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Our first grapes

7/9/2020

Today is an admin day…everything seems to require filling out lengthy, complicated, often irrelevant forms online. I knew there was a good reason why I avoid computers and phones, however, even I have to go online occasionally and if I didn’t have the girls, presumably I would just disappear from digital view and quietly fade away!

First we have to register the garden for NGS next year. We then have to email all of my pupils with their lesson times and a list of Covid-19 precautionary measures. We then have to attempt to fill in the most ridiculous and long ‘E consult’ form for dad and then we type up the blogs…this takes up the entire morning! Aideen then disappears to help her dad in the office and I go outside, thank goodness! I start by trying out some fruitless ideas to make my water feature work which resulted in continued failure. I then returned to the potato quarter to continue tidying up. Whilst descending the steps of the mount, I notice there are quite a few ripe bunches of black grapes.

I balance around the wall of the terrace and cut off a couple of bunches. They are perfectly nice, if rather small and each one contains a single pip. I heard someone who has an established vineyard speaking on Gardeners Question Time. He was asked if it was possible to grow grapes that are suitable for wine making and sweet enough to eat. He said there are varieties suitable for both purposes, but the fruit will be small. I brought my baby grapes in for everyone to try and the general opinion was ‘They taste like grapes!’


By the end of the day I am much happier with the state of the potato quarter. The beds are still quite wild but the potatoes are happy and producing well which is the important thing. It is amazing the difference cleaning the paths up makes.

An interesting fact I’ve learnt today from continued reading of the Garden Jungle is that earwigs are good. I have wondered about these curious creatures because they usually appear out of apples and they are not the most popular of insects…Meave hates them and calls them ‘aliens’! Apparently, they do much more good than harm and are voracious consumers of apple related pests, particularly aphids, so they are to be treasured, not despised! Today’s dinner is sausage casserole, containing courgettes, chilli, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, sweet potato and beans, with Lyonnaise potatoes and sweetcorn. A hearty dinner for a hard-working family – after work, the girls and Patrick had another digging session outside.


Monster Achillea must go!


8/9/2020

Today was a bright and early start, Mickey is back from his travels to continue with the wall, so his labourers (Aideen and Diane) had to be up at 7am to get prepared for him to start at 8am.

I went to see how they were getting on at 10am and they had tempted Mickey into having a break with Danish pastries and giant muffins! Aideen is in charge of mixing the lime mortar and sorting out bricks, Diane is in charge of transporting everything up onto the scaffolding. They both found the day exhausting…Diane commented that “everything is so heavy” and Aideen looked as if she wanted to go back to bed. Sorting out which old bricks to use is a particularly soul destroying job as so many are unsuitable, it would obviously be so much easier to just use a pack of new bricks. Luckily Mickey usually only comes for three days at a time which is more than enough for the girls to cope with, especially as there is so much preparation involved. I might be considered old fashioned, but I think this sort of work is good for you. It is important to understand what manual labour is like because not everyone can sit in an office all day. It will certainly be a good bonding exercise for the girls!

I start the day with a bowl of fruit, yoghurt (in date this time!) and honey, and then I water all the containers. Even after all of the rain we’ve had, containers cannot be left for long. I notice that the air is very warm and humid and the temperature builds up considerably during the day. I have a long chat to our GP about dad and it was decided that it would be best for him to receive a phone consultation from the hospital. We both agree as he seems stable, comfortable and content and I am coping with his care needs that it would be unwise for him to visit the hospital, in the unlikely event that they would allow it. I chat to dad afterwards about our conversation and he confirms that he definitely does not want to go to hospital.


Today I have decided to tackle the fruit tree border. I made a start on this a few weeks ago but I have been distracted by the vegetable garden. I need to improve access to the service path that runs at the back of the border in front of the fruit trees and many of them require some summer pruning (which is a bit late!). then it is general weeding, cutting back of spent flowers and tying back, particularly of the spiteful verbena bonariensis. It is quite a nice job to do on a hot day, because at the back of the border you are tucked in amongst the plants. I manage to complete about a quarter of the border (It’s 60m long). Cutting back Ladies mantle and Rose Campion and I also decide to cut the giant yellow achillea right down.

I have a love/hate relationship with this plant but I do think I am beginning to lose patience with it and I am considering removing it altogether and replacing it with something more manageable. It might be worth moving it to the back of the field border where it would have more space. It is too tall for the fruit tree border because even with its sturdy supporting frame, it still flops forward untidily swamping the unfortunate plants in front.

I will need to replace it with something yellow because the effect of its brilliant yellow blooms next to the purple verbena bonariensis and the lilac Russian Sage is very beautiful.

I’ve decided that my cat, Tiggy, loves the polytunnel even more than me. Every morning when I open the doors, she is there, eagerly waiting to go inside. She them makes herself comfortable amongst the garlic or shallots and sleeps all day long. Often, we have to delay closing the door until she decides to leave. It’s good to know the tunnel is appreciated!




No gardening


9/9/2020

Horrifyingly, I have spent about 12 hours doing housework today! This happened by accident…this morning I decided to tackle the washing up, in our house even one day’s washing up is a mountain (7 people, 3 meals per day at home!). We do not have a dishwasher and people are too busy to wash up as they go. Having done the washing up, one thing led to another. Our house is a working house, that is still in the process of renovation, and as a result, is lacking in storage space. This results in not having somewhere to put everyone’s working boots, for example, which are usually encrusted in mud and then dumped at the end of the kitchen, and some people have more than one pair!!! So I sorted them out and scrubbed the kitchen floor. Another very time consuming and usually ignored job is picking up all those bits of flotsam and jetsam that wash up on tables, shelves, dressers etc. These are usually to do with DIY type jobs…little piles of screws, drill bits etc. gathering up these little piles and trying to find their homes can be a lengthy task!

While I am inside, there is fantastic progress with the wall which is a relief as I barely manage to step outside the door today. Mickey makes tremendous strides fuelled by cake and Magnum icecreams, and the girls are doing a wonderful job labouring and looking after him!


A not so good discovery today is that Pecky has chicken mites. This is probably the explanation for why she wants to stay outside at night. I must confess to not checking very much for these pests as she is a solitary chicken, but it would appear that living alone does not influence their presence. This results in me having to have a major spring clean of the chicken house and spraying where I can see these tiny creatures. Pecky has to be caught and thoroughly dusted with mite powder which she is not happy about and neither are Patrick and I who then have to brush/wash off any mites that have dropped onto us!





I finish up with a major book sort out, this is of cookery books that have overflowed into the extension. I have a very large collection of books, about 10,000 at the last count!


I probably have far too many but I am umbilically attached to them. I recently managed to get rid of some (these were books I had read and am unlikely to re-read) which wasn’t easy because charity shops do not want to take hardly anything at present. I have books in every room and I dip in and out of them constantly. I think they are beautiful to look at and can think of no better wall covering even if you only ever look at their spines and covers and I’m sure they provide excellent insulation! But my books provide much more than attractive wall coverings…I have learnt everything from my books. I have learnt to cook from books, (I have hundreds of cookery books) and they are an inspiration just flicking though their pages and reading about parts of the world I will probably never visit. Everything I know about gardening, permaculture, horticulture, forest gardening and restoration of historic gardens/landscapes I have learnt from my extensive collection of gardening books. My knowledge about caring for chickens, bees, cats and dogs…all from books. When I ended up practically home-schooling my children through GCSE’s and A’levels in subjects unfamiliar to me, again, where would I have been without my books? Then there are the numerous subjects that I want to know more about, herbs, natural health care, ecology, environment and marine biology, sustainable living, nature/science, the Arctic, all types of arts and crafts and then my random interests like maps, globes, naval history and exploration. This doesn’t include religion, history, astronomy, music and performance and this does not even touch on fiction. I know I will never read all of these books from cover to cover but I will gain immeasurable pleasure attempting to try!

The only problem with this passionate obsession is where to put them all…well, for now, several piles of cookery books have now been stored in our bedroom. When I finally have a finished kitchen, the major feature of the room will be my sizable collection of cookery books, much more important to me than a dishwasher or a microwave! But for now, they will have to bide their time in the bedroom!


Jet propelled bricklaying


10/9/2020

It is a beautiful day today, so the first thing I do is a load of washing to put on the line. It might sound strange but I do like hanging washing out to dry. I then watered everything that needed watering and went to get dad up. Today is Mickey’s last available day to work on the wall and there is a tremendous push to finish this section which will complete the top repair to the corner. Mickey has to start by constructing a sloping finishing section at the end of the wall he is repairing, to meet with the lower level of the wall it is joining. This is fiddly and requires lots of cutting and some shaping of the bricks. There is so much brick dust flying around that poor Mickey ends up a similar colour to the bricks he is working with. When this difficult section is completed it is then a race to get all of the coping bricks onto the top of the wall for the full stretch that he has worked on over the past three days. When I walked up after lunch I was doubtful that he would manage to complete the run, it looked like too much to do. However, he stayed on for an extra hour and managed to finish, what a star! Aideen and Diane then managed to convince their dad to take them to get a Wimpy takeaway as a treat…they’re easily pleased! Whilst this is going on, I am back in the garden, thank goodness as there’s only so much housework I can stand and it is a thankless task around here. People just run in and out, blindly dumping boots, gloves, clothing and they are constantly hungry so there is a trail of devastation in the kitchen. This is not a good place for a house-proud person so it’s lucky that I’m generally pretty tolerant.

I start by cutting back all of the heads on the outside broccoli that are trying to flower. This is somewhere where the wild bees live and I become transfixed by a rugby scrum of bees clustered together on the soil. I then move to the large dahlia display beds to remove any weeds from their edges and clean up their surrounding paths.


I then depart (having given dad his lunch) to a meeting at ‘We Love Coffee’ where Martin (the vicar) has asked me to advise the proprietor on planting for a new outside area that he is constructing. On my return, I carry on with the much bigger job of dealing with the fruit tree border. I make some headway but it is very unpleasant itchy work, both the giant achillea and the Ladies mantle, (both varieties of achillea) shower me with dry, gritty, seedy stuff from their dead flower heads. By about half seven, I call it day and head inside.

Day of Labour


11/9/2020

As I write this blog, I feel completely whacked. Today started in a civilised manner because I was expecting two friends who wanted a tour of the garden at 10:30am. Before people come, it can be a scramble, I noticed inevitably as it hasn’t rained for a couple of days that the large leaved primulas in the organ pipe bed have wilted again!!! So I dragged out the hose across the hard-core to water and cut back dead foxglove stalks whilst I was there. Something drastic needs to be done to resolve the problem here and I think it will be the removal of the three trees on the other side of the fence. They were supposed to be a type of small, fairly decorative acer, but they have reverted to their original form and have become much bigger than expected. Not only are they sucking the organ pipe bed dry, they may cause problems to the front wall of the house.

When I feed Pecky I find another area of red chicken mite in her shed and have to remove food and water and spray again. Then I have to get dad up who seemed in a good mood as he was impersonating a train as he moved around his house! My friends then arrived and we spent a delightful couple of hours walking around the garden. I’m so glad that we have managed to have these occasional informal garden tours with friends because they are always very encouraging. Visitors are always so enthusiastic about what we are doing that it gives you a real boost to keep going, especially with the big difficult jobs.

When our visitors had departed, I went to help Aideen and Diane with the hardcore pile.


This entails standing on top of the pile and throwing it piece by piece into the dumper truck. Diane then drives it out to the front and deposits it and Patrick (on his own today, poor man) smashes it up. At first this job seems ok, there is a lovely view from the top of the pile and it is a nice day. However, after a few hours of trying to keep your footing on this unstable heap and bending up and down constantly to throw bricks, concrete, slabs of various sizes into the truck, it gets quite tiring!

Luckily, Patrick has to take Diane to the dentist after lunch and we get a bit of a break. Aideen and I attend to various bits of admin including speaking to Barney about moving the boat which we have decided, probably optimistically, can happen in a couple of weeks. Aideen is very excited! Diane and Patrick return with provisions from Wenzels, which are very gratefully received, and we carry on.

I notice from my new vantage point that I can see some unexpected plants at the base of the terrace…quite a few young cardoons, a pumpkin, several sunflowers and quite a few potato plants and an ipomea. They are quite close to our old compost heap so it is clear some self-seeding has taken place.



James comes home from work and joins our team, starting by helping Patrick which is good because I think Pat’s arm was about to drop off! Later, when Pat gives up, he helps us fill the dumper which got increasingly difficult as the light faded.

We are all exhausted but there is now a sea of hard-core at the front of the house. I decide to make meat and potato pie, a family favourite, to cheer them all up and encourage everyone for tomorrow because it will be an early start!


Collateral Damage


12/9/2020

Today is very, very busy. We are having two loads of ‘Type 1’ (12 tonnes) delivered, which is the stone gravel mixture that goes over hard-core. The first job is to finish laying the hard core on the area we are hoping to complete today which is about three quarters of the parking area. So we start, Aideen, Diane and myself (when I have finished watering and seeing to Grandad) sorting out the hard core whilst James hammers it down (Patrick and Meave are out to start with). When they return, Patrick joins us (he has killed his arm yesterday) and Meave joins James. It is very hot and it is extremely hard work.

I am due to have another mini garden tour at 2:30pm and at about 1pm it suddenly occurs to me “was the cover taken off the plants by the viewing platform”…the worrying answer was “no!”. Patrick and the girls had fixed a black plastic membrane, ‘tent like’ to cover the plants under the scaffolding by the viewing platform to protect them from falling mortar and bricks, this was done on Wednesday evening and today is Saturday! The poor things will be cooking! We rush up to uncover them and I’m met by a scene of devastation. The plants have been partially protected by their tent, but there is mortar everywhere. My seedling budlejias are splattered in lime and the stumpery and platform are covered in mortar. I spent about an hour sweeping up and clearing away debris before I can risk hosing the plants. It looks a lot better when I finish and I have to accept that there will be collateral damage when these messy jobs are taking place.



After this there is just time for lunch, prepared by Meave, a frittata of sweet potato, kale and goats cheese with salad, very tasty and then it is time for my three visitors to arrive. It was lovely to take such an interested and enthusiastic group around. They were very complimentary and encouraging which was exactly what our team of hard working labourers (the girls, Patrick and James) needed. Everyone had done brilliantly outside and by the time the visitors had departed I only had to help shovel type 1 into barrows with everyone else for about an hour, and work at the front was complete for the day. Three quarters of the parking area is now covered in hard-core and Type 1. Tomorrow, we will finish digging the remaining quarter and fill it with hardcore and the rest of the type 1 will be delivered on Monday.





When the team come in, Aideen disappears into the kitchen garden to pick flowers to press, she says she could happily do this all day. I am delighted to see her so happy but slightly concerned that I might end up with no flowers! I then go out to ‘pick dinner’ – two cabbages, three peppers, six sweetcorn, one chilli and lots of apples.


Whilst I’m in the brassica quarter, I realise it is a good opportunity to dead head the cosmos and marigolds as most of the wild bees have gone to bed. Our visitors today were particularly fascinated by the wild bees who were out in force. I observed that our colony of wild bees is getting bigger every year, which I’m presuming is a good sign (David Attenborough would be pleased). I watch the few remaining bees find their holes and disappear into them, it is really interesting to watch. They dig at the soil with their front legs and I watch them pushing petals and small stones out of the way if they are covering the entrance to the holes. I spend about an hour dead heading and then come in to make the dinner. Dinner tonight is a type of sweet chilli chicken with red onion and peppers, cabbage and peas in butter and garlic, baked potatoes and sweetcorn. For dessert, apple crumble.

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