• Kay

Sweet Potatoes


Today’s gardening was delayed by various appointments but finally, after lunch I got outside to attend to my bluebells. My bulb planting schedule has been completely disrupted recently and I still haven’t even finished planting the bluebells! The bluebell bulbs are like miniature potatoes, their skin is quite delicate and prone to going mouldy or shrivelling up. I usually get all of my bulbs, including the bluebells, form Parkers but the bluebell bulbs have been disappointing on previous years, with quite a few unusable. This year, I bought the bluebells and crocus corms from Farmer Gracy because these particular bulbs were cheaper and I therefore bought more. The quality from Farmer Gracy was better, the bulbs were packed in paper bags filled with sawdust presumably to keep the bulbs dry. I bought all of the other bulbs from Parkers because their prices were the cheapest and I’m pleased to report that the quality this year was excellent.

Later, when bringing in vegetables for dinner, I noticed the sorry state of the dahlias and decided that the tubers should be dug up tomorrow…the poor bulbs will have to be delayed another day!

During the day, a five-tonne digger arrives, this hefty machine is required to pull out the trench sheets and backfill the walls of the basement. The basement team spend the day putting in a plastic membrane against the walls, adding shingle and backfilling.

At the end of the day I bring in green cabbages, potatoes, onions and beetroots for dinner but when I check the sell by dates of the meat in the fridge I change my mind about what I need to cook. I now need to use the chicken, so I return to the garden and come back with sweet potatoes and chillies. I now plan to make a spicy chicken and sweet potato dish with peppers and mixed beans. These are the first sweet potatoes that I have used from the garden, they are rather contorted in shape but once peeled, they look great!


Dahlia Day


My intention today is to start removing the dahlias and cannas and move them to their Winter quarters. I have four large display beds and four smaller display beds that create a circular frame around the fountain at the top of the central path. All of these beds are filled with dahlias and cannas in the Summer and tulip bulbs in the Spring (planted at the end of Autumn).

The dahlias are heading for the cold frames, so I start by covering the area in the frames with weed suppressing membrane. I then start collecting up all the large pots and containers that I store the bunches of tubers and corms in. Many of these are stashed in the back section of the old potting shed. The door to this shed is barricaded with two old wooden doors and two metal gates all piled on top of each other with two vintage lawn mowers blocking the entrance, therefore, gaining entrance is quite tricky!

It is necessary to have an assortment of large, different shaped containers because some of the dahlias are big and have hefty balls of tubers to pot. I intend to pot them all properly now so they can be planted straight out in early Summer next year. They are brought undercover primarily to help protect their emerging shoots from slugs and to get them into early growth. Also, they have to vacate the display beds otherwise there would not be space for the tulip bulbs, I plant 300 tulip bulbs in each bed! I then fill a barrow with topsoil for the potting up.

Whilst I am busy with my dahlias there is a different type of extraction taking place in the basement hole. The groundworks team are using the five tonne digger to pull out the trench sheets. The reinforced block wall has been built to half of it’s height, the 30cm floor slab is in place and they have backfilled to the height of the block work so it is now safe to remove the trench sheets. This is quite a nerve wracking operation as the five tonne digger has to slide down beside the garage along the most precarious piece of ground which is also quite narrow. The arm of the digger then is attached to the top of each trench sheet with a strap and pulls the trench sheet up, it reminds me of crudely pulling teeth!

The digger then swings the sheet over the hole to be grabbed by men on the other side. We are now left with a crumbly edge that still goes down several feet outside the garage which I’m quite nervous about. However, they will be building up the wall and backfilling in the next few days. At least it isn’t as deeper drop as at the beginning of this stressful episode.

I manage to remove and pot up about 100 dahlias and cannas during the day before I start teaching. I had foolishly hoped to finish the job in a day which I think was unrealistic. Most of the plants are large and I have to dig them up, pot them up, cut back dead foliage and label them. The job is tiring and hard on the back but I’m glad to be getting it done.

Aideen comes out in the later afternoon and continues to dig out the sides of the stream. This evening we will eat the vegetables that I dug up yesterday…at the moment it seems to be my turn to cook every night! We have cod with peas and spring onions cooked in a mixed cheese sauce with Lyonnaise potatoes, cooked beetroot in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and green cabbage sautéed in butter and garlic. This used our own potatoes, onions, garlic, beetroot and cabbage. I must remember to make good use of the brassicas, there are still plenty outside.


Counting Blocks!


Today is a beautiful day, the sun is shining and by the time I get into the garden it is really quite warm. Aideen starts practising but has to stop quite soon, she has blisters forming on top of blisters on her fingers and they are very sore. However, the harp’s loss is the gardens gain and she goes outside to continue with the stream edges. Patrick, Aideen and myself have a discussion about how the stream should be shaped and some time is spent in the ‘pool’ at the top of the stream. We decide that we will coppice the nut trees that surround the pool to open up the view of the big pond.

Everyone is feeling lethargic today but I NEED to finish the dahlias and get on with the bulbs. Luckily, by the end of the day all of the cannas and dahlias are out of the eight display beds and potted up. I manage to put more than half of them into the cold frames. Hopefully, I will finish this job quickly tomorrow morning.

Frank tells Patrick today that the basement team will be finished on Monday and Patrick spends a lot of the day working out how many blocks they still need to finish the walls. He has had to order more because extra blocks were required for the stairwell. He also needs a different type of block to finish the wall under the steel beams. He is so concerned about his calculations that he goes back in the hole, after 9pm, with a torch and with Aideen and Diane as assistants to count them up again to check he has ordered enough! Before I start teaching I collect potatoes, garlic (we eat so much garlic), onions, two red cabbages and three swedes for tonight’s dinner. Gammon baked with our honey and mustard, roast potatoes with onion, garlic and rosemary, red cabbage with apple and red onion and mashed swede with butter.


Missing the Daylight


There is still an all pervading air of lethargy at Church Gardens. We put this down partly to reduced hours of daylight. I do not regard myself as suffering from SAD but as a person who spends the majority of their working day outside I do find it quite a shock to the system when the clocks change and suddenly we lose the last part of the afternoon, it certainly takes a while to adjust. Aideen agrees but adds that a large part of her angst is being caused by having to perform Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro in three weeks time. This is a monster of a piece and requires hours of practice, not easy with multiple blisters. She will be a lot happier when that concert is over!

Aideen goes outside to continue with her stream moulding and I go into the kitchen garden to carry on putting the ‘potted up’ dahlias and cannas into the cold frames. Soon I call Aideen to help, it is a lot easier having someone standing in the frame to pass pots to, rather than having to climb in and out repeatedly yourself. When the plants are safely stashed we close the frames with their heavy lids that have been stacked up during the Summer. Aideen goes back to her stream and I start planting daffodil bulbs. Unfortunately, a few bulbs have some mould on their outer skins but they are still firm so I hope they will be OK. I am starting by planting a densely packed line of mixed daffodils and narcissi on the orchard side of the kitchen gardens tallest wall. I am not outside for as long as I would like but I manage to plant 350 bulbs. I will have to speed up because there are 5000 of these mixed daffodil/narcissi bulbs to plant.

Today more Stepoc blocks were delivered and the trench sheets and props were taken away. The basement walls are growing rapidly and the new building is really taking shape. As the walls go up it becomes clear that even after all that agonised counting yesterday we now have too many blocks and no one understands why!

We depart for choir rehearsal with a pile of Christmas music and the countdown to Christmas begins!


Bulbs and Bricks


Today is Friday and Patrick tries to take this day off work to work outside. However, I get the impression that he cannot decide what to tackle first. Should he gather up leaves, take the turf off the proposed route for the trench to bury the pipe connected to the pond pump or should he be helping Aideen with the stream. In the end, he does all of these things. Aideen keeps slogging away with the stream chopping off the edges of the channel and scraping off the bottom.

It is decided during the day to exchange the one-tonne dumper for a three-tonne dumper. This was my suggestion because a larger dumper will make the job of back filling much quicker. The basement team finish off the block work walls and prepare them for the final delivery of concrete which is coming tomorrow.

I continue with my bulb planting and today my total is much more on target and I manage to plant 1040 bulbs! At the end of the day, after darkness has fallen, Patrick decides that we should move the two pallets of bricks that have been left at the front of the house. This is partly because last time the concrete lorry visited us, it knocked into the pallets of bricks! Also, it will be much better to have the bricks stacked beside the building for when the wall of facing brickwork is constructed. This involves the bricks being stacked one by one in the dumper truck and then off loaded and stacked one by one at the other end!

Aideen and Patrick load them onto the dumper but offloading them requires my assistance…there are more than 1000 bricks! Luckily the big dumper can carry this quantity in two journeys but it is a tiring job loading and unloading them. Whilst Aideen and Patrick load up the dumper I pop back in the house to wash up. Unfortunately, the washing up is another monumental job that has been left for several days. There are just not enough hours in the day to do everything. Fortunately, the temperature outside is unseasonably mild so being outside moving bricks in the dark is not too bad.

The concrete will arrive first thing tomorrow and Martin is coming over to dig trenches. It will be another busy day!


Concrete – Not enough, then Too Much!


Today is the last concrete pour. The ‘crane like’ lorry arrives early to get into position and it is shortly followed by the concrete lorry.

I was woken up by dad’s buzzer at 3:30am, I ran across the garden in my PJ’s rather nervously as there was a police helicopter overhead! Maybe that was what woke him up. I always worry that the helicopter could be searching for a criminal that might be hiding in our garden! Worryingly, dad has been out of bed and tells me as I tuck him back up that he’s just come in! Perhaps he has been out clubbing? Unlikely, as he’s safely locked in!

In the morning, the family gather outside and watch the concrete being poured into the walls. Frank says we will be glad to be left in peace but I think we shall quite miss the groundworks team. They have been brilliant, it is so fantastic to have good builders working at Church Gardens and apparently they’ve enjoyed working out in the countryside rather than central London. Once they have gone, the building is down to us and we are running to a very tough (Aideen’s) schedule. We are aiming to open for Mother’s Day but Frank doesn’t think we will finish until June.

Martin, our trusty digger driver, arrived at 8am and Patrick, Aideen and Diane set about digging the long trench up to the top of the stream for the water pipe. Then they dig the service trench between the new building and the pond. They also dig out the back of the deck beside the pond. Patrick carefully removes turf from the trenches, hoping to restore at least this part of his grass when the trench is back filled.

The garden on the building side of the stream literally looks like a bomb site and much of the grass has been destroyed by heavy track marks that have compacted the soil. I feel the earths pain and I am keen to loosen it back up and reseed the grass. By the time the trenches criss-cross the relatively intact area of grass, the garden looks even more horrendous, if that is possible. An unbelievable amount of rubbish comes up out of the trench; broken bricks, glass, crocks, flints and quite a few more bottles. We sometimes wonder if our garden was used as a historic landfill site!

Later in the morning, it becomes apparent that we have not ordered enough concrete! Our only alternative is to order another two cubic metres, which is more than we need. This is annoying as there will be waste but we have no choice. The surplus is thinly spread in front of the building and at the bottom of the drive. This will at least give us a better surface to work off and later we will break it up for hard-core.

Whilst this is going on I have a quick tidy up of containers, canes etc. in the Kitchen Garden. I also weed the top of the ten Tudor rose planters in the pumpkin patch and add leaf mould. I then continue planting hundreds of daffodil and narcissi bulbs. I plant the full length of the high wall and the edge of the bee enclosure. There are already some daffodils in the ‘bee friendly’ planting but you can never have too many. Whilst in this more peaceful corner of the garden, kept company by a gorgeous robin, I muse on what this area used to be like. There were huge amounts of buried rubbish, including bits of car and metal sheets. The top end (20m) of wall was completely derelict and had to be rebuilt. There was a permanent massive pile of assorted garden debris and logs where we would periodically have a bonfire and the entire area was infested with rampant brambles. Now it is beautiful, the longed-for bee hives are surrounded by mature mixed berry producing shrubs. The viewing platform and stumpery looks as if it has always been there nestling amongst tall Lilacs, Budlejias, Deutzias and Osmanthus and the forest garden bed stretches away towards the far corner of the orchard backed by warmly coloured, newly restored brickwork . I look across at our present building work and I know that soon the ugliness will be forgotten and nature will heal the land.

After a very long day, sustained by some delicious brownies made by Aideen, the trenches are dug and the water pipe trench is partly lined with sand, some backfilling of the building has started and I have started to plant daffodil bulbs around the perimeter of the pond. Today my total is 1150! This is pretty good and I’m unlikely to beat that going forward. Are we on schedule? I suspect that we will have to ask Aideen!


Not a Day of Rest


Despite being a church going family (outside world pandemics) we are not very good at observing Sunday as a ‘day of rest’, it is usually the opposite. Aideen and Patrick were outside before 7am and I followed them out shortly afterwards. Diane joined us at 9am after returning from a night out (she’s going to be tired!)

The first job is manhandling the ridged water pipe into the trench beside the stream and covering it with sand. As usual this is not as easy as it sounds, pipes that have been coiled up are always tricky to make lie down flat and straight. The sand has to be collected from the bottom of the drive in the dumper but Patrick doesn’t want the digger to trundle up and down the drive making an even bigger mess of the driveway surface, so the three-tonne dumper has to be filled by hand, a long job.

I continue to plant bulbs before getting grandad up and going to church. Today, I am playing in church on my own, leaving both Aideen and Diane to help Patrick because he is so desperate for assistance. Sadly, Martin our digger driver couldn’t come today but fortunately, Meave is due back soon with her boyfriend Billy who can take over driving the digger from Aideen. When Billy arrives, they start to backfill the massive cavern at the end of the basement hole. Sadly, this necessitates driving over another pristine section of grass…will we have any grass left?

I manage to plant a few hundred bulbs before running inside to get grandad up. It is much chillier today with a bitter wind. I add a colourful jumper, fur lined hat and boots to my gardening attire, much to the amusement of my more fashion conscious daughters!

After church, I continue planting bulbs and Aideen informs me that dad is a bit grumpy. I’m not surprised! There is no level ground around the new building for him to stand on whilst laying these very heavy blocks.

It is soon apparent that everyone is very hungry so I go inside to make a mountain of pasta, another delay to bulb planting. By the time darkness has fallen, I have finished planting bulbs around one side of the pond and started on the other side. I have planted 775 bulbs, not bad considering all the other things I had to fit in. The water pipe for the stream is now installed and largely backfilled, and quite a lot of earth has been piled up against the walls of the basement for backfilling. Patrick finished his block work with assistance from Aideen and Diane, who go inside the building and onto the scaffolding to ‘point’ the block work by the light of a phone! We finish the day sat on blocks in a little circle with a cup of tea and a bit of brownie in the dark, contemplating the sea of mud surrounding us. Minxy seems to be the most appreciative of our excavations, dashing madly along service trenches in the dark, her eyes wild in full ‘cracker-cat’ mode!


A Big Push!


Today is the last day the groundworks builders will be with us and only the foreman and one other man will be coming, primarily to tidy up. It is a beautiful day, cold but sunny, with blue skies. We have been so lucky with the weather during this time, rain could have created an even bigger mess on the site.

The builders begin by removing the props that supported the walls whilst they were being filled with concrete. Then they started to back fill the top end of the building parallel to Grandad’s annexe in anticipation of the arrival of the steel beams. There are four massively heavy (420kg) steel beams that will span the basement roof and support the floor of the upper storey. They arrive on a large lorry which we persuade to reverse in through the gates.

The driver, we suspect, is inexperienced because he spends ages trying to undo the locking system on the crane. At one point, he climbs up the folded arm of the crane to unfix something and then slides down, which I’m sure he isn’t supposed to do. He then lifts all four beams in one go, again, probably unwise. After some time, they are deposited next to grandads building. Then he gets the lorry caught on the gate twice whilst trying to drive out.

The builders rearrange the beams lifting them with the digger and later they lift them onto the building with the digger which is very helpful. However, how we move them into their correct positions I do not know. Later, I ask Patrick if there is some sort of machine that we can hire to help us and he thinks there is…thank goodness! Aideen comes outside after practising and continues to backfill the trench containing the water pipe and replaces the turf. Unfortunately, the grass alongside the trench is covered in earth so she works very hard to shovel/rake this up to try and expose the poor grass below.

Whilst this is going on, I continue to plant bulbs. I think I planted about 625 today, not bad considering I had to fit in extra teaching because my students have grade exams tomorrow.

The builders continued to backfill and then we had two further deliveries of blocks and concrete beams. These will make up the floor of our visitor’s building and surprise surprise, they are very heavy! I will keep nagging Patrick about finding things to help us lift and move these heavy items because I would like our backs to be intact by the end of this project!

At the end of the day the builders make a heroic attempt to at least partially backfill the massive void at the end of the building. This effort is greatly appreciated and it is with some regret that I see them leave at the end of the day. They have worked so hard and efficiently during the time that they have been with us. The basement is now at least partly submerged in sand/soil. The best thing is that the perilous cliff edge outside Patrick’s office door is now filled in. Finally we can relax, his office has survived!


A Heroic Effort!


When I went out early this morning I heard the sound of the dumper truck being driven and realised that the foreman of the groundworks team is outside. This was a very pleasant surprise as I thought that they had finished yesterday. The foreman had returned alone for today to pack up and intended to spend the day backfilling around the basement until the digger was taken away. This involved him operating the digger to fill the dumper and then driving the dumper to fill the void around the basement building. Patrick did suggest that Aideen could drive the dumper for him but he was happy to work alone. As he filled the rear end of the hole with soil he then had to bring the digger up to compress the soil and spread it around. It was a big task but by the end of the day he had filled the cavernous space and the basement was surrounded by soil. He then cleaned the digger ready for collection and filled the dumper with sand ready for Aideen to use in the stream – what a hero! Backfilling around the basement would have taken us ages so we were very grateful.

I continued with my bulb planting today. I finished planting bulbs around the pond, planted some beside the compost yard and started planting them alongside my new hornbeam hedge that is creating an enclosure around the caravan (900 bulbs in total). Aideen came out to join me after practising and she worked at preparing the small pool at the top of the stream for it’s liner. Our intention is to keep this pool as natural as possible. It has quite steep sides, largely consisting of cobnut roots on one side and a bank of ferns and ivy on the other side.

It was beautiful weather again today but tomorrow it is reported to change.


Where Has the Light Gone?


The weather has changed, the sky is thick cloud, the temperature is milder, but there is no rain. The effect of the cloud after so many days of clear blue sky and sunshine is reducing the light levels considerably. Shockingly, by 3/3:30pm it felt as if dusk was falling!

Today is our first day without builders and the digger is collected and taken away. Patrick has to trek up to the hospital in London for yet another unsatisfactory consultation with his surgeon. Today, he was told that he should have his ankle joint fused or replaced again! The consultant was unable to offer any guarantees that this would resolve Patrick’s pain and mobility issues. Fusing would be a major surgery with 8-10 weeks recovery time, involving removing bone from his leg and if it failed, Patrick would have to have his foot amputated! Aideen and I were horrified by this and aghast that the surgeon could be suggesting something so devastating with no reliably successful outcome. We all agree that Patrick should look at alternative therapies before considering something so drastic.

After practising today, Aideen heads off on the tractor, which has had its wheel stuck back on with gorilla superglue, to gather leaves. She manages about an hour of leaf gathering before the wheel falls off again. She then decides to mow the terrace before the crocuses begin to show through. We both carry one of the lawn mowers across the backfilled earth and onto the terrace, not an easy task, only to find that the mower will not start! It does not seem to be a good day for lawnmowers!

I continue planting bulbs, firstly finishing planting alongside the hornbeam hedge around the caravan. This was the last of the 5000 daffodil and narcissi bulbs (250 in total). I then planted my selection of white tulips and white daffodils (275 bulbs) at the front of my new bed in the courtyard which contains the old terracotta drainage pipes. I have already planted out this bed with multiple white foxgloves and white aquilegias that I have grown from seed. I cannot wait to see the effect of all of these flowers together and there should be a decent overlap between their blooming times. I would not want a completely white flowering garden ‘à la Sissinghurst’ but one bed will be beautiful.

For dinner tonight I brought in sweet potatoes, only to discover that some creature had eaten some of them and chewed them up into tiny bits! I also cut lots of different kale leaves, picked a handful of yellow peppers and collected a butternut squash, garlic and onions - a very colourful bucket of veg. I didn’t start cooking until quite late because I taught until 8pm and then had to play my bassoon for a bit because I have rehearsals for the next two evenings and a concert on Saturday. When I finally got to the kitchen I needed to prepare two meals, one for today and one for tomorrow. Whilst standing at the sink trying to peel my contorted sweet potatoes, the butternut squash and five onions (this year’s onion crops were not very big) I am conscious that using your own crops does require considerable effort. They are not uniform in shape, they are time consuming to prepare, and they will often be very muddy and full of wildlife, usually woodlice. For the last two evenings I have been chasing numerous woodlice across the work surface and depositing them in the compost bucket! No one could be more positive about ‘growing your own’ than me, but late in the evening after a very long day, the thought of three, neat, generously sized onions from Tesco’s can be tempting!


Anemone’s on The Move


Today was an exquisite day, the sky has returned to brilliant blue and the sun shone. I cannot think of any greater tonic than to be outside. James came over very early this morning to help Patrick and Aideen fill the most recent section of block work with cement. James and Aideen then spent some time putting up new outside lights and replacing bulbs in old ones. I think this heralds a period of night time working! James then went to work and Aideen went inside to practise.

Having returned from taking Diane to work, I released Pecky into her run and I was glad to see that she is rapidly growing new feathers having spent the last couple of weeks moulting. Why do chickens choose the beginning of Winter to lose all of their feathers?

I am obviously still planting bulbs and today I planned to plant my 1000 anemones blanda bulbs. Luckily, I checked planting requirements for these little bulbs and discovered that they needed to be planted in full sun otherwise their flowers would not open. I originally thought they would be happy under trees, whoops! I changed my plans and planted them in front of the arcades. I also read that I should have planted them in September, whoops again! It will be interesting to see if they emerge!

I then plant 100 Leucojum bulbs in the moister soil at the pond edge on either side of the beach, these bulbs like wetter conditions. Then I plant 300 Grape Hyacinths either side of the fruit cage – these bulbs were beginning to deteriorate so I hope they will be OK. Finally, I popped in 200 Scilla Siberica’s in the organ bed before departing for an early choir rehearsal at 5pm and an orchestral rehearsal at 7-10pm, dinner will be late tonight!


Battling The Elements


The weather has changed for the worse, it is cold and drizzly. Later in the day there is a heavy shower of hailstones, not ideal when planting bulbs! This deterioration in the weather is unfortunate because today is Friday, the day when we try to concentrate of getting stuff done. Patrick tries to take Friday’s off work and Diane is supposed to have Fridays off, but today she has had to go into work. Aideen has got her first rehearsal of the Ravel tonight and will have to spend the day practising so the workforce is depleted, just Patrick and I battling the elements!

Patricks main task is to lay services in the trench between the new building and the boat. This is not easy, especially for a man in his condition. The trench is about two feet deep and surrounded by slippery mud. The drainage pipe (taking rainwater from the roof of the new building and workshop) has to be fitted together, chambers installed, levels carefully worked out to ensure there is a downwards fall and then gravel has to be poured around the pipe. Then, water pipe and a cripplingly heavy cable has to be unravelled and laid in the trench. It is at these points that I am needed to help, slowly walking the cable out whilst poor Patrick lifts the heavy reel, trying to shake out the loops. It was a hard day for Patrick and a great shame we did not have more help.

Another challenge for the day was trying to book a crane that is available tomorrow to move the steel beams, having been let down by the original hire firm. I find it incredible the variety of prices that are proffered, it is an absolute minefield. As we went from company to company we were quoted…£550…£650…£1250!!...£550…and finally £400! We do not have money to waste at the moment so how are you supposed to know what is the fair price?

When I wasn’t needed to help Patrick, I started to prepare the four large display beds and plant them out. This year they are being planted with a colourful mix of 300 Triumph tulips in each bed. These bulbs need to be evenly spaced and planted individually but luckily the soil is soft and I can do this fast. By 3:30 I have planted all four beds and then I go to help Patrick until it is dark.

Meave returns from a couple of days away and tonight she is deputising for second bassoon in the orchestral rehearsal I am playing in. We quickly play together before leaving because her bassoon has not been used since before lockdown! We leave in good time but get completely stuck in the worst traffic I’ve ever experienced, caused at least in part by HS2 road closures and diversions. We make a very bad decision to try a country lane cut through and we were totally stuck with cars climbing perilously up against hedge lined banks at frightening angles to get past each other. We finally get through, resigned to being late, but amazingly arrive just in time. The church is SO cold I decide that I was warmer planting bulbs in a hail storm!


Crane at Church Gardens


Today was a horrendously cold day, with possible snow and extremely strong winds. It is also Saturday and the day the crane is due to come to move four large steel beams into position across the roof of the basement. The crane is due at 12 and we have all three girls and James to assist with the operation. I will not be there to see completion of the beams moving as I have to go to a rehearsal and concert.

Before leaving for my concert, I fill the two new urns beside grandads front door and the old pot in the herb garden with a mixture of top soil and leaf mould and I then plant these containers with dwarf tulip bulbs. I then use the remainder of my dwarf tulips to plant in the 10 faux lead tudor rose planters in the pumpkin patch around the topiary box plants. It is only 135 bulbs but it is a fiddly job. I add extra compost to the pumpkin patch containers and then wipe them clean with a cloth.

During our morning tea break, I was informed that the latest news on the roof tiles for the building was an eight month delivery time! “Are you telling me we won’t have a roof until August?” I cried! I then suggested that we could use reclaimed tiles, although Patrick explained that these would quite possibly be more expensive! This is exactly the challenge that James enjoys and immediately he starts tapping on his phone and calling out we could get 1500 tiles from Northampton, 600 from Gloucester etc. We then became quite excited about this idea, Rosemary tiles are not uncommon and we could rent a van and travel around the country collecting batches of tiles! It’s probably the closest to a holiday Patrick and I are likely to get!

Then the crane arrives with a very helpful and patient operator, thank goodness. It is not difficult for the crane to move the beams but it is tricky to line up the holes in the beams with the drilled holes in the concrete pads so Patrick can bolt them in place. As I watched the crane driver and Diane walk across the beams to fix the chains I was reminded uncomfortably of the opening episodes of ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’, when celebrities have to walk out on a girder over a huge drop! I could not bear to watch and was quite relieved to have to leave for my rehearsal. It was reassuring to know that today I am leaving Patrick supported by a full team of daughters plus James.

I later hear that the beam operation continued until 2:30pm, by which time the crew were all freezing. I’m not surprised they were cold because when I arrived at my rehearsal and opened the car door it was nearly taken off by an icy blast of wind! Inside the church was not much better (just not as windy). Despite extra radiators being placed around the orchestra, the space seemed impossible to heat.

Amazingly, a large audience arrived for the concert, who sensibly continued to wear coats, hats and scarves and we rocketed through Mozart’s clarinet concerto and Beethoven’s Eroica which did something to warm us up! I was not sorry to get into the car afterwards with the heating on full and get back home to be updated on the days operations.


A Momentous Achievement


Today the weather is beautiful, still very cold but the sun is shining and the sky is blue. It was so cold in the night that incredibly, the new, very large pond has completely frozen over with ice thick enough to stand things on. I could see Pip considering walking on the surface but she decided against it, probably a wise decision. Today we have a big working team, all three daughters and two of their boyfriends, James and Billy. This is very fortunate as we intend to try and install the beam and block floor of the new building, which is the ceiling of the basement. This involves moving and positioning 40, very heavy, reinforced concrete beams which slide in-between the big steel beams, and then the very heavy blocks fit in-between them. It is a great problem that everything is so heavy and the main debate at the beginning of the day is how to lift the beams into position safely. Billy and James are doing this together with the beams held by slings but it was not OK to balance on a steel beam, that could be slippery, with a 10ft drop to manoeuvre such a heavy object. When I joined them outside I firmly vetoed standing on the steel beams and suggested making a platform to work from. This proved to be a good suggestion and that was how they worked going forward. Soon everyone settles into the roles best suited to their abilities and the floor began to progress.

I am given permission to attend to gardening duties but I soon discover the ground is still frozen and not suitable for planting bulbs. However, this is actually quite fortuitous as it gives me an excuse to spend time sowing broad beans, peas and sweet peas. However, I have no space on the polytunnel bench, so first I need to move all the squash, pumpkins and potatoes into their Winter store - the outside toilet! This alone is quite a lengthy job but it is good to see everything installed safely in this frost-free environment that is also secure from wildlife nibblers! I then set myself up at my outside table making the most of the sun and start filling root trainers with seed compost. I sow two 32 module trays of broad beans –aquadulce and Karmyzn and then four root trainers of 12 different varieties of sweet pea. I am sowing half of the seed now and I will so the other half in the Spring.

I check in regularly with the basement team, who continue working as light fades with James’ newly installed flood lights. By this time, snow is falling lightly but they are determined to finish the job. By early evening the floor is largely in place, an incredible achievement and it looks wonderful. It is so good to see the basement hole closed at last!

During the day, Aideen insists we all sit on the new floor for our tea breaks as it will be the floor of the visitors tea room!

At the end of the day, they get the pump operating to take out the rainwater that has gathered in the basement. I finish the day clearing masses of washing up and making a large bowl of homemade soup from our butternut squash, large courgettes, potatoes, onion and garlic. Then I make a giant quiche which I accompany with fried potatoes and crispy kale with paprika. When everyone comes in they are starving and freezing!

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