• Kay

Return To The Forest Garden


At the moment, I am trying to get the garden back into good order before our next Open Day on Easter Monday, which is in 10/11 weeks time. I was working my way steadily through the Kitchen Garden on a mission to clear dead foliage, weed and add compost. I now decide to temporarily divert my attention to the forest garden bed in the orchard. This is for several reasons:

1. This is where I plan to relocate the Jerusalem artichokes

2. This is where I intend to spread the remains of last years rotted compost.

I need to start a new compost heap because the one that has been accumulating through 2021 has reached humongous proportions and it is very hard for me to throw any more on top of it, it is too high!

The heap next to it has been rotting down for a year and is ready to use and the third heap is the compost from the year before which I haven’t finished yet. If I can empty this third heap it will give me a free bay to start a new heap. This would be good timing because of the amount of clearing I’m doing at present. It would be ideal to use the compost in the third bay for the forest garden because they are quite close to each other but this means I have to weed the forest garden bed at least roughly, which is no mean feat!

Before beginning this job, I help Aideen manoeuvre yet more ply-sheets for painting and then I venture up onto the scaffolding to look at the roof from the outside. I walk all the way around the roof, including across the shed roof and I’m very impressed. After cautiously descending the ladder (Patrick’s accident seems to have made me nervous of ladders rather than him), I head for the forest garden bed.

I start by removing and piling up all the giant, dead sunflowers and their poles. I will put sunflowers in the bed again next year, but I will plant them around pole wigwams which will hopefully be more sturdy. Last year, I made an enclosure with the sunflowers but the crossed poles were vulnerable to strong winds. It was lovely to be back in the forest garden bed, I love this part of the garden and now I have a view of the pond and Mayflower to admire through the trees. I am thinking of planting the Jerusalem Artichokes around the wilder part of this bed that separates the forest garden bed from the stumpery, viewing platform and bees. Their vigorous growth will hold back this wilder area. I make quite good progress and leave the dead comfrey leaves on the soil and cover them with compost because the leaves are full of nutrients & minerals. Most things are doing well in the bed, the Loquat in particular looks wonderful, but it is very sad to see the broken stump of the Fringe tree. I will leave the stump in place because it may re-sprout, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the regenerative capabilities of trees in the past.


Inspired by Beth Chatto


Today is milder and Aideen is angling to get me to help with shifting wood from the derelict sheds. I do not have time to do this so I am quite relieved when Patrick distracts her with some fascia boards that need painting. Patrick has spent a lot of time in the building this week because he’s desperately trying to get the roof ready for tiling in half term. We will have more people available to help in half term and he wants to be ready to take advantage of that. There have been discussions about lighting, which will probably be a combination of spotlights on tracks fixed to the cross beams and hanging chandelier lights. Another thing causing debate is how the newly painted ply sheets will be fixed, either butting against each other or with shadow joints. Later in the day, I help to lift some ply sheets up onto the scaffolding so we can try the different options but we don’t come to any conclusion. Pip joins us on the roof, delicately walking backwards and forwards across beams and through the rafters.

I manage to spend most of my time in the forest garden bed and I make reasonable progress. The transplanted strawberries are doing well and I think they might make a good, productive line of groundcover along the edge of the bed which will look really good.

Last night, I was reading one of my new Christmas books: Beth Chatto’s ‘Green Tapestry Revisted’. Beth Chatto originally wrote ‘The Green Tapestry’ in 1989, 30 years after she first created her now famous gardens. This new updated version of the book was published in 2021. It is a fascinating book about a garden that was ahead of its time, in that it was planted sustainably by the most influential British plants woman of her generation (1923-2018). Her garden is one of the most beautiful I have ever visited and certainly has the best water garden I’ve ever seen. I was reading the book for inspiration with the planting of our pond and stream. Apart from inspiration, I also found it comforting to read about some of the difficulties that she had to overcome that are still an issue to the gardeners who care for the garden today. These included the build up of silt in the ponds, the battle against blanket weed, the pond edges collapsing and overly vigorous natives to contend with such as celandines. When I visited the garden, it looked immaculate and you would never imagine it having any issues. I can definitely relate to struggling with blanket weed in the kitchen garden pond and I’m sure it will appear in the new pond. Also, our orchard is copiously colonised by celandines who also want to carpet my forest garden bed! One thing I am pleased to report is that the edge of our pond is solid!


The Brutal Reality of Nature


This morning, whilst returning to our house across the courtyard, I heard a commotion in the trees. The next moment, two birds flew across my head at great speed, one obviously chasing the other. The chased bird then flew head long into our large living room window with a loud crash and was grabbed in the talons of her pursuer. I rushed forward shouting to see what I think was a sparrow hawk attempting to fly away with a hen blackbird in its claws! It dropped the black bird and I retrieved her from the ground. Sadly, she was beyond help with blood coming from her beak, probably killed when she hit the window. I was hoping she may be only stunned and I might be able to revive her, but it was not to be. I was completely shocked! The hawk was not much bigger than the black bird, how was it possible that it could carry her away? It was all rather sad and I carried the poor bird to where Aideen was working to show her.

Yesterday evening, Diane and Aideen finished removing the remaining wood and logs, which resulted in Aideen having an accident. The girls were carrying wood into the kitchen garden to a temporary store. Aideen was walking backwards and disappeared down a hole! According to Diane, Aideen was laughing whilst crying and fortunately, she was not seriously hurt. They both agreed it could have been much worse!

Today, Aideen is attempting to dismantle and then demolish the furthest end of the derelict sheds and by the end of the today she has dismantled the wooden structure of the shed and was using the Kango hammer to break up the concrete base into hard-core.

I was working on the other side of the orchard and already my view of the arcaded wall was hugely increased by her demolition efforts. When we stopped for a cup of tea she said, “Soon we won’t remember what it was like with the horrible sheds”. She is right, whenever you do a job, however monumental, once It is done you struggle to remember what it was like before! I continue to work in the forest garden bed, my happy place!

Whilst weeding at the front of the border I observed how well the first strawberries to be relocated have established. They are now sending runners everywhere, some out into the grass! I dig up about a dozen runners and replant them further along the edge of the border. I’m hoping the strawberries will provide good groundcover and now the line of plants stretches along half of the border.

Whilst working outside, it occurs to me how lucky we are with our equable UK climate. It is now early February and there has barely been a day that I’ve not been outside. It can be cold or rainy but never enough to drive us into the house in daylight hours. I remember before I had the twins, I would cycle miles between the many schools that I taught at in Harrow and Hillingdon and the same applied. I rarely had to don my wet weather clothing, we are incredibly lucky to live in such a clement climate.

Later that night, when I crossed the courtyard to put grandad to bed at about 10pm, I realised that people were still working in the new building and I went to investigate. It was Aideen, James and Patrick and at first I couldn’t see where Patrick was. Then I spotted him, perched near the apex of his roof at the top of his newly constructed roof ladder! I exclaimed, “What are you doing up there?”. I am still waiting for a satisfactory response as to why my disabled husband with a chronically painful, replacement ankle joint is perched on top of a 5m high roof!


Forest Garden Bed Weeded


Today I am concentrating on the forest garden bed and I am determined to finish weeding it at the very least. Aideen is starting the day with some practice but soon she is outside as well.

Today, Aideen is removing old cobnut branches that have been dumped on top of piles of earth next to the derelict sheds. The earth is top soil that was removed when excavating the basement for the new building. This earth will be used to reinstate the area when the derelict sheds are taken down. The heaps of branches were dumped when the cobnut trees were removed from the terrace. Aideen spends all day taking them to the compost yard where she makes a fire. I manage to finish weeding the bed by lunchtime, although the bed is massive, the weed situation is easier to deal with than in the herbaceous borders because the soil is soft. After lunch, I bring my barrow to the Forest Garden bed which is full of Jerusalem artichokes. I dig trenches around the wilder section of the bed and fill them with the Jerusalem Arthichokes. My theory is that they will add a nice element to these areas and it will not be a problem if they spread amongst the cardoons and the Budlejias. I have also extricated two hypericums which were entangled with one of my mountain peppers and I planted them in the wilder areas. I also remove a skimmia that has mistakenly been planted with the gaultherias and I plant that with my other skimmias in the organ pipe bed. I finish the day digging out compost and barrowing it into the forest garden bed. I manage to shift seven barrows before I have to go in and get ready for my rehearsal.


Live Talk


Today, Aideen and I have our first live talk for Chiltern U3A Garden Interest group. We originally put the talk together in 2020 to give as a zoom talk during lockdown. I then wrote a follow up talk in 2021. Chiltern U3A visited us in early July 2021 and then booked us to come and give a talk before they visit again in August 2022. The talk was in Amersham at 2pm, but we were not leaving until 12:30 (we have to arrive early to set up). So, in the morning, Aideen went outside to help her dad with the roof and once I had got grandad up I made my way out to the forest garden bed.

Later in the morning, I am called over to the building to consult on the latest idea for the ceiling. The ceiling is being constructed of plysheets painted white rather than plaster board. There has been some debate on how they should be joined together, whether to butt them close to each other leaving a thin join showing or to leave a shadow gap. Today, Aideen has the idea to use a wooden batten to butt the sheets against, eliminating the issue of a join and introducing a strip of wood. This looks really good, much better than the alternatives and might even make the job slightly easier…that certainly makes a change! Well done Aideen!

I manage to barrow nine barrows of compost into position before it is time to get ready. I estimate I will need another 18 barrows on that side of the bed, I’ve already shifted 16! I contemplate that the other side of the bed is longer and wider and will therefore need considerably more barrows of compost! I try not to think about it, maybe I will get some help at the weekend. I go inside to clean up…the advantage of a ‘zoom’ talk is that the audience only see your top half, today, the whole of me will need to be presentable and at present I’m smeared with compost!

At 12:30, Aideen and I head off clutching scripts, cables and laptops and we arrive at the Community Centre. Aideen and I are always early due to our classical music training. You do not want to ever arrive late for a rehearsal or performance, especially with large instruments like harps and contrabassoons! It is very hard to sneak unobtrusively into an orchestra with either of these instruments!

We are greeted by the very nice organisers and after a slight hiatus with accessing the projector screen we are set to go. We are both slightly apprehensive as this is the first time we have given the talk to actual live people! It was actually nicer to have the audience present because I could see and hear their reactions. On Zoom, I don’t see the audiences reactions and they were usually muted, so I only find out their reactions at the end. At the end of the talk our host was moved to tears (in a good way, she assured us) which was very gratifying, apparently, we were the most inspirational talk they had ever received! This was praise indeed, Aideen and I were rather overwhelmed. We feel a lot more confident now we’ve done one ‘live’ talk and one of the audience members even asked us to do one for another group. We headed for home and there was still enough daylight for me to shift six more barrows of compost before dark, only 12 more to go on that side! Aideen got changed as well and went back on the roof…that’s my girl!


An Empty Compost Heap


Today was cold and windy but bright day and I was determined to have a decent amount of time outside, preferably with some help to get as much of the compost moved as possible. This plan was nearly upset immediately when dad refused to get up. This is very unusual, he is normally willing to get up at whatever time I go in, even if it is an early start and I have to wake him. Today, it was his normal getting up time of 10am, but he kept his eyes firmly shut. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong physically and it was soon clear that he was just a bit fed up. I eventually persuaded him to sit up and after a chat he seemed OK again, however, it cannot be denied that the situation we are both in is not ideal. However, it could be much worse, we both agreed that despite his limitations he was much happier living at home with his family than he would be anywhere else.

Today, Aideen has a concert in Aylesbury but we do have Meave and Diane at home to help. It was decided that Diane would help Patrick on the roof and Meave would help me with the compost…once she was out of bed!

It is incredible the difference an extra pair of hands makes and we finished covering the shorter side of the bed quite quickly. It looked brilliant, with a thick layer of compost setting off the still quite small occupants of the forest garden bed.

After a cup of tea, we started on the other side and as we reached the very back of the compost heap I dug out a pair of snips I had lost at least two years previously! I can remember searching for these favourite snips on and off for months and inevitably they had ended up in the compost! By the end of the day we had emptied the compost heap and were about half way along the remaining section of bed. Before coming in, I tried to weed the top of the middle compost heap, which I will need to dig into to finish the forest garden bed, but it was now getting dark and I felt somewhat precarious balanced on a compost heap so I went inside.


Moving Day


Today is a day that I have been dreading and the weather that greeted us when we got up fitted the miserable mood perfectly…heavy rain and wind! Today, James had the use of a large hire van and we had decided to use it to attempt to remove the bulk of the contents of my auntie Jean’s house.

We moved my aunt up to live with us in December 2019 because she was no longer able to live independently. I had been co-ordinating her care in Dorset for the previous two years, where she had carers visiting her in her home. My aunt has a wide variety of comorbidity conditions and increasing dementia, and she kept being admitted to hospital for long periods. By November 2019 her consultants advised that she should be admitted to a nursing home for end of life, palliative care. They believed at most she had a few months to live, she was 89. We decided to bring her home to live with my dad (her younger brother) and I would care for them both. Then, Covid 19 happened and we were all locked down. I managed to cope (just) with support from the girls until the end of May 2020 when my Aunt became very ill with an infection and had to be admitted to hospital. We were then told that even with two carers visiting four times per day, it would not be possible to provide sufficient care for my aunt who could now only be moved with a hoist and would have to be moved in bed every hour, day and night to avoid pressure sores. In the end, she was admitted to a nursing home. Incredibly, 20 months later, my Aunt is still with us, defying all medical expectations. However, she is in a sad state physically and mentally and has no idea who we are. In order to pay for her continuing care, we are now having to sell her house which is a shocking thing to have to do, luckily she has no understanding of what is happening.

Therefore, early this morning, James, Aideen, Patrick and I departed for Dorset. We knew we would be facing a challenging situation as my Aunt had collected a great deal of stuff. In particular, she was an avid collector of ornamental frogs and any items relating to frogs, her collection numbered about 3000 and her house was called Frog Cottage!

It was as bad as I expected! She also had numerous other ornaments, nick nacks, a mountain of Tupperware and more bedding than I could believe for one person, not to mention all of her furniture!

After 5 hours of ‘super market-sweep’ type packing we then drove for another 2 and a half hours through heavy rain to my sister’s house. Luckily, my sister was able to supply a spacious room for us to unload the contents of Frog Cottage. My sister and her partner had already visited Sherborne twice, each time with a bigger van and even with James’s van (the next size up) there will still have to be another visit. We got home at about 9:30pm, unloaded the items staying with us and then it was time to put grandad to bed and fill him in on the day’s adventures. We will certainly sleep well tonight!


Valentine’s Day


This morning Bella came in with mud all over her nose and a small bitter cress plant stuck to the mud! She looked like she had a plant growing on her nose!

All the rain yesterday and more rain today has turned the courtyard into a skating rink and it didn’t make my compost shifting any easier. Today, I am shifting compost from the middle heap. This heap has only been rotting down for a year therefore the compost is OK, but not as nice and crumbly as the heap that had been rotting down for two years. For some reason, there seems to be a lot of sticks in this compost heap which make it hard to dig into. These sticks have yet to rot down so I toss them on to the top of the most recent heap. My job today is much harder because of the rain and mud. The compost itself is wetter and therefore harder and heavier to dig. The ground beside the heap is sticky, slippery mud and the path out of the compost yard is also treacherous. My boots are caked in mud and feel clumsy and heavy. I should have probably found an alternative job today, but once I start a job I like to finish it. Unfortunately, I do not finish covering the bed with compost, but I’m getting close.

This morning Patrick, Aideen and myself had a quick meeting to assess progress. We need to have the scaffolding down in four weeks to give access for the electricity supply to be connected and we are a week behind schedule. We should have been laying the tiles this week but they are still fixing ply sheets and then the roof needs insulation, felt and battens before tiles can be laid. We consider delaying the electricity connection but we need time to tidy up and sort out the stream before the Open Day. I think I will have to go and join them in the evenings to shift tiles or something, basically it is all hands-on deck!


A Mighty Pump


Today we wake up to miserable, continuous rain. Aideen and James pop out to check out a new café in the Chilterns. This café is in a very similar building to ours from the outside but does not have the open roof space inside. Aideen is looking for inspiration and it sounds as if the cafe had a nice menu. When they return, they go in the building with Patrick and later Billy (who had been rained off at work) to continue with the roof.

Later in the day, we are visited by our friend who is an electrician to consult on the lighting and his partner, our lovely friend Emma, who haven’t seen the building since December. They are very impressed with progress and how lovely it looks but they didn’t realise that Patrick, Aideen and James with some help from Meave, Diane and Billy have done all the work themselves. They are astounded when they realise who has built it, particularly considering Patrick’s disabilities.

This morning, Patrick and I compared our aches and pains. We both have lower back pain and he has a sore arm and nerve damage to his thumb. I also get a sore arm/wrist from constant weeding and bulb planting. Surprisingly, his foot is not too bad at the moment in comparison and he asks what can he do for the pain. My only answer is to finish the building. Of course he is aching all over because he is working unbelievably hard until late in the evening in the cold. Anybody would be aching if they worked that hard. I know I cannot stop him from building, so I’m not being unsympathetic when I say finish the building, but the sooner it is finished the sooner he can take it easier.

I decide not to continue spreading compost today, the conditions are too wet and yesterday I walked nearly 24000 steps in the mud and I was whacked! I decide instead to spend the day in the polytunnel tidying and sorting things out before I start sowing. I repair three different wind chime/dangly shell sculptures and hang them up. I put away loads of root trainers, pots, plant labels, trays etc. that have piled up on the bench and sweep down the propagators and bench. I then spend ages repotting various polyanthas that I’ve grown from seed including denticulatas, candelabras and auriculas also some lupins and delphiniums. These all look a bit neglected at present but I’m sure they will pick up and then I can get on with sowing some of the earlier seeds. It was lovely to be in the tunnel, much easier work than yesterday, but there were periods of torrential rain which did worry me. When it eased, I went to check the pond. The stream was flowing like a torrent and the overflow in the pond was like a waterfall. However, despite the overflow working well, the level of the pond was creeping up and it was slightly overflowing at the points where the flint wall is a bit low.

After a quick pow-wow, we decide to unpack the new, very expensive, supersonic pump which I have bought to circulate the water between the pond and the upper pool to run the stream. We decide to use the pump to pump more water out of the pond and into the drain. The pump looks amazing but inevitably, the instructions leave something to be desired. Eventually, between Patrick, James, Aideen and myself we manage to get it to work and it starts to pump at a fantastic rate. It certainly shifts a lot of water which will be great for the stream!


Flying Sheds


Today a storm is brewing and the wind is getting stronger and stronger. I went out into the front field this morning and several small, multi headed narcissus with orange trumpets have opened on the sunnier side of the garden. I perch on the bench of the picnic table and admire them in the sunshine and look up at the ivy filled, scots pines that mark the border between us and the church swaying dramatically against the blue sky. The wind felt invigorating for a moment until my usual unease about the danger of its power returns.

I spend some time in the late morning making contact with a nursery for aquatic plants recommended by our lovely bee man. Their catalogue of plants is extensive and I talk to one of their salespeople about the best time to order. Some plants are available at the end of March but the best time seems to be mid-April. Ideally, I would like to get my order delivered and put into the pond before our open day on Easter Monday but I will have to see if that’s possible. I then go outside to retrieve the big green barrow which is full of scrap wood destined for the bonfire. On my return journey from emptying the barrow, I notice that Aideen’s ‘pop-up’ shed that shelters her materials for Mayflower’s restoration has blown across the orchard! This shed is quite sturdy and we thought well secured, James and Aideen spent ages putting it up last year. It just shows how strong the wind is. I call for reinforcements and Aideen, Patrick, Meave and myself manhandle it back into position and this time we anchor it with ropes tied to concrete blocks as well as the hefty curved steel braces hammered over its base.

After this, in deteriorating weather, I head for the central border to start clearing, weeding, cutting back, prior to adding a compost mulch. These ‘mirror’ borders are divided into 16 different sections by a low zig zag box hedge. I tidy up the hedge and remove all dead foliage and stalks and I will cut back some of the shrubs that have become a bit ‘sprawly’! Patrick and Aideen are working hard on the roof of the new building and Mary has come to scrape moss off the paths, so Church Gardens is a hive of activity.

When I am driven in by darkness and poor weather I spend nearly two hours going through the aquatic nursery’s catalogue of marginal plants making my wish list of plants which reaches 94 in total by the time I head to the kitchen to make dinner. Tonight, I use our biggest squash in a pasta dish as I’m feeding seven people.


Pond Preoccupation


Today gets off to a bit of a slow start partly because I spend ages on the phone to the aquatics nursery asking questions about plant size, basket size, number of plants, whether to pot oxygenators or not, ordering times etc. The man was very helpful and I felt I had a good grasp of what I needed to do after the call. However, I probably felt more daunted as I realised just how many plants I am going to need. This is partly because of the large area of my planting shelves but also to give water clarity to such a large pond. I had always planned to plant the plants in the biggest aquatic pots available to give them room to grow but another option suggested by the nursery was to put the plants straight into the pond in their 3litre pots and repot in a couple of seasons. Although this would initially be easier, I am conscious that I have surplus soil available now and I would like to think that my pond plants are in the pots they will remain in for some time. Also, the bigger pots will need less or no raising up with bricks and blocks. The main issue preying on my mind is the date to order and the week it will be due to arrive…2 weeks before Easter Monday! Not only will I have hundreds of plants to pot up and place in the pond, but the soil I will be using will have to be levelled out afterwards and sown with grass seed! I know I will have to work flat out to achieve this and there is also the not inconsiderable matter of my adult choir’s performance of Mozart’s Requiem on Good Friday! I finally get outside and continue weeding, tidying and cutting back the mirror borders. I have decided to leave spreading compost in the forest garden bed until conditions dry out a bit.

Patrick has to work in the office today so James and Aideen work on general clearing duties. They move wood from the sheds due for demolition and Aideen’s ‘pop-up’ shed is moved again to a new location behind the caravan to give us a temporary shelter for the remaining logs still stacked in the derelict sheds.

Stuff from the pop up shed had to be stashed in Mayflower. This gave us an opportunity to go in the boat and it was lovely to look out on the water. By the end of the day, everyone was outside including Patrick, Meave, Diane and Billy so hopefully that will move things along. I finish the day setting my 14 bags of seed potatoes out in egg boxes to chit on the shelves in the outside toilet. This also involved reorganising the remaining squash, we only have 11 butternuts left to eat! Tonight, I defrost a couple of my chillies for the dopiaza I am preparing for the ravenous hordes, they are a bit soft but still potent! (The chillies, not the hordes!).

Whilst the dinner cooks, I continue creating my wish list of plants from the catalogue. Tonight, I look at oxygenators, water lilies, floating aquatics and ferns.


Storm Eunice


We were woken at 5:30am by an agitated Minxy cat, although we had only slept fitfully as we were worried about the impending bad weather. I think we only registered the potential seriousness of storm Eunice whilst watching the news at about midnight! At 5:30am I asked Patrick if the insulation they were fitting on the roof last night is secured, he admitted that some was not. I then went to wake up Diane (who was already awake) and James (who was also awake because Minxy had been pestering him) to come and help outside before the wind picks up. James and Patrick went on the roof to secure the insulation and Diane and I went outside to attend to various matters. We turned the trampoline upside down and went around turning tables, chairs and benches upside down and placing them in sheltered spots by the walls. We lent down the gazebo in the forest garden and we removed the water feature from the mount. We then go to the new building and help lift down anything that is loose.

I really worry about wind at the best of times as there is an area of tall, neglected woodland between us and the church which is within ‘striking’ distance of our house and Patrick’s garage/office. We are also worried about the scaffolding on our new building which is covered in plastic sheeting and a tin roof, not ideal in these conditions. For now, we will sit tight and pray.

We all stayed inside today and got on with various tasks. Aideen and I edited the blogs, James researched lighting for the building and Patrick went in his office. At lunchtime, Patrick had to go out and alerted us to problem with the plastic sheeting around the scaffold. James, Aideen, Diane and Billy and I went out to try to capture the heavy-duty plastic sheeting which was being ripped off the side of the scaffolding with incredible force. We hung onto it grimly and fixed new ties to hold it in place. Because of the loose sheeting, the felt that was attached to the walls of the building had been torn off in places so James endeavoured to fix battens across it to hold it in place. Patrick had also mentioned the fence between the organ pipe bed and front field which had blown loose because one of the posts had broken at the base. I went to investigate and managed to secure it with rope to a tree. I also adjusted some of the bolts on the polytunnel doors which were not fixing into their holes securely using an old hammer that we brought back from Auntie Jean’s house. Having done all we could, we retreated to the house. When the wind subsided a bit more at about 4pm, James, Aideen, Diane and I went out to check the orchard. The worst damage was a stretch of fencing that had been blown down, this fence spans the derelict section of wall at the bottom of the orchard. It was not completely flat but it will require substantial repair. Inevitably, the orchard was littered with branches, some very large.

However, I think we escaped quite lightly, thank God. Shortly after this we all went outside, Patrick, James, Diane and Aideen continued with the insulation on the roof of the building and I continued weeding the central border, although I was not there for long before darkness fell.


Cats Love Propagators!


Today is much calmer but cold. The family are very determined to finish insulating the roof. I climb up on the scaffolding platform to look and it is very impressive, one side is almost completely done. They are using thick insulation boards which are butted up against each other and then the joins are taped. I went around the other side of the scaffold to find Diane and Aideen perched up on top of the roof and Meave and James on the platform. There was more to do on this side but I could see they had a good chance of finishing it by the end of the day.

I started my work by returning to the middle border but quite soon it started to rain. This was the sort of heavy continuous rain that is hard to ignore so I retreated with Pip into the polytunnel where I knew I easily had a day’s work sowing seeds. I had decided to fill my propagator space with trays of veg and flowers that would benefit from an early start with bottom heat. The veg which appreciate this extra growing time are celery, celeriac, aubergines, chillies and peppers. Celery and celeriac are slow germinators and slow growing. This year, I’m sowing more celeriac than celery which is hard to grow successfully. The celery I grow is more suitable for stocks and soups. The aubergines, chillies and peppers will grow to bigger plants if started early and will give better crops. I have one Jumbo propagator which I bought last year. This is a solid piece of kit with a lift-off lid which is mouse proof, this is big enough for three large modular trays. I then have a long heating mat with four plastic cloche like covers that gives propagating space for seven modular trays which is amazing! However, the cloche like covers are flimsy and it is impossible to make this unit mouse proof, although, I will cover the trays with glass to start with.

I also plan to sow as many flowering plants as possible and germinate them quickly in the propagators then move them to the polytunnel bench and cold frames. This will start the annual production line of companion planting. If I start early I can produce more, bring the plants onto a good size and plant out as soon as the temperature allows. I sow four trays of vegetables and six trays of flowers which included Antirrhinums, Nasturtiums, Cosmos, Callibrachoa, Bacopa, Alstromeria, Agastache, Rudbeckia, Cleome, Alyssum, Trachelium, Silene and Brachycomb.

In the midst of this sowing session I am alerted to stream issues and go out to the orchard to find Patrick in the stream. Yesterday’s wind had managed to blow up some of the stream liner and this had resulted in water passing under the liner. Worryingly, I then discovered that it was going under the big pond liner as it entered the pond. This is not good, we don’t want the main liner lifted by water going underneath. This happened to our pond at Bridge Road (on a much smaller scale) when a rising water table started to lift the bottom of the pond liner. This latest crisis led to us attempting to bury the end of the liner and weigh it down before replacing the top liner. This was a very wet, muddy job…Meave had to lift the top liner and attempt to hold the water back, Diane (in her reindeer onesie) was in the stream scrabbling about with slabs and wet sand and Patrick was attempting to dig the soggy, sandy soil and splattering Diane in the process! Hopefully this latest intervention has helped the situation but what we really need is the time to finish the stream and upper pool properly. But we can only do what we can do and hope it will work out in the end. We then trudge back to our respective jobs slightly damp. I end up staying in the tunnel until 7pm, I do have lights but they are not very bright, but I was determined to fill my propagators. Pip had been happily snoozing on the heating mat all day but finally I filled the 10th tray so Pip had to move out of the propagator. I then went to touch base with the roofing team who were doing very well and then it’s my job to produce lots of food and clear up the devastation in the kitchen…


Back on the Chain-Gang!


Today is Sunday and instrumentalists are required in church, but it looks like I am the only one available to go because everyone else is required on the roof. Bad weather, including strong winds are forecasted for later in the day which makes roofing matters even more pressing.

When I trudge back from church up the muddy track, Billy and Meave are moving roof tiles from outside the front of the house and barrowing them to stack in a big pallet outside the new building. Then they will be taken from that pallet up on the scaffolding. The rest of the team (Patrick, James, Aideen and Diane) are on the roof fixing the fascia boards.

I get changed and help Billy and Meave until we move about 1500 tiles. We then shout up to everyone that we are ready to start shifting them. On proper building sites, there is a conveyor belt type system for moving tiles around a scaffold platform in preparation for tiling a roof. We just have man/women power to transport the tiles along the platform. It is a long way around the building, with angled scaffold poles causing regular obstructions that have to be climbed over or under. We form a chain – Billy (the tallest at 6’4’’) is on the ground lifting 6 tiles at a time up to Meave on the scaffold, who passes them to Patrick at the first corner of the building. We are then joined by Brook (Meave’s friend) who joins in – brilliant! Patrick passes tiles through the poles to Brook, who takes them to Diane, who runs down to me at the next corner. I pass them through the poles to James who takes them to Aideen who is stacking them on the other side! This works quite well and we manage to shift the first 1500. When we come back outside after a short break, the weather is deteriorating and the wind is picking up. Meave, Billy, Brook and I shift the next 1500 tiles to the big pallet. When this is done, the team on the scaffold split up because we do not need all of them to shift the tiles because they don’t need to go so far this time. Diane and Patrick keep working on the roof and the rest of us shift the tiles. This time I’m carrying bigger piles and walking further! It is hard work and I hope this extra exercise is doing me good. The weather gets worse and worse, the wind flapping the plastic cover on the scaffolding is deafening and by the end, the rain is torrential so poor Billy is soaked, but we get the second lot up before going inside. 3000 tiles shifted, only 4000 to go!!!

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