Today the forces of nature are determined to upset my plans. I had intended to plant the large clumps of reeds/rushes into the grass in front of Mayflower and then weed the bottom border of the mount. The first discovery to upset my plans was to find that my broad beans in the polytunnel had been attacked by mice. I have only just taken them out from under the propagator cloches where they had developed mould on their leaf tips because they had grown tall enough to touch the roof of the cloches. Being so substantial, I thought they would be ignored by mice… I was wrong! The mouse still attempted to dig out the original broad bean seeds that the plants had sprouted from and several plants had been toppled! I needed to plant them outside pronto.
When I went into the kitchen garden I noticed lots of fresh digging and unearthed bulbs…the badger had got inside again. Aideen and I searched the fence and found another chewed gap which we presume is the entry point, although it isn’t very big. This means I will have to repair/block the fence again, another unexpected job. The badgers have also caused lots of damage outside the kitchen garden; the organ bed has been repeatedly dug up and multiple bulbs unearthed, grass is regularly dug up and my Fringe tree in the forest garden has been snapped off at the trunk. I feel very disheartened, always one step behind the creatures attacking my plants.
I do manage to plant the rushes into the grass but the rest of the day is taken up by repairing the fence and planting out the broad beans. However, soon my mood is boosted by the delightful presence of a particularly cheeky robin, it’s hard to stay depressed for long. Not all of nature is against me!
I was at a complete loss to discover more badger mischief this morning! How is the badger getting into the kitchen garden? I checked the fence for the umpteenth time and it seemed to be ok. The only possibility is that the badger is squeezing under the gate between the courtyard and the kitchen garden. Aideen has been doing wonderful work on the website and has released the dates for our first Open Day and lots of people have already signed up, keen to see our bulb displays but the badger is intent on digging up the bulbs! I try to reassure myself that there is a limit to how many bulbs he can damage, I have planted thousands after all!
Today I carry on weeding the base of the mount and Aideen continues removing moss from the brick paths. One piece of good news is that Pecky has started laying again which will make some contribution to the large amount of food that this family consumes!
When I finish teaching in the evening, I start working out my seed order which I realise I have left later than usual, too distracted by badgers! I have a big stock of seeds but some have to be replaced every year because they are used up, these include; sweetcorn, cucumber, butternut squash and certain varieties of courgette. I also have to buy onion and shallot sets, garlic, seed potatoes and sweet potato slips. Then I add to my selection of seeds with new varieties and order new varieties of flower seed. It is always a big order and involves lengthy checking of seed packets and perusals of seed catalogues.
Illegal Digging Continues
Today there are many jobs to delay my entry to the kitchen garden. When I go and check my display beds, there is evidence of more digging. This is despite me attempting to block the bottom of the kitchen garden gate…has the badger moved into the kitchen garden? Is he in the mushroom house? Is there a big entry hole amongst the borders? I resolve to block the gate more thoroughly tonight.
I telephone my seed order to Mr Fothergills and am informed that their new ordering system only accepts 40 items. Well that will not even get me through my vegetable order! Luckily, the lady was very nice and found a way around this limit! I was delighted that everything was still available despite my order being later than usual. This contrasted with last year when demand was unusually high due to Covid driving people into their gardens.
Sadly, I had little time outside but Aideen had quite a good session with her moss.
It feels as if all I do is moan about pests but I’m really beginning to feel under siege. I was not sure if digging had occurred last night, it was not as bad as usual. It occurs to me that maybe the culprit is not a badger, could it be our fox? Maybe I need James to set up the wildlife camera.
When I checked the sweetpeas that are still in the root trainers, I found they had been badly attacked by mice, despite being under the propagator cloches. A mouse can squeeze through the tiniest of gaps. I’m determined to make better progress today and by the end of the day I’ve finished the bottom bed on every side of the mount and I make a start on the first terrace. Weeding the terraces of the mount is the worst job in the garden for me. There is no where to put your feet, I try to balance on the wall but sometimes I have to put at least one foot in the bed and it is so hard to avoid treading on an emerging bulb. I will try my best to finish the mount tomorrow so I can return to ground level.
My next job will be the fruit cage borders so I can plant out what’s left of the sweet peas. Aideen comes outside to join me after her practice and she now starts to weed the fruit cage beds as well as remove moss from the brick paths. It is very tedious removing moss.
Late in the afternoon, I notice movement in the brassica beds and on closer examination discover a pigeon sitting on one of my good cabbages pecking at the leaves. The pigeon seems unbothered by my approach and only flies away when I’m very close and clapping! My pigeon deterrent is obviously no longer working, I’m not sure what you can do when even the sight of an approaching human does not scare them off! I love my garden but it can be challenging!
Today I’m determined to make more progress with my weeding schedule…I really want to finish the mount. This is partly because weeding it is so tricky. Theoretically, you can stand/crouch/kneel on the walls of the terrace. Realistically, this is not very easy because I have planted ground cover plants like ‘Snow in Summer’, Aubretia, Thyme and Rock Rose along the edges of the terrace and these plants, particularly the Snow in Summer have done well and are growing across the walls and hanging down the terraces. This was obviously the effect I was hoping to achieve but how do you weed without treading on them? Also, each wall has the frame work of metal posts and wires coming up from the level below on which I train the grape vines. In some ways, this framework is helpful because I can always grab a post in an unstable moment. The last challenge are the beds themselves, which are full of hundreds or thousands of bulbs just coming up that I don’t want to tread on in my big boots!
This results in a painful balancing act, trying to reach poorly spaced stepping stones of either uncovered wall or bulb free soil. Both Tiggy and Minxy joined me on the terraces for a while and I could tell from their pitying looks that they consider the mount to be an unsuitable environment for their ‘mummy’! Today is Friday, so I have lost Aideen to Patrick whilst she helps him cut and fix rafters to the roof.
I shouldn’t think that when Aideen was studying classical harp at Guildhall that she imagined that she would end up helping to build a roof! However, Patrick and I have always agreed that although we have thoroughly supported our daughter’s education to university level, we have always encouraged them to understand practical/manual work as well, which is equally, if not more important.
This week has been very busy because on top of working outside, teaching and caring for dad there have been rehearsals for a concert tomorrow. The concert is a heavy concert for the bassoons with lots of very fast notes, which has required me to also try and fit in some practice…there are not really enough hours in the day! Another slight issue with such a strenuous musical programme is the effect on my lips. Playing so much, tenderises the skin which then gets zapped by the cold and wind outside. I will have practically finished a tube of Chapstick by the end of the week!
Today is concert day, so I know I will not get much done outside but I’m determined to do something. I water the new crops in the side bed of the polytunnel which are doing quite well. I also water plants on the bench and water the auriculas. I then make a start on weeding the fruit cage borders and I finish one of the short ones before I have to go and get changed for the concert.
Before I leave, I go to view the progress in the new building and I tease Patrick that I expect to see the rafters done by the time I get back from the concert. He tells me that he expects to have finished them and when I get home, he is as good as his word and the rafters are complete.
Diane is asked to clear the leaves off the terrace and mow the top grass. When I come to have a look, we are delighted to see a few yellow crocuses are starting to bloom on the slope of the terrace. There are even more crocuses out in the miniature orchard which will be a welcome sight for any passing bumble bee.
After a very tiring but successful concert, I’m driving back dreaming of sitting down with a cup of tea and then I remember I have to put grandad to bed!
When I get home, I discover that Aideen has forgotten to close the polytunnel and shut the kitchen garden gates, this is rather worrying considering the badger situation. I decide to change out of my concert gear before shutting everything up, including the chicken and sorting out grandad for the night. Finally, I get to sit down with a cup of tea…no peace for the wicked.
Well Behaved Step-overs
Today, the weather is beautiful and I try to get outside as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, my lips are in a terrible state after yesterday’s concert, they are very sore and puffy. I joke with the girls that I look as if I’ve had lip fillers!
On a bright, sunny Winter’s day, there is no place I would rather be than Church Gardens. I take a moment to sit on the metal bench between the fig trees, with a cup of tea to enjoy the sunshine which is surprisingly warm for the end of January. I am soon joined by Pip and Aideen who takes a picture to prove that we do sit down occasionally…but not for long!
Today Patrick, James and Aideen are working on the roof. The rafters are in, but smaller pieces of wood have to be added at the top of the apex to fix it all together. Diane, when she surfaces, having had two nights out on the trot, starts sorting out Patrick’s wood in the sheds due for demolition.
I continue with my fruit cage borders, starting with one of the long sides. It is very satisfying to see how the step-over apples and pears are establishing their trained shape. They now link together in a long line and I think they would probably hold their horizontal line even if they were not tied to the frame. I nip off shooting branches that are heading for the sky on the more vigorous varieties. Late morning, James’ mum, Janet, arrives to help which is very kind and she spends the day removing moss from the brick paths in the fruit cage. Whilst I’m weeding and cutting back, I discover several branches of the incredibly vigorous silven berry (donated by one of our visitors) have come through the netting of the fruit cage and rooted in the bed. I dig them out and take the rooted cuttings to the forest garden bed and plant them beside the wall. The silven berry is a large sweet blackberry and has the brambles true vigour! I’m impressed to see we now have light outside beyond 5pm, so I finish the day removing the dead foliage off my monstrous horse radish plant. This practically fills my recently emptied big green barrow. I decide that if I could have one wish for a piece of magic equipment in the garden, it would be a self-emptying barrow! Emptying this giant barrow is one of my least favourite jobs!
Run Away Strawberries
Today the weather was changing, it was bright but quite windy and cold.
The day starts with one of Aideen’s meetings and she is looking surprisingly cheerful. She has produced a spreadsheet of the jobs that still need to be done on the new building and how she thinks they can be fitted in before our first public open day. Presumably, she is smiling because she thinks we can fit all the work into the time we have left. The list included; painting 40 sheets of plywood with two coats of white paint before they are fixed to the roof, fixing insulation to the roof, fixing batons and felting the roof, fixing fascias, soffets and ridges, tiling the roof, taking down the scaffold (at least we don’t have to do that!), putting in the electricity supply (digging and backfilling the trench), digging drains, backfilling around the new building, demolishing the old sheds, removing the hardcore, fixing felt, batons and external cladding to the exterior walls, and fixing gutters. We then have to level out earth around the building and where the old sheds were and sow grass seed. Her list also includes finishing the stream and the deck beside the pond. Our meeting involved a lot of discussion about which jobs could be done by Meave and Diane when they finish work and what time Meave and Patrick can take off work, and all the gardening jobs that Aideen and I will be doing during the week. I notice that her list included painting the polytunnel, fences, benches and planters which may be a little optimistic and finishing the grouting of the mosaic tiles in the Paradise Garden which we really need to do! Right at the bottom of the list is weeding in the vegetable garden, so I presume the bulk of gardening duties; weeding, pruning, sowing seeds and planting everything out is down to me! This morning I am outside on my own to start with because Aideen has to practise. The Ravel performance, which has been postponed twice, is scheduled for Sunday. She will be glad when this concert is over because the Ravel has taken up lots of time.
I continue weeding the final long bed beside the fruit cage and later Aideen comes outside and continues to weed inside the cage. For lunch, we have some of the watercress that is growing very happily in the fruit cage bath.
At the end of the bed, I start to dig up lots of strawberry runners that have escaped from the fruit cage. Then, Aideen asks me to look at the raised beds made from old water tanks where we grow strawberries. The biggest tank is crowded with leaves, but on closer inspection, they are not strawberry leaves. They are a type of geum – Herb Bennet (I think, slightly less obvious at this time of year). This is definitely the weed of the moment. I have removed hundreds of them that have spread through the borders. This weed/wildflower is masquerading as strawberry plants, the similarity is incredible. I have noticed this with weeds before, is it conscious behaviour on their part when a weed positions itself amongst plants which it closely resembles as a form of protection.
Aideen and I delve deeply amongst the leaves trying to locate the strawberries. It soon becomes clear that the now diminutive strawberry plants have been chased to the edges of the tank and the lion’s share of the soil has been overrun by the stronger Herb Bennet. We extricate all the offending plants leaving swathes of empty soil, tomorrow we will top it up with compost and plant it with the escaped strawberry runners from the fruit cage borders. It occurs to me, not for the first time, that there is a lot more to plants than meets the eye!
February does not start well. Grandad woke everyone up last night with repeated buzzing at 3:30am. When I went over to check on him, he had got up and put the lights on and was questioning whether he was in Harefield. I explained, not for the first time, that if he wakes up and it is dark it is night time and he should always remain in bed until I come to get him up in the morning when it is light. Unfortunately, he wakes me up again at 7am and I had to explain again that this is not when he gets up! Having dropped Diane to work early, I decided to get him up and washed earlier than normal as he would not settle and I called the district nurse.
Then the post man arrived weighted down by my order of seed potatoes (two heavy boxes) and onion sets so I started my gardening day by checking my order and stashing it away in the outside toilet, which at this time of year serves as a vegetable store.
I knew after the traumas of the morning that I would not get long in the garden because I need to give one of the girls a lift to an appointment before the start of my teaching. I collect leaf mould from the compost yard to top up the water tank raised beds and then I plant out my runaway strawberry runners in the space vacated by the Herb Bennet. I then take the remaining strawberry plants and some raspberry canes that had strayed into the wrong beds and planted them in the forest garden bed.
Planting Out Sweet Peas
Today is a lovely mild day and grandad is much more settled after getting his catheter replaced yesterday.
Patrick and I have our annual meeting with our financial adviser this morning which rather delays the days gardening activities. This also involved us explaining to an outside party our plans for the garden and our considerable investment in a new building as part of our future plans. He did ask me to explain what one of my guided tours consisted of asking, “Is it just looking at some flowers?”. I attempted to explain there was quite a lot more to it than that (historical context, restoration project, sustainability, organic gardening practices etc.) and I hope he didn’t feel that we had taken leave of our senses as well as our savings! When I did get outside, I decided to plant out my remaining sweet peas in the borders around the fruit cage. Aideen made a start on painting the plywood sheets that will be fixed to the roof.
This kept us busy for most of the day and when I had finished planting the sweet peas (about 50 plants) I headed off down the drive to collect compost from the heap left by the church to add to the beds.
As I came in to teach it was lovely to see all the things that are now coming into bloom, mini irises in the alpine beds, Edgeworthias in the field borders and the sweet smelling box by the back door…lovely!
White Garden Under Attack
I start today tidying up what I assume is badger damage in the back courtyard. This is in the bed that I created last year using the old earthenware drainage pipes planted with ferns. I planted lots of white foxgloves and aquilegias that I had grown from seed around the pipes and at the front I had planted lots of different varieties of white tulip and narcissus. I was really looking forward to seeing this display of white flowers in the Spring. Unfortunately, in recent weeks there has been lots of digging alongside the path in this bed and numerous shoots from the bulbs have been severed and some bulbs destroyed. I have seen the damage, but wearily turned a blind eye because there is a limit to what I can do to prevent it. Frustratingly, because of the building work, sections of fence are down and it is very hard to close this courtyard off. But enough is enough, and today I sadly clear up the damage and with Patricks help we try to close off the potential entry points. I am also suffering attack in the the organ pipe bed which is full of holes. Last year, I put my gothic hoops on the outside of the box hedge which I thought would deter the badger which it did at first but not anymore. Patrick has suggested erecting some temporary fencing whilst the garden is closed to the public, anything is worth a go. I then received my seed order delivery and quickly checked them off my list.
After this, I continue collecting compost from the church compost that has been dumped at the end of the track. I bring seven barrow loads in today and spread it over the fruit cage borders, this brings my step count on my Fitbit up to 20,000 by the end of the day. Aideen is still painting ply sheets white and I help her move another 10 sheets into the new building for her to paint in the afternoon.
At the end of the day I start clearing a bed ready to plant the peas. I think I will need to do some pruning tomorrow to provide myself with pea sticks.
Too Soon to Prune
Today is cold and the morning is unappealing with steady sleet. When I get outside, I discover that the back courtyard has not had it’s bulbs disturbed in the night which is positive, hopefully our barricades have worked. However, I am suspicious that something is still getting into the kitchen garden and I consider the possibility of maybe discovering a badger hole under a shrub! Or maybe the culprit is our fox? Sometimes I feel as if I’m going crazy trying to keep track of all my garden disrupters! It is a worry when we are receiving regular calls from groups wanting to visit and many of them are booking specifically to see the bulbs. I anxiously imagine myself having to explain that unfortunately, our bulbs have been excavated by badgers but it is a sign of our thriving biodiversity! I know I’m panicking unnecessarily because as I look around there are numerous clumps of leaves pushing through the soil, if they all bear a flower the garden will resemble a rainbow!
I had intended to maybe start on some pruning of budlejias and cornus in order to provide myself with shrubby offcuts to use as pea sticks. However, I know its early to consider pruning and a quick check in one of my pruning books confirms this. Budlejias and cornus can be pruned in early Spring but when the danger of heavy frost is over and we are not at that stage yet. I continue clearing the bed in preparation for the peas and this includes moving seedling Californian poppies from their random positions to the edges of the bed. I also move a pot marigold that has survived from last year and a seedling Feverfew. I move them to the edge to give the bed a border of companion planting and the crop then has a clear area to be planted within the border. At the end of the bed are some old chicory plants and I cut off their old stems and leave them in place for the time being to produce tall stems of brilliant blue flowers which will be very attractive to pollinators. The Californian poppies will take a while to settle because they have a main tap root which makes them tricky to move but I find they will re-establish in time and the resulting brilliant orange flowers are wonderful. I then retrieve mushroom compost from the mushroom house to spread on the beds. I’ve decided to use this compost on the vegetable beds this year as the veg will appreciate the slight alkalinity. I intend to empty my main compost heap onto the forest garden bed. This needs to happen soon because the heap that has been built through last year now needs to be left to rot down as it is so big I can’t put things on it without extreme effort! At the end of the day Patrick decides to try to gather leaves with the tractor before it goes to the mechanic to be fixed.
Shifting Jerusalem Artichokes
Today is cold and windy but dry, and I’m determined to get more done than yesterday.
Unfortunately, Grandad buzzed at 3am and I discovered him sat on the side of the bed saying we had to go and fit some meters. Dad used to work for the electricity board, but that was 30 years ago! I put him back to bed and threatened to confiscate his buzzer which is supposed to be for emergencies. However frustrating these night time dashes across the garden are, it’s probably best that I know he has woken up and I can put him back to bed.
Today is Saturday so there are more people to help, although Aideen has to practise as she has concerts today and tomorrow. Tomorrows concert includes the Ravel which has been haunting her for months. The piece is so difficult that she has to practise it every day for several hours, she will be very glad to see the back of it!
Patrick, Diane, Meave and James are working on the roof, although Diane does some plyboard painting and Meave does some leaf gathering as well. At some point the tractor mechanic arrives to collect the tractor which Patrick and Diane have had to push and drag back from the orchard after the wheel fell off yesterday. I do hope the mechanic will be able to fix it.
I start the day by emptying the big green barrow…ugh... and then I go to collect pea sticks in the orchard. I like this annual job which makes me feel like a proper woodsman/person. It is very satisfying utilising your own trees for jobs in the garden. I snip off bits of elder, ash, oak and cobnut and return to the kitchen garden with a full big green barrow. Quite ironic as I had just emptied it!
I then stuck a forest of twigs into my pea bed (much appreciated by the robin) and started planting peas. I had two root trainers of Meteor (about 60 plants) and one of Douce Provence (30 plants). Each plant has to be planted and carefully tied to a stick which is quite time consuming. We are incredibly well populated by robins at Church Gardens and every area of the garden seems to have at least one robin to supervise my activities. Apart from being incredibly cute, their singing is glorious, we are very lucky to have so many.
After this, I collected some mushroom compost to add to my broad beans and gave quite a few of them an extra string tie. They have grown a bit since they were planted and were being blown about by the wind.
After a late lunch, I take on the challenge of the Jerusalem artichoke bed. There has been a bed of Jerusalem Artichokes in this quarter of the vegetable garden for some years. I must confess they are one of the few vegetables that I have yet to make much use of. They are perennial and the bed becomes a dense tall thicket of stems every year from the crowded tubers in the soil. The vegetable garden has 56 raised beds divided into four quarters for crop rotation. Quite a few of the smaller beds contain permanent planting of herbs, fruit and perennial veg but I try to leave 8 large beds in each quarter available for annual vegetables. However, the Jerusalem Artichokes are taking up one of these precious beds in that quarter. I have now decided to remove them which will be very difficult. There is also a globe artichoke plant and some sneaky brambles in this bed. I start by removing all the dead stems, which fill the big green barrow again. I then weed and try to dig out the brambles. I then start the long painful process of digging up the tubers. I fill a large bucket as the light fades. I know I will not be able to dig them all up, but I have moved them before so I will persevere. I intend to move them to the forest garden bed where they will have plenty of room to roam without causing trouble. At least I will know they are there if we are very short of food in the future.
At the end of the day Meave and Billy erect a temporary fence around the organ bed in a desperate attempt to keep out the badger and I go to view the roof in the new building. It really is a splendid sight of masses of interlocking timbers and a huge amount of bolts! Patrick should be very proud of himself, it looks magnificent!
Last Day for Ravel!
Today is going to be a busy day and it starts with rain. Dad did not get me up during the night but getting him ready this morning takes longer than usual. I have gone over early because we are needed to play in church. Today, I am going to church with Meave because Aideen is busily practising the Ravel for the concert tonight. During the service, we receive a message saying that Meave will need to play in the concert because the 2nd bassoon has tested positive for Covid. Now both Meave and Diane are playing in the concert alongside Aideen which I think will give her moral support.
When I get back home, I return to the Jerusalem Artichoke bed and continue to dig out the tubers. The girls leave with James at 3pm for the rehearsal and I carry on digging. By the time it’s time to come in, I have double dug the entire bed and filled a barrow with tubers. I know I won’t have got all of the tubers out of the bed but I will have a good check in the morning. Unfortunately, the boards on the bed are coming unfixed and it will need some attention before I can plant it out with a new crop. Unfortunately, wood does rot and it is particularly vulnerable where the boards are fixed to the posts. I will decide where to relocate the tubers tomorrow.