• Kay

Three blogs in one day, sorry!

Sorry we got a bit behind with po

sting blogs, Aideen has been busy working as a 'builders mate' for the last few days!

Aideen's Final Recital is now on the website, here is the link:



Battle of the Triffids!

There are not many plants which had been deliberately planted at Church Gardens that were here when we came. There were numerous nut trees and there are still numerous nut trees despite recent removals. There were a few ancient apple trees, one of which had fallen through a historic wall, and finally two incredibly vigorous grape vines! I am not sure when these were planted, but one in particular, is the fastest growing plants that I have ever seen. It produces masses of inedible grapes (too sour) full of seeds. The other vine grows up underneath my propagator in the polytunnel and I just cut it back when it gets out of hand. The really monstrous ‘triffid like’ vine grows at the end of the raised bed next to the polytunnel. It then grows out of the bed, over a trellis and down into the pumpkin bed, whilst growing under the polytunnel guttering on the way. In the last few days I have been eyeing the vine and the pumpkins, which are all growing madly and it is clear that if I don’t step in soon there is going to be a fight. The massive tendrils of the vine are swinging about beyond the trellis stretching towards the pumpkins and when I start to intervene I discover that the vine has already entwined one of the pumpkin shoots. The squashes that are closest to the polytunnel are the butternuts and they are as invasive as the vine. I lift up several long squash branches already bearing butternut squashes that are heading into the polytunnel door towards my chair! I gently redirect them to head back into their patch. Some of the vine I can train on the trellis but most of it will have a pretty brutal chop…the butternuts and the guttering are my priority. I don’t know if it is the influence of the monster vine but amongst it grows the biggest nettle I’ve ever seen which also has to be removed. As previously mentioned this vine grows at the end of a raised bed next to the polytunnel and it is actually a bed full of giants because this is where the rhubarb lives. Some of the rhubarb resemble Gunera they are so huge, although surprisingly despite their size, they are remarkably sweet and tender … ‘gentle giants’. Finally, at the other end of the bed lives one of horticulture’s most invasive beasties…the horseradish! Luckily, this seems to be a good position for it, because this old raised bed (it was part of the original greenhouse that had to be demolished) seems to contain the horse radish quite successfully. This is a plant much beloved of caterpillars and I tend to allow it to be consumed, as it is the roots rather than the leaves that we are interested in. one year, I even discovered the caterpillars of the Elephant-Hawk moth on its leaves, which are astonishingly big, the thickness of my little finger! It was not a deliberate choice that I have housed all these giants together but it fascinating watching them all grow from nothing each year and then try to elbow each other out of the way as summer progresses! After removing a mountain of vine and nettle I head for the two big brassica beds I have been weeding. I intend to finish these today and plant them out with the next crop of cauliflowers and cabbages. They will be companion planted with tagetes and I have some climbing nasturtiums and ipomea to put on the arch at the end of the bed. There is a very exciting distraction when the bee man arrives…he has brought his three baby tortoises for a visit. Everyone is spell bound by them, they are not much bigger than a 50p piece! I am allowed to look after them whilst the bee man heads off to tend to the bees. One tiny tortoise is taken to say hello to grandad and another to see Aideen who is in the middle of her final Guildhall harp class, where she is supposed to be playing very difficult Wagner Opera excerpts… I’m not sure this was assisted by the presence of a baby tortoise! Luckily her class finishes before the tortoises leave and she gets a proper opportunity to admire them!

Our wonderful bee man is preparing the hives for honey extraction. In a few days he will be able to start removing ‘supers’ – the hives are basically constructed of box like segments (supers). If a ‘super’ is well filled it can produce 25 pounds (jars) of honey and he is talking about removing four supers for the bee association, which they will then sell to raise funds for the group. Interestingly, he explains that the swarm we spotted a few days ago which was from one of our hives will not have any ‘supers’ removed because the bees consume the honey before they leave the hive! There will also be more supers removed from the fourth hive (which is his own) I cannot believe how much honey they will all be producing!

I finish the day with watering, it has been hot again and I need to keep everyone happy. There are more giant lilies opening and also Peacock Tigers. Sadly, each bloom on the fabulously exotic peacock tiger lily only last for a day but fortunately each bulb produces several blooms and I’m very glad to say that I’ve planted lots of them!



There is life in the old bag yet

Today is a tough but productive day. It is uncomfortably hot. Aideen and James are helping Mickey with the wall. Diane is painting, Pip the cat is getting paint on her fur, she now resembles a badger, black with a white stripe! I start the day planting out odds and ends into containers. The four pots in stands that stand in pairs outside the fruit cage doors acquire some osteospermums and some surfinias. The olive tree urns acquire some surfinias and so do two hanging baskets. I finally get round to planting out three baskets with everything I can find, including a few pansies, a viola and a stray begonia and dahlia which was recovering in ‘plant hospital’ from a slug attack. These are then taken up to the children’s garden which then receives a tidy up and it’s path is weeded. By this time, it is very hot and I think it is unwise to plant anything and probably because I am in the children’s garden I notice the field border.

The field border is a sort of herbaceous border, but it is actually more of a mixed border because it also has shrubs, climbers and bulbs. A border like this is a splendid gardening opportunity, Christopher Lloyd who created the famous 100m long border at Great Dixter which is also a mixed border said the best border is 4 and a half meters wide. The field border is 3m wide and 60m long. My widest borders are the central mirror borders which are 4m wide and 25m long and the fruit tree border is 2mx60m with an extra strip at the back for the fruit trees. The field border was the first piece of ornamental gardening to be created in the kitchen garden in 2015 and therefore has a special place in my heart.

I had decided that a job for this year would be to cut the delphiniums down to the ground when they finish flowering to encourage regrowth. The first delphiniums that I cut down near the fountain, I notice later in the day have started to regrow, so this technique does work. My most established delphiniums are in the field border, there are six clumps and they have finished flowering, I decide to battle my way into the border, the delphiniums are towards the back next to the Californian lilac (ceonothus). The border follows a repeating planting plan, although this is looser than it was when it was first planted. Whilst I am wading about in the undergrowth, I carry out some other housekeeping jobs, dead heading the Jerusalem cross (lychnis chalcedonica) cutting back the dead heads of the euphorbias (taking cover to avoid getting the white saps on the skin because it burns) deadheading aquilegias, nepata, lambs ear, kniphofia and pulling out any large weeds. I felt a bit like the original plant hunters must have felt, battling through the jungle with my cut off delphiniums spikes held above my head! This fanciful illusion might have been brought on by the latest book I’ve started reading, (as usual I’ve got about 8 books on the go!’) ‘The Brothers Gardeners’ by Andrea Wulf – Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession. Amazingly, this challenging job goes more quickly than expected and I am more than half way down the border when it is time to go in for my tiny bit of online teaching – at least I didn’t forget it this week!

After teaching I offer to help Aideen who is attempting to make a start on clearing the basement. At the back of the basement is a pile of very heavy concrete blocks the type used for reinforced basement walls. We need to move these to an alternative home outside, which will be on a pallet beyond the chicken house. Unfortunately, this is some distance away and up hill, the last section being a steep slope that you can only get a barrow up by taking a run at it! This is not the sort of work I usually do nowadays, I will barrow soil, compost and weeds but my concrete block days I thought were over! I was very strong when I was younger but producing a set of substantial twins (6lb 5oz and 6lb 12oz) rather destroyed my stomach (inner core) muscles! However, I couldn’t let Aideen do this job on her own, so I struggled along in her wake. As usual we were accompanied by an animal contingent, Bella led the way, Pip brought up the rear and each time we went past the chicken run, Pecky hopped up onto her platform to add her comments on our efforts! Six barrow-loads later I was very relieved to return to the garden and normal horticultural duties. I planted out all of my salvias into the Manuka beds and then decided I should water the entire vegetable garden – 56 beds! I also watered the mount, by which time it was time to put dad to bed, who is still talking about the baby tortoise from yesterday…its good some things stick in his memory!



Trip Advisor for Bees!

Today I have an appointment with the tinnitus consultant over the telephone. The purpose of today’s call is to teach me a relaxation technique which although it won’t cure tinnitus or remove stress it will help me to cope with it. The call is very helpful, but whether it is the effect of the relaxation exercise or dad buzzing me at 4am to tell me he is confused (I know that!), I am completely zonked all day and everything seems to take ages. I have decided there should be a version of trip advisor for bees where they could rate their favourite plants or maybe gardens. If there was such a thing, I think Church Gardens would get a good rating as it is alive with bees of all shapes and sizes. The current top favourites for mass bee activity are the Russian Sage, the dwarf golden rod and the flowering herbs like oregano and savoury. Also the sight of a bumble bee rolling about in the giant thistle flower of a cardoon or globe artichoke is a joy to behold. When I finally go outside, newly relaxed, I continue with the job of delphinium removal (and lots of other removals) in the field border. It is very hot again today and I keep interrupting what I’m doing to water things that look unhappy I even water the entire mount mid afternoon and then again in the evening! Work in the field border is uncomfortable, because when I carry out the long stems of spent delphinium flowers they shower dry, hard little seeds down the back of my T shirt which as I am perspiring is rather unpleasant. I am also called away periodically by Aideen, who with Meave’s help is continuing to sort out the basement. They have started to reconstruct the heavy duty shelves (removed from their dad’s office) at the back of the basement (well done girls, who says you need a man to put up shelves!). This is transforming the basement space, enabling things to be lifted up and put on shelves and clearing the floor.

When I finish the border and after a break for some of Aideen’s delicious ice cream I plant out the trays of Veronica, ‘Rose Tones’ and some ornamental carrot –‘Dara’ in the fruit cage borders and at the base of the mount. I finish the day’s work with lots more watering…what a surprise!

Today is Mickey’s last day on the wall before he goes away for the next month. It is incredible how much he has done in six days and it looks wonderful. We will now take these next few weeks to attack our next project. This is to prepare the parking area outside the front of the house for a new surface, for which it will require digging up. This means we can use up some of the massive hard core pile to put down as a base. Once this is done we can attempt to remove and dispose of the rest of the heap. This horrendous pile of rubble/broken bricks etc. has been there since we moved into Church Gardens and was probably there for many years before that, part of the rubbish that the previous tenant allowed to be dumped in the garden. It is my dearest wish to see this eyesore gone for good!

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