• Kay

Voyage of discovery


Aideen is up bright and early and I see her trundling across the orchard, tugging Henry hoover behind her, like a rather reluctant dog being walked, heading for the Mayflower. After I’ve got grandad up and sorted out Pecky, I pop across to see how she’s getting on. There is already a pile of unwanted detritus outside the boat, including some very unsavoury looking ‘sofa type’ cushions and various scrappy bits of wood. She is quite content unscrewing things and generally having a clear out. The windows are open at the end of the boat and it is much lighter inside. I have a look into a few corners and find the water tank and pump, and then leave her to it. I think this ‘voyage of discovery’ will be very therapeutic for Aideen and will help to make her feel more grounded and happy, having spent four years in the rarefied and intense atmosphere of Guildhall, so jolly good luck to her! Diane spends the day in her dad’s office on her own ‘voyage of discovery’ teaching herself how to use CAD (Computer Assisted Drawing). She is doing amazingly well and this could be tremendously useful in the office. Patrick is busying himself cutting grass and starting to dig holes for new buttresses for the wall. James and Meave are sorting out scaffolding.

Meanwhile, I attend to two permanent herb beds at the top of he kitchen garden, weeding, cutting back and cleaning up the paths which are inundated with tiny stock seedlings along the edge of the raised beds.

Later I collect three leeks, two swedes, lots of runner beans, two small white cabbage and lots of apples for tonight’s dinner. Chicken and leek and mushroom pie, runner beans, mashed swede, cabbage sautéed in butter and garlic, Apple pie in a sweet cheese pastry with cream.


It’s worth the time


Last nights dinner, which was very nice, was a time consuming meal to prepare. One of the only ‘disadvantages’ of using homegrown produce is getting it all ready to cook. Leeks have to be cut and sliced to open them up and immersed in water to remove grit and any insects. When I choose cabbages to cook, they are not the beautiful specimens, they are the ones with chewed or even rotting outer leaves. These will always be fine when the outer leaves are removed and they need to be used up first. The cabbage then has to be chopped and left in water because it will definitely contain wildlife! Just to reassure readers, any woodlice etc are then removed and popped outside the back door! The swedes have to be peeled and chopped and the beans sliced and any strings removed. The apples are windfalls and take ages to core, peel and slice. By the time the fruit and vegetables are ready, I have a bucket of leaves, stalks and peeling almost as big as what I brought in in the first place, to take out to the compost heap.

I then had to make two lots of pastry, ‘rough puff’ for the chicken, leek and mushroom pie and sweet cheese pastry, for the apple pie. As a result, I was standing in the kitchen for several hours. However, this morning I was reminded why it is worth the effort to grow and utilise your own organic fruit and veg. I read a bit more of the book by Dave Goulson, The Garden Jungle, which was talking about apples… It was describing the spraying regime for commercial orchards. The orchards are sprayed to tackle pests, but this also kills beneficial predator insects. The pest population quickly recovers and is soon worse than before spraying. Also, ‘Secondary Pests’ appear because of the lack of predator insects. This results in the orchard being sprayed repeatedly. The data Goulson quotes for an average orchard of Cox’s apples, lists for one season, 13 fungicide sprays, five plant growth regulator sprays, five insecticide sprays, two herbicide sprays and one urea spray. These applications include 42 different chemicals, some of which are very nasty! Having read this alarming information, it revitalises my efforts to produce as many of my own crops as possible. However, in the same way that it is practically impossible in our ‘modern day’ world to be self sufficient, it is also impossible to avoid ingesting at least some unwanted chemicals during everyday life. But here I apply the same attitude as I do to sustainability, any effort you can make to follow a more healthy direction is better than none. Apart from the odd takeaway or meal out (we’re only human!) I have always cooked all meals from scratch, at least this way, you know (to some degree) what is going into them. For many years I have also grown my own fruit and vegetables which helps the situation further, but you can only do your best.

Today was a beautiful, mild, warm, quiet day but unfortunately I wasn’t outside for long. Aideen and I got stuck for ages trying to enter two students for practical exams on the Associated Board’s website which wasn’t working efficiently. When I did get outside I spent time dead heading the gorgeous dahlias and checking they are correctly labelled. Sadly, the frost will come soon and then these magnificent blooms will be gone for another year and then all the tubers will need to be dug up and put into store for the winter.

After I finish teaching I go outside to join the twins by their bonfire in the compost yard. Soon we are joined by Meave, Patrick and Pip, the cat. It is lovely to sit by the warm fire, watching the flames in the dark listening to the owls, a perfect finish to the day.


An Apple a Day


I started the day by eating an apple, which seemed appropriate after my ruminations on apples yesterday. It was from one of the miniature apple trees at the top of the vegetable garden. This tree is weighed down with little red apples and it was very nice, just how I like an apple…crisp and not too sweet.

In the last week I have noticed two baby pampas grasses that have sowed themselves. One in a fruit cage border and one at the top of the central border. They have both produced their first plumes. It has occurred to me that I could transplant them and add them to my rogue male pampas (who doesn’t produce clean white plumes) and maybe it will improve his appearance! I manage to spend a bit more time outside today and I continue to work my way through the dahlia beds, checking that they are clearly marked and dead heading. This will ensure that we finish the season with the best display possible and I should know what colour and/or variety they are when I dig them up.

Aideen and Diane carry on tidying up the area around the wood pile. There is still a large pile of wood in the middle of the orchard that needs to be chopped into logs. Whilst I am teaching, a rather worried looking Aideen comes in to tell me that Mickey is coming tomorrow. This is unexpected as we thought the weather forecast was bad and that he would not be able to come. This means Aideen and Diane have to prepare things for him as quickly as possible. Mickey now needs to work on the bottom of the wall. When a wall is very old, ours is C17th, the areas that deteriorate if the wall doesn’t fall down altogether, are mainly the top and to a lesser degree the base of the wall. Sections of brick work fall out or disintegrate close to the ground. The effect of plant growth and soil will cause the wall to crumble. Mickey needs to infill gaps with replacement bricks and lime mortar. In order for him to do so, the girls needed to dig away sections of soil in front of the worst sections, clean out the spaces that need to be infilled and prepare suitable bricks to leave close by for Mickey to use. They carried on outside, latterly joined by Meave and Patrick when they finished work, until the light faded.

After I finish teaching I continue to prepare the bulb order. This is a big annual job for me getting bigger every year. Last year, I ordered about 4600 bulbs and also replanted more than 1200 bulbs removed from display beds the previous year, so close to 6000 bulbs were planted in total (by me!). This year, I know the order will be big because I’m planning a mass planting of daffodils/narcissi around the edge of the front field. This will involve at least 2000 if not 3000 bulbs. I am also conscious that tulips need replenishing generally in the borders, especially as the field border was originally planted in 2015. Tulip bulbs do not always last and are also prone to being dug up by wildlife. I also think that my perception of quantity has changed over the years. When I first started planting out bulbs in Autumn 2015, I thought hundreds of bulbs was ‘a lot’ and I would have been quite cautious about the cost. I always buy my bulbs, from Parkers catalogue, which is not wholesale, but considerably cheaper than most other sources, but it still costs money. I was also not that aware of how densely to plant the bulbs when I first started in order to create a good impact. Out of interest, I looked back at my planting diary for 2015 and attempted to count up the bulbs planted in the field border and it was 630. At the time I was delighted with the display, but if I was doing the job now I would probably have put in four times as many. Last year I planted about 2500 bulbs just in the terraces of the mount alone and I now plant 300 tulips into each of the four big dahlias beds which are each only 4m x 1.5m in size. Admittedly this is supposed to be densely planted display bedding, but this shows how my perceptions have altered.

Getting back to the 2020 order, which consists of a large quantity of daffodil/narcissi. I have decided 3000 will be better than 2000 – I am planting a length of about 120m. Every year I increase the crocus’s (550) in the miniature orchard and this now includes fritillary (200). I am also trying to create a carpet of bluebells in the orchard but English bluebell bulbs are not cheap, so I go gradually each year (450), I love Iris (325), my ranunculus have almost disappeared (145). A few new interesting additions, Erythronium (20), oxalis Adenphylla (45), Trumpet Lilies (12)…then the tulips for the display beds (1200) and to replenish all the borders, mount and fountain beds (1795) … oops, I nearly forgot the alliums (335). Total = 8077!!

Pause for breath…this does not include the approx. 1200, mainly tulip bulbs dug up from the display beds last year that also need to be replanted. I will be planting more than 9000 bulbs this year, more than 10 times the quantity I planted in 2015, which with a few extras was 713. I notice those bulbs did not even arrive until 10/11/15 – very late! I will certainly have to start earlier to get this lot in…have I gone mad…probably! This is what happens when you remain largely cut off from the rest of the world, caring for a vulnerable elderly father in a world pandemic. It is unfortunate (to put it mildly) that the garden did not open to the public this year, because it is this very helpful income that help’s fund these projects, this year it will be my savings, already depleted after not working for 6 months! The other not insignificant factor is labour. I had the same issue with my companion planting in the summer when I had thousands of plants grown from seed to plant out…I rather overstretched myself! The only possible advantage of the present difficult circumstance is that I am still not fully employed and therefore I have more available time and planting on this scale will make a statement of hope for the future! Let’s just hope people will get to see them next year!!!


The return of the delphiniums


The twins were up early this morning to be ready for Mickey to work on the wall. Good progress was made but it is hard work and everyone was tired at the end of the day.

I put the bulb order in by phone to Parkers and it sounded as if they were very busy, with higher than normal amounts of orders. I was pleased to hear this for the company, but slightly concerned that they may be out of stock of some things. Luckily there was only one variety of tulip in my order that was out of stock.

The weather was very unsettled today, but Mickey was convinced that proper rain would not set in until 3 or 4 pm and he was proved correct. I tried to get my job with the dahlias finished. It is quite tricky to see, peering through the undergrowth if they have labels or not, I am convinced that most of them did originally have labels, but maybe they got buried when I planted them. Anyway, I battled away, also carrying out masses of dead heading because they haven’t been properly dead headed for a while. When the rain started, I did a bit of weeding in the polytunnel and by the time it was teaching time, the dahlias were in good order.

As I came in, I noticed one of the dark blue delphiniums near the fountain has come into flower. This is probably the first of the delphiniums that I cut down to ground level after its first flowering and it has grown up again beautifully. All the delphiniums have produced new fresh leaves and there are several flower spikes to open yet. The blooms will not be as impressive or numerous as the first flowering, but it is hugely preferable to have fresh green foliage and some flowers rather than a mass of dead stalks and leaves!

When I start teaching the rain sets in properly and it is distinctly chilly and damp with the windows and lobby door open whilst I teach. My good-natured pupils tell me that their schools are also cold and draughty so they are used to it. We all discuss wearing extra layers of clothing, perhaps I will soon need a blanket and a hot water bottle when I’m teaching!


The nervous preserver


Today, I was expecting bad weather and was therefore planning to make ‘quince cheese’ and get on with writing my talk. Mickey was back to finish the wall and he seemed to think that rain should not arrive until mid-afternoon. I went and picked a big bowl of beautiful yellow pear like quinces and checked the last of my preserving books for tips. I have always wanted to produce preserves, but I am irrationally nervous of the process. Inevitably I have numerous books on the subject, eighteen in fact, and I have looked at them all before deciding on quince cheese as a good way to use the quinces. I must say I was very impressed at the variety of recipes and approaches in the different books and eventually I found a recipe that seemed to match both my quinces and the equipment I have available. However, I then looked outside and thought that the weather looked surprisingly good so I decided to go out for the time being.

Aideen and Diane are helping Mickey with the wall and he finishes this section by late morning. Aideen then returns to her boat, seeking assistance from Patrick and then Diane to help her rip out the last of the fittings (all of which were grotty and in poor repair) to leave her with a shell to ‘make good’ and then contemplate on.

I decide to finish weeding my new dwarf French beans, harvesting for dinner as I go. It turns out to be a beautiful day, very warm and mainly sunny and I get a lot done. I roughly weed both dwarf bean beds and dead head all of the cosmos in this quarter. I then dig up potatoes for dinner and before I go in, I start deadheading the cosmos and marigolds in the brassica quarter.

By the time I get inside there is no time for the lengthy process of quince cheese making, this will be postponed maybe until tomorrow. Instead, I concentrate my efforts on dinner, shepherd’s pie (yes, a courgette has found its way inside) topped by our potatoes and served with a mix of very fine dwarf French beans and new runner beans and broccoli. Having cut off most of the large tough runner beans that accumulated in the drought they are now producing some tender new beans.

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