are reasonably developed. I have even done this inside the propagator where the fleece is pinned down by the sides of the cloche covers. I am hoping that the mouse will not want to squeeze under the fleece…this is probably wishful thinking!
This morning proved to be a better workout and tomorrow is Aideen’s virtual graduation so we get a day off exercise. We are trying to make Aideen’s graduation feel as special as we can, she has a lovely new dress and we’ve hired the cap and gown. However, you cannot really get away from the fact that we will be sat around a computer. I feel very sorry for Aideen, who worked exceptionally hard to receive a First Class Honours degree in classical harp from Guildhall. Both Meave and Diane worked very hard for their degrees at Bristol and they did not have an easy time. I’ve now realised, as a parent, that the ‘university experience’ is not all that it is cracked up to be and wasn’t worth the massive student debt they’ve incurred. Aideen’s course at Guildhall was probably better value for money (apart from when the country descended into lockdown), however, her University experience was probably the harshest.
The weather was changeable today with frequent showers, so I remained in the polytunnel sowing seeds. First, I continued to separate tiny antirrhinum seedlings and plant them out separately in a new tray. This tray was then filled up with Ammi Visnage, Ammi Majus, and Corncockle. I then planted a second tray of Cosmos using my previously used varieties. Sadly, this used up the last of my ‘Dazzler’ seeds that I grow every year, which produce magnificent, tall, magenta Cosmos that I love. Originally, this pack of seeds was received free with a magazine and I’m not sure I can replace them. I also sowed Seashells Red, Anenome Pink Razzmatazz, Tetra Versaille Flush, Daydream and Mixed.
I then decided to sow the tomatoes. This can be a dilemma as they germinate and grow on quickly, and I do not want to be too early to plant them out, even though this is in the tunnel. The next issue is varieties, the number of which increases every year and there is a limit to space for the final plants, I think I had about 50 tomato plants last year! This year I have 22 different varieties and I decide to sow four of each. The four new varieties are Gigantome, Big Daddy, Orange Bourgoin and Rosella. The remaining varieties were Primabella, Lylia Cerisette, Diplom, Gardener’s Delight, Yellow Delight, Moneymaker, Marmonde, Alicante, Harbinger, Maskotka, Country Taste, Red Cherry, Burpees Delicious, Costoluto Fiorentina, Royale des Guineaux, Roma, San Marzano and Ildi! This selection encompasses a wide range of size, shape, colour and flavour. I love growing and eating tomatoes, we use a massive harvest every year and we only finished the final fruit in early March, which is quite astounding! I am reminded of how easy tomatoes are to grow by the proliferation of tomato seedlings already growing happily in the polytunnel beds, where tomatoes fell from last summer. Nature, as usual, is ahead of me. No worries about ambient temperatures from her. I finished up by sowing an 84 cell of Zinnias…no garden should be without this gloriously coloured, long lasting flower. Last year I planted lots of Zinnias in the Mount, which looked beautiful, and I always partner them with my courgettes. My big propagator is now full again, it holds seven large trays. Although, I had to evict Pip to fit in the last one, which she was very grumpy about!
The big day dawns to very inclement weather, rain and wind. When I get grandad up and tell him that it is Aideen’s graduation today, he very sweetly says, “That’s good that they’re holding it here”. He thought the entire ceremony was at Church Gardens, rather than us watching a computer screen! We are determined to treat today exactly the same as we did for Meave and Diane’s Graduation, in that we are all getting dressed up (including Patrick!), we are stocked up on party food and lots of bubbly/cocktails, (I’m sure God will understand Lent being relieved for one day) and we intend to have a good photo session. Ironically, I had previously considered it to be a good thing that Aideen would graduate a year after Diane (Aideen’s course was four years as opposed to Diane’s three). I thought it would make the events more special for them as they are twins. Usually, everything happens simultaneously; birthdays, GCSE’s, Prom, A’Levels etc. It is most unfortunate that Aideen has had to finish her gruelling time at Guildhall with firstly a Virtual Final Recital and now a Zoom Graduation. However, these are small sacrifices in comparison to what some poor people have suffered during this pandemic and we are immensely grateful that we are all OK and able to enjoy the occasion, however it is presented.
Diane and Meave busy themselves getting Aideen ready, hair & make-up etc. which is very sweet. I study Meave’s Graduation photo and realise Aideen will need a scroll to hold, which I hurry off to make. She has a cap and gown and we are hoping to take photos in the library because the backdrop to Meave and Diane’s photos are bookshelves. We sit ourselves down at 12 O’Clock for the preliminary instructions. Aideen looks beautiful in a sparkling, ivory dress and I’m extremely proud of her.
The ceremony is a strange mixture and not very professionally handled considering the institution organising it. Aideen and her fellow students were transferred to a ‘break-out room’ prior to their names being announced. I found this alarming as I thought we would miss her name being called out, but luckily we were returned in time. It was sobering listening to her fellow students in the ‘break out’ room, hearing them discussing their lack of job prospects and the disappointing end to their studies and poignantly, the lack of photos of the occasion. Someone tried to screenshot them together on the screen and a lovely classical guitarist commented, “It’s better than nothing”.
We then arranged the photoshoot, we balanced a phone in a cup on a shelf and Meave set a timer and then hurried into position.
After much hilarity, we had some photos we were happy with. The rest of the day was spent eating, drinking and binge watching ‘Keeping Faith’. This was a novelty for Patrick and I as we’ve never ‘binged watched’ anything before, but apparently this is normal student behaviour and it seemed appropriate for the day. Sadly, at the end of the day when I put Grandad to bed, he was having a shaky episode and seemed very confused. Diane and Meave came to help me put him to bed.
It was such a relief that dad seemed back to normal this morning. Although I have to do everything for him, he can at least usually shuffle along with his frame. I pray we can maintain this level of mobility. Amazingly, for a man with dementia, he announced that the clocks were changing this weekend. Apparently, he had heard it on the TV, which is more than the rest of us did. This is excellent news, as we will have an extra hour of day light!
When I went outside this morning, I made a joyous discovering, the first Snakes Head Fritillary are coming into bloom. This delicate, bell shaped, mauve/pink flower with a faint snakeskin pattern across its petals is one of my all time favourites. I then went out into the orchard, where Patrick was gathering fallen twigs and branches. He said we had a visitor standing on the top of the arcaded wall that morning. The gentleman told Patrick that he had been told to come and see our crocus terrace. We didn’t know the man and we don’t know who had told him, but Patrick warned him to be careful, the top of the arcaded wall is not secure. After this, I took Diane around and through the woods to have a look for ourselves. We hadn’t viewed it from this angle and it does look lovely, but inevitably, it does not come across well in a photograph!
Work continues in the compost yard and at the end of the day I am brought out to see the fence. They have made an arched entrance with poles which reminds me of a Wild West wagon camp. It looks really good and I say it should have a sign reading ‘Camp McHugh’! I continue weeding the fruit tree border which I am beginning to think will never be completed because I am always having to do other jobs.
Four more 1 tonne bags of gravel have been delivered which is another job for next week. I also need to attend to pruning all the cornus and budlejias, the field border needs weeding and compost applying. This will be an even bigger job than the fruit tree border, however, it is important to take things one job at a time and not become overwhelmed. I decide to check on the mystery cocoon in the box hedge and discover a spider sitting on the top of the cocoon inside the web…is it therefore a spiders nest…it is not a very big spider considering the size of the cocoon!
I finish the day exploring the forest garden bed, which is now nicely defined with a line of daffodils. Most plants are coming into bud although I think I’ve lost one pineapple guava.
When looking down the bed towards the compost yard, there is now a real sense of a pathway created by the rustic fence and the bed edging, which looks intriguing. The orchard is really beginning to become a garden in its own right, with different features and destinations, it is so exciting to be responsible for its rebirth. In the evening, Meave cuts Patrick’s hair and beard, which was getting out of hand. She does a good job!
We planned to make an early start today to get a lot done outside. This was slightly scuppered by the clocks going forward, so 7am was actually 8am. However, Aideen and I joined Patrick quite early and were soon joined by Diane. The plan was to finish clearing and levelling the end of the compost yard so Patrick could extend the line of compost bays to make a shelter for logs. We have been digging away the turf pile and applying it as a compost mulch on the fruit tree border, so Aideen and Diane started by bringing some barrowful’s around to the kitchen garden for me to put on the bed.
Unfortunately, it was clear that the compost was infested with the roots of Lesser Celandine, so after trying to pick out the white roots and seedlings, we didn’t bring anymore compost to the border. I don’t want to add Lesser Celandine to my troubles! I decided to use the remainder of the turf pile to cap the top of last year’s compost pile to help it rot down. We started by generally tidying up the pile, which involved Aideen and I climbing on top of it. Then, Aideen filled the barrows and I threw shovelfuls over the top of the heap. The heap is quite large; shoulder height, 3m wide and 3m deep!
I have been given a boost to my confidence about my continuing physical capabilities after hearing about a wonderful woman who sailed solo around the world aged 77! This has encouraged me to think I can keep going with hard physical work outside for a good while yet!
Later on that morning, when we come inside for a tea break, Diane says ‘Look mum, someone’s trying to get over the wall!”. Sure enough, a head, encased in a furry hood, was peeking over the Kitchen Garden wall at the far end. However, having had a good look, they climbed down from standing on the back of their white-haired companion! We do have a banner on the wall advertising the garden and people often stop and stretch up to see what they can, but they don’t usually go to these lengths, particularly as we must have been clearly visible in the extension!
I then return to my favourite job…weeding the fruit tree border…which I am determined to finish today, I do have an extra hour after all! One very positive development today is that there is finally signs of germination in the primula trays…it helps when the propagator is switched on! I have been meticulously monitoring these trays, constantly adding dribbles of water whenever a module looks like it is drying out. It is such a relief to see signs of life as I have 25 packets of seeds, each containing hundreds of seeds, which I need to get growing in order to realise my dream of a primula filled nuttery next Spring!
Periodically, I join the team in ‘Camp McHugh’ (the compost yard) for a cup of tea and to see how they are progressing. By the end of the day, the frame work for the log bay is in place and Patrick has an idea to finish it with a wall of logs to create a stupendous but hotel! Thankfully by the end of the day, I do finish weeding the fruit tree border – Hallelujah!!!