I headed off for my early morning digging session after a very disturbed night. Dad got me up twice and Patrick nearly pushed me out of bed whilst having a bad dream about pushing a cow out from behind our fence! Quite frankly, it was a relief to get up.
The weather was beautiful today which certainly made the location of my digging session more appealing. The birds were singing and the sky was blue, however… the actual job is still horrendous. The soil is not in great shape for trying to dig out weeds. The weeds are particularly tenacious, with extensive root networks and in no time, my boots are heavy with sticky mud. I spent about an hour and a half out there and felt as if I had made little progress.
I then came in to see to Grandad, and Aideen and Diane started their weeding shift. After preparing a lamb shoulder to marinade for tonight’s dinner, I returned to the Mount to continue adding mushroom compost to the bottom bed of the mount.
Much later in the day, after sweeping up stray compost off the steps and paths, Aideen came to tell me that the unwanted roses were about to arrive. Last night, Diane and Patrick had failed to find the rose bushes and had returned today to retrieve them. The poor plants had been dug up by a digger, and Aideen and Diane brought them through to the front field and laid them out for me to investigate what state they were in. There are 21 rose bushes of various sizes, with some root on them, but not much. I am hoping that as they are going straight back into the ground in a dormant state, that they might revive in the Spring. I’ve decided to add them into my rose border in the front field and any remaining roses can go into the fruit tree border. Before coming in, I collect potatoes and quite a few tomatoes for tonight’s dinner (it is very gratifying to still be harvesting tomatoes in late November), Persian Lamb with potatoes, garnished with fresh tomatoes, dahl, rice and cucumber raitha.
The First Proper Frost
We woke up today to a beautiful, frost-covered garden, slightly worrying as most of the roses were left lying outside in the front field. I only managed to plant a few of our new arrivals yesterday before I had to go over to a manically buzzing Grandad. I did attempt to cover their roots before finishing outside, but it wasn’t ideal to leave them lying there. I went outside early to test the condition of the soil on the terrace after the frost. I decided to take a detour with my cup of tea and went through the gate at the end of the orchard, which opens out onto the wild strip between our wall and the farm’s fence. I knew this would give me a view up the hill and across the fields, which were shining with frost brightly in the sun and looked beautiful. I found some fallen branches to perch on and sat there with my tea admiring the view. Then I went to test the soil, this was encouraging as the frost had made some of the soil on the slope crumblier and therefore, easier to deal with. I resolved to spend most of the day on the slope with the girls to try and make some progress.
Looking up at the big trees on top of the arcaded wall, bathed in sunlight, I could see two adorable great tits creeping up and down the trunk looking for insects – lovely!
Quite soon, I am joined by Aideen and then Diane, and apart from seeing to grandad, we work away until lunchtime. It is very difficult to keep up any level of enthusiasm for this job. I resort to bribing Aideen and Diane with two Twirl bars to keep them going. We are hoping that having reinforcements at the weekend will help us to get to at least the point where we would finish planting crocuses. After a late lunch, the girls have had enough and I don’t blame them. I go out to the front field and plant another five roses, but I am running out of space and will need to find an alternative destination for the remainder.
Finally, a grab lorry arrives to take away the first load of our hard-core mountain, which is now at the end of the drive. We have waited all week for a ‘grab lorry’, they must be in high demand. The arrival of the lorry provoked a panic as Aideen, Diane and I rushed around finding polythene and lugging ridiculously heavy ply-board sheets to the bottom of the drive, in an attempt to give some protection to our newly laid type 1 driveway. I was not impressed by this as I was worn out from digging and in no state to run down the drive, with heavy plywood sheets that are difficult to carry!
In the evening the girls and I attempt to do our Christmas shopping online, as it is Black Friday. This turns to be rather challenging particularly with Aideen, who is very bad at making decisions about presents. It is much easier for me because I just make a list of gardening books! I make meat balls for dinner to try and re-energise us all.
The Most Unpopular Job Ever!
This morning, Diane and Patrick are up very early to meet the second grab lorry which is coming to take away the next load of hard-core. They are on hand to tidy up the fallen rubble and soil into one heap, so he can take as much as possible. Despite the driver saying that he would never get it all in one load, he continued compacting it down with the grabber and incredibly, he manages to pack it all in, even keeping the last bit inside the jaws of the grabber! This was really nice of the driver because we thought we would need three grab lorry loads, which at £300 per load, is a lot of money. As previously mentioned, it does make me quite cross to think that not only have we had months of back breaking work to shift this pile of hardcore/rubbish that was dumped on our property by the previous tenant, but we also have to pay for the pleasure of removing it!
Before going outside, I was waiting for a call from a student who was going to a grade exam. I would normally go with my students to their exams but this isn’t possible at the moment and therefore the phone call was an opportunity for reassurance before he set off. Then it was outside to the terrace. Diane was still helping Patrick tidy up and move plywood sheets from the bottom of the drive, which left Aideen, Meave, James and I on the terrace.
I think James and Meave were quite shocked to see how difficult this area is to dig. James was at the bottom of the terrace and hit a whole area of bricks and broken slabs, which was probably a buried part of the hard-core pile. Meave was towards the top of the slope and kept making incredulous comments like, “I can’t dig this out…can I try a different bit?”. Aideen is very strict and told Meave firmly to stay where she was and to keep digging. Later on, Patrick joined us but this job really is impractical for him with his bad ankle – digging on a slope is a bit of a ‘no no’! He tried digging along the top and then along the bottom and he was equally horrified by how horrible it was to dig.
The ironic thing is, when these massive, endurance testing jobs are over, it is hard to remember what these areas were like before. Was it only last weekend that we finished clearing the hard-core pile? Now it just looks like an inoffensive patch area of bare earth, no hint of the months and weeks spent digging, scraping and picking and throwing rubble by a family of dirty, exhausted, and often wet urchins! Also, transporting the hard-core to the parking area and driveway, breaking it up with club hammers and applying type 1 is now all a distant memory.
The forest garden bed was quite similar to the terrace, a very large area of overgrown wilderness that took weeks of digging over. The terrace is even worse than the forest garden bed because it is on a slope, the soil is bad and it is full of roots from the nut trees that were removed. However, when it is done, it will be grassy terrace, people will walk along it without a second thought, blissfully unaware of what was involved in its restoration.
It is massively helpful having extra help (however unenthusiastic) and by the end of the day we have done a lot. This is good because during the day the delivery from Farmer Gracy arrives…9 large boxes of crocus bulbs!
Mass Crocus Planting Begins
Today is a strange, quiet, dull day, it never seems to brighten up or feel fully light, I feel mist is hanging close by. After a very bad buzzing episode with dad in the night, we are all feeling rather shell shocked. Sometime, around 1:30/2am when we were all sound asleep, the buzzer went off repeatedly, incredibly loudly. This was louder than normal because all the alarms in the house went off simultaneously, which doesn’t always happen. The buzzing went on, and on, and on! This means either grandad was repeatedly pressing or holding his finger on the buzzer. It literally sounded like we had a fire engine in the living room! Diane and I were running around like ‘headless chickens’, trying to find clothes, shoes, glasses and keys before running over to the annexe. All the time the deafening siren continued and we were expecting a major problem when we got to Grandad…all it was, was grandad wanted the toilet! I did ask why he had pressed the buzzer 50/60 times and he replied that he couldn’t hear anything and didn’t realise he was disturbing us! We think the answer might be to plug in one of the sirens in his house, so he is aware of the horrible noise it makes! After this unpleasant episode, it was difficult to get back to sleep…you can still hear the buzzer in your head even after it stops.
Patrick was up early, continuing with digging out weeds on the terrace and I went to join him for a while before getting grandad up. The weeding was soon finished and then Patrick and the girls spent some time raking the slope and trying to smooth it out.
I went off to investigate the bulb boxes. On opening them up I had a momentary panic, the first box was apparently full of packs of Jeanne d’Arc (White) crocus bulbs. The bulbs were packed very nicely in paper bags, 10 crocus bulbs per bag. I roughly assessed there were 72 bags, therefore the box contained 720 crocus bulbs. 720x9 boxes does not make 21000. I started rapidly opening all of the boxes, similarly packed with Yellow Crocus bulbs, but then I opened the first box of Ruby Giant bulbs and understood…these bulbs were much smaller and packed in bags of 25, therefore one box contained about 179 bags which meant 4475 bulbs. Now I was beginning to understand how the numbers worked. Finally, I realised that the ‘Botanical Mixed Colours’ crocus bulbs were also small and packed in bags of 25 and were hiding underneath the Ruby Giants therefore, my entire 21000 bulbs were in the 9 boxes. I then, with help from Aideen and Meave, carried out some of the boxes to the terrace. Patrick had made an ingenious wooden gauge to lie against the slope which had four, one metre squared sections. We laid scaffold boards alongside the wooden gauge to kneel on and I started to dole out the bulbs for each 1m2 section: 3 bags of 25 Ruby Giants, 1 bag of Jeanne d’Arc, 1 bag of Yellow and we would share one bag of Botanical Mixed Colours between two sections of the gauge. This means each 1m2 section will have a mixture of about 107 crocuses.
We then started to plant…each of us kneeling in front of our own square, even Patrick joined in. I think this is the first time that he has planted bulbs, he asked if we could just scatter them on the soil and tread them in! First we laid out the bulbs and then, as the soil was mainly quite soft, pushed them into the ground, crocus bulbs need to be planted at about 7cm. We had started planting quite late in the day, but in little over 1-2 hours we had planted 2100 bulbs. I was amazed, this was an incredibly efficient system, but we then had to go in for a late lunch at 3:30pm. By the time we had finished eating, the light was too dim to continue planting bulbs.
However, I am staggered that this time last week, we were only just finishing clearing the hard-core pile. Now, in the space of one week, we have completely weeded, raked and levelled the terrace, ordered and received 21,000 crocus bulbs from the Netherlands, and have now planted more than 2000 of them! Wow!
Meave has decided to practise cooking a roast tonight, this is good news because it gives me an opportunity to get on with my book. I dig out three smallish swedes for her and cut a bowl of curly kale, we also collect rosemary, thyme, sage and parsley. I am very much in favour of the girls taking on some more of the cooking.