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OPEN DAY

18/4/22

A new day dawns and the girls and James were up until 4am. Diane was up again at 5am the rest of us at 6am…sheer madness, we cannot keep this up! I get up and wash my hair and feel quite human but everyone else is moving about like zombies.

There is lots to organise with refreshments, an area which I am very happy to have abdicated responsibility. Having made all these beautiful cakes, they now have to be cut and set out ready to sell. The girls prepared all the crockery and set everything up to run smoothly. I am so impressed with their professionalism. They use a set of fail proof recipes, measure exactly and set timers. It is a world apart from my baking experience, which is much more ‘hit and miss’!

There were some final areas to clear out and weed, tables and chairs to organise and lots of signs to put up. The area outside the garage and new building had to be boarded off because it still looks like a building site. Other areas had to be fenced off with netting to avoid visitors getting too close to leaning walls.

Our resident badger had unhelpfully dug soil out all over the log path to the viewing platform again! I then did the watering and all the hosepipes had to be put away. As our friends arrived to help with the refreshments and parking I slipped off to do some gentle weeding in the onion beds so I could have some quiet time before we opened at 11am.

When we opened the doors, there was already a long queue and a lot of people came in all together, quite a lot of them headed straight for the refreshments! I positioned myself sitting on the wall outside the polytunnel and because I was wearing my ‘Kay, Head Gardener’ shirt I was soon answering questions of passing visitors.



Aideen was playing the harp and helping Meave on the door when it was busy. Diane along with Janet, Preti, Roz and Ali served refreshments and Patrick took the payments. Mary, Martin and Tracey dealt with the washing up, and James, Luke, Paul and Nikhil handled the parking. I was giving two talks in each two-hour booking slot. One talk was introducing the kitchen garden and the other talk was introducing the orchard, new pond and new building. In-between the talks I was constantly talking to visitors who were very nice, enthusiastic and complimentary. The deck beside the pond with its low rear retaining wall was used as a seating area for lots of visitors and was very useful during my talks.



The weather was glorious, the refreshments delicious and the tulips radiant and as visitors left they said they had a wonderful day. At the end, we could see that 521 people pre-booked and 58 bought tickets on the door, bringing our total visitor numbers to over 579 which was an incredible success.

After packing up, my sister arrived to look after grandad and we went out for a meal because it was Patrick’s birthday…however, we were very tired and didn’t manage to stay out very long.


 

The Morning After


19/4/22

Despite feeling shattered, I am up early because I have to take Diane to work. The day after an Open Day is always weird because suddenly, there is no longer a looming deadline. There is also a great need to share experiences from the day before and look at reviews and feedback online. We discuss what went well and what can be improved for next time. I find it very difficult to settle down and get on with the next jobs that need doing. Also, this week we have about four different visits, two of which are tomorrow so time will be limited. I finally manage to water the containers, polytunnel and frames and then in rains!

I then go in the tunnel and start separating over crowded seedlings. However, I’ve not been there long before I have to go inside to declutter the music room before I start teaching at 4:30pm. Unfortunately, the music room tends to have things shoved into it and the door closed during an Open Day.

Aideen is also very tired and spends the day mainly attending to admin, answering emails etc. We try to organise picking up rhododendrons that one of yesterday’s visitors needs to re-home. We are also trying to organise a date for us to visit another one of yesterday’s visitors who runs a market garden/farm shop and cut flower business. A returning visitor arrived at the Open Day with a baby auricula with yellow and green flowers that she thought we might like for the auricular theatre. We are very lucky to have such kind and generous visitors.

Throughout the day quite a lot of cake is consumed and Aideen made some gluten free peanut butter and white chocolate blondies for our gluten free visitors tomorrow. Hopefully, I will feel more energetic tomorrow.





 

Group Visits


20/4/22

This was always going to be a busy week. We have group visits booked in for the next three days and today we have two visits - groups are keen to come and see the bulbs at their best. Today we have Hayes Town WI coming at 10:30 and a small family visit at 2pm. This does not give me much time to prepare because I only get back from dropping off Diane to work just before 9am. I then have to water the seedlings, open up the tunnel and cold frames, get Grandad up and get myself tidy to be at the bottom of the drive by 10am to meet the visitors who always start arriving at least 30 minutes early! When Aideen and I get to the bottom of the drive people have already arrived and she heads off to the gate on the main road to help direct cars to us…often, people cannot find us and the satnavs do not necessarily help!

This particular group had only just visited us last September so I was expecting to give a different tour highlighting what they have not already seen, however, when they arrived I checked how many had not visited us before and discovered more than two thirds of the group were new visitors so we reverted to an Introductory Tour which also included new additions which everyone was happy with. There were 29 people in the group, some with mobility issues so we moved around the garden quite steadily, luckily the weather was lovely. The group really enjoyed themselves and were completely transfixed by the pond which had been an open crater at their last visit! Also, it makes such a difference that now you receive a clear uninterrupted view of the arcades when you enter the orchard. This means if some visitors are not able to walk around the orchard to reach the arcaded terrace, they can now sit on a bench near the pond and see it from there. In the past, people attending open days where no one is guiding them have missed the arcades all together because they were hidden behind nut trees, ugly sheds and piles of hard-core. Also, when you do get up on the arcaded terrace, the new view across the garden towards the pond is beautiful, with the pond providing a lovely focal point.

The WI group were extremely appreciative of the garden and refreshments and were with us until 1pm promising as they left to return every year!



The family group of four were coming at 2pm. This particular visit had been in the pipeline since the start of Covid so I’m glad that we were finally able to go ahead. We spent a very enjoyable afternoon with this lovely family. This group left just before my teaching began at 5pm so not much gardening was done today. The next two days’ visits are in the afternoon so hopefully I’ll get stuff done in the morning.


 

The Generosity of Visitors


21/4/22

It never ceases to amaze me how consistently nice and generous our visitors are. One local lady approached me on Monday and asked if I would be interested in three quite large rhododendrons in pots because she was due to move quite soon and did not want to take them with her. This morning, we went to pick them up and her husband helped Patrick to put them in the car - we had to make two journeys because they were so large. I have a very soft spot for rhododendrons because they were one of my mum’s favourite plants which in turn stemmed from her father having a magnificent, very large rhododendron as a prize specimen in his garden. My grandfather’s garden, although small, was immaculate with a perfect velvet cushion like lawn, masses of raspberries, tomatoes in a small greenhouse and prize dahlias for cutting. The rhododendron was cosseted receiving all tealeaves from the kitchen and it filled the space outside my grandad’s bedroom. Our kind benefactor also gave us some phlomis seed heads, an old gate and two sturdy oven trays; I use oven trays for shelves in the polytunnel. Thank you, Lisa!

I was also expecting a visit from the district nurse to check dad after his spell in hospital and luckily she arrived before our afternoon visit. Aideen and I also had to deal with a nasty ‘set to’ with the large black and white cat who was in our rainwater harvesting system yowling and screeching at Tiggy!

After all this, I only had time for a watering session before getting ready for our next visit from Denham Village Gardening Club due at 2pm. A lot of this group expressed considerable puzzlement that considering how nearby they lived they had not known of our existence. They were a charming group who seemed to really enjoy their visit. They also expressed an interest in renting out our new building for events and maybe booking a talk.

Once they left, I prepared for my choir/band rehearsal. We are now preparing for Anzac and the Jubilee concert in June.


 

Change of Temperature


22/4/22

Today was much colder, overcast and windy - a massive contrast to yesterday. On Thursday, I led the guided tour in a T shirt, today, I had a jumper and a coat on!

I keep hoping to get some gardening jobs done before these afternoon visits but again, I do not achieve very much. I tie back some roses and do a bit of weeding but soon it is time to clean up and get ready to meet the visitors at the car park. This is partly because Aideen and I keep getting distracted with conversations about when the café – Arcadia – opens and how we will manage things. We also got side tracked today discussing the merits of cut flowers as a potential fundraising project.

Our group today was Eastcote Methodist Church who last came in September 2021. They had returned to see the bulbs and the pond but there were not very many first-time visitors in this group. Despite this they still wanted the Introductory Tour which I varied by drawing attention to spring features and our new additions like the pond, new building and polyantha beds. The polyantha beds are a massive success and more than one visitor has departed with the intention of moving polyanthas to alternative positions when they go home. I am amazed at how long the polyantha flowers are lasting, they were certainly worth the effort of growing from seed.



One of our visitors told us that he works for ‘Tools for Africa’ based in Chesham and he was very interested in our old lawn mowers. He mentioned that they had a surplus of old lawn mowers and that we might like to visit. When our very appreciative visitors had left, I quickly get changed and disappear into the polytunnel. I then spent some happy hours separating seedlings of godetia, petunia, phlox, nicotiana and salvias. This is a fiddly job but well worth doing. Some types of seed are extremely small and inevitably I accidentally sow too many seed in a module. If I can be bothered to separate them I will end up with at least double the number of plants – hooray!


 

Under Attack


23/4/22

Today is the weekend, Diane and Meave and away and Aideen is playing her harp at The Grove, so it’s only Patrick, James and I at home. I am hopeful for a peaceful day in the polytunnel after a week of answering garden related questions.

Unfortunately, the day does not start well…” Have you seen your barrel”, Patrick asks? There is a big old metal barrel outside the front door, originally dumped in the orchard, that is planted with tulip bulbs and more recently, violas. I was shocked to discover the large barrel almost half empty of soil. Something, presumably a badger, had stood on the wall behind and dug out a massive hole. There was soil, tulip leaves and bulbs everywhere and the poor violas were completely buried! I attempted to put things back as they were but I was quite cross.



Then when I went in the kitchen garden I investigated some dodgy looking leaves on the box hedge and sure enough I found a small box tree moth caterpillar! It is obviously time to spray again…we use Xen Tari, a biological spray suitable for organic gardens recommended by the RHS.

I then watered the containers, got grandad up, put on the washing and disappeared in the polytunnel. Today, Patrick is replacing the wooden slats on five old metal ended benches that he wants to put around the garden and James is painting the deck with a clear wood preservative. I start by separating the last of the nicotiniana seedlings. When I finish, I have three trays as opposed to one. My next aim is to repot all of my cosmos, marigold, tagetes and antirrhinums in bigger modular trays to encourage them to grow on before planting outside. I also nipped out all of the growing points in the cosmos to encourage them to ‘bush-out’. I built a new platform of polycarbonate plastic strips supported by pots in the central border to hopefully protect my seedlings from mouse and slug attack. By the end of the day, I had repotted well over a hundred each of cosmos, antirrhinum, marigold and tagetes. I then collected one of my grotty red cabbages and all the remaining swedes and a pile of kale for tonight’s dinner of toad in the hole, braised red cabbage, mashed swede and roasted kale with smoked paprika.


 

Filling the Polytunnel


24/4/22

Unbelievably the badger had another go at my barrel last night. When I discovered it, Patrick said he had assumed I had not tidied it up from the first attack! There were also multiple felled white tulips in my ‘white’ bed in the courtyard. I have had so much digging and bulb removal in this bed I’m amazed that there are any tulips left, it is extremely demoralising. I ask Patrick if he can fix some sort of barrier on the path between the extension and the wall to try and keep the badger out. Generally, it had been a frustrating start to the day because my attempt to sleep a bit longer in the morning was prevented by grandad buzzing.

Having attended to various household chores, I head off to the polytunnel. Patrick is continuing with his benches which inevitably are take longer than expected. It is also not helped by Patrick feeling very tired and suffering with his foot. Aideen is baking today because we have a very big visit tomorrow. We are expecting 48 people from Sarrat and District Gardening group. They will have to split into two groups because it isn’t practical to take more than 30 people on a guided tour. Tomorrow will be very busy because at 3pm we have the Anzac Service and then at 5pm I am teaching!

I will make the most of a more peaceful day today. The first thing I do is sow multiple varieties of butternut squash, pumpkin and courgette. These are all placed on my new platform in the central polytunnel bed. I then decide to sow cucumber and melons but I need the propagator for this which is presently full of zinnias and tomatoes. I take these out and repot them in larger containers and add them to my platform which leaves the propagator free for the cucumbers and melons. I also sow an 84-module tray of Italian basil. The last job I do is to pot on multiple celeriac and celery plants into larger module trays. I then do a bit of tidying up prior to tomorrow’s visit and pick some cardoon and spinach leaves to use in tonight’s lasagne. I have not used cardoons for a long time and as I remove the spine of the leaf and chop it up I’m a little sceptical…it might be a bit chewy…well there is only one way to find out!




 

Anzac Day


25/4/22

Today will be a long day, I take Diane to work early to try to give myself more time when I get home before I have to go and meet the cars at 10am. The badger had been back to the barrel, but at least his excavation were a bit half-hearted this time. Unfortunately, I had to spend ages with Grandad which left me only 5 minutes to get myself ready!

Today’s group was massive, so once everyone had arrived we sat them down to discuss splitting them into 2 groups for the guided tours. I explained to the group (47 people) that each guided tour needed to be less than 30 people. I waited for my first group beside the tunnel and 38 people came out to join me leaving 9 for the second group! This was considerably more unequally balanced than I expected but nobody seemed willing to change groups so I coped as best as I could. The group was lovely and very appreciative, they especially enjoyed the beautiful selection of cake that Aideen had prepared.



The group all departed soon after 1pm and Aideen and I popped down to the church to check we had enough seats set out. We were back at church soon after 2:30pm for a very enjoyable service which was packed with people of all ages. After a lengthy chat with a very friendly mayor, I got home shortly before my teaching started at 5pm. There were several showers of rain today which are much needed.


 

Potato Beds


26/4/22

Today was a beautiful, warm and sunny day. We have a three day break from visits which should give me a chance to get some gardening done. Aideen starts the day assessing things in the building and does some touching up to the paint work on the ceiling which will enable the scaffolding to come down. I have come up with a potential solution to the ‘badger in the barrel’ problem. I removed all of my poor violas, replanted them in my blue and white ceramic planter and sat the planter on the soil surface of the barrel. My hope is that the badger will not be able to reach inside this planter and that the violas will remain undisturbed…we will see tomorrow morning. I need to get on with planting out my potatoes so when I finish watering I ask Aideen to help me dig out mushroom compost and add it to the potato beds. This takes ages and then I have to sweep up the mess we have created. I then check which varieties of chitting potatoes are first, second earlies or main crops because this affects whether I plant two or three rows in a bed. The later crops require wider spacing. I then write a list of everything I need to sow so I can assess how much space I have and Aideen did some weeding in the onions. She also removed some calendula and Californian poppies that had seeded between the onions and potted them up.

At the end of the day I notice that the water level in the big pond has dropped. We’ve had no rain to speak of for weeks and it has been very sunny so Patrick pops the hose into top it up.


 

Magnificent Daffodils


27/4/22

The pond now looks much better and I decide as the hose is in the orchard that it is a good opportunity to water my bog bed. We have created a narrow bed on the wide shelf side of the pond where the edge of the liner encases a narrow bed of soil, thus keeping it moist. I am conscious that it hasn’t rained for so long that it may be beginning to dry out. Whilst watering this inner bed I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful display of daffodils that are still blooming. I planted 3000 daffodils (3 x 1000 mixed varieties from the Parkers catalogue) and it is probably the mix of varieties that has produced such a long-lasting display - they have literally been blooming for months and I think they have been wonderful.



After watering the ‘bog bed’, I decided to water the polyantha beds which are as heroic as the daffodils and are still blooming as well. These plants are incredibly happy and healthy with lovely big leaves of excellent colour. They haven’t been watered all Spring so I thought they would benefit from a good soaking.

When I checked my ‘badger barrel’ solution this morning I was very relieved to see my violas were still intact but then I turned around to find the badgers had dug the violas out of the front of the side bed alongside the path! When I went outside today, my mission was to plant the potatoes which I naively imagined would not take long. First, I set out all the seed potatoes on the soil surface of the eight available beds. This enables me to get the spacings correct prior to planting. I then made us lunch with a large salad of mixed leaves from the tunnel and garden including lettuce, rocket, mizuna, spinach and mustard.

After lunch I returned to plant the potatoes…there are 14 varieties with between 18 & 25 seed potatoes each…which is about 300 seed potatoes to plant. I have to dig a hole, pop in the potato and cover it back up, each potato must take at least 30 seconds or more, so I can physically only plant about 120 potatoes per hour. The job is not as quick as I would like.

I dig the holes for the final set of potatoes, but I do not plant them. This is because I have a group of school children coming for a visit on Friday and I am hoping that they might like to pop these potatoes into their holes. I finish just in time to start teaching at 5pm.


 

Marathon Watering Session


28/4/22

Today became a bit more complicated because when I went to get Grandad up, I found him on the floor by the side of his bed. He appeared to be in some discomfort so we called for paramedics who decided he should go to hospital to be checked over. Later in the day, we were told he had no fractures (thank goodness) but he did have a UTI so he is staying at the hospital for the moment.

I started my day with a marathon watering session…the newly planted potatoes, all of the roses in the fruit tree border, the fruit cage and all of the containers. Everything still looks fine but the soil is becoming hard and I’m conscious that it hasn’t rained properly for weeks.

Aideen starts the day painting the wooden slats of the benches that Patrick is restoring. Then I asked her to spray the box hedges with Xen Tari because box tree moth caterpillars are in evidence.



When I finished watering, I did some tidying. Some creature has been digging up tulips in the Kitchen Garden and birds have been turfing mushroom compost out of the potato beds – together, they have made quite a mess! I then started seed sowing, 40 module trays of beetroot and lettuce and an 84-module tray of leeks. I then prepare dinner (beef in beer) so it could cook whilst I was at my rehearsal.


 

New Bees


29/4/22

When I got home from the rehearsal last night I was told that the ‘bee man’ had visited quite late with a swarm he had rescued from a petrol station. This is brilliant, we hope they will settle in happily.



This morning we have a visit from a group of very young children (reception, year 1 & year 2). This is a new departure for us as I have never led a tour for children, particularly such young children. I told them a little bit about the history and us coming to Church Gardens in a story like manner and then off we went on an exploring adventure. When we got to the vegetable beds, I asked if they would help me to plant the last few potatoes which they all enjoyed doing. We also spent some time looking at different recycling projects like the bug hotel which will hopefully give them ideas for the garden they are going to create at school. We walked around the garden for nearly an hour and after a snack it was time to leave. It certainly looked as if the children and the staff had a good time.


I spent the remainder of the day sowing seeds…swede, red cabbage, green cabbage, silene and coreopsis.

Before I left for the rehearsal, I prepared our favourite pasta dish with chicken and olives, including the last butternut squash.


 

Rhubarb Crumble


30/4/22

I am writing my blog at 8pm sitting on the mount where I have the extraordinary privilege to be able to watch a beautiful barn owl flying low over the adjacent field on her evening hunt. Minxy is sitting beside me making that strange ‘birdy noise’ that cats make when they are watching a bird because she is watching a crow in the fountain. I have just picked some enormous rhubarb which I plan to make into a crumble. Unusually, it is just Patrick and I tonight because everyone is out and grandad is still in hospital. As we had a late lunch, we might just have crumble for our tea.

Today is the last day of an incredibly dry April, so much for April showers! Today was ridiculously hot, I had to prop open all the polytunnel windows and water the seedlings twice! I decided not to spend the day in the tunnel sowing seeds but to make a start on planting out the sweet peas around the fruit cage. I have eight root trainers (32 modules each) of sweet peas and there are eight wall panels of the fruit cage to plant against. I did plant out some Autumn sown sweet peas a while ago but I do not know why I bother because only a few have thrived. Planting out the sweet peas is a terrible, time consuming job and it is extremely hard on the back. I have to crouch (there is rarely space to kneel) to plant each sweet pea and tie it to a cane and there are several hundred to plant! I also take the opportunity to weed the bed and then give the young plants a thorough watering. I’m not sure how many more years I will be able to manage this task before I have to delegate it to someone more flexible! Is it worth it? Well, it does make the fruit cage look beautiful for several months and I’m sure it encourages pollinators, but then there is all the deadheading!

We have had several visitors today including the lovely ‘bee man’ to check on the new swarm. The bees are buzzing about happily so they were installed into a proper bee box. Hopefully this colony will survive.

We had two feathery visitors…two male mallard ducks who landed on the pond. The two boys then left after being stalked by Pip and barked at by Bella. They were then replaced by a male and a female mallard who stayed longer. The female repeatedly rummaged her beak into the soil of my aquatic baskets. I have mixed feelings about their presence, it is lovely to see them swimming on the water but I do not want my precious aquatic plant collection destroyed! I kept a slightly worried eye on them.



I am suffering greatly from damage in the garden, every morning I am discovering sizeable holes dug in my kitchen garden borders with tulips felled and bulbs chomped…it is very demoralising. It looked like the work of a badger but I cannot find where they are gaining entry.

Patrick, Aideen and Meave spend the day dismantling the central full length scaffolding platform in the new building. This is a tricky job, especially towards the end when the final clamps are being removed. I came in towards the end and leant a hand. At the end of the day, I installed a low fence of gothic hoops along the bed that has been worst affected by the mystery bulb destroyer and I leave my radio out for good measure.


 

Building Clearance


1/5/22

Last night’s crumble was delicious; the rhubarb is amazing. The stalks are massive but incredibly juicy and with a beautiful lemony/rhubarb smell when you break of cut them, and despite their size there is no stringiness. I must try to use more of it and maybe sell some of it to our visitors.

Today, Aideen is playing her harp at The Grove Hotel but we do have Diane at home, so she helps Patrick to keep tidying the new building prior to him laying the flooring.



Today, we have some steady rain, which starts when I finish watering! Therefore, I start my days working the tunnel sowing seeds. I sow a tray of Brussel Sprouts, three trays of Kale (I like to grow multiple varieties it is such an attractive vegetable) and a tray of chard. I have also decided to squeeze my squash, pumpkin and courgette trays into the propagator as think some bottom heat will aid germination.

When it stops raining I return to planting the sweet peas. Earlier, I had a bit of a panic when I remembered that my eight root trainers included one root trainer of normal peas! Had I accidentally planted them outside the fruit-cage in my ornamental display? It was with some relief that I found I had not planted that tray out yet! Thank goodness! I certainly did not want to dig them back up again having gone through the agony of planting them. I love gardening…obviously…but there is no escaping the fact that gardening is made up mainly of a series of hard, tiring and often back breaking jobs. By 8pm, I had almost finished planting the sweet peas but I decided to stop and collect some leeks for tonight’s dinner which will be a large chicken, leek and mushroom pie.

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