The weather is now much milder, but very wet, so I decide to work in the tunnel today. Aideen is making more paper, which she attempts to do indoors. Normally, this job is done outside because it is quite messy, but Aideen soon discovers it is much more pleasant working inside, as it is not much fun dealing with big containers of cold water in winter conditions. It is also much quicker to dry paper in the extension, maybe assisted by the underfloor heating. Aideen uses the handmade paper for many of her pressed flower pictures. I am very glad to see that her pressed flower art enterprise is going very well.
When I get outside to the tunnel, I decide the first thing that needs to be done is to plant out some of my sweet peas. I presently have four root trainers of sweet peas, hiding from mice attack, in my long propagators. If I want to sow seeds, the sweet peas need to move, and the most sensible thing to do is to plant them. Some of them will be planted along the side wall of the tunnel to make an early colourful and highly perfumed display, the rest go around the fruit cage. As with everything in life, I find one thing leads to another. I can’t plant the sweet peas until the back wall of the tunnel is cleared of dead climbers. This job was partly done some time ago, but it is quite tricky as I have a passion flower growing healthily at one end. Also, last year I grew Asarina Scandems Vintage from seed, which although tender, is perennial, and it has survived the winter so far and is still flowering. This is a very delicate, fragile looking climber, with beautiful lilac blooms. I obviously do not want to accidentally damage this plant, so removing dead ipomea etc. was a lengthy operation, especially whilst balancing between winter salads!
I stayed out until about 5pm and then came in to carry on sewing before our talk at 7:30pm. This talk was to Ruislip Central Horticultural Society, scheduled for after their A.G.M. The lady organising the talk had visited Church Gardens on a guided tour and had also previously heard the talk. However, the group had been booked to visit last year but had been unable to visit due to Covid, therefore the garden was new to them. Their response was most gratifying and they had lots of questions, including “Did I have professional guidance in design and planting?” and “Did we have gardeners?”, which was quite a compliment. Aideen immediately interjected with “no, it’s all down to books…mum is a bookaholic”. This group have a visit rescheduled for July, so let’s hope that goes ahead and we can meet them in person.
Tonight, was Patrick’s cooking night, otherwise known as Shrove Tuesday – this is usually the only night of the year that Patrick cooks, and the girls had pointed out to him that he had even avoided this for the last few years! Well, tonight he made up for it and cooked a magnificent pile of pancakes…you need a lot for six hungry adults, especially when you know Lent starts tomorrow! Well done Patrick!
A Very Special Delivery
This morning, a large package covered in labels like ‘Fragile’ and ‘Protect From Heat and Cold’ arrived for Aideen. This special parcel has been anticipated anxiously since Valentine’s day. It is James’ gift to Aideen, partly for Valentine’s, but also because it is their five year anniversary. The box contains six orchids! When I came downstairs, she was reverently unpacking them and they are absolutely beautiful; six different orchids from a specialist orchid nursery, five in bloom and one in heavy bud. They are quite different from most of her other orchids and they are also quite unusual colours, one was bright yellow and another dark red. Aideen is thrilled, so well done James!
The weather is still mild and wet, but Aideen and I decide to go outside when the rain stops to work on the fruit cage borders, this will enable me to plant out the first sweet peas. These beds have become overrun with giant, self-seeded verbena, which I’ve decided to completely remove. There are also still the remains of dead sweet peas on the netting and dead foliage of Peacock tigers and Irises to remove as well. I was surprised to hear my beloved Peacock Tigers getting a very bad report on Gardeners Question Time’ a few weeks ago. A listener asked if there was anyway of prolonging flowering of this exceptionally beautiful plant and not one of the panel had a good word to say about it! Each Peacock Tiger bloom only lasts for a day and starts to fade at the end of the day. However, each bulb produces a succession of buds and flowers and the blooms are exquisitely exotic and probably the most remarked upon flower by visitors to our garden. I must admit, I would not plant this bulb as a display in a container but I have dozens of them dotted about through borders. There will probably be at least 6-10 of them flowering at a time and this continues for several months.
Branches of blackberry and raspberry are poking out through the netting of the fruit cage so I go inside the fruit cage to start pruning the blackberries. I also cut down to the ground all of my established raspberries and weed the bed. I’m probably a bit late with this job but better late than never.
When it is time for lunch, I make a salad with watercress, celery, grapes, beetroot, an orange (from the tunnel) and some brie, which we have with smoked mackerel, horseradish and an egg. The orange, only the second one that we’ve eaten (we are trying to make them last) was very juicy and delicious. After lunch, which was late as usual, it started to rain so we came inside and I tacked together patchwork panel number six. The design of this panel had to undergo a major rethink because I had intended to use a beautiful beaded top that Meave had worn aged about seven, and a lovely patchwork corduroy skirt, much loved by Aideen when she was about three or four. However, I did not have the heart to cut them up, so I’ve decided to stitch them together intact to make a very pretty pyjama bag for me to hang on my bed post! When all this sowing is all finished, we are going to have a very colourful bed!
A Very Hard Day
The weather started unpromisingly with rain. This was frustrating as Aideen and I wanted to be outside and earlier in the morning, when I went for my run, it was quite nice. However, then the rain eased and we returned to the fruit cage. I had decided to prune everything and train the blackberries and loganberries. I asked Aideen to sort out the ground level, cutting dead leaves off the strawberries and clearing the beds. When I had pruned everything, I then had a go at clearing all the outer beds of anything that had died back, but also did some rough weeding. This included pulling out some big rooted sections of nettles and several seedling Pampas. This was extremely hard graft because I was trying to cover a big area quickly and I was bending down to weed, rather than kneeling on the ground. This resulted in me feeling very achy, quite quickly. I have obviously got out of the way of lengthy bouts of garden labour! Aideen was not very enthusiastic about her job either and kept asking when was lunch!
After a much-appreciated lunch of baked potatoes, beans and cheese, we were quickly back outside. There was some sunshine, but it was quite windy. Although both Aideen and I felt quite weary, I think we had the most productive outdoor day of the year so far. We are not finished with the fruit cage, there is more clearing to do around the strawberries and the sweet peas need putting in before we can apply ash and compost. However, the area looks much clearer and we felt we had made some progress, there was certainly a lot of vegetation to tow to the compost heap.
We carried on working until about 5pm and then I picked some chard leaves and collected a butternut squash to use in tonight’s lasagne. Unfortunately, I noticed that the most recently planted out broad beans have been largely zapped by the recent cold weather. It is surprising which plants have been effected, the sage looks miserable.
In the evening, Martin the Vicar delivered a copy of the Harefield History Society Newsletter which contained a very interesting article about Connie Johnson, the last resident of Church Gardens, until her death in 1970 (born in 1888). The article was advertised on the front of the newsletter with an old picture of Church Gardens saying “Whose little house is this?”.
It is quite strange to see your own house in this context! The article also contained a photo of a Rogation Ceremony held outside the back of the house in 1965. This was fascinating as we’ve never seen this photo before! It is always brilliant to find out more about the history of this wonderful place.