Wednesday, 30 September 2009

I should have been doing something else

I ought to have spent Tuesday in the loft, we're having new insulation fitted at the end of October and before then I need to get the old, dirty, compressed and useless stuff bagged up and onto the driveway in readiness for a large skip.

Instead, I decided "finished is better than perfect" and went from this:

to this:

In an ideal world I would continue with double (triple?) digging the soil out of each vegetable bed, removing all the stones and generally making life hard for myself. This is not an ideal world. Since the original design was conceived, our planting plans have changed (plans change at Bag End, surely not?) and the current idea is that this area will mostly contain perennial vegetables and soft fruit therefore I have convinced myself that a normal level of soil preparation will be more than adequate. In fact, it might work very well - filling one bed with blueberries means it will be easier to give them the acid soil they need.

This is how it looked back in April after John and his digger had attacked it, didn't plan on it taking nearly six months to get the beds built, hey ho, at least they are done now.

Still got a lot of finishing to do - the beds need tweaking into their final positions, anchoring stakes inside, soil to be dug, perennial weeds and largest stones to be removed, lots of (now) well rotted cow manure added but at least they are tidy whilst I do things in the house.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Unexpected Progress

Last week was cr*ppy, I didn't feel ill enough to be in bed but I wasn't well enough to actually DO anything. Management was silly enough to speculate I had swine flu but that suggestion was soon retracted when I pointed out that if he was correct, he would need to self-quarantine and not be able to travel on business for 2 weeks. I am sure the thought of missing a team event with quad bike racing, paint-balling and "assault buggies" had nothing to do with his change of heart.

One benefit of this unusually dry September is that the grass is not growing quite so fast but it is still growing and I spent all day Saturday walking behind the mower. For the first time I got around the WHOLE garden in one go, definite progress. Grass cutting at Bag End still involves too much stopping and starting as things are moved, out-of-control areas slowly brought into the fold, the hedge next to the vegetable area had to be cut so I could get access but 7 hours is a bit much even though I am thoroughly enjoying myself. There is something almost Zen about putting on ear protectors (loud petrol engine!) and walking slowly backwards and forwards in my own little world. However, a whole day is too long and I am going to have to find the budget for a ride-on mower. A neighbour who used to have a garden similar in size to Bag End reckons the move from walk-behind to sit-on cut his grass cutting time from one whole day to one hour.

Sunday was one of those messy, bitty days but I got more done than I expected. All the vegetable area is now mowed and tidy and black membrane has been laid where the long border will go. This was hard, working next to a small area which Ollie had adopted as his "own"; whenever I worked in the front garden, that is where Mr Hairy would settle, if ever I couldn't find him, that's where he would have taken himself off to. It is the spot where we have talked about placing his ashes once the bed is created but Sunday showed me I am nowhere near being able to do that, thankfully Management understands, however, if crying is supposed to be so bluddy cathartic, why don't I feel any better yet?

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Weekend Visitors

This lovely family were very welcome visitors.

In total there are five - mum, two females and two males. Interesting to see the juvenile males with their beautiful plumage only half developed.

This little visitor is not quite so welcome - unless they stay in the garden and remember that the house is for humans. I wonder if pheasant would go for a mouse the same way as hens will?

Pheasant family came back Monday morning too, maybe the large handfuls of mixed corn are a successful inducement?

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Beyond tired or a bug?

Thursday - 4 hours grass cutting
Friday - digging bulb bed, 3 hours grass cutting
Sunday - moving timber by Log Store
Monday - sorting bulbs
Tuesday & Wednesday - bulb planting all day
Friday, Saturday, Sunday - moving leylandii brush and logs all day
Sunday night - bonfire

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday - not a lot! Undecided whether it is complete exhaustion or some icky headachey bug.

He's 6 foot tall, the pile is more than 35 feet long and about 10 feet wide: 80 cubic yards!

Now we can actually get to the big stumps they make quite a good vantage point!

Once again, no photos of the actual fire - I was too busy either getting beer for the workers or raking up bits of small debris. It is possible that we will only need one more significant bonfire before we're rid of ALL OF THE LEYLANDII so I really need to get a bit smarter and remember the camera next time.

The aftermath:

The Coppice area is now clear of rubbish. We're talking to John about using the digger to level off the soil in some areas but undecided about planting. We have some ideas, but suggestions gratefully welcomed.

This may be the first time we have been able to see all the way to the bottom of the garden.

I realise my terminology might be confusing - I call that the bottom but it is at the front of the plot, however, it's the bottom of the slope. Similarly with the Coppice - I call that the top of the garden even though it is at the back of the house.

We can now see the extent of some of the huge tree stumps - not a pretty sight. John and his digger are going to be busy for days removing this lot (14 in total). Remember when it looked like this?
March 2008, looking from the driveway to the corner that is now completely cleared.

or this?
October 2008

I'm really pleased with how much progress has been made during September; don't expect to get much more done outside this month. Have a few bits of work scheduled for indoors which will take most of my time.

Monday, 21 September 2009

And now for a rest

Briefly - we got all the clearing up done and everything is burnt! Weeks to assemble the pile and 1 hour 50 minutes to load it all onto the pyre. We're fortunate to have some wonderful neighbours who turned up and worked much harder than was expected but they kept saying they were having fun and refused to slow down.

I am beyond tired - will replace this post with a proper one later.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Rain stopped play

Rain stopped play, but not before a very large quantity of leylandii rubbish got moved to its final site - a nice large pile ready for immolation!

First job however, was to hack down all the nettles growing in the coppice area. This large pile of carefully cut brush has been in situ for far too long and also needs to take its place near the bonfire site.

Fingers crossed I manage that on Sunday.

This bench had to move, I want the cow muck pile relocated so that we can have the drive back and this seems like the most suitable location.

However, most progress was made in the bottom corner along the boundary with the lane. Previously I'd piled up cut branches to make a dead hedge to ensure that Mr Hairy didn't wander too close to a 3' drop onto the tarmac, and it worked very well - two used birds' nests were found with no abandoned eggs. Also, we need this area clear so we can get access to the HUGE tree stumps which are going to have to come out.

Yes, it does still look an unholy mess but slowly it is getting better. Once all is cleared we will be horribly exposed for some months until fencing/hedging provides us with some screening. It will be "interesting" when the timber has been removed because we have never yet seen our garden completely clear of leylandii and rubbish.

A very large pile waiting for a bonfire - and expected to get bigger. Weather forecast is settled for today and neighbours have been recruited to help feed the flames at tea-time. Fingers crossed because Bag End Plans have a nasty habit of going off the rails.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Gardening as a mental health aid

sub-title: thoughts on love and death

You don't get this close to half a century without (apparently) learning a few things, one of which is 'never say never again' but right now, I cannot entertain the thought of taking another dog into our lives. Sure, I'd love the company, the cuddles, the walks and the games but I really don't know if I can also set myself up for the pain, the loss, the absolutely inevitable that will come all too soon.

Grief is a nasty little b*gger, and just when you think it's back in the box with the lid firmly closed, out it comes, sneaking up behind you when you are not looking and wham!, smacks you around the back of the knees dropping you in one swift stroke.

So after a domesticated morning filling the freezer and the store cupboards it was time to get outside. First, attack nettles, thistle, rosebay willow herb, brambles and assorted detritus and semi-clear this area (strategically ignoring the ground elder for now).

Followed by cleaning up a pile of thickish branches which will eventually find their way into the log store. Filled the green trolley four times and also cleared away some of the muck in the corner. There are worse ways to spend a Friday afternoon than wielding a brush hook with Extreme Prejudice.

Found a tiny (1" long) toad under the pile and carried it to the other end of the garden where hopefully it will be safe. That's about the 5th or 6th I have found this month. Makes cutting the grass a bit of a worry . . .
When you can look at a mess like this and think "that's an improvement", you KNOW you're in trouble {grin}.

For no reason other than I want to

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

100% - and not a great deal to show for all the work

Which amounted to 675 bulbs (not like I was counting or anything ....). How many will actually flower after a wet Cumbrian winter and the depredations of the army of mice is anyone's guess.

Three fairly easy hours in the morning completed the industrial scale bulb planting exercise, and a couple of hours in the afternoon saw the whole lot topped with small bark chips, missing out this step will guarantee that in weeks it would be covered with weeds. It only took 20 minutes to spread the bark, but over 1½ hours schlepping around in the car until I found the small chips which we prefer to use rather then the readily available large stuff.

As I finished a local know-it-all came by and told me how much mess the blackbirds would make of it. I suspect "oh I do hope so because that will confirm we've established another wildlife feeding station" was the wrong answer . . . do I care??

After some unfair email bullying on my part, our friend James concluded that in total, I had moved 4 tons of soil ...

"I got as far as just under 40 cu ft of earth in the bed when I started to lose the will to live :)

Double that to 80 cu ft and at around 100 pounds/cu ft (depending on type, composition and compaction) this would equate to 8000 pounds or a bit under 4 tons in old money. There - you forced me!"

He lost the will to live? How the heck do you think I felt - it was me wot woz moving it all! Bounced around in a worryingly good mood all evening caused, I suspect, by for once actually having FINISHED A JOB!

Celebrated this by spending an hour with John Lowe making plans for civil engineering in the front garden to get rid of that awful slope next to the steps. We await his quote.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


Which amounts to 460 bulbs - 280 new ones and 180 from the pots.

It also amounts to 10.00 - 5.30 with food and drink breaks, plus the inevitable chatting breaks talking to neighbours. It's naughty of me to say this but I shall be glad when I am back working inside the garden and can get on without constant interruptions!

Dividing the bed into sections worked well because I could deal with a manageable amount at a time. Hopefully I will get the last 3 sections done tomorrow morning.

Don't want to think about how much soil I moved - it was easier to completely remove a section of soil, position the bulbs, and then replace the soil than try to dig individual holes. I am sure James or Hazel would enjoy working out 70 foot long x 18" wide x an average of 4"/5" deep . . . and factor in that everything was handled twice including the old compost from the pots - emptied into the wheelbarrow to extract the bulbs, and then spread on each section of bed as top dressing. Yes, they'll have great fun working that out and telling me how mad I am.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Thinking of Spring

This is 400 mixed Daffodil and Narcissus bulbs.

For this location I am not using the obvious choice - Narcissus Pseudonarcissus (the native flower which inspired Wordsworth). A local gardener whose advice I always heed suggested I use a mixture in order to extend the flowering season and that makes sense. I'll use native bulbs in lawns where they will naturalise.

This is goodness knows how many more when I have taken last Spring's bulbs out of their temporary pots.

And THIS is 70 feet of prepared ground waiting to be planted.

I've divided it up into ten 7 foot sections and know that I am putting off starting the job when I find myself thinking that catching up with paperwork & getting all the ironing done sounds like a good idea. Hazel - I know it doesn't have to be done all in one go but you know what Bag End is like and if I don't knuckle down and crack on then another year will go by . . .

These faded beauties are bird-sown. I love sunflowers but these two are even more special than usual - they both opened their first flowers the day Ollie died, which you'd think would make me very sad, but it doesn't. I am hoping the birds will leave a few seeds for me to save and sow again next year.

Wood-burning stove, final part

Yes, it is finally lit and it's wonderful!

OK, let's be a little more accurate here, it was finally lit for the first time on 5th September and it has taken me until now to get the darn pictures out of the camera and onto the blog!

We had small fires on the Friday and Saturday night. Don't care, they were still fun and it was great to see some of the Leylandii finally put to good use. Even burning just three logs the stove is putting out a great amount of heat and has confirmed our plans to change door positions in the room and allow the surplus heat into the main body of the house, rather than towards the (never used) front door as is currently the case. Oh what fun, more building work - won't even begin to consider that before next summer.

We had an unexpected guest on Sunday and of course could not miss that opportunity to light the stove again. It was lovely to sit around after dinner and chat whilst watching the flames - who needs TV?

Unsurprisingly, we are no further along with the decorating and then it got warm & dry so the garden took priority . . .