Today, it rains all day long, it is literally one extreme to another and it is now much cooler. I have to get up early because I have finally succeeded in making an appointment for the cats to have their vaccinations and it is at 9am. As all cat owners, will understand it is a nerve-wracking business organising to take all three cats to the vet at a specified time. Will they be in the house? Will I be able to get them in the cat baskets? How shall I divide them up (I have three cats and two baskets). Will there be a major punch up in the cat basket with two cats in? I devise a plan, delay their breakfast to get all cats back in the house prior to departure. I then get several daughters to assist with catching cats and bundling them in the baskets. I decide on two tabbies in one basket and Pip (black cat) in glorious isolation. They are not impressed and there is lots of pathetic mewing. The other problem is the battery is flat on my car, probably because I’m not going anywhere. Patrick managed to jump start it and leaves it with engine running outside the front door…it feels like we are making a quick get away from a bank robbery, especially as we are wearing masks!
We hand the cats over at the door of the vets (I didn’t like that and neither did they!) and I skulk about outside the vets in the rain, waiting anxiously for them to be returned. After about 20/25 minutes the vet returns praising my babies for being such calm cats, I beam proudly and we all go home. I am so distracted by my precious furry darlings that I nearly forget to get grandad up, but he is very understanding and we are soon joined by Pip who then proceeds to spend the day with grandad asleep on the stool beside him sleeping off the effect of the vaccination.
I did intend to spend the day in the polytunnel, but things conspire against me, and I am lured into cleaning the house by Diane who is expecting visitors. I also have to pack a case of clothes/medicine/random items for Jean, for my sister to take to her new care facility. My sister, who will be taking responsibility for visiting Jean (because this is not a sensible option for me because I’m dads full time carer) has been in touch with Jeans new home and we are now a lot more reassured about the facilities. When my sister visits later in the day she finds it is a very well organised and pleasant place and we are all very relieved! I decide to spend the little time left after cleaning (yuk!) updating my planting record books. I keep books which contain my planting plans and plant lists for different areas of the garden. I also stick in the book any plant labels or catalogue entries so I have a record of what plant is where and some information about its requirements.
I now have two quite large A4 sized books. These are invaluable to me because I have planted hundreds maybe thousands of perennial plants in the garden and I would never remember all of the names without this valuable resource. I also find that visitors are very intrigued about these record books and I am conscious that if I was not around to care for the garden it would give vital information to anyone trying to care for the garden in my absence. I do try to keep it up to date because new plants are always being added but inevitably some will sneak in without being noted down. Sadly, as I look through the book some plants have to be removed from the pages because they haven’t survived, but this is only natural and it does help me to learn what works and what doesn’t. There are some plants that I can see are unhappy and then I move them (hopefully in time). For example, earlier in the year, I moved two mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’ from the central borders in the Kitchen Garden, which were too sunny to the organ pipe bed which is partially shaded.
I had a brief walk around outside in the rain to make a note of the positions of the step-over apples and pears and I found a beautiful big Discovery apple on the ground which I brought in for a snack. Last night’s dinner, cooked by Meave, was a very tasty vegetable curry which was entirely made up of Kitchen Garden ingredients mainly courgette and butternut squash and the main sauce was tomato, entirely created from our own tomatoes. When the polytunnel tomato production is at its peak that is how I use them up. Instead of passata or tinned tomatoes a vital ingredient of so many dishes I just pop a pile of fresh tomatoes in the food processor with basil or chilli. No shortage of vitamin C around here.
Today is a ‘day off’…well almost, after quickly watering the polytunnel, getting dad up (who unfortunately had problems in the night) and feeding the chicken. This is because today is Aideen and Diane’s Birthday, they are 22! As if on cue, the sun comes out and the weather is perfect, sunny with a breeze, therefore not too hot.
It might not have been my birthday but I had the best day that I have had in a long time, it felt like a mini-holiday. In the late morning, James drove Aideen and I to Hobby Craft, maybe not everyone’s idea of Birthday fun, but appealing to ‘crafty/arty’ people like Aideen and I, this was the first proper big shop I’ve been in since the start of lockdown – an adventure in itself. We then called in at James’ parent to pick up Aideen’s Birthday present which was an instruction book and screen to make handmade paper, which was exactly what she wanted. Janet and Martin’s garden was beautiful, very sunny and full of birdsong. It was wonderful to visit someone, something else I’ve not done since March! On our return, Aideen, James, Diane and Theo (her boyfriend) and Patrick and I went for a walk across the fields towards the canal and lakes (Meave who is working from home remained on ‘Grandad duty’. We then had a drink and something to eat at Black Jacks Mill where you can sit outside. Without wishing to sound like a stuck record, this was also fantastic because I haven’t been out for a walk or had a meal or drinks out since mid-March! We then walked up to the Old Orchard which looks out over the lakes with one of the best views a pub could have and had more drinks which was completely brilliant. It was very hard to tear myself away but I did literally feel as if I’d been on holiday! When we got home I wondered how I had got into this situation of not going out. It has been a combination of staying home to stay safe because of the virus, but more than that it has been caring for dad and Jean. Partly, I have to be careful of infection myself because I could pass it on to the elderlies but also there are important elements of their care that only I supply. This means I am tied to home, fortunately, I love being at home and tending to our gorgeous garden but today made me realise it’s good to get out! Even though dad has only required this level of care since November, prior to this he was still too vulnerable to leave alone, so a holiday has been impossible for some time, I don’t think we’ve been away on holiday as a family since 2016 which is a great shame. Unfortunately, the virus has meant that any help I received from my sister with dad has stopped. It would be nice to think that a holiday might become possible again, however, it has been fantastic having the family together during this time and we are so lucky to live here that I certainly can’t complain.
My least favourite weather is wind, it is not easy to see the point of wind. I suppose it will bring dead wood down out of trees but it also destructive and today was very windy. I had to go to the bank (another first!) and I went with James and Aideen because we were going to visit Dunelm (I’ve never been there before, even before lockdown) to look for frames for Aideen’s dried flower art.
We were queueing outside the bank, when something made James look up and he told all of us (all the people queueing) to move away from the wall. A double wooden ‘to let’ sign fixed to the outside of the wall on the first floor had become detached from the wall on one side and was flapping violently in the wind. We all watched it, anxiously and no more than two minutes later It came crashing to the ground exactly where Aideen, James and I had been standing! It was two big wooden signs, with rusty nails sticking out of the sides, it was extremely heavy and could have severely injured us (or worse). James is definitely the hero of the day, he telephoned the number on the board for them to collect it and they seemed remarkably unconcerned!
When we got home I went outside and there were signs of wind damage everywhere. I went to check the fruit tree wall and could see all of the Victoria plums had been blown down. I battled through the verbena bonariensis (very uncomfortable, like pushing through sandpaper) and tried to salvage plums from the ground. Unfortunately, I was a bit late and most of them were being eaten by ants, wasps and woodlice. Then I thought… “Oh no!...the apricots!”. I pushed my way more annoying verbena to discover my three precious apricots…gone! I searched the ground and found one completely rotten and one under the tree, partially nibbled. I was determined to find number three and finally I located it in the main bed, on the other side of the path, also partly nibbled! I was determined that the family and myself were going to at least taste the precious apricots so I hurried off to the kitchen to cut them up (removing any dodgy bits) and then gave a bit to the girls, Patrick and obviously, me. They were quite large and very juicy and sweet if a little bruised, I was very disappointed that I hadn’t got to them earlier but very proud to have grown them at all.
I then noticed the water feature in the Paradise garden on top of the vine mount had blown over. Luckily one of the benches had broken its fall so I hope it is not damaged. I switched off the pump and left it safely lying down until the wind dies down.
I then started work trying to rectify the damage inflicted by the wind, not easy as it was still windy. The dahlias had taken quite a hammering and I spent well over an hour adding stakes and tying them up. By this time, Aideen had joined me outside and had agreed to do some weeding in the brassica beds, brilliant! She gathered up some broken off tagetes (wind again!) to use as pressed flowers. I had to also stake the cosmos in the brassica quarter. These are all self-seeded and have reached an impressive height, however, they are brittle and vulnerable to wind. In amongst all this tying and staking I was called inside to speak to a social worker about Jean’s ‘care plan’ and then my sister about various things that need organising for Jean. I was on the phone for nearly two hours and then I went out to gather food for dinner, tonight I’m cooking for eight, including the three hungry boyfriends of the girls! Therefore, I dig up a lot of potatoes, two cabbages, a heap of broccoli and two chillies. I then get distracted by tying up tomato plants which are becoming incredibly tall and are laden with fruit. They look beautiful amongst the sunflowers, fennel and tobacco plants and some of the tomato plants have nearly touched the roof of the tunnel. Before I go in for the night, I notice two Glory lilies are blooming. I think they are Gloriosa ‘Superba’, which are truly spectacular plants that climb by means of tendrils at the leaf tips. They are a beautiful sight and thank goodness the wind is dying down.
Somehow, I managed to get outside a bit earlier than usual today. it has been a ‘good gardening’ day, the wind has dropped and it was sunny but not too hot and the soil has recently been rained on…perfect!
I started by planting out my six new melons in the cold-frame alongside the three surviving melon plants. This is probably pointless as they are going out rather late but I may as well give them a try.
I then went up to the brassica corner to try and find space for my two trays of broccoli, purple sprouting broccoli and Greyhound cabbage. The problem with this quarter of the vegetable garden is that crops are not being removed in any quantity therefore leaving space. I remove leaves from the kale and I take the heads out of cabbages leaving their outer leaves to re-sprout. I have one free bed and the odd corner where the Chinese cabbage has now finished. Brassicas also need to be widely spaced to give them room to develop. I decide to devote most of the free bed to the purple sprouting broccoli. This is a very useful plant which will grow over winter and produce a crop early in the season. However, they are big plants and need lots of space. I put some normal broccoli at the end of the bed and tuck the rest of the broccoli and the cabbages beside the swedes and the Brussel sprouts.
I am still rectifying wind damage today, tying up cosmos and even some evening primrose that I tied up yesterday had broken its string and fallen down again! Then, purely by chance, I noticed one of my precious new Mimosas had disappeared. I have planted a Mimosa at the tip of the ‘hot coloured’ triangles on either side of the central borders. These were planted to replace the Mahonias that I moved earlier in the year to the organ-pipe bed. I rushed round the back of the border to inspect the damage. Luckily, although the young tree was down, it had just bent, not snapped. I went to find it a metal stake and left it in a more secure position.
After a very flavoursome cheese and tomato sandwich for lunch, I will have to eat a lot of those to use up my tomatoes! I move to the bean and onion quarter to prepare a large bed that previously contained onions for my dwarf French beans. This quarter of the vegetable garden has plenty of space, some beds are already on their second crops. I planted lots of onions and garlic and this is mainly harvested. Also, the Borlottis and soon the soya and Edamame beans will soon be finished, this is why there is extra space. The bed I am working on is edged by cornflowers which even I have to admit are now finished. However, when I remove them and pile them in the big green barrow, Aideen comes along and demands to know why I haven’t given them to her! There are a few blue flowers remaining and she snips off them all for her flower pressing project…not much goes to waste around here, the remains she takes to the compost heap. I am a little disappointed to be removing my companion planting but there are some self-seeded nasturtiums and what I think are baby corn flowers, I also can see lots of seedling calendula which is allowed to remain around the edges of the bed. I then plant out two root trainers of dwarf French beans – 55 plants. I still have two more root trainers of French beans and a 84 cell tray of spring onions to plant but these can wait until tomorrow.
Work continues digging out at the front of the house today. The digging team is Meave, Billy, James and Aideen. It is taking ages and needs to be completed and then filled with hard-core and type one before we can move the boat into the garden. My dad would say, “you do make life complicated for yourself, Kay” and he is probably right, he has always been a great believer in keeping life simple, I have never known anyone more minimalist than him, how on earth did he produce me!
Today, having very little in the fridge, I decide to create a pie with onions, garlic, potato, chorizo sausage, mixed beans and tomatoes that have been pre-grilled to intensify the flavour and cheese. I also pick the first sweet corn and a pile of runner beans. There is nothing left over, it must have been a successful pie!