Today, Martin (the digger driver) is returning to help Aideen (on the dumper) remove all the surplus soil in the orchard. When things started to go amiss with the basement excavation, we started to dump soil between the nut trees in the orchard. We ended up digging out more soil than originally intended to in order to slope the walls at the far end of the hole to avoid further collapse. We knew we would need a lot of soil to backfill when the basement construction was finished. Inevitably, despite backfilling, there is still masses of surplus soil in the orchard. Today, the conditions are freezing which is ideal for removing this excess sand/clay spoil because the ground is hard and therefore it will not make as much mess. I shudder to think how much money we have spent on having soil taken away and today we have two more grab lorries come to take away soil.
The first thing Martin and Aideen move is a pile of large, heavy slices of tree trunk that have been left at the bottom of the drive. This is the second load of tree trunk slices that have been donated to us by one of Patrick’s builder colleagues. Aideen drives them up to the bee enclosure where I intend to add them to the stumpery and create some sort of seating area under the nut trees.
Whilst Aideen and Martin work away, I think to myself, “Why do diggers have cabs and dumpers don’t?”. Poor Aideen looks freezing, despite multiple layers and a woolly hat!
I return to sowing seeds in the polytunnel where I sow another three root-trainers with a further 12 varieties of sweet pea and another three root-trainers with culinary peas – Meteor and Dolce de Provence.
When Patrick and I make our way across the mud to see how Aideen and Martin are getting on, Patrick casually suggests I move a pile of logs that are obstructing access to some piles of mud. There are a lot of long heavy branches in the pile but I do my best to move them out of the way quickly.
After a hard day’s work, it is time to teach and then I concoct a dinner far too late in the evening. It is a curry of mince, potato and broccoli which unfortunately requires me to go out in the cold to retrieve onions from the basement and some interesting yellow chillies from the polytunnel.
Today is massively milder so I can go back to bulb planting, isn’t it amazing how weather works. Patrick and Aideen were up early to complete some blockwork and insert a lintel over what will be the doorway into the basement from the external stairs. This blockwork needs to be in place to complete the beam and block floor in that corner of the building.
Martin is with us again today and he is on a general tidying mission with the digger: adding top soil to the backfilling, smoothing out where the soil heaps were in the orchard, filling trenches and tidying the heap to be removed at the bottom of the drive. Later in the morning, Patrick has to leave Aideen to go to a work appointment and she lays the last few blocks herself. I find her checking and rechecking with the spirit level, I am most impressed! My morning is hijacked by the vacuum cleaner. We have a very venerable vacuum cleaner that was donated to us many years ago by my Aunt. It is the only vacuum cleaner that I have had that can cope with our house but periodically it becomes blocked. It hasn’t been working for a week due to issues with its brush. I spend an hour and a half trying to get to the bottom of the problem and finally get it working again with the assistance of my bassoon tool kit and some WD40!
I then take various things down to the basement that shouldn’t be in the house because we are supposed to be tidying up as Meave has friends staying at the weekend. It is very hard to keep the house clean at the moment as we are all constantly traipsing in mud!
Now the temperature has risen, I carefully water all my little seedlings in the tunnel and the newly sown root trainers. Then I attend to the four smaller display beds prior to planting with tulip bulbs. These four beds all require weeding and cutting back of encroaching valerian. I don’t quite get around to bulb planting but I’m set to go for tomorrow. Whilst I am teaching in the evening I receive a very welcome call from the fixer for the Westminster Cathedral Christmas Celebration orchestra asking me to play this Christmas. This was a surprise as I had assumed it wasn’t happening as I had not heard from them. It will be lovely to be back there again this year (please God it is not cancelled again). Christmas wasn’t the same last year without it!
This year I have decided to freeze some of my chilli harvest. Normally I make chilli powder but I have quite a lot of powder left and also a large existing supply of dried chillies that I can make into more powder. I have laid a selection of red and yellow chillies on a plastic lid and popped them into a freezer drawer. Today, I took them out and placed them in a bag and returned them to the freezer. This should give me a plentiful supply of fresh chillies until next year’s harvest.
I then returned to my four smaller display beds to plant tulip bulbs. I had four different varieties of rather special tulips that I wanted to plant in these beds as their bronze/orange/gold colours would blend well together. However, there were only about 25 bulbs for each bed. Therefore, I grouped these in the centre and surrounded them with the white yellow and orange peony tulips dug up from last year’s display beds. I must have put in about 400/500 of these bulbs into the four beds along with the 100 special new tulips, this should make a good display.
At lunchtime, Aideen and I had one of our planning meetings with Patrick to establish what needs to be done before Monday when the bricklayer is coming to do some brickwork. Apparently, there is another course of blockwork to go on all of the walls, the corner of the beam and block floor needs completing, damp proof membrane needs to be fixed in place, shingle needs to be poured into the gap between the basement and workshop and the blockwork has to be painted with damp proofing paint. Unfortunately, the only person available to help Patrick this weekend is me and I still have a few thousand bulbs to plant and it is due to rain!
A Harp Playing Builder
Today we woke to a light sprinkling of snow on the ground, so clearly the temperature has dropped again. Patrick was out early moving concrete beams onto the unfinished corner of the basement roof in order for Aideen to come out later and fit in the blocks. I’m intending to continue bulb planting but first, I have to find a safe place for a barrowful of old excavated bottles. I manage to squeeze them onto some shelves in the basement, it will be lovely to get them cleaned up and displayed at some point.
Today I plan to start planting the iris bulbs. I have 3250 Dutch Iris and I have decided to plant them around the big curved side of the pond. There are about eight different varieties and there are also bags of mixed bulbs and I think they will make a beautiful display on the far side of the pond. I am visualising people sitting outside the new ‘café’ building looking at the pond with a beautiful arc of colour on the far side…these little fantasies keep me going when I’m surrounded by mud.
When Aideen finishes practising, she comes out to finish the corner of the block and beam floor which also includes laying blocks under the edges of the floor with cement. Aideen is taking her role in this project very seriously and I’m impressed by how she is driving it along, fitting building work and project management alongside her harp playing! By the time we have to go inside to get ready, I have planted about 1000 Iris bulbs.
We wrap up warm as myself, Aideen and two other members of the church band are playing Christmas music on the green before the lighting of the tree. After this, there are three further hours of choir and band rehearsals as we prepare for the busy Harefield Christmas schedule of concerts and events.
Today is damp and much milder, the weather cannot make up its mind at the moment. It is Friday so Patrick will be spending the day outside and he and Aideen are laying blocks. This is to fill in the gap between the edge of the beam and block floor and the top of the basement walls. This is slow work, made worse by everything around the building being covered in wet slippery mud! Patrick is having to be very careful as he could fall over very easily and he is also quite depressed by the state of these areas that were previously fairly clean surfaces of ‘type 1’. There will be a great deal of work involved in cleaning it all up before we can lay the final surface outside the building.
I start by investigating my young candelabra and denticulata primulas in the cold frame. These plants will be planted alongside the stream but we are not ready for them yet. Unfortunately, the trays of plants are not looking great, with dead and soggy looking leaves. I retrieve them from the cold frames and bring them inside the tunnel. I give them a good trim and place them on the bench, I think they will benefit from drying out a little.
I then carry on planting Iris bulbs. I manage to plant another 1000 bulbs by the time light fades.
During the day, we receive three separate deliveries of timber which will be making up the frame of the building and we have to catch two dogs that have escaped their owner and come into the garden.
When I come inside, I have to help Meave tidy the house to try to make it respectable for her visitors. This is not easy, partly because everything is muddy but also because everyone just dumps work boots, work clothes, building gloves, piles of screws (I could go on) everywhere! This is inevitable as we are trying to complete a major building project, keep the garden going, care for grandad and do our normal jobs and everyone is far too tired to worry about being tidy! This is fine until we have visitors…oh well! It will be nice to have a tidy house for a few days.
The weather is brighter but colder today. This is very tough on Patrick as he is desperately trying to finish the blockwork on the new building before the bricklayer comes on Monday. Unfortunately, none of the girls are available this weekend to help but luckily, Aideen’s boyfriend James is coming over later this morning to help Patrick.
I had a disturbed night with grandad buzzing at 1:30am. Having trudged across a very soggy, cold lawn in my PJ’s, I asked him what was wrong and he said “I can’t quite put my finger on it”. After this disturbance to my sleep, I had terrible trouble going back to sleep and resorted to reading which luckily is not a hardship for me. Presently, I am reading two books simultaneously which are both about gardeners and their lives tending to their gardens. One is Marc Hamer’s ‘Seed to Dust’ and tells of his work in a 12 acre private garden (not his own) that he designed and nurtured for decades. The other book is ‘A Diary of a Modern Country Gardener’ by Tamsin Westhorpe who works at her family garden, Stockton Bury in Herefordshire which is a very popular garden that opens to the public.
When I go outside, I start by planting the final 1000 Iris bulbs around the pond. Unfortunately, this was in the shade and therefore very cold! After this, I make a start on planting the allium bulbs. There are only 150 of these but they are going into the top terrace of the mount and planting them is difficult because the bed is already very densely planted with bulbs and the mount has been quite badly taken over by wild buttercups which I dig out as I go. It is very damp and chilly in the bed as I crawl along and I’m not that sorry when fading light drives me indoors. I have resolved to make some nice food to cheer up Patrick and James who are still working with the assistance of James’s newly installed flood lights.
I potter around the kitchen garden gathering crops including beetroot, green cabbage, onions, garlic and celeriac. I realise when heading for the celeriac as I pass the Chilean Guava bushes that I completely forgot to pick their tasty fruit at the end of the summer. I can dimly see a few remaining berries and eat them then and there. They are sweet and delicious and I resolve to return tomorrow to eat the rest! This is a slight disadvantage of growing so many types of fruit and vegetables…sometimes you forget to harvest something! I almost forgot to harvest the celeriac this year, which isn’t very big but perfectly edible. I pull out four celeriac to put in the soup, two small butternuts and an acorn squash and head back to the kitchen to start cooking.
First, I make soup from the onions, garlic, potatoes, celeriac, large courgette and squashes – this is for lunch tomorrow and should keep us warm. I then put the beetroot on to cook and started to make a lasagne which we will have with the beetroot and the cabbage cooked in butter and garlic. This all takes some considerable time because of preparing so many vegetables but it is definitely worth it. As I cook, I listen to the ‘Moral Maze’ which is debating the nature/pursuit of happiness and I consider my own happiness which is largely due to spending so much time outside in a garden and being able to feed my family with the produce. There is nothing complicated about my contentment, it is very simple and I consider myself to be extremely luckily.
James and Patrick finally come in at about 7:30pm. They are dusty, muddy and cold and very hungry. I have tried to keep them going with frequent cups of tea and chocolate but they are looking forward to their dinner! I am reminded of a phrase in Marc Hamer’s book as he minutely studies the weather for signs of frost before he starts pruning, “I live a 16th Century kind of life”. So do I! None of us can be completely free of modern innovation but we can do our best to loosen its grip, perhaps that’s why I surround myself with books because at least if the screens went dark I could continue to read…at least during the day!
Falling Behind Schedule!
Today is gloomy and cold with persistent drizzling rain which makes our muddy conditions intolerable and depressing. I head of to church alone as I am the only family member who is available. The ‘band’ at church is in reality more of a duo or trio! Diane was supposed to come home from Cardiff on a very early coach but missed it, Aideen has another concert which James is driving her to and Meave will not be available until her friends have left. Patrick is looking overwhelmed and dejected, surrounded by wet, slippery, muddy boards that were originally laid around the site of the new building to protect the type 1 surface…well that didn’t work! I feel very sorry for him, but I have to trudge off to church. I am comforted by the knowledge that Meave and James will soon be outside with him.
In the sermon, the vicar alludes to the approaching winter solstice, (21st December) the shortest day and I think how relieved we will be to move past it. Light is so important to all living things and it is incredible how much the weather affects how we feel.
When I return after the service, Patrick is laying blocks and James is painting the thick damp proof paint onto the blocks that are already laid. The blockwork needs three coats and it is increasingly looking as if we will not be ready for Mickey tomorrow, despite our best efforts. We will have to postpone the bricklaying, falling even further behind Aideen’s punishing schedule. Aideen calls us from her rehearsal to see how we are getting on! We remind her that we are only human!
I go out to the terrace and finish planting the alliums. I then go into the vegetable garden and dig up leeks and Swedes for dinner. Nourishing food takes on a great significance at times like this. Food is literally the main thing that keeps us going, or in Patrick’s case, chocolate. I have never known anybody eat as much chocolate as Patrick, I bought him copious supplies yesterday and it is already more than half gone!
Today, we have my homemade, hearty soup for lunch and tonight I plan to make chicken, leek and mushroom pie (with homemade flaky pastry), mashed Swede and cauliflower cheese. I am very sad about the horrible leek bug that now attacks the leeks and has done for the last few years. I wonder if there is any way I can protect them next year. I am still determined to use them, but a lot of the outer layers have to be discarded. I then head out to the organ bed to plant tulips. I am on the home straight with my bulb planting now with only 400 bulbs from this year’s order left to plant. I then have about 1000 tulip bulbs dug up from last year to plant in the side herbaceous borders and then the job is done…better late than never! Then it is ‘just’ tidying the beds, borders and vegetable patch and adding compost, leaf mould and spent mushroom compost to the garden. I muse on the fact that no one is available to help me, in fact, I will probably be dragged away regularly to help with the building project and stream construction. I hope in the future years we will not have such major works to do alongside preparing the garden for opening…could this be the last year we have to work this hard, I hope so!
Mud, Sweat and Tears!
Today is a miserable day and lining the stream is top of the agenda. Patrick was outside first thing this morning blowing leaves and strimming before he goes to work so that Aideen and I can spend the day preparing the stream bed for the liner. This involves scraping off the muddy surface and removing roots, stones etc., raking it level, and then adding a layer of sand which then has to be thumped down with a piece of wood to compact it. This is a hard job involving filling barrows with heavy, wet sand and pushing them through the quagmire of sticky mud that comprises our orchard at the moment. Aideen was working on her own for a couple of hours before I was able to join her and she wasn’t happy when I got outside.
Everything about this job made me feel old, tired and unfit. I find it hard going to fill multiple barrows with wet sand (or anything else for that matter), I find it hard to push them through the mud and I find it hard to tip out the heavy barrow. This is made worse by my boots being coated in a thick layer of mud, making it hard to even lift my feet. Also, it was raining and at my lowest ebb I was reduced to tears frustrated by my own inadequacies. The reason for the urgency with this job is that apparently, another storm is forecasted and there is supposed to be rain every day for more than a week. This means the stream will start to run naturally, so we are racing to get the liner in before the flow of water makes the job impossible. Patrick realised that we were struggling to get the job done and came back outside to help after lunch. Shortly before I had to come inside to teach, we attempted to put a liner into the small pool at the top of the stream. By this time, water was beginning to trickle through the pipe and started to seep into the sand! It was also now quite dark and there we were grubbing about in a soggy hollow, overshadowed by trees and ferns! Minxy decided to join us and proceeded to disappear down the water pipe! At this point I had to go into teach but luckily Diane had arrived home from work and went outside to take my place. Patrick, Aideen and Diane remained outside for hours working in complete darkness, but they did manage to get the liner in, God knows how!
Today we also received the second invoice from the builders who completed the basement. The builders did an excellent job but I’m relieved that we didn’t ask them to do the beam and block floor. It is very easy when you start employing someone to work on a job to be tempted to allow them to carry on. Builders are very good at convincing you that you shouldn’t/couldn’t do it yourself and it is SO tempting to allow someone else to do the hard work. BUT the cost would be ruinous. Although, Patrick and I agree that even DIY is now an expensive option because of the escalating cost of materials. Well there is no going back now and we will just have to make savings wherever we can and pray that ultimately the building will help us to earn more money for the garden’s restoration.
Today the weather steadily deteriorates throughout the day with the approach of storm Barra. It is cold, windy and wet. Aideen does attempt to continue painting on some damp proofing paint but soon has to give up and cover the walls with polythene to protect them from the rain. We decide it is a good day to go and choose some Christmas trees. We go to the same garden centre in Ruislip for the trees every year and select two 7/8ft, fat trees, one for the living room and one for outside the front door.
We love Christmas lights at Church Gardens and despite being surrounded by mud and building materials I think we will go ahead this weekend with putting up our display. Although we don’t really have time, I’m sure it will lift everyone’s spirits. Therefore, I will have to spend some time tidying up at the front of the house when I have finished planting the tulip bulbs in the organ bed.
Aideen and I manage to find two beautiful trees that look fat enough to hold the massive collection of decorations. When we get home, Aideen and I decide to stay in and check the blogs and it is lovely to have a rest. Later when I am teaching, I am informed that the stream is running and flowing into the pond…thank goodness…we made it by the skin of our teeth!
Patrick has visits from several scaffolding companies because he is considering having a tin hat (this is when a site is given a protective roof and walls) erected over the building site. This would be another expense but would make life so much easier to work on the building and keep it water tight. I hope we can get a reasonable quote…typical Kay, ever the optimist!
We seem to have escaped really bad weather with storm Barra, although later I discover one of the rear polytunnel doors has blown open and the bottom hinge has come away from the frame. I’ll ask Patrick to fix it later. Apart from a few spots of rain, the day is dry, but we must have had reasonable rain in the night because the stream is flowing.
I am relieved to see everything is working as planned in the stream. A steady flow of water is coming out of the pipe and into the small pool at the top of the stream. Our hastily installed liner in the top small pool has settled into place and once this pool fills up, the water flows down the newly lined stream. Because the stream is so long, it is lined with several narrow lengths of liners which overlap. These pieces are offcuts from the original giant liner that we used for the big pond. Using overlapping pieces of liner along the stream is fine because the shallow water just flows over the top and doesn’t have a chance to soak through any overlapping sections. At several points, we have laid a slab under the liner which causes the water to ‘pool’ before the slab which looks rather nice and there are a couple of changes of level which adds an interesting sound to the flow of water. At the moment, the look of the stream is quite crude because we haven’t created an edge or disguised the liner in any way. However, it is good to see that even with a relatively light flow of water coming through the pipe we have a functioning stream. This indicates that when we install our pump, it should shift at least that quantity of water, if not more and look really good. The pond has now filled to about 8 inches below its final level, the shelves are covered with water and the beach is beginning to disappear below the water. It looks stunning and I can’t stop myself from straying to the orchard to look at it. I love the ponds shape and the way the beach, jetty and Mayflower are angled against the curves of the pond. It is exactly how I’ve dreamed of it looking for the past 25 years!
Aideen spends some time painting on the damp proofing paint and then heroically mows the crocus terrace. This has needed mowing for ages and needed cutting before the crocuses start to poke through.
I went outside the front of the house and finished planting the white, purple and flaming flag tulips in the organ bed. I then started to generally tidy up the bed, removing soggy hosta foliage, weeding and cutting back dead foliage in anticipation of putting up the Christmas lights.
Salad in December
Today is a beautiful, mild sunny day and Aideen carries on painting the external wall of blocks on the base of the new building with damp proofing paint – it needs three coats. Hopefully, our bricklayer can come in the next few days to do the facing brickwork whilst the weather is fine.
I continue working at the front of the house tidying the organ pipe bed. It looks much better now and it is good to see the recently transplanted Hellebores, Pulminarias, Anemones and Cyclamens are all doing well. I will delay adding compost to the bed until the lights are taken down because it will be trampled.
We are planning to put up lights at the weekend but also to give the front of the house parking area a good tidy up which is long overdue. We also need to replace the wisteria trellis with something more sturdy because it has been damaged in the wind.
Later in the day, our Christmas trees arrive followed by another scaffolding man to quote for a tin hat for the new building. I hope this quote will be more affordable than the ones we have already received. However, I think we must go ahead and cover the building for Patrick’s sake, anything to make life easier for him.
At lunchtime, I collect lettuce leaves and a tomato for a sandwich, not bad for December. I pop into the fruit cage which is desperate for my ministrations and I notice that the water cress I planted in the bath is doing very well and I eat some. It is so sunny I eat lunch perched on the end of Mayflower gazing at the pond. Aideen is now inside practising as we have the Harefield Hospital Carol Concert tonight in church. After lunch, I carefully remove all the dead leaves that are swamping my new polyantha beds and soon the light fades. It is time to go inside and get ready for the concert.
Celebrating the Pond
During the concert last night, it started to rain quite heavily. This filled me with excitement because I knew the stream would start running again and potentially finish filling the pond. Like a kid before Christmas, I couldn’t wait for the morning. I was even tempted to go out during the night to check the levels but I managed to restrain myself! Sure enough, in the morning the pond was almost full and what a magnificent sight it was. The water has crept up the beach and there were little waves lapping at the pebbles. There is a low section of flint wall on one side of the beach which might require some building up, but generally we seem to have judged the levels well. The stream is running beautifully and all we need to check now is if the overflow works as predicted. By 2pm, the water had begun to gently spill into the overflow as the pond reached its final level. It is hard to describe how thrilled I am to see the pond at this stage, it is one of the best things that we’ve ever done in the garden. Aideen commented that it is hard to imagine what went into creating the pond now we are looking at this calm expanse of water that looks as if it has always been there. No one would believe the time and effort that went into building it! We will have to celebrate this evening.
As it is Friday and weather is relatively fine, Patrick and Aideen worked all day to complete the floor and edge of the new building adjacent to the workshop. This is a tricky job as the two buildings butt up against each other leaving a very narrow gap to deal with. I finished removing dead leaves from my polyantha beds and then decided to remove the nasturtiums that have been killed by the frost from the forest garden bed. The nasturtiums were a bit too successful this year and rampantly covered the entire 40mx6m forest garden bed with their leaves and blooms. This was helpful groundcover but it did rather swamp the other residents of the bed. When nasturtiums die in the Winter, this problem is increased because they become wet and slimy and droop over everything. I decided they should be removed pronto before they do any damage. However, what appears to be a simple job took the rest of the day. I filled three giant barrows of dead nasturtiums and then had to try to lob them onto the towering compost heap, not easy as the tangled masses of stems were very unwieldy, heavy and slippery.
Whilst doing this job I made two exciting discoveries…a circle of newly emerging Babbington leeks (I thought they may have perished) and some rosy fruit on the strawberry tree.
We celebrate the pond by opening Meave’s gin that was given to her as a Christmas gift by her company. We even added a slice of the remaining ripe lemon that has been holding onto it’s tree for the past year! Will there ever be another ripe lemon? This special fruit smelt beautiful.
Today all of the girls are at home to help due to some concerts being cancelled. Patrick and Aideen continue with the annoying section between the workshop and new building which is taking a lot more time and effort than anyone estimated. Diane and Meave continue painting on more coats of damp proofing paint to the blockwork walls. We are supposed to be making a start on the Christmas decorations but this is looking less and less likely. I make a start with straightening out the front of the house which presently resembles Steptoe’s Yard by turning my attention to the wisterias.
This is my second attempt at wisteria cultivation. My first efforts were back in 2015 when I added two wisterias to grow along the newly restored wall that ran behind my first herbaceous border. This was a border containing many of my favourite plants and on reflection, its aspect was not necessarily suitable for every one of my choices. The wisterias are growing quite well but my pruning has been sporadic and therefore flowering has been limited, probably also due to the wisteria not receiving enough sunshine.
I decided to try again in 2018 by adding two wisterias along a much sunnier stretch of wall that leads to our main gate. I optimistically used two rustic wooden trellis fans to act as their supports. These trellises looked very pretty for our first public opening but unsurprisingly, have not stood the test of time. During the last year, strong winds have broken them and blown them away from the wall leaving the poor wisterias in a very unstable condition! Patrick proposes to cut a section of steel reinforcement mesh to fix to the wall which is a much more sturdy solution for the wayward wisterias.
I take the big green barrow outside and start removing the broken trellis’s. I then consult one of my numerous pruning books and embark on trimming both wisterias in preparation for being fixed to their new supports. Wisteria should be pruned twice a year in Winter and Summer so hopefully this latest effort will obtain good flowering results. The most commonly asked question on Gardeners Question Time is how to get a wisteria to flower!
After this, I head off to the auricula theatre for more ‘haircutting’ exploits. Yesterday, I noticed that the auriculas were looking rather messy. There are a few flowers, but a lot of dead leaves. I then proceed to spend ages carefully removing dead foliage from each plant, watering if required and then placing back on the shelves. I’ve decided to try leaving them outside this year because they were too dry in the tunnel last year.
Later in the day our friendly electrician came to fit power boxes at the front of the house which will make assembling the Christmas lights much easier. Tomorrow is supposed to be fine so maybe we will get them done.
Today is incredibly mild which is ideal conditions for putting up Christmas decorations. First thing this morning Patrick fixed his steel reinforcing mesh to the wall for me to attach the wisteria. I then spent some considerable time sorting out the two wisterias and attaching them securely to the mesh at multiple points and finishing off the pruning. I was very happy with the final results, the wisterias looked much happier.
Putting up the Christmas decorations is generally a happy time and the girls organised a Christmas playlist to keep us entertained. Everyone has their own approach; Diane is meticulous and was in charge of wrapping the organ pipes in lights with Meave as her rather distracted assistant. Aideen is good at getting things done and put out reindeer, birds, penguins, a rabbit, a snowman, lights on the fence, helped Patrick with the curtain lights and put up the Merry Christmas sign. Diane then comes along and adjusts some of these things artistically. Patrick is in charge of making things work and being told off for climbing ladders. Potentially the lights will be beautiful and the new socket boxes are great BUT frustratingly, something somewhere kept tripping the electricity supply and plunging us into darkness! As the day wears on, this does lead to some frayed nerves. My role, having dealt with the wisterias is general tidying up. If I lived a normal life, tidying up would probably entail flicking a duster or a bit of light vacuuming but things are a little more ‘heavy duty’ here at Church Gardens. The front, car parking area of our house resembles a very messy builders yard and a lot of things needs moving before our Christmas lights can look their best. I start by moving the 30 granite sets donated to us by a visitor some months ago. These are extremely heavy and there is a limit to how many can go in my barrow in one load. I put these on a pallet in the kitchen garden. Next there is a pallet of cement bags to move, these are extremely heavy and I move them inside the gates to put on a new pallet beside the garage. Next I discover a one tonne sand bag full of steel ‘U bends’ that were not used in the concrete floor slab of the basement. I move all of these to a new sand bag in a neater position on the other side of the parking area, needless to say they are heavy and numerous! Next, I attempt to move some very heavy slices of tree trunk for which I have to involve Meave’s superior muscle power. We remove these one at a time by barrow to a position close to the forest garden bed in the orchard which unfortunately is up a hill. They are extremely unwieldy and we manage to lose two out of our barrows, one nearly fell in the pond! By this time, it is also quite dark, which doesn’t help! We also move a one tonne bag full of damp woodchip to the compost yard which unsurprisingly was extremely heavy! Apart from this, I pick up rubbish and shovel up some lovely wet sand to barrow over to our ‘neater’ area and shovel it back into a new sand bag! By the end of the day I am worn out, damp and very grubby but things do look considerably more tidy and potentially the lights will be beautiful, if we could just keep them switched on!!!