• Kay

Succulents come inside


There is an improvement in the weather today and I am hopeful about getting outside. But first, I wanted to check on all of the plant orders for the forest garden bed because my lists had become quite confused. I ended up ordering from six different nurseries and I made a second small order from Agro Forestry Trust. I wanted to make sure I knew properly what everything was and where it would best be located in the bed depending on the plants’ preferred aspect. Most forest garden plants are by nature suited for woodland and will usually tolerate at least partial shade. This is fortunate as this section of the bed is going to be shaded for part of the day and the section that has yet to be prepared is shadier still. I need this information to help me draw up a detailed planting plan, which I have now started, which is quite complicated as there are around fifty different species of plant on order, the majority of which are unfamiliar to me. However, I have to admit, strange though it may seem, that this is when I am happiest…surrounding by books and working out a plan dreaming of what will be created.

I then have a phone appointment for my tinnitus where I have to admit that I’ve not been doing my daily relaxation exercises…relaxing is not my strong point although I’m sure it would be beneficial!

After lunch, I do head outside and I start preparing the corner shelves in the polytunnel to receive the succulents from outside, because they are too tender to remain outside in the winter. I surround the shelves with some extra polycarbonate sheeting and I will cover them with bubble plastic and fleece on cold nights and unwrap them in the day to give them light. I have a lot of succulents because more are propagated every year. In fact, some are rooting on the bench at the moment. I have to be careful to remember where all the succulents have been placed in the garden. Most are displayed on tables, but six were the central feature of the arch containers, quite a few were displayed in pipes and on old tanks and ten were in a sink. I think I have brought them all in and collected together they make an impressive sight.

Whilst I am in the polytunnel, Aideen and Diane disappear in to the basement to put up more shelves and tidy up. They work really hard and it looks much better.


Losing a much loved friend


Today was a sad day. A dear, old family friend had an ‘unattended cremation’ at 8:30am this morning. Eric, passed away a few weeks ago after a short illness. Eric was like a second dad to my sister and I, and was my dad’s oldest friend. He was an intensely private and shy man but formed an attachment to our family before I was born and visited religiously every Thursday throughout our childhood. He joined us on holidays, days out and attended many of my concerts. He was considered a member of the family and my sister and I loved him dearly.

I went and stood on the vine mount just before 8:30 and remained there for the time that a normal service would have lasted. Eric was not religious but I spent that time remembering him and appreciating his life. He was one of those remarkable men who don’t appear to change, even into old age. He had some health issues but was still arriving from Kent every fortnight until shortly before dad’s illness.

I loved him very much and will miss him greatly.

Much later in the day, we receive our first delivery for the forest garden bed, two lovely saskatoons (Juneberries) from Ken Muir.

Aideen and I decide to carry on in between showers of rain with some final preparations on the bed. There was still some mortar to remove at the base of the wall and some small patches to dig over. We will also need to level up the surface in places and rake it over. It did me good to be outside and planning something new and planting new plants seems the best thing to be doing in these uncertain times.

We both spent a long time as the sun went down standing on the viewing platform looking across the garden and the fields with a cup of tea talking about the past and our plans for the future. This seemed a fitting way to end the day. We then gathered leeks, courgette and potatoes for tonight’s dinner, another giant quiche.

Aideen had planned a practice of the zoom talk tonight to check we know how to operate things. After making a few final changes, James helped us to set things up and we tried a run through. Patrick sat in another room with Diane and James as our audience. It seemed to go quite well but I had to pause proceedings to check on the quiche! Unfortunately, dad decided to go into manic buzzing mode which was quite distracting. Poor Diane trailed repeatedly backwards and forwards across the garden, but he didn’t actually want anything.

Finally, I paused the zoom talk again to check he was OK. He was fine, but I think just being mischievous. He insists he doesn’t know that he is buzzing and says “I just wondered if you were asleep?”. This was quite frustrating as we were trying to run through the talk, so I asked dad to try not to buzz, however tempting, as I would be back in 20 minutes to put him to bed. His response was “that’s no fun!”.

At the end of the talk, Patricks main suggestion was that he wanted more photographs, otherwise he enjoyed it, phew!

We will do some more practice and when it is time for the real thing, someone will have to be on constant buzzer duty!


The twig bed!


Today was a bit like Christmas, or my birthday, because interesting packages kept arriving. Firstly, the Burncoose order arrived with a strawberry tree, date plum and a loquat.

These were particularly fine looking specimens and the loquat had large exotic looking leaves. Interestingly, there was a catalogue in the box, which I had a quick look at, not expecting to find anything as Aideen and I had thoroughly checked out the websites. Then I spotted chocolate vine (Akebia) and became very excited. I soon had a list of items I had not previously been able to find…Salt bush, false indigo, fringe tree, blue bean, Bentham’s cornel, all spice, magnolia vine, snowdrop tree, spice bush and even the elusive Paw Paw! I told Aideen what I had discovered and she warned me not to be disappointed if they were not in stock. I phoned them and to my delight (but not my credit cards’!) they had everything except the false indigo!

Then, a very amusingly wrapped package arrived from Otter Farm containing two choke berries, two black elders, some Japanese Ginger and Wasabi. It is very impressive how quickly things are arriving so I need to get the bed fully ready.

We then had a visit from Nick, from choir – Aideen’s original contact about the boat. He had kindly visited to advise about rust. He was very encouraging to Aideen and he was really impressed that she had stripped everything out of the boat herself. He was also reassuring about the rust which apparently, is not serious.

I then head out to the forest garden bed which James is cheekily referring to as the ‘twig bed’. Admittedly, the first two plants to arrive, the saskatoons, did not have any leaves and naturally many of the plants will be bare at this time of year, it is Autumn after all. My mission is to improve the soil tilth and level things out. This will involve more digging and lots of raking…this might take some time as it is a very large bed. When I come in, I finish the plan which I’ve now drawn onto a bigger piece of paper. It is tricky to work out because it is hard to know how big things will become. I can follow guidelines from my books but my own knowledge tells me that plants can be pruned or coppiced and some things are slow growing. I am always apprehensive at this stage because it is a big investment of time and money. However, I can always move things if necessary.


In Praise of Larders


It is definitely warmer at the moment, and this certainly encourages everyone to go outside. However, before this happens Diane manages to corral Patrick in the kitchen to fix the final shelves in the larder. Her latest mission is to make some progress in the kitchen which although improved last year with a coat of paint, is still incredibly basic. Despite the kitchens limitations, it has one precious feature which I requested at the beginning, a larder. To my mind, there is no more important element to a kitchen than somewhere to efficiently store all non-perishable foods, bread, cake, preserves and at least some veg. Unfortunately, the larder was unfinished and as a result, rather chaotic. It was also home to all of the vintage china and the urn that we use for open days and visits. Because Aideen and Diane have now put up lots of shelves in the basement, these can be moved. With the last shelves in place, Diane could then finish organising everything and I have to say, she has done a magnificent job. Even the old, narrow wooden organ ladder now has a new useful purpose as the perfect way to reach the top shelf!

Whilst Diane is helping her dad, I disappear in my polytunnel with the hanging baskets where I have two trays of violas to plant out. I remove any salvageable plants from the baskets that might be able to overwinter and pot them up to keep in the tunnel. Then I plant out the six baskets with about 60 violas. I also pot up some succulents that had been left in a pot of water for some time to produce roots.

For the rest of the day, Diane and Patrick put a new roof on the back garden shed. I persuade Meave to go out to continue digging and raking the forest garden bed which she seems happy to do whilst wearing headphones. I plant out two plastic troughs with the white turmeric tubers acquired by Janet a few weeks ago which I will keep in the polytunnel. I’m unsure if this will be sufficient protection but I’m not sure what else to do with them as they are sprouting and need to be planted. As an experiment, I put a few into the ‘cauldron type’ container in the herb garden.

I then go out to the orchard to join Meave. This job is daunting particularly as we have only just finished digging up this area to remove weeds and roots. However, the resulting bare earth was too rough and cloddy to plant new small young shrubs and perennials. So, it has to be raked over to a finer tilth and dug a little more to remove any remaining roots and other bits of rubbish. Even in this distant part of the garden, I dig up detritus left by the original sitting tenant. Bella joins us to keep us company and helps with some digging of her own. Unfortunately, this consists of digging four hollows in the nice smooth area that we’ve already created! In the late afternoon, we welcome reinforcements. James and Aideen who have been out for a walk come to help.

This is brilliant and we then make some genuine progress. By sun down we think we’ve prepared about a quarter of the bed.

When we go inside, I prepare dinner, which is tricky as most of the contents of my cupboards are spread over the floor because Diane is now organising the larder.

Then, whilst the chicken Dupiaza cooks, Aideen, James and I spend the evening sorting out additional photos for the talk. When Patrick watched the talk on Thursday he decided that it needed extra photos. This is quite a palaver, but by Grandad’s bed time we think we have sufficient new images. We have been doing this work in Patrick’s office and when we return to the house, we discover that Grandad has been driving Diane and Meave crazy by constantly pressing his buzzer. When asked why he is pressing it so much, he denies all responsibility, insisting it isn’t him pressing it!

When I go over to put him to bed he continues to insist someone else is pressing the buzzer and I should remove it. This does present us with a dilemma as I tried to explain to him, the buzzer is there if he needs us and I am reluctant to remove it. I might have to resort to removing it during the evening, as this is the troublesome time and we are in and out of his house anyway and can keep an eye on him.

By the end of the evening the larder is sorted and looks amazing, Grandad has gone to bed and the buzzer has stopped and we settle down to a very nice well deserved dinner.


Patrick the steeple jack!


The milder weather continues today which is very helpful with progress outside. Patrick continues to work on his shed roof with Diane’s assistance and they call me over to help. I discover Patrick balanced on the shed roof with Diane perched on the ladder supporting his feet…I don’t think his consultant would approve! However, I realise that after more than 30 years of marriage that apart from a comment to say ‘please be careful’, that there is little point making a fuss and I just assist them by spotting where the screws are in the wall to help him workout the position of the roof joists, to fix bolts into. I have to admire his excellent sense of balance, I certainly would not attempt such a feat as I would probably fall off and land on my head within a few minutes!

After attending to a few succulent related bits and pieces in the polytunnel (I’m adding an extra shelf unit to cope with the large quantity of plants), I went outside to the forest garden bed. Meave was the first to start digging today, well done Meave!

Aideen and James had an exciting visit to Screwfix and Halfords to buy anti-rust treatment, red oxide paint, some overalls and a mask for Aideen to wear whilst working on her boat. We were treated to a fashion show when they returned and Aideen looked great, in fact, I think she’s decided that overalls will now be her clothing of choice, she has always been in favour of comfort over glamour with regards to clothes! We then had two more people in ‘Team dig’ which was brilliant. It is quite unusual for me to have the benefit of the younger, more abled bodied, members of the family helping me in the garden. I am not complaining because they are usually usefully employed elsewhere with Patrick, but it is unbelievable the difference it makes to a big manual job. It is also lovely to have the company and a bit of ‘banter’, it helps an oldie like me to keep going. By the end of the day we had finished a little more than three quarters of the bed and it looked amazing. It would have probably taken me a week to do the same amount, on my own. When we decided to finish for the day, I sat on a pile of scaffold boards and just gazed at this beautiful sea of earth. This may seem strange to ‘normal’ people, but I was so happy to see the bed almost ready and I love the look and feel of the earth. This will mean I will be able to plant things out as soon as they arrive rather than building up a store of plants in a holding bay waiting for the bed to be finished. If I can plant as they arrive it will help enormously with preventing disruption to bulb planting, which will begin as soon as the bulbs arrive. It will also be far better for any bare rooted plants to go straight into their final planting positions while the soil is still warm, rather than being earthed in. I go inside, tired but happy, and prepare a big ‘tray-bake’ of chilli chicken with roasted peppers, red onion, carrots and garlic with baked potato. Grandad remains blissfully silent this evening having finally realised that he shouldn’t be pressing his buzzer every few minutes purely for entertainment! We obviously continue to pop in regularly but he seems perfectly ok…phew!


The bed is finished!


Today is quite a warm, sunny day and I hope to finish preparing the forest gardening bed. We have James at the start of the day, which is lucky as we have to shift five massive sheets of reinforcing mesh that are leaning against the wall. They are within the area we are digging over and I want to move them further up the wall where they won’t be in the way. Later on, I get into trouble with Patrick for moving them because he is worried their weight will be too much of a strain on the next section of wall, which is less substantial. Well I certainly hope I do not cause more wall to collapse, otherwise I will never live it down.

With the mesh removed, the remaining fallen bricks and mortar can be cleared and the last few weeds removed. We then set to digging and raking the last section. After James leaves, it is just Aideen and I, we are both tired but we finish by about 2:30. What a relief! Before coming inside, I collect an armful of windblown pears.

We then come inside for some late lunch and a bit of work on checking the photos for the talk before I start teaching. When I finish teaching, we continue sorting out the talk until dinner.


Battle with a Lingonberry


I was expecting poor weather today but was pleasantly surprised, it remained warm and dry. Aideen and I started the day with some final work on the forest garden bed – levelling up and spotting anything poking through the soil that needed digging up. I noticed that the mesh had moved, apparently, Patrick (with help from Aideen and Diane), had moved it amongst the trees in the orchard, he was obviously not happy to leave it leaning against the wall.

Aideen and Diane then embarked on the risky looking job of covering the top of the newly repaired wall with ‘damp-proof’ membrane to protect it from the rain. This involved Diane straddling the top of the wall and Aideen carrying bits of paving up the ladder to give to her, to weigh down the damp poof membrane. Diane obviously inherits the ‘steeple jack’ ability from her father!

I divided my time between holding the ladder and disappearing into the kitchen garden to dig up two wild, seedling budlejias, that I wanted to add to my line of replanted budlejias which now acts as a division between the stumpery area surrounding the viewing platform and the new forest garden border. In reality, they will visually merge together, as the pollen rich, ‘bee friendly’, planting surrounding the bees fits in beautifully with the forest garden plants. In fact, some of these plants (like the broom, the philadelphus and mahonia) were recommended for forest gardens.

I then go to try and remove the lingonberries from their bed in the vegetable garden, to move to the forest garden bed. These three bushes have caused havoc in the veg garden for long enough. They have long trailing stems and are vigorous growers so they overflow their bed and block the paths. They are good forest garden plants and will have much more space in the new bed. The only problem is getting them out. I start by cutting them right back and begin to dig around the first bush. Its roots are like small trunks and disappear deep in the soil. With much struggling I finally remove it but I had to saw through the very big roots. Whether it will survive I do not know, however, it is a good time to move things. I consult my plan, plant it in the new bed and give it lots of water. I leave it looking very lonely, the only plant in a 40m bed!

I then have to go in for a technical test/rehearsal with the first of the horticultural groups that is having our talk. After some initial hiccups, this works out ok, and I grab some tomato and lettuce for a sandwich before teaching. I also harvested two large Braeburn apples from the step-over trees and eat one of them, it was delicious!

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