Today starts rather wet and miserable but I wake up early and decide to have a rather damp walk around the orchard. This made me feel very excited at a variety of different viewing points. I paused, staring at the gloriously open space where the derelict sheds used to be and it feels like I can breathe properly for the first time. It literally feels like I’m having a physical reaction to the space being opened up, as if I was being oppressed and suffocated by the ugly piles of rubbish and hardcore and the hideous derelict outbuildings. Now I feel uplifted and lighter, and although we have been working harder than we’ve ever worked for months and spent far more money than we originally intended, I genuinely feel that realising this project is the most exciting thing we’ve ever done.
Because the weather is so miserable, James and Aideen start the day working on the guide book and then James has the brilliant idea of the three of us going out for brunch at the Rickmansworth café which was a lovely idea!
When we get back, Aideen starts to have pangs of guilt about us paying to hire a dumper truck and then not utilising it, so her and James go outside to continue laying hard-core and ‘type 1’ to fill in the area in front of the new building. This is hard work as the hard-core has to be broken up and we are all very tired.
I start my days work in the polytunnel, firstly rearranging the growing bench to give me more space. The new decorative shelves that I recently bought from Harefield Collectables proved very useful for housing my seven root trainers of sweet peas. This reorganisation freed up space in the propagator for me to sow a tray of zinnias, another of tagetes and mixed trays of salvias, heliotropes, amaranthus. When the rain stopped, I returned to weeding duties. By 8pm, I had finished weeding the decorative vegetable beds and made a start on the beds of the brassica quarter.
When I came in, I used the last two butternut squashes in the dinner. These wonderful squashes were still as firm and juicy as they were 6 months ago. We then continued to work on the guidebook because there is a concern that we have not left enough time for it to be printed before the Open Day.
Aideen and I both feel like we are going down with a cold. This morning, we did a Covid test and unfortunately, we are both positive.
The most frustrating thing about this is if I am still positive and ill on Thursday, I will not be able to take my choir rehearsal. This is not good as our performance of Mozart Requiem is scheduled for Good Friday and this Thursday was our first rehearsal in church with our organist and is very important.
I dose myself up and go outside to continue weeding, luckily plants are not affected by Covid. I am very achy but I had put this down to excessive weeding! Aideen and James are still working away at the guide book and soon they call me away from the weeding to proof read it.
Whilst we are cooped up in the extension, Diane is outside tidying up. Tidying up and organising is Diane’s speciality and her first task is to blitz the compost yard. When I finish proof reading, I am allowed back outside briefly and I do manage to weed the kale bed and most of the red cabbage bed before being called back to help add the corrections to the guide book. By this time, both Aideen and Patrick have proof read the text as well and we decide to order 1500 copies of the guide books. I sincerely hope there are no major errors in it!
At teatime, Diane comes in to tell us that Patrick is very angry. Apparently, he decided to have a go at cutting the grass and 10 minutes in, the wheel fell off the tractor!!! We have only recently received the tractor back from the repairers and in fairness, the engineer did warn us that his welding might not be sufficient to hold the wheel on. Poor Patrick, he comes in and we discuss the possibility of buying a new tractor/lawn mower as it is his birthday on the 18th April (the Open Day!). However, ride on mowers are very expensive and having just paid for a massive order of aquatic plants, grass seed and 1500 guide books, I’m not sure I can afford one!
Patrick the stoic then returns to the orchard and continue to mow the orchard with a push along mower! We are going to have to do something, we cannot manage without a mower! Although, trying to look on the bright side, there is less grass to cut than usual because of the huge area in the orchard that was destroyed by the building project that we now have to re-seed. However, even allowing for this, it is not really practical to mow such a large area by hand!
After our usual late dinner, it is back to the guide book with Aideen and I scrutinising every page for any corrections still required. Unfortunately, James has now progressed the computer file to a stage where making any corrections will take ages because he was preparing to send the file…our deadline is 11:30am tomorrow. Sadly for James, Aideen and I do find quite a few things to change…how is it possible to miss things when they have been checked repeatedly. I am sent to bed at 1:30am, but Aideen and James do not finish until 5am! Mercifully, the file is sent at this time so we won’t have to look at it again. James and Aideen have been completely heroic putting the guidebook together and it looks incredibly professional. Aideen was determined for it to be completely different from our first guide book. There is a lot of new text, better quality photos and obviously, it is now up to date…at least for now!
Sensible for a Change
Today was largely taken up with guidebook issues, despite having sent it off in the small hours. First it came back because a label had been cut off the map. James then had to do something complicated and time consuming and send it back. Then the printing company started the checking process and then sent it back for us to view. We then noticed that some photos split across the page were not in line. We pointed this out and sent it back…or at least we tried to but the internet was so slow that James had to go home to do the job!
Whilst this was going on, Diane continued with her miraculous transformation of the compost yard and attempted to arrange some of our large tree slices into a seat arrangement.
Aideen, who like me wasn’t feeling very well, decided she would do some light weeding around the kitchen garden. She started by weeding the herb garden path which was brilliant because it looked much better. I continued to weed the brassica quarter which I nearly finished by the end of the day. The brassicas are now finishing but there are still a couple of motley cabbages, swedes and some sprouts that I could use and quite a lot of decent kale.
The aquatic plants are scheduled to come tomorrow so at the end of the day I contemplate going in the pond to finish off the planting platforms. However, good sense prevails. My chest, which sounds terrible, probably would not appreciate being immersed in freezing water. The girls say they will help me plant up the plants and suggest that maybe someone else should go in the water?
Having decided against pond dipping, the weather has changed to heavy rain I go in the tunnel and sow seeds. I sow one root trainer of Black eyed Susan and two of different varieties of Ipomea. Then I sow three trays of multiple varieties of sunflower. The sunflowers were a great success in the forest garden bed last year and I would like to repeat the display.
Aquatic Plant Delivery
Today does not get off to a brilliant start. The guide book people are unable to resolve the issues we have raised without reducing the size of the file which will affect the picture quality. We decide to go ahead anyway because the guide book looks brilliant, the aforementioned issues are barely noticeable and we do not want to lose quality. Today should have been the day of my Mozart Requiem rehearsals but unsurprisingly, I’m still testing positive for Covid so I cancel the rehearsal. I wonder, will I be able to sing anything above bass by next week even if I’m negative? The next thing is Diane screaming for us to come outside and we discover the strong wind is blowing the ridge tiles (which were waiting to be fixed) off the roof. Diane bravely goes on top of the roof in her onesie to rescue the remaining tiles which she brings back to Aideen on the ladder. Unfortunately, after successfully rescuing the tiles, Diane and James accidentally bang Aideen on the head with the roof ladder!
We then receive a call from the aquatic plant delivery van who can’t get in because of the height restriction barrier. The plants arrive on six multi storied trolleys which we then unpack, there are also several hundred aquatic planting baskets. My rather optimistic (maybe ambitious) plan is to repot the plants in much bigger containers to give them room for development. On the positive side the plants look brilliant, very good quality.
It is extremely exciting to be embarking on this planting project because I have always loved ponds and pond plants, in the past I have built three normal ponds, but nothing on this scale. When I ordered the plants I was like a kid in a sweet shop. I ordered multiple different varieties of marginal and multiplied the varieties by 6 so each type of plant is in a group. This should look magnificent but it will require a lot of work to plant them. My first job is to separate the bog plants which will be planted on the ponds edge (this area should remain damp). Luckily, the family have decided to help me to speed up the process and we start by repotting 100 Elocharis acicularis (oxygenators). We use soil from a pile of poor quality soil that is full of bits of stone, brick and inevitably, glass. It is fine to use this soil for pond plants as it is unwise to use good soil because the nutrients effect water quality and pond plants are generally vigorous and do not need anything too fertile. Also, lumps of stone or clay help to weight down the pots which are very large. We then start repotting the main plants and I realise that the 40cm2 pots are going to be extremely heavy, especially when they’ve got shingle on the soil surface! They will not be easy to manoeuvre and there are lots of them. The other issue is planting depth and later that evening I spend ages poring over my plant list working out how much I need to build up platforms to go under the pots so plants do not drown!
There is now talk that James and Diane will go into the pond when the plants are potted up and ready to go because no one thinks it is a good idea for me to be in cold water at the moment. This is very kind of them and they intend to visit the shops to buy their own waders! By the end of the day we have planted up 60 containers and 100 oxygenators but we have more than 200 left to do! While this is going on, we are visited by James’ parents, Janet helps with the weeding and Martin attempts to fix the ride on mower with James. Firstly, they spend ages attempting to weld the axil then after that does not work Martin goes home and comes back with a special bolt. They then drill through and bolt the axil and this appears to succeed. We are enormously grateful to Martin because hopefully we can get a bit more life out of the mower before replacing it.
In the evening, the girls make a start on clearing up and cleaning the house which recently has taken on the appearance of a building site. They also discuss plans for baking as visitor numbers for the Open Day approach 300.
A Catalogue of Disasters
It has been a difficult night, poor Patrick has a very upset stomach and actually had to go to bed yesterday tea time as he felt so poorly. He thinks it is something he has eaten but he was the first one to get Covid so maybe it is linked to that. There is a power cut at 5am which sets of an alarm on his breathing machine and wakes us both up as we struggle to switch it off. Then the house alarm goes off! I finally get back to sleep at about 6am and grandad’s buzzer goes of at 7am. He thinks he is going out on a trip with a group which he obviously isn’t, but I can tell from his voice he has caught Covid as well! I’ve always known that this would be inevitable because if I have Covid I would pass it on to him before I even knew I had it. We both know that I am the only one able to do his personal care, apart from my sister, but if she came over, she would catch Covid as well. The whole situation is depressing but unavoidable, we are all triple vaccinated and we will just have to get on with it.
I just get back to the house and am about to get into bed and he buzzes again. I return to the annexe…he still thinks he is going on a trip and despite his voice being croaky, he says he feels fine. Unfortunately, this is not the end of grandad issues and when I go across to get him up at a more appropriate time I find him in his chair. This is a very bad sign because he has got up on his own whilst still attached to his night time catheter which is obviously dangerous and means he is more confused than normal which probably means he has a UTI. I will have to phone the doctors.
When I finally get outside, Aideen comes to find me to warn me that we might not have the guidebooks for the Open Day. She had received an email from the printing company to say that they would be delivered on the 19th April which is the day after the Open Day. This is despite multiple conversations where we were told delivery would be on the 13th, for which I had paid an extra fee! This was very frustrating to say the least, especially considering the effort and time preparing it. James then contacted a mutual friend of ours in the printing business to see if he could help.
James, Aideen and I then continued to pot up the pond plants. This is turning out to be a herculean task, partly because of the number of plants (nearly 300) but also because of the size of the aquatic baskets. About half are going into 29cm2 pots and the other half into 40cm2 pots. The big baskets in particular take a lot of soil which is the other issue. The soil is heavy with stones and glass mixed in. Unfortunately, much of the soil at Church Gardens contains glass because of the rubbish dumped here in the past. This makes the soil hard and slow to handle, however, it is good we are using it up and it is ideal for pond plants. It is heavy work and although James is helping us, Aideen and I both feel quite rough because of Covid.
The next bad thing to happen is that Tiggy gets involved in a fight with one of the big stray cats that sometimes frequent the garden and she suffers a bite on her back leg. I phone the vet and book her an appointment in two hours, rather a contrast to the GP who has yet to call me back about grandad! We then hear a yell from Diane who put an old Christmas tree on the fire and the flames shot up alarmingly so we all run over to the compost yard but luckily that was OK.
Poor Tiggy goes to the vet and comes back in a bucket which we’re supposed to keep on for three weeks! Needless to say, Tiggy is very unhappy!
Patrick then decides to try his mower and after 10 minutes the wheel falls off, the bolt having sheared!!
Finally, as we come in from the garden we find grandad has fallen over! Luckily, he is not hurt but it is clear to me that he has a UTI and the GP has not called back which is very bad. I then have to call 111 which takes ages to respond.
One piece of good news is that our friend has found somewhere to print the guidebooks before the Open Day. It is a bit more expensive but at least we can rely on him. I will need to get a refund from the other company!
Heroic Family Effort
Today is beautiful, bright and sunny and I start the day in a much more optimistic mood. I get up very early and pot up two little auriculas in terracotta pots that I’ve grown from seed that are flowering and put them on the auricular theatre. I call the district nurses who have come to change dad’s catheter again because he is starting antibiotics for a UTI. I get dad up but he is still very confused which affects his mobility. I am hopeful that once we start antibiotics he will quickly improve. When the nurse has visited and dad is settled with breakfast I go outside to join Aideen, Diane and James who are already planting up the pond plants. We intend to make a massive effort today to finish the repotting but there are still a huge amount of plants to pot.
When I go to check on grandad, I find that he is not improving at all and is shaking and breathing rapidly and we decide to phone for an ambulance. I am convinced that he is going to need fluids and antibiotics in a drip to hit the infection more quickly. He is now testing positive for Covid and I’m concerned that the combination of an UTI and Covid is too much for his body to cope with. Surprisingly, an ambulance arrives before a clinician speaks to us and they agree that dad should go to hospital. On this occasion, I am not allowed to go with him because I also have Covid.
When he leaves, I continue to manically plant up the pond plants. Incredibly, by the end of the day we do succeed in planting all of the plants. It has been a heroic effort and I certainly could not have managed without the help from Aideen, Diane and James. James and Diane have been trotting backwards and forwards with dozens of barrow loads of soil and shingle whilst Aideen and I have been repotting the plants as fast as we can go. Then James and Aideen have been shifting the pots down to the pond. By the end of the day, James has done 23,000 steps!
The topic of the day is how to get the really big pots into the pond. I had previously assumed we would pass them over the side but I hadn’t appreciated how heavy they would be. Patrick does not want us to put too much pressure on the flint wall of the pond in case it dislodges so other methods are being considered…could we push a wheel barrow onto the shelf (not as silly as it seems) or should we build a raft and float them in. I am also very concerned about planting depths because when plants first go in they should not be immersed too deeply. This will mean a lot more additional bricks and slabs going into the pond… we probably made the planting shelf a bit deep. Looking on the bright side, it will use up a massive amount of bricks and old slabs! At the end of the day, the only things not repotted are the lilies which I didn’t want to release from their bags until the last moment. I also need to add shingle to the 200 little oxygenator pots that we did not repot. Everyone then nobly tidies up, there are now hundreds of empty 1 litre and 3 litre aquatic pots everywhere! These are stacked up and stashed away in the potting shed, maybe one day I will be propagating aquatic plants! Finally, we gather up the hard-core and glass that we have been removing from the soil and by the time that we go inside, things look much better.
I am up before 6am, having heard nothing more from the hospital last night I presume grandad was admitted and I will phone a little later. I couldn’t sleep any longer partly because of worrying about grandad but also pond plants! I sit at the table poring over the planting plan with a calculator!
I ring the hospital at 7am and I am told grandad is waiting for a bed on a ward and to ring back at 8am when the doctors have been round. At 8am I am told he is being admitted and is receiving his antibiotics in a drip. I am glad to hear this!
We head outside bright and early because today we intend to start planting the pond, luckily it is a very nice, sunny day. We start by preparing as much as possible…fetching bricks and slabs and placing them around the pond and moving the plants close to where they will be placed in the pond. Although I had already been in the pond building platforms to raise the plants to suitable planting depths, I had since decided I should raise them further because the plants are young and not ready to be at their maximum planting depth. We decide to start by planting out the narrow planting shelf below the deck area because this is the most accessible edge and will be an area using the bigger pots. James and Diane change into their new ‘dungaree style’ waders and emerge from the house looking like grey minions!
I am incredibly grateful that they have volunteered to go in the water as I still feel terrible. Aideen and I are on ‘the shore’ passing in bricks, slabs and with some difficulty, plant pots. It is quite slow progress because we are checking planting depths as we go but so far we are coping with passing in the big pots. James and Diane were shocked by the water temperature but their waders are more efficient than mine and it is only their hands and arms that really suffer. I’m incredibly impressed by their stamina to stay in the water. We plant six different varieties (36 pots) along the longest section of this shelf and then take a break for tea and snacks to warm up!
Next, we head for the stream entrance part of the pond beside Mayflower. This strongly curved section of the pond is twice as long as the other side and I have built a platform close to the pond edge for its complete length. This shelf is for the 29cm2 baskets containing the plants that need to be in the shallowest water. My intention is to build a second slightly lower shelf against it for the more deep water loving plants. Diane is going out for the evening and by 5pm we decide to stop work in the pond before James and Diane catch a chill. We have managed to plant 10 groups of plants (60 pots)! We’ve made good progress but we have a full day’s work ahead of us tomorrow.
James, Aideen and I then go of to complete other jobs. James decides to jet wash the polytunnel as he is already wet, Aideen embarks on removing moss from the paths and I clear the Brussel sprout bed and pick vegetables for the dinner.
Meave and Billy return home in the afternoon and they come outside to help as well. Many hands make light work, at least theoretically! I finish the day checking the plants and I muse again about how I would never have coped with planting the pond if the family hadn’t of stepped in to help. I often embark on massive planting schemes but this time I had a deadline to meet and also, the pots were just too heavy for me on my own.
Gardener In The Drain!
Today is another sunny but breezy day, James and Diane actually got sun burnt yesterday in the pond! Today we have a roofing friend of Patrick’s coming to fix the ridge tiles on the new building. This is a good thing as a few days ago they were blowing off the roof! He finishes the job in a day which was brilliant, another job of the list.
I feel as if I am presently inhabiting another world. This is a combination of it being the Easter holidays so I am not teaching and therefore, I am in the garden constantly. Also because I have Covid, I can’t go anywhere and because grandad is in hospital, I do not have to break up the day with his various care needs. Maybe it was this ‘feeling I was in another world’ which contributed to me falling in the drain!
Beside the overflow in the pond there is a large, deep drain covered by a big, metal drain cover. However, at the moment the cover is not fully over the hole because a large pipe from the pump is hanging down into the hole. I stepped onto the unstable drain cover whilst speaking to James (who was in the pond) about a plant and the cover tipped me into the drain. Apparently, my face was a picture as one leg shot down the hole up to my crotch! Unfortunately, there were two buckets of pebbles on the drain cover full of water that also fell down the hole and soaked my leg! Luckily, I didn’t hurt myself!
I am quite clumsy, but it is because my mind is elsewhere. Although I am moving plant pots, I am also thinking about where the plants are going, their ideal planting depth and when that will need adjusting. I am also thinking of how to position the plants, particularly on the wide planting shelf to give me safe access and how to fit them all in! Some of these decisions are being made on the hoof because it is hard to judge without seeing things in situ. For example, today I decided it would make sense to position lines of plants (including the lilies) along the edge of the wide planting shelf (before it drops down into deep water) to show where the edge of the shelf is. This is particularly important when the water is stirred up and therefore a bit murky because then you cannot see the edge.
After working incredibly hard all day until nearly 8pm, we nearly finished positioning all the main plants. I have two remaining varieties (6 of each) to put along the narrow shelf beyond the jetty, three final irises to place near the stream and we haven’t put in the 300 small pots of oxygenators…but I’m hoping they will be easy by comparison. Diane and James have been real troopers working in the water for hours and Aideen and I are exhausted from lugging dozens of the massively heavy pots, but at least we avoided having to build a raft! When I thanked James for his extraordinary patience and good humour he said he had rather enjoyed the experience and said he liked to see such an epic project through from beginning to end.
Whilst the pond was underway, Patrick continued to work on the deck. Today he had Meave as an assistant and they managed to complete the rear retaining wall of the deck. The deck will be a brilliant addition to the pond and will enable people to get really close to the waters edge as well as providing a lovely place to sit.
Patrick also managed to mow the front field after James’s dad returned yesterday to put a stronger bolt through the axil and for the moment it is holding! At the end of the day we are all completely exhausted but we manage a rehearsal of the Benedictus for Mozart’s Requiem which we hope is going ahead.
Today, despite sounding like an advert for Vics Sinex, I tested negative for Covid…thank goodness! This means the Mozart can go ahead, however, it doesn’t mean I can sing!
It was supposed to be wet today but not much rain materialised which was good, although the garden would probably appreciate a bit of a watering before Monday.
James had to go to work today so we are postponing the final small bit of pond planting until tomorrow. I intend to plant the bog plants and at least some oxygenators.
When we constructed the pond, I asked Patrick to let the edge of the liner come under the flint wall and pocket a section of soil on the land side, creating a thin bed of boggy mud. Into this narrow bed I am planting a selection of marginal plants that can be planted in the pond or in wet ground. In order to plant this bed, I have to lean over the thick border of daffodils that are encircling the pond and I remove any large perennial weeds such as docks, nettles or burdock. Other small things like grass and forget me nots I leave to give the edge a ‘natural’ look. At the same time as planting the bed, I stretch over the edge of the pond and slip in small pots of oxygenators in-between the wall of the pond and the side of the first line of aquatic baskets. This as a tricky operation because the gap had to be just the right size otherwise the little pot with it’s ‘gonk’ like oxygenator sunk without trace! I also planted some irises and marsh marigolds given to us by some visitors last Autumn that I have kept in a tin bath since then.
After I finished this job, I weeded the rose bed. Whilst I was planting and weeding everyone else was running around tidying up areas that have been a building site for months, weeding paths and sweeping up. Patrick continues steadily working on the deck with Meave’s help, and when Billy and James get back from work they dismantled the trampoline, shovelled type 1 and attempted to clear the area where all the earth and hardcore was dumped. Never has tidying up before an Open Day been such a monumental task but I guess that serves us right for taking on such a big building project over Winter! Ironically, progress on the ‘tea room’ has had to be stopped temporarily whilst we prepare for reopening to the public so refreshments for Monday will still be served under a marquee. However, visitors will at least be able to see the outside and surrounds of the new building and I’m sure we will have it up and running soon.
Pond Planting Finished
Today started with a massive cat fight waking us all up very early. Patrick opens the cat flap when he takes Bella out at 6am and Minxy had a major confrontation with the big black and white cat. This cat appears to be living in our basement and it is the same cat that attacked Tiggy last week. Something will have to be done about this situation, maybe I should call the RSPCA.
After watering, the first job I tackled this morning was cutting back the plants in the reflective pond and removing the blanket weed. I also put one of my netted barley straw parcels in the pond which is supposed to deter algae growth. I then went out the front of the house to tidy the pots and weed the organ pipe bed. This bed looks lovely because its full of pretty things that bloom early. The magnolias are finishing but there are camellias, dicentra, narcissi, skimia, polyanthas, grape hyacinths and there are still hellebores and pulmonarias. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to stop the creature (badgers/squirrel) from getting into this bed to dig up tulip bulbs. Therefore, once I had finished weeding I added soil to fill in the numerous holes. I then thoroughly watered the bed because even this early in the year the bed is drying out quickly because of its proximity to the trees.
Whilst I was working on the organ pipe bed, James and Aideen were sticking mosaic tiles back on the steps, benches and water feature on the mount. Unfortunately, because the tiles were not grouted originally, some just fell off their webbing backing. When the tiles are stuck back on they will then grout them. They also gave the back of the polytunnel another coat of wood stain.
During this time, Diane had the horrible job of weeding the patio. Patrick, with Meaves assistance, continued with the deck which is taking ages. Also, Mary and Janet came over to continue removing moss from the paths. It is really quite surprising how much time keeping paths weeded and moss free takes up. One would think paving over an area is a low maintenance option but it would appear not to be the case.
When we finished our particular jobs, James, Aideen, Diane and myself returned to the pond to finish the planting…there were still 15 large pots to position and nearly 300 oxygenators to put in the pond. These final large pots were being placed beyond the jetty and the oxygenators were mainly being slipped in-between large pots at the side of the pond. When the large pots were in position, Aideen and Diane left us to do other jobs whilst James and I continued to find places to pop oxygenators. Finally, the job was done. The plants arrived last Thursday, we spent three days repotting them, two days putting them in the pond, I spent I day planting the bog garden and then we spent part of a day finishing the planting out. It is such a major achievement to complete the pond project. The pond contains 48 different species of plant in groups of 6 which is 288 plants all re-potted in large heavy pots. In addition, there are 7 lilies and 300 oxygenators. There are also marginal/bog plants planted around the pond. I cannot wait to see it when it matures and I am so grateful to my planting team because I certainly wouldn’t have done it without them, no wonder the nursery questioned the size of the order! I then continued to weed the courtyard beds until it was time to take the choir rehearsal. Despite my lack of voice, this rehearsal went quite well which was a huge relief.
Later in the evening, I was giving a student her final lesson before an exam and I looked out of the widow to see massive plumes of black smoke on the horizon. It looked like a fire on the neighbouring farm so the girls went to investigate but it turned out to be a fire at the dump.