I am always hoping that I can persuade somebody younger and fitter than me to empty the big green barrow. We acquired this barrow, I think grandad might have bought it for us, year ago and it is very big at least 4/5 times the size of a normal barrow. I always pack it tight in order not to have to empty it too often and also it has rained everyday so there is water in it as well therefore it is really heavy. The last couple of times I have had to empty it myself. You have to pull it rather than push and I feel like a real ‘beast of burden’ as I tow it slowly across the orchard, some of which is uphill!
Considering my interest in permaculture our garden is a bit of a failure on the permaculture design front! The idea of permaculture is to create edible ecosystems and to design by looking at the ‘whole’, seeing how things connect and assessing how the connections can be changed to make the place work more harmoniously. Our new compost yard has been designed with this in mind. Everything is grouped together, compost, leaf mould, fire pit and therefore ash, barrels of natural liquid fertiliser and we have water and power available in the yard and a dry store for shredded paper for compost, BUT it is in the far corner of the orchard! My excuse to my permaculture mentors is that when you are restoring a historically sensitive garden, you can be limited with where you can site things.
Anyway, returning to my slog across the orchard with the big green barrow. I notice on my return journey when I take a detour to check on the bees, that some brambles need removing from the stumpery and I had already noticed that the comfrey needed to be cut down by the orchard gate. I therefore take another round trip with my secateurs filling the barrow with comfrey (much lighter thank God) and going via the brambles to return to the compost yard to make another barrel of comfrey tea (fertiliser). This was better use of my human energy (and I suppose it is good exercise) but another poor design feature is the location of the comfrey. It shouldn’t be growing in a decorative fruit tree border beside the main gate between the orchard and kitchen garden, it should be growing next to the compost yard! However, anyone who has grown comfrey will know that once planted, due to its incredibly deep rooting habit, removing it is almost impossible. Therefore, I accept, I do not live in a perfect permaculture world and I just continue to cut it back when it becomes too vigorous. It gives me great satisfaction to chop it up and put it in the barrel and I am reminded that these plastic barrels have been here since we moved in and probably many years before that. It occurs to me that if everybody used old plastic containers/tanks etc. we might never have to make any new ones, we could just pass them on between generations, I am sure my girls would be delighted to receive an old smelly blue barrel as a present! Whilst I am being distracted by thoughts on sustainability, the rest of the family are trying to learn how to use the digger we have hired for the weekend. Patrick finally relented and agreed that digging up the front parking area would be much quicker with a digger. However, it is still not easy, diggers are much harder to operate than dumpers and the ground is very uneven and potentially dangerous! Both Meave and Aideen manage the machine very well but Aideen who is more cautious than Meave ends up spending most time operating the digger today. I think the dexterity required to play the harp which involves hands and feet (operating 7 pedals in a total of 21 positions) served her well but goodness knows what her harp teacher would think! It is still hard going even for a machine, the ground is horrible and hard to dig.
I have quite a productive day today and I manage to weed a very large bed of chicory and chard. I also weed the neighbouring bed which has more chicory, parsnip and the giant sage bush and I weed the end of the sweetcorn bed that houses more chicory. I grow several varieties of chicory, it is very attractive as well as nutritious.
Mary visits us in the afternoon and very kindly weeds and sweeps the central path. Her standards are very high so it takes a long time but the end result is immaculate. It is a very long and tiring day, we are all cold and damp by evening time and very ready for dinner which is homemade meatballs, and I manage to include a few small courgettes in the sauce, never wishing to miss an opportunity!
Water feature frustration
I had a ‘premonition’ that today might be annoying when dad pressed his buzzer at 3am to discuss a holiday he had in Sicily more than thirty years ago! “What are you going to do now?” he asked as I made my wearily to the door, “Go back to bed dad!”. In the morning, we continue our conversation about holidays which was very interesting and he was obviously delighted by how much he could remember, unfortunately this doesn’t apply to recent events.
After dad is up, I ask James to switch of the light over the mushroom house door. This light has been stuck on every since I re-erected the water feature. Aideen was on duty in the mushroom house trying to figure out which switch/timer operated the water feature and she inadvertently switched the light over the door to remain permanently on. The water feature came on at this point and was working beautifully.
Unfortunately, when James adjusted the mushroom house light, he also adjusted the timer for the water feature and it abruptly stopped flowing, although mysteriously, the pump is still working. There followed a very frustrating time with me and James trying to get it to start working again and then later, with Patrick and I having another go. We wasted a lot of time and Patrick and I got quite wet (we tried squirting a hose down the pump tube in desperation). We tried everything we could think of, but it stubbornly remains dry. This is very disappointing as I love my water feature, I spent the day looking at it hopefully in case it just decided to start randomly…it didn’t.
Today seems to be a day for bingeing on the decorating of Patricks office. This has involved Patrick, James, (when not dragged away to look at water features), Aideen and Meave. When Billy arrives later, he and Meave have another go at the parking area with the digger. Billy is used to driving diggers which is a great help and by the end of the day the area is quite smooth. It is now ready for us to reassess the levels and maybe then we can put down the membrane and start filling it with hard-core.
The weather today is quite good, not very warm but bright and the rain holds off. I start by continuing to weed at the top of the central path around the box hedges that encase the dahlia beds. Mary had started this yesterday and it did not look OK unfinished. I am quite tolerant of weeds (I have to be being a solo gardener caring for such a large garden) but certain places look so much better with the weeds removed and this is one of them.
I am particularly delighted with the central borders this year. They are mirror borders (theoretically mirror images, as nature allows) about 25m long and 4m wide. There is a zig zag box hedge (almost invisible) creating three triangles on each side. The planting was planned as hot colours and tropical style in the central triangles and cooler colours/soft planting in the outer triangles.
There are four pampas grasses which frame the central triangles which are now producing their dramatic plumes, although weirdly one of the Pampas grasses has rather more discoloured/scruffy plumes than the other three. I am hopeful each year that this Pampas will manage a better display but it continues in the same fashion. An RHS expert at Wisley suggested it could be a male specimen! (I will say no more). Apart from the rogue Pampas, everything looks really lush and colourful and I definitely hope to feature these borders in the virtual tour.
After finishing this bit of weeding, I have a walk around the borders with Aideen to agree which flowers she is allowed to ‘steal’ (her word) for her flower pressing.
She is pressing flowers on quite an industrial scale, James said the effect is like having another type of garden pest, he actually said slug, for which he got a thump from Aideen!
After persuading Aideen to remove the less visible blooms she has now developed a passion for hydrangeas which are very successful in the flower press. I return to the vegetable garden for more weeding. Today my attention is on the courgette beds which are looking particularly colourful because this is where the bulk of the zinnias are planted. Zinnias are brilliant, extremely decorative with bright jewel like colours and the flowers are long lived which means limited dead heading – horray!
On this subject of dead heading, I witnessed something last night that I never thought I would see/hear and it was very funny.
We were all watching Gardeners world and Monty started the programme with how to deadhead dahlias. To my great amusement, Meave and Aideen chanted in unison along with him “Yes we know, you cut off the pointed looking heads not the rounded ones and you must cut off the full stalk down to the leaf joint!”
I never thought I would hear my girls telling Monty that they already know how to do this horticultural task! Well at least I know my dahlias are safe with them!
August Bank Holiday, Virtual Garden Tour
Today would have been our NGS Open Day. If you had listened to the weather forecast you would have been relieved it did not go ahead. The forecast was for the coldest August Bank Holiday ever! In fact the weather although cool was quite good. However, by teatime there was a noticeable chill in the air and later with the arrival of a full moon it was quite cold.
When we did our first virtual tour at the beginning of lockdown on Easter Monday, I did not expect to be doing the same today. Technically, we could have opened, NGS were keen for us to do so, but it would have been for limited numbers and only via pre-booking. For a variety of reasons we decided not to open, partly because it would have been a lot of work for a limited number of people, we are still shielding vulnerable members of the family and also because we have gone ahead with some major projects this summer, and we are in no state at present to safely open to the public. The fact that we have dug up the driveway makes public access impossible! James and I filmed our series of little videos, late morning whilst the weather was reasonably fine. These are then put up on Instagram and Facebook during the day and then are made available on our website. James was happy because he had a new gadget to hold his phone which would make filming smoother (which I think it did) we were happy with the videos but I must try to remember to not walk and talk with my back to the phone as this makes it hard to hear what I am saying, but I hope people enjoyed seeing the garden.
One comment already received was the inevitable “what do you do with all that produce”…simple answer, “We eat it!”. We do give some away, for example, when my sister visited today she requested tomatoes, I send her off to the polytunnel and she picks her own, she comes prepared with a bag! But mainly we eat what we grow and tonight is the night of the aubergines!
Growing aubergines is a painful process, I have some very healthy plants but they have come into fruit rather late…I should have probably planted them earlier (story of my life). On my tour I pointed out the aubergines, very good looking but small, I commented that they would probably make one moussaka and that is what they are doing tonight! I consulted one of my newer cook books in honour of the occasion... ‘Mazi’ by Christina Mouratoglou and Adrien Carré which is on Modern Greek cookery to see if they had any new suggestions for this traditional dish. Their version was vegetarian, but started by preparing a potato Dauphinoise to act as a base. I liked this idea and I have plenty of potatoes, but I converted it back to meat moussaka, (using lamb mince) and reverently sliced up my precious aubergines to sprinkle with salt before cooking (this draws out the liquid and hopefully removes any bitterness). This will be served with a massive garden salad including some of the Tequila sunrise sweet peppers, I will relay the family’s verdict tomorrow!
One part of my tour involved the wild flower/mini orchard area and I pointed out my quince tree that produces quinces like pears and I commented that I must make them into quince jelly.
Later in the evening, I went looking for one of my ‘old’ books because I had referred to it in one of my old diaries that are forming the basis of my book. I had just acquired the book at the time, 24 years ago, ‘The Story of my Ruin’ by Marion Cran. I realised when examining my collection of old books that I had a second book by Marion Cran ‘The Sqabbling Garden’ written/printed in 1934. The title is not about arguing plants but referring to squabs (I think the word for baby pidgeons) that Marion raised in her garden. The first page that I opened read “why do so few house wives make that good quince jelly? The year of 1934 gives every sign of being a rare quince year, but I do not suppose the richly flavoured fruit will be preserved and jellied a whit more this season than any other”.
Well that must be a sign that Aideen and I must investigate how to make quince jelly!
Work continues inside and out at Church Gardens, today it is Meave’s turn with the digger and she digs out further down the drive. She has really mastered using this machine and does an excellent job. Hopefully next week we can start shifting hardcore. Inside Patrick’s office, everything is turning blue, including the air sometimes when James accidentally kicks over a filing cabinet and Aideen tells him off. I cannot believe the transformation over there, Patrick, Aideen and James are working so hard and soon it will be finished.
I finish the day outside, before cooking my Mousaka, trying out some sketching, I decided it was too late to start weeding. I have been meaning to do this for ages but although it made a very nice change I felt very out of practice…only one answer to that!
You have to admire weeds
Today was a beautiful sunny day which became quite hot at times but by tea time the Autumnal chill is back in the air. We wave goodbye to the digger today and have two visits from an enormous grab lorry to take away our excavations. Patrick commented that it was quite useful to have such a heavy vehicle driving up outside the house because it helped to flatten the ground! Today everyone was as industrious as a hive of bees. This is partly because Patrick’s secretary is coming off furlough and returning to the office tomorrow and there is a last desperate rush to finish decorating and clean up. This is an immense job because everybody has been painting upstairs and downstairs simultaneously and have also been trying to decant masses of files and paperwork into the new file room. The girls are also trying to make everything clean and Covid safe. We also have a little garden visit tomorrow, a friend bringing a small group of her friends for a garden tour. I am conscious of not being very tidy, so today I spend removing weeds that have sprung up wherever they can find an opportunity.
I often admire the ingenuity and tenacity of weeds and today I saw some good examples. An enormous thistle like weed had grown up behind the succulent table. I crawled over the top of the table to remove it and saw it growing out of the side of a bag of John Innes compost! There was a small split in the side of the bag and the massive firmly rooted stalk was growing out of it. Was the seed in the compost already or had a seed lodged itself in the compost when the bag split? The plant was so strong I could not manage to pull out the broken of stalk and roots. I weeded under the table and then along the base of the walls. Unfortunately, the areas of Kitchen Garden path that were not pointed by ourselves are now very vulnerable to weeds because the mortar used for pointing was too sandy. That is another massive job for the future, digging out all the bad pointing and redoing the job!
I then went into the fruit cage and weeded the beds, water tanks (where some of the strawberries grow) and the bath (where the blueberries grow). I also gave the dwarf mulberry tree a trim. I hope this tree is a ‘dwarf’ because it is growing very well, its branches are long enough to block the paths, hence the haircut!
I also had another failed attempt to fix the water feature, I think I will need to get another pump. I then did a job which everyone hates and Patrick never stops nagging about, I weeded the patio besides the lobby in the back garden. This patio is a menace, it was laid ‘temporarily’ about 20 years ago! It is some un-pointed crazy paving that is always sprouting weeds and whenever Patrick discovers one of his daughters not usefully employed (in his opinion) he always says “You could weed the patio!”. This is very annoying he even says it to me…cheek! In fact, he annoyed me about it so much at the weekend I threatened to dig the patio up with the digger! However, it did look awful, although it doesn’t look much better weeded, so I reluctantly attacked it with my weeding knife thinking – this is not my job!
However, Patrick then cut the grass which I know he didn’t have time for, so he is forgiven for now! I was ‘on a roll’ now, so I even weeded another ‘temporary surface’ the bark area next to the kitchen garden gate. Lastly, before the light faded completely, I had a quick weed in the organ pipe bed, where I could see the fresh leaves of a bulb coming up in several places in-between the primulas, but I do not know what it is!
Finally, last night’s moussaka recipe turned out very well, not a scrap left on the plates. It occurs to me that I could repeat the dish replacing the aubergines (which I have now used up) with courgettes! Nobody would know!