• Kay

Ragwort Issues


Today, we have our second guided tour visit from Slough U3A. Unfortunately, the weather forecast is not great. I went to bed rather late because I decided to have a general tidy up in the house. We do have an ongoing issue ‘Chez McHugh’ which is because we are always outside, the house becomes a dumping ground for wet outdoor clothes, DIY materials and the detritus of trying to keep up with feeding a perpetually ravenous household of six constantly fed!

The rest of the family got up before me and they had set up refreshments, cleaned toilets etc. before I got downstairs. I went outside to water the covered areas and then I got grandad up. Before our visitors arrived, I decided to remove the Ragwort that I had noticed in the wildflower miniature orchard. Ragwort is a poisonous plant for livestock and the farmers that are presently using the Park Lodge Farm fields (the fields adjoining our garden) have tried to eradicate it. Ragwort self-seeds easily and I first noticed it in our wildflower orchard last year. I didn’t worry unduly as we have no livestock and it is the main food plant for the Cinnabar Moth caterpillar. However, if it produces seed heads it will spread to neighbouring fields which is not OK, so I decided to pull it all out! Luckily it comes out of the soil quite easily, it is not like docks or burdocks. After this rather soggy job I trundled around the garden removing other big noticeable weeds.

When the group started to arrive, we ushered them straight through to the marquee as it was drizzling with rain and I started the tour by talking to them undercover. The group were very appreciative and we received many positive comments about our recycling and Aideen’s excellent cakes…she could be the next Mrs Kipling! Somebody said, very sweetly that we were miles better than the National Trust!

At the end of the visit, I managed to plant out another large bed of cabbages with godetia as companion plants before I started teaching.

Today was a very happy day for Aideen because her new bedroom furniture finally arrived! We had almost given up hope as it was ordered before Christmas!!! Whilst I was teaching, Aideen and Diane dismantled the existing bed and built the new bed. All I could hear from the music room was a lot of giggling.

At the end of the evening I was invited to inspect the finished product. It was beautiful with the traditional French style furniture set against the dark oak panelling (salvaged from our wardrobe). I am so delighted with Aideen’s choices and it is completely in keeping with the house.


Interesting Junk


Today we were visited by our wonderful bee man, who not only looks after our bees splendidly, but also finds other ways to help us, particularly if he comes across unwanted or discarded things that might be useful. Today, he popped over to see if we would like to look through some old sheds at a property where a new house is being built. John, our bee man used to keep bees in the garden of the original house, now demolished. The sheds were full of old tools, garden related paraphernalia and general rubbish in a very neglected state and everything was due to be dumped. John knows we collect old tools and machinery and thought we would be interested. He was right, so Patrick and I accompanied him to have a rummage. It reminded me of situations in Ireland where we have had to sort out the homes of Patrick’s uncles when they’ve died. A lifetime’s accumulation of stuff never thrown away, rusting and gathering dust.

We came home with a car full of disparate objects, old metal buckets and bowls and rusting tools, amazingly I even found a tarnished, dented trombone propped against the outside of the shed which I brought back for Diane. Diane was delighted and tried out the sad instrument straight away, incredibly it’s slide still worked and she has added it to her collection of old brass instruments!

There was also a very large and heavy old work bench that, with assistance, we would like to salvage and restore to use as a counter in the new outbuilding refreshments area. We showed Aideen a picture of the oily bench on our return and she was equally enthusiastic. It is good to know that our children have inherited this desire to reuse/repurpose old things and appreciate their value.

Despite increasingly heavy rain, I did manage to plant out another large bed in the brassica quarter with Brussel sprouts surrounded by companion planting of chrysanthemums and Sweet Sultans, adding to the existing nigella, Californian poppies and towering parsnip plants that are now flowering. Aideen wants me to save these for her pressed flower art and they are very attractive to pollinators.


Lot’s of Planting


After lots of rain last night, today was dry, so I concentrated on planting. I was awoken early this morning by the sound of cats screaming. I think our alien visiting cat, a large black and white tom cat, had slipped into the house through the lobby door which had opened when Patrick took Bella for her walk. This had caused complete consternation with our cats, hence the caterwauling!

Before getting grandad up, I attempted to remove the voracious caterpillars off the jostaberries. My beautiful jostaberries have been almost entirely defoliated by these monsters.

I started my day by planting the last trays of cabbages, which I planted out into two medium sized beds and used the remaining godetia as companion plants.

I then extricated my trays of courgette plants from the tunnel. I have quite a few trays of vegetables and flower seedlings residing in-between the two rows of tomatoes in my polytunnels' central bed. This is due to lack of space and it becomes increasingly difficult to pull them out as the tomatoes get taller and the seedlings get bigger. The courgettes have grown to massive proportions so it was quite a struggle. I hope that these large, floppy plants will survive transplanting to their outside beds. I have 12 courgette plants, which will strike terror into the hearts of Aideen and Diane, no great courgette fans! I plant them out into two medium sized beds in the sweetcorn quarter and I surround them with a mixture of tagetes and marigold plants. These companion plants look very healthy and strong and I’m glad I took the trouble to transplant them to larger pots rather than leaving them in modular trays. Hopefully they are large enough to withstand attack from slugs and snails.

Aideen very kindly agreed to tip toe her way through the fruit cage borders and tie the sweet peas to the canes and netting. I had already done one out of the four beds, but it was a great relief to delegate this back-breaking job to someone more young and flexible!

Presently, we are enjoying a bumper crop of strawberries. Aideen has made three litres of strawberry ice-cream and we eat strawberries every day for breakfast! The bottle brush bushes are in full bloom and their amazing bright red bottle brushes look lovely. I’ve also harvested the first new potatoes but they are still quite small.


Stuck in the Mushroom House


Last night, I repainted about 30 wooden plant labels to be re-written. When I looked at them this morning they hadn’t covered the previous writing and had to be painted again.

I had great plans to get lots done today. My first job was to put the ‘casing on the mushroom beds. This needs to be done after the white mycelium of the spawn has run across the compost under the damp newspaper. The casing is made of a mix of 45% garden soil, 45% peat or peat substitute and 10% chalk. I expected to get this job done quite quickly…famous last words! I had to mix everything up in buckets and take it down into the mushroom house. Each bed needed about eight buckets (there are four beds) and mixing the casing and lugging it down to the beds was back breaking work! It took all day!

There were breaks when I discovered that the horrible caterpillars who have decimated my jostaberries were now attacking my redcurrants!

A more pleasant distraction was finding a gorgeous large green shiny beetle which was on the steps leading down to the mushroom house. I carried it through to the courtyard but it flew away noisily before I could show it to Patrick!


We Love Basil


I need to work hard today because tomorrow is our Public Guided Tour Day and tonight we have another Zoom Talk for Hatch End Horticultural Society.

I start by putting out my new plant labels (about 30), which I think means most of the vegetable garden is labelled. I do think this is important because it is interesting to see what different varieties of vegetable are like and I like the appearance of the big painted wooden labels.

Aideen spends the day baking because we are expecting about 45 visitors tomorrow. She is being very professional about her baking and I couldn’t be more delighted that she has taken over the duty entirely from me. By the end of the day, she has made two coffee and walnut cakes, one white chocolate and strawberry cake, one chocolate cake and a large lemon drizzle tray bake. They smell amazing!

After I have put out my labels, I move on to ‘planting out’. First, I plant more companion planting (Sweet Sultans and chrysanthemums) around the red cabbages and then I fill the centre of a pollinator bed with blue and white salvias. Then I planted out the six faux-lead planters on the central path with trailing bacopa and petunias. Unfortunately, five out of six of the planters were infested with ants, a common problem in containers, and they ended up all over me!

I then spent some time picking caterpillars off the currants and gooseberries in the fruit cage. If I’m not careful, I won’t have any leaves left on my fruit bushes. Unfortunately, a disadvantage of netting a fruit cage to stop birds eating the fruit is that they are not available to eat the caterpillars.

My next job was to plant out the basil in the tunnel which sounds innocuous but there were quite a lot of jobs to do first.

1. Weed the bed

2. Cut back strawberries and harvest (1 large bowl)

3. Plant remaining climbers into bottomless pots pushed into strawberries

4. Move any plant in pots and trays still living in this part of the tunnel

5. Finally plant basil, probably about 160 plants, we like basil!

Because there was so much of it, I decided to move an old strawberry plant that grows on the edge of the bed to give me more space. I decided to move the divided plant to the forest garden bed, which I planted out in near darkness after Aideen and I had given the talk. Luckily there are lights in the polytunnel which enabled me to plant the basil.

Whilst all of this was going on, Diane was tidying up in the Kitchen Garden. There is a very delicate balance between me gardening and Diane sweeping. Woe betide me if I mess up her newly swept paths.


Public Guided Tour Day


We were all up early this morning because we had people arriving at 11am for the first Public Guided Tour. This first tour is for new visitors to give them a brief look at all the key features of the garden, and the full quota of 30 people had booked onto the tour. At 2pm we had a tour for 'returners' to show the new features in the garden that have been created since our last opening, we had 15 people booked onto this tour.

Before our guests arrived, there was plenty to do. I returned to the polytunnel to tidy up after last night’s mass basil planting and I also deadheaded sweet peas and tied up all the tomato plants, again! They are growing at a tremendous rate! I attempted to sweep the paths but my efforts were loudly derided by Aideen and Diane, apparently sweeping is not my forte!

I then got grandad up and sorted out the chicken before endeavouring to tidy myself up! We had a bit of a dilemma because we were aware of an impending wedding at the church at 1:30pm. Large events at church can cause access problems for us. When people are focussed on their ‘big day’ they tend not to worry if they are blocking the access to someone’s house. We were concerned that our first group exiting, or our second group arriving, might get stuck in the wedding traffic. Aideen and Diane were outside in good time to direct our visitors cars to the right place and thankfully everything went smoothly.

The tours went well which was a relief because the ‘returners tour’ was happening for the first time. Shortly after I started this tour, I realised that I had been joined by Patrick, apparently he was curious to hear what I had to say! All was well and the visitors appeared to enjoy themselves. Aideen sold some of her pressed flower pictures which was brilliant and everyone loved her cake! This is good as she is going to be baking a lot this week as we have visits every day!

After the visitors left, I went outside and dug up the garlic. I was thrilled to discover that I had grown the biggest garlic that I have ever grown. On previous years, I think its growth has been restricted by lack of rain and also because I tend to leave it in the ground for too long and then there is a greater likelihood of rot. This year, nearly all of the garlic was sound, although some had started to try and flower which will mean a tough stem in the middle of the bulb. I laid all the garlic out on the propagator end of the bench and proudly fetched the family to look and take a photo. I then decided to dig up the shallots which looked a good size as well. By removing the garlic and shallots I gave myself somewhere to plant the leeks, which are the last vegetables waiting to be planted out – a job for tomorrow.

Whilst digging up the shallots I heard a roar from beyond the fields. I looked at my watch and I guessed that I could hear fans at our local pub cheering the start of the England vs Ukraine match. Four minutes later there was an even bigger roar and I ran inside to discover Harry Kane had scored the first goal. I was almost as pleased about that as the size of my garlic!


A Rare Clear Day


Today is a clear day to work in the garden in advance of our busiest week, where we have visits every day, and two visits on Wednesday!

Aideen determinedly sets out to bake for the day, with some assistance from Diane (in-between her other jobs). I will spend my time in the garden dodging showers of rain. My aim is to fill the beds vacated by garlic and shallots with my young leeks. When rain becomes too heavy I will retire to the tunnel to sow seeds and repot seedlings. Patrick spends the day trying to clear the furthest wall in the orchard so it is prepared for photographic recording for Historic England's records. He is also trying to make the marquee more secure in preparation for strong winds.

I manage to sow four root trainers of dwarf French beans and cannelloni beans for drying. Then one tray each of lettuce, beetroot, cauliflower and calabrese. I also transplant some small polyanthas! I succeed in planting out all of the leeks and companion planting. The leeks are planted into deep holes, only partially filled with soil to secure the seedling, leaving a cup in the soil around the leek. This helps to collect rainwater and gradually the soil falls into the hollow and serves to semi blanch the leek.

I notice today the Annabelle hydrangeas are beginning to open their large green/white blooms.

By the end of the day Aideen has baked seven very professional looking cakes and we are feeling reasonably prepared for tomorrow!


The Start of a Very Busy Week


This week, we have groups visiting for Guided Tours every day, with two on Wednesday. This is quite a marathon on top of my normal teaching schedule and gardening. I go outside early to walk around, sorting out odd jobs on the route that I take my Guided Tour. I cut back rampant vetch overrunning the path by the wildflower miniature orchard, I then tied back the raspberries in the fruit cage, I remove large obvious weeds from various places and try to tidy up my poor beans, which are still trying to recover from their difficult planting out.

After this, I water the polytunnel and deadhead the sweet peas before getting grandad up. When grandad is up, I go to the forest garden bed to do some weeding. I love being in this part of the garden, it feels like you are away from everything and soon I become completely immersed in different tasks. I tie all the sunflowers(46) further up their pole supports and I give the sweet potatoes a string to cling to on their respective wig-wams and tie them to their poles.

I became so absorbed that I lost track of time until I heard Aideen shouting for me. It was 12:15 and I needed to get ready to be prepared for visitors half an hour before the start of their visit, they always arrive early and today was no exception. Today we had 29 members of the Northwood Women's Group. The visit went very well and the ladies (and some men, presumably partners) had lots of questions and stayed happily for quite a long time. After they left I squeezed in a bit more forest garden weeding before my teaching.


Rain, Rain, Rain!


Last night it rained heavily all night, probably several inches. Even the channel in the orchard had started to flow, unheard of at this time of year. There are also strong gusts of wind which is causing Patrick to stress about the marquee. We have now anchored the marquee with heavy cement blocks tied to the frame with rope.

We have another visit this morning at 10:30am from Chiltern U3A, so we need to be ready and outside to meet visitors by 10am. I’m up early checking the garden for wind/rain casualties. Inevitably, plants are drooping more over the paths and some have fallen completely – thank goodness for string! All things considered, the garden is coping well with the weather. However, today we are expecting a mobility scooter so it is unfortunate that plants are flopping onto the paths.

The group of 28 arrived, some early, some late and we make a start. The weather was changeable and broke my umbrella! The tours are longer than usual due to the size of the groups and people becoming distracted and stopping to take photos. However, everyone seems to enjoy the tours and they all want to talk and ask questions. These visits are often the first time people have been out in a more relaxed setting and they are just so happy to engage with other people. After they’ve had their refreshments they all disappear back in the garden and it can be quite a while before they return. Today, I was convinced they had all gone when one solitary lady appeared through the orchard gate. She had apparently revisited every step of the tour, taking photos and she was most appreciative of all the interesting individual areas within the garden. Many people left telling us they would be coming back with other people and sure enough in the afternoon, two of them rang to book tickets for the Open Day.

After the visit, I returned to the Forest Garden Bed and continued weeding until my teaching at 4:30pm. By the time I finished teaching, I was tired and went outside and shut everything up for the night.


Our Busiest Day


Today we have two visits, the first starts at 10:30am. I am up early tying up cucumber plants and watering in the polytunnel. Unfortunately, it took much longer to get Grandad up and ready this morning, not ideal considering today’s schedule.

Our first group was a returning group, Hillingdon U3A. However, it soon became apparent that most of the group had not visited before. Apparently, a different section of the U3A had visited previously. I quickly changed gear to give them the introductory guided tour rather than the returners tour.

Just as I started the tour, the man carrying out the photogrammetry survey arrived. This is a very detailed photographic record of the walls, including aerial shots. In order to do this, the man has a camera on a very long pole! This survey goes with any archaeological reports and it is a condition of our Planning Permission. The tour was quite long as usual and people spent quite a while in the garden after their refreshments, so there was little time before the start of the second tour at 2pm. Unfortunately, there was a funeral at the same time, so Diane had to be very sensitive about who was visiting us to direct them past the church and on to Church Gardens. This group arrived in a stressed state because their journey had been hindered by road closures. This was another returning group and the majority of them had been before, so this time I did give the alternative tour.

This group were lovely but very difficult to corral around the garden, I felt like a particularly ineffective sheep dog. When I went into the orchard I lost about a third of the group who were all over the place, even on the Mount! I had to ask Diane to try and retrieve them. I don’t think they realised that there was a lot of new things to see in the orchard!

I finally succeeded in completing the tour and brought them back for refreshments. I had a quick sandwich and had to start teaching at 4:30pm leaving Aideen and Diane to look after our remaining visitors until they were ready to leave.

Today was a bit more busy than was ideal, but we got through it and everyone was very enthusiastic and keen to return with friends and family.


A Bowl of Many Fruits


Today was a bit of a breathing space, we have a tour, but at 7pm. I start the day with a large bowl of berries for breakfast which included strawberries, Tayberries, Jostaberries, Black, Red, White and Pink currants and gooseberries with Greek Yoghurt and honey…well if that doesn’t give me a boost for the day nothing will.

Before getting grandad up, I sowed a root trainer of runner beans…I had read in my RHS Magazine that this would provide me with a late crop of beans and as my runner beans have had such a disastrous time, I thought I could redeem the situation.

Aideen planned a day’s baking as we have a visit tomorrow for 40 people. She is doing a magnificent job keeping up with the cake supply and she is receiving many well deserved compliments!

When grandad was up, I returned to the forest garden bed to finish weeding where I was joined by Pip. The weather was generally good but then there was a heavy shower of rain and I bunched myself up in the arbour to take cover but then was stuck there for about 20 minutes!

After a late lunch, I spent time weeding a potato bed and tying up clematises to the arches. I’m pleased to say many of the clematis are now starting to do well. I think this is partly because they are becoming established and partly because of the rain.

We started to get ready at 6ish and the Loudwater Gardening Club arrived with a few extras at 7pm. This group have been before and asked for a short introductory talk and then they would wander around the garden themselves. I spotted them gathered around the massive crater that will become our pond so I explained the purpose hole and we continued as a group around the orchard. The group were very appreciative and were particularly enthusiastic about seeing the crocus terrace in the Spring so they promised to return!


The End of a Busy Week


Today the weather is overcast but dry and warm. We have a big group of people coming from Ruislip Central Horticultural Society at 2pm, there are over 40 visitors so we will need to split them into two groups.

I make the most of the time before the visit to get jobs done. After watering the tunnel, I plant the last tagetes into the potato bed that I weeded yesterday. I then retrieve all of my Amazing Grey poppies and plant them around my newly planted out leeks. I also decide to plant the colourful flax plants around a bed of onions. I attend to some tying up of clematis, larkspur and some floppy borage until it is time to get ready.

I am a little apprehensive because I am conscious that my guided tours are rather long at present and I will need to move my first group around more quickly, so the second group does not have to wait too long. I am probably worrying too much because the second group will have a perfectly nice time walking in the garden and having their refreshments but ‘worrying too much’ is a habit of mine! The main cause of lengthy tours is keeping the group together, but thankfully, this group was excellent at keeping up which helped enormously.

By the time I had completed two tours in quick succession I was quite tired and very much in need of a cup of tea and a slice of Aideen’s lovely cake. This group had our Zoom Talk in February and were very invested in the whole ‘Church Gardens Project’. There were lots of questions and again a lot of promises of return visits.

When everyone had left, I went outside to the front of the house to do some weeding and clearance prior to planting out the begonias. I’m sad to say I disturbed two box tree moths in the hedge, probably time to spray again.


Useful Weeds


Today started with gentle but persistent rain. I spent some considerable time in the tunnel ‘potting on’ more than 200 polyanthas. Aideen and Patrick were working in the pond. The liner will arrive quite soon and the hole has to be ready. Patrick has now decided to dig out a shelf above the water level where he will set in the edge of the liner and build up his sloping flint edges. This is quite a lot of digging so Aideen is helping him, she is also smoothing off the surface of the planting shelves prior to spreading sand and laying underlay and then the liner.

Patrick is rather pensive at the moment because he hasn’t worked out how to create the overflow into the drain. I’m pleased to report that by lunchtime he is sketching out a potential solution and looks much happier.

I have suggested putting any topsoil they dig up around some nut trees so I can create another polyantha bed, hence the ‘potting-on’.

After lunch, I turn my attention to the front of the house where I have yet to plant out beds and containers. Until now, I have allowed a flowering weed to flourish at the front to give some colour, but today this is removed. I top up my old metal barrel with manure and top soil and plant it out with petunias which I also add to the other containers. I plant out all of the begonias in the small bed by the front door and amongst the polyanthas in the organ bed. I add some succulents and begonias in pots into the containers nestled amongst the ivy. Before I can start planting, I have to finish weeding at least the front of the organ bed and I pull out enough seedling sycamores and ash to make a small wood!

As I finish my planting out I have the pleasure of listening to Aideen practising her harp and violin programme that she will play tomorrow for a Christening Party.