I’ve decided enough is enough with my annoying ear. For several weeks, it has been popping and I have been ignoring it and hoping it would improve, but It hasn’t. Now, my balance (not great at the best of times) seems affected as well. I phone the GP and by some miracle I get through in about 10 minutes. I have tried phoning the GP several times recently and have either given up or been cut off after slowly progressing through the queue! Having got through, I’m told I should have done an ‘E Consult’ to get a call from the doctor who will probably send me to a chemist! I already have issues with my ears and tinnitus, so I would prefer to have someone with medical training look in my ear before I self-medicate. I do an E Consult and then talk to a doctor, who finally decides she will look in my ear – hallelujah! Reassuringly, it is found to be blocked with wax and I am told to get drops from the chemist. After going through this lengthy process, Diane and I then go to Church to sing in a beautiful memorial service for a lovely elderly couple that we knew through church who sadly died during Covid.
After the service, I went outside to do some actual gardening. I started by digging up yet more potatoes (I planted a big crop this year!) but I ran out of room on the bench in the polytunnel where I was laying them out to dry. To create more space, I took a tray of rocket and another containing Swiss chard and spinach outside to plant out. These were plants that had been waiting a while to be planted out and I’m not sure how they will get on but they might provide a few extra leaves in the Winter months.
I then dug up the final bed of potatoes. Having done this, I dug up some leeks and picked peppers for a quiche for dinner. Annoyingly, the leeks have been attacked but I salvaged what I could.
Project Polyanthas Resumed
Today was my first solo attempt at a bladder wash-out for dad, which was quite an adventure but dad and I seemed to come through it relatively unscathed. Diane and I then visited Harefield Marina to purchase bitumen paint (to paint the legs of the jetty) and to try and source a pampas grass. I planted four pampas grasses in the central mirror borders, originally acquired as tiny specimens from Parkers catalogue in 2017. Now, three of them are magnificent plants with towering, blonde plumes and one is like the runt of the litter! The plumes on this pampas look dirty and matted. Every year I optimistically hope this miserable specimen will improve and every year I am disappointed. When I spoke to the RHS advice line a few years ago, the only explanation they could offer was that it was a male plant…say no more! I have now reached the limits of my patience and have decided it needs to be dug out and replaced. The replacement will be small but at least it will be the same colour as the others. Unfortunately, no one has a pampas in stock so maybe we will have to go ‘online’.
For the rest of the day, I decide to prepare the next polyantha bed. Sometime ago, I learnt that Gertrude Jeckyll and Vita Sackville-West planted multitudes of polyanthas in their cobnut nuttery. I embarked on a mammoth polyantha propagation mission in an attempt to emulate these horticultural giants and I have produced hundreds of polyanthas from seed, not easy as they are slow to germinate. I have already planted out two island beds built up around transplanted nut stools. This new bed is a long raised border alongside three established nut trees where we have added some soil. First, I edge it with logs and add lots of leaf mould to the surface, then I can start planting. Today, I plant about 100 polyanthas. Some of them are already producing an early show of flowers but they should make a beautiful display in the Spring.
Pumpkin, Squash and Sweet Potato Harvest
When I get outside today, I continue with my polyantha bed. This bed is deceptive, it is much bigger than it looks (10m long, 1m deep). I thought I had plenty of polyanthas and that I might have some left over for another bed, but now I’m not so sure. I trudge backwards and forwards with barrowful’s of polyanthas and carry on planting through the reading of the budget. I use up all of the polyanthas that were intended for these beds and I have only just about filled the bed. I count the plants, I have used 287! I still have a few babies that need to grow a bit more and I have also grown about 50 candelabra and denticulata primulas which I will plant by the stream. I have also grown a few auriculas from seed that I will add to my collection for the auricular theatre. I intend to continue producing polyanthas and creating these beds around the nut trees because it will look wonderful in the Spring.
I then decide to bring in the squash and pumpkins because it is nearly Halloween. First, I have to sort out the piles of trays, pots and planting modules that have piled up on the bench from planting out the polyanthas. I then rejig everything on the bench to give me space to bring in the pumpkins and squash which need to sit on the tunnel bench for a while to cure their skins in the dry. I bring in 50 butternut squash (a smaller harvest than 2020) and there are less large specimens than last year. However, I am quite happy with this as the harvest can vary by about 20 each year and we had such a wet May that the butternuts got off to a slow start. The same applies to the pumpkins…less big ones. We have four good sized carving pumpkins, a couple of medium pumpkins and the rest are small. Last year we carved 11 but again, it could be worse. Meave visited a pumpkin picking farm with her boyfriend in Essex where they picked a large pumpkin, but it cost £20!!! I was shocked by this and very grateful for our harvest. We also have five mashed potato squash, five Amoro squash, three beautiful white custard patty pan and one speckled green patty pan. They make a rather nice display on the bench.
I suddenly remembered that I had meant to investigate the sweet potatoes. I have not grown sweet potatoes for a few years and in the past I have grown them in the polytunnel thinking they needed more protected growing conditions but the crops have been disappointing. This year, I thought sweet potatoes would be an interesting addition to the forest garden bed. I have learnt that they appreciate the opportunity to climb so I made four cobnut wigwams for them to grow up. They grew prolifically, giving our crazy nasturtiums a run for their money and prompted a lot of interest from our visitors. I never know when to harvest them, but I was determined to give them as much growing time as possible after my previous experiences and I presumed they should come in before potential frosts. I was very pleasantly surprised when I dug into the soil. Each plant had produced some good sized, if contorted, tubers. There were lots of very thin tuber/roots which will not be much use but I ended up with a big bucket of tubers which was brilliant and it was very good to bring in our first forest garden harvest.
We now have plenty of potatoes, pumpkins, squash, onions, shallots, garlic and sweet potatoes that have come in to store. There are also multiple green and red cabbages, swedes and kale all ready to use and we still have beetroot, celeriac, lettuce, courgettes, chard and lots of leeks. In the tunnel, we have multitudes of chillies and basil, ample tomatoes and a few peppers. There is no shortage of vegetables and we also have apples and pears, and we are still producing raspberries so we will not go hungry.
Looking at the weather forecast, today might be the first dry day for a while so I am determined to clear up the dead leaves and stalks from the pumpkin patch before they get soggy.
I am outside early because I got up early to give Patrick a lift to the station for an appointment for a pain killing injection. Luckily, he checked the letter before we left as he had the wrong day, the appointment is tomorrow!
I took advantage of the early start to get cracking on the pumpkin patch. During lockdown, we completely revamped the pumpkin patch to make it look nicer when the pumpkins aren’t there. Previously, it was just a square of black polythene with the pumpkin and squash plants growing through cut-out holes.
Now the area is surrounded by a fence of recycled, hardwood pallets stained green. Fixed to the fence are ranks of metal organ pipes, arranged according to type and size to create an undulating effect. The polythene is covered in gravel and the planting holes are defined by cut off sections of drainage pipes. There is a large spiral sculpture of organ pipes in the centre of the space and ten ‘faux lead’ Tudor Rose rectangular planters, each containing a box bush that will be trimmed into a topiary shape. The area has been transformed and I am very happy with it, but the only potential problem with the new design is what happens when the pumpkins and squashes finish. When the fruit are harvested, they leave a big mess of dying stems and the dead leaves disintegrate to dusty flakes. I did not want all of this compost material sinking into my smart gravel. Therefore, I spent the entire day crawling up and down the pumpkin patch on my kneeler, meticulously removing pumpkin debris! It seems to be my destiny this Autumn to spend my time up close and personal with gravel! Another interesting element to deal with, apart from a few random weeds opportunistically sprouting out of the planting holes, was a magnitude of tiny Valerian seedlings. Unfortunately, the pumpkin patch adjoins the beds where the Valerian lives and it is an avid self-seeder! It took all day to return my pumpkin patch to its pristine, grandiose state, but it was well worth it.
The bulbs from Farmer Gracey arrived today, 1350 English Bluebells for the orchard and 600 crocus for the wildflower miniature orchard. I add more crocuses and bluebells to these areas every year, maybe one day I will have a bluebell wood.
Bulbs Planting Begins
Today, the weather has deteriorated with repeated showers all day so I’m glad I tidied up the pumpkin patch yesterday! My plan is to start planting bulbs, however, I seem to be required as a taxi service throughout the day. Patrick does actually have his hospital appointment today, Diane is going to the dentist, Patrick needs picking up, Patrick’s car needs collecting, Diane needs to go to the station etc… I attempt to plant my crocus bulbs but as soon as I get muddy I’m required to go back in the car! Finally, in dribs and drabs I do manage to plant the crocuses. These 600 corms are being added to the wild flower miniature orchard. This is a small area of wild grass where I have added at least 500 crocus corms every year since 2015.
I have ordered the crocuses and bluebells from Farmer Gracey this year because their prices for these bulbs are more competitive. Again, I am impressed by the condition of their bulbs and the excellent packing and presentation. I have also received the onion and shallot sets and the Garlic bulbs from Marshalls, and also, the Sweet Pea seeds from Kings Seeds have arrived, so I have plenty to keep me busy.
Whilst waiting for Diane at the dentist I was reading Ken Thompson ‘No Nettles Required’ and I was reminded of the importance of long grass because the long grass is the only place that many butterflies will lay their eggs. Also, despite the title of the book, nettles are vital as the only food source for Red Admirals.
Today there are more of us at home to work on outside projects. Aideen, Meave and Billy are available, however, it is difficult to get started because the girls and I are singing for a wedding at 1pm. This is an important wedding because the bride, the daughter of a very dear friend, used to be one of my students and sung in the choir.
Not long before we had to leave for the wedding, Patrick needs everyone to help move a massive York Stone slab that will be the foundation for the jetty legs into position.
Meave and Billy carry it along the pond shelf to carefully position it on a bed of cement. This is quite precarious and Meave was very close to falling into the deep section of the pond! Falling into a pond full of cold, murky water, half an hour before attending a wedding would have been most unfortunate!
After the slab is in position, we rush inside to clean up, leaving Billy to help Patrick.
The wedding was beautiful and on our return, we can now see the jetty legs in position. After a quick discussion about how far the jetty should cantilever into the pond, Meave and I go inside to make lunch. We decide to make pesto to take advantage of the basil while we still have it, and I also bring in some of our tomatoes and garlic. After lunch, Billy and Meave start digging out the jetty area and I sneak off to start putting bluebell bulbs alongside the hedge that encloses the compost yard. Soon, I am summoned back to the pond. Aideen requires assistance in selecting suitable pieces of York Stone to create a stepping stone path on the ‘beach’. Choosing and retrieving the York stone was tricky. When we were clearing the site of the new building, the York stone was moved and built into a drystone by the garage. This area is very hard to access because of the present building works. Also, the York stone is very heavy and like the flints, the pieces that we were interested in were several layers down the wall. We finally extricate 10 pieces of stone and bring them down to the pond.
The final job of the day is to arrange them into an appropriately ‘natural’ looking path. It was decided to set them fairly level, although they are on a slope, so they slightly step down through the water. The finishing touch was to add our ancient sea pebbles, excavated from the basement, around the stepping stones. It was dark and raining when we finished but we were all happy with the day’s progress, although, not many bluebell bulbs went in the ground!
It occurred to me that I have not been mentioning the basement lately, probably because at present, it is progressing quite smoothly. The trench sheeting and blinding was finished after two weeks work and the last week has been spent putting in the steel reinforcement for the floor slab. This involves laying down a double layer of steel mesh, which is held apart by steel ‘deck chairs’ (a strange name for metal supports that fold out into a triangular shape). Putting in the steel is fiddly and time consuming over such a large area. It also has to be carefully measured so reinforcing steel bars are correctly positioned along the side to fit precisely into the concrete block wall. I am very glad we are not doing this part of the job. We have done reinforced concrete slabs before but it takes ages and its hard on the hands. This floor slab is massive and we would have been there forever! Patrick has had to be on hand to confirm measurements and also work out how the main slab adjoins the outside stairwell and how the drainage will work, but I’m glad this has been the extent of his involvement.
The weather this morning was horrendous, heavy rain and wind brought down a large ash trunk in the orchard. There is a fierce hail storm later in the afternoon which typically coincides with the arrival of a very kind visitor donating an old lawnmower!
When the rain subsides, we go outside primarily to work on the jetty. Luckily, Patrick has Meave, Billy and Aideen to help him with digging. The bank requires digging out so the jetty can be set at the correct level. We are reusing some steel girders and sleepers that were previously used to create a retaining wall behind our old compost yard. This will create an edge to the excavated area and give a fixing for the jetty. There is considerable work involved in this, concrete has to be taken off the steel beam girder and heavy duty cutting of steel and sleepers takes place.
Aideen and I then continue with the beach area. We lay some more stepping stones to give me access into the shelves for when I need to attend to the plants and then we start bringing in large cobbles to lay around the stepping stones. These cobbles were donated to us by another visitor and they are lovely, big, rounded cobbles that she no longer needed in her own garden. Aideen and I made numerous trips backwards and forwards with a barrow. The big bag of cobbles was inevitably located behind lots of other building materials so Aideen had to climb in and pass them out to me. We did comment on the amount of time we spend moving stones…flints….bricks…in our lives.
We used up all the cobbles by the time it was getting dark. Unfortunately, the clocks have gone back and the days are getting very short. We go inside and contemplate the pumpkins which are not carved yet! Fortunately, with help from Meave and Billy we manage to put six pumpkins outside.