Monday, 30 May 2011

Bank Holiday Monday

Not a lot achieved outside this weekend but we did manage to turn this:

into this:

We left a six foot long section uncut which might end up next to one of the ponds. Or it might end up on the log pile ...

May has been a horrid month. After the heat and drought of March & April we have had a month of wet and cold during which newly germinated plants have sat in their pots and sulked; I don't blame them.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

NGS Garden visit: Gatesyke, Wasdale

Generally, a rather unsatisfactory Bank Holiday. Simply: the weather was crap and the garden centres I visited were rubbish, (in truth, it wasn't quite that cut and dried).

Management and I had 'house' stuff to do which dealt with Saturday morning and in the afternoon I had a drive out to a garden centre near Carlisle racecourse. Some nice quality plants but outrageous prices. Having just paid £3.65 at Seaview for a very large Weigela Bristol Ruby in excellent condition I'm blowed if I will fork out £7.95 for a weedy looking plant one-third the size. Left empty-handed ...

On Sunday the weather did it's usual Cumbrian thing of being absolutely horrible in the morning but clearing up mid-afternoon to produce a few hours of bliss. I really wanted to plant up the new beds in the Cottage Garden but precipitation levels were not going to allow this. I consoled myself with the knowledge that all this rain was doing a very nice job of settling the newly dug soil and went for a drive. Time instead to support another garden open for charity.

Whin Rigg and Illgill Head from the house.

There are worse ways of spending Bank Holiday Sunday than driving down the Gosforth road in bright sunshine with occasional glimpses of the Scaffels. A couple of disappointments on the way; a Gosforth garden was unexpectedly closed and a nearby garden centre was as bad as I remembered when Management and I visited it a couple of years ago.

My third destination made up for all that: Gatesyke in Nether Wasdale. A large (5 acre?) plot with about 2 acres under control and bisected by the River Irt as it leaves Wast Water. A typical Lakeland garden which suffers from high winds, torrential rain and low temperatures so the planting has to be robust and hardy - very few herbaceous perennials here.

The river wall was completely washed away in the November 2009 floods. It has only taken the Environment Agency 17 months to give permission for it to be rebuilt ...

A very sheltered vegetable patch - I have cold frame envy!

A thoroughly enjoyable visit made even more memorable by a long chat with the owner. It's a small world up here, he used to work with the chap who owned our house 20 years ago and remembers coming here for dinner - when the Leylandii were a lot smaller!

Left around 3.00 and drove a mile down the road to eat a late lunch - which tasted pretty darn good with this as the view:

Friday, 27 May 2011

More digging

It is quite remarkable just how much ground LP can get through in one day. On Friday the first part of the plan was to dig a strip, roughly one spit wide, along the trellis fence. Nothing fancy, no double digging, just remove the largest stones and loosen the ground enough that I can use the trellis to support peas and beans.

Accomplished with ease, LP then got "a bit carried away" and made a start on the area in front of it. His excuse was "just turn it over quickly before I stop for lunch". I'm not complaining - I'll take every little bit of progress I can get in this garden!

After lunch was much harder and slower going. We made a start on the area outside the kitchen where the new laurels are going to form the start of our evergreen hedge.

Between the two silver birches this cotoneaster stump had to come out - that took most of the afternoon.

The cotoneaster stump on the right is going to be chainsawed out in an attempt to save the holly - which may, or may not, turn out to be an error of judgement but it wouldn't be the first in this garden and I am sure it will not be the last.

Thursday, 26 May 2011


In an ideal world I would like things around me to be tidy; actually, I need things to be tidy otherwise I feel cluttered and suffocated but I've come to the conclusion that both indoors and outside I am not a very tidy person. I suppose I could blame the ongoing work on the house and garden but it does seem wherever I turn there are piles of 'stuff' which should really be elsewhere.

This situation rumbles along for a while and then I get to breaking point - and spend all day moving things around. I know if I put them in the right place in the first place I wouldn't have to do this but sometimes "the right place" isn't available and I have to wait until it is. After a quick trip into Cockermouth first thing I set to moving timber, and it feels like I moved wood all day. Apart from the times I was moving stone, tarpaulin, and whatever else I stumbled across that needed relocating.

Need LP's assistance to remove these stumps before the area behind the shed becomes more useful.

Now, can I keep it tidy?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

With icing and a cherry on top

There was A Plan for today and Hobbit friends know that at Bag End, plan is a 4-letter word. The original plan was to go back down to Seaview Nurseries, do a little more Horticultural Retail Therapy and then come home and spend the rest of the day planning exactly where things would go. The plan went off the rails with a couple of very satisfying detours containing shopping opportunities which couldn't be ignored!

When I was at Distington yesterday I got talking to Robert about hedging and he showed me these plants. Five huge Prunus laurocerasus (that's Common Laurel in English) and five Prunus lusitanica which are nearly as big.

Apparently 'left over from a job' they are in 20 litre pots and about 4 feet high. He named a price - which was less than half what I'd expect them to cost and could barely be much more than wholesale, "we'll deliver them" he added. I didn't buy them on the spot my excuse being "I'll ask my husband when I get home" but I knew what Management's answer would be. Sod the budget - an offer like this doesn't come up very often and they were far too good to refuse.

First stop today was to call back into Bennett's and pay for them, what I didn't expect was that they'd be delivered at tea-time. They're in good condition and with a little Bag End TLC I think they will do very well.

On to Seaview Nursery but today I called into Lamberlea first, just to have a look. The last thing I expected to find was five bundles of Hawthorn. Obviously bought in as bare-rooted whips earlier in the year and left-over they'd been heeled into large tubs and are growing in something of a Triffid-like fashion. At 75 pence each I could hardly walk away .... I did have to promise to take the tubs back to the nursery at some point but the chap serving wouldn't take my name or address to make sure.

Management and I are forever talking about the need for hedging here and never actually doing anything about it. I suspect the Universe decided enough was enough and that it was time to chuck us a helping hand. If the weather would behave itself over the next month one of LP's many tasks is to dig over the areas where both laurel and hawthorn are going to go.

A leisurely walk around Seaview produced a nice trolley-full of plants and then home to make a start on the thoroughly enjoyable task of playing with bits of paper all evening to supposedly decide where they will all go. In reality what will happen is that plants will get moved around outside until it seems right.

Skimmia Japonica Rubella
Buddleja, Black Knight
Buddleja, Royal Red
Viburnum Bodnantense Dawn
Hydrangea macrophylla Snowball
Hydrangea macrophylla, Eldorado
Lupin, Gallery Mixed
Lobellia, Fan Rose

Monday, 23 May 2011

After the rain

Fleeting, ephemeral, gone 5 minutes later.

(Photo straight out of camera, no retouching)

Real HRT

Torrential rain all morning - could hardly see down to the river on occasions. By lunchtime we had fluffy white clouds and sunshine although the winds hadn't abated. Damaging gusts blew two of the obelisks over before I could move them, in our typical style I have bought chain to secure them to the nearest fence-posts but haven't put it in place yet.

Too windy to work outside but not too windy to go shopping.

Distington this afternoon - a lovely time gently going up and down all the beds trying to find the plants I'd identified on Friday. I was very good, honest, and kept mostly to my list, mostly! The car was pretty full by the time I left.

Waiting in the nursery area for the wind to die down and a suitable planting day are:
Weigela Bristol Ruby
Cotinus coggygria Grace
Astilbe erica and Astilbe arendsii Fanal
Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost'
Astrantia possibly A.maxima Rubra and A. Buckland
Thalictrum aquilegiifolium 'Thundercloud'
possibly aesculifolia, (won't know until it grows a bit more)
Dianthus, Raspberry Sorbet
Rose, Mme Isaac Periere
Physocarpus opifolius Lady in Red
Hosta - labelled as Hadspen Blue but over the years I've learnt to be relaxed about Hosta names unless you're buying from a specialist

Whilst it is vulgar to discuss money, whatever you think this lot cost .... halve it and then think again. I have never purchased such reasonably priced stock.

CB: I know, I know - blue Hostas when you have already offered them to me. But I am a weak-willed Hobbit, couldn't resist - and have plenty of room for more.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Virtual HRT

Although I seem to have spent much of the last three years with my nose in one gardening book or another I don't have firm planting plans for any of the new beds. I know in broad brush terms what sort of plants I am going to use but haven't got a specific list prepared. Friday afternoon I managed to locate a small nursery in Distington. Like many small businesses in this part of the world they seem to operate in stealth mode and last time I tried to find them I failed - no signage, no car park, just a glimpse of polytunnel from the road if you happen to look through the trees in the right direction at the right time.

Yet looking at this image nicked from Google maps you can see how big the site is ......

And also in mad west Cumbrian style the place was deserted - apart from a very elderly neighbour who was wandering around and told me they've gone up the village to cut some grass. This was no bad thing because it allowed me to wander alone for the best part of two hours up and down every single bit of the surprisingly large site making notes of which plants looked good. The owners did turn up after a while and we had a chat.

It would be very easy to dismiss R & J Bennett. It is a tatty, untidy place and there are weeds everywhere. The owners are definitely not as young as they were and, I suspect, run a huge site with no outside assistance. But, persevere and hidden amongst the dross are some beautiful specimens, at ridiculously cheap prices and everything grown here is fully hardy and perfectly suitable for this part of the world.

Home with numerous pages of plant names to be cross-checked with my favourite gardening books and a shopping list compiled.

Same game on Saturday. This time off to Keith Singleton's excellent Seaview nursery just south of St Bees. This is a far bigger operation and Keith is known up and down the country for his composts (made on site) and the quality of the plants he supplies to small nurseries and professional growers. Fortunately nearly all of his stock is under giant polytunnels so I was able to wander without getting soaked.

His site is amazing but access is restricted to just the right-hand third you can see here. The rest is where bulk propagation and growing take place, plus the compost making. Next door (bottom of picture) is Lamberlea, a small garden centre which must struggle desperately being next door to Seaview - or perhaps they benefit from passing trade? Their plants aren't particularly exciting but they do have a great range of pond stuff, however, today it was too wet and too late for me to visit.

Two afternoons full of virtual gardening HRT and all I spent was petrol and a coffee at Seaview.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Repeat performance?

LP back bright and early and seemingly undaunted by the amount he achieved yesterday or the quantity of soil still to be shifted.

I didn't manage quite as much as yesterday - finished emptying the compost bin and this area now looks very tidy. It is unlikely I will ever be able to make as much as I need for this garden but it is very satisfying to have these bins in place. More grass cutting - have given up pacing the grass looking for orchids in an imitation of a police finger-tip search. Spent quite a lot of time digging up thistles and dandelions and made a start on ** very finely ** sprinkling grass cuttings on areas of bare soil. The theory is that they might act as a weed suppressant mulch whilst breaking down and providing nutrients.

Didn't get so much done today, lots of visitor interruptions, but that is probably no bad thing. Am feeling the effects of yesterday's 14 hour stint.

By the time LP had finished the huge middle bed was beautifully dug over and topped with a layer of rotted cow muck. The blackbirds have already moved in and think it is a five-star banquet but they are untidy visitors. LP left this bed with a beautifully neat edge and not a single bit of soil on the grass, the blackies soon trashed it.

Yes the obelisks are wonky but they are only stood on the grass until the soil settles enough that we can put them in position on the bed.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A Long Day

I needed to get a few things straight before LP arrived so my gardening day started before 8.00am. I mowed grass in the area he was going to work and that meant I had a pile of grass clippings ... which meant I couldn't prevaricate any longer about finishing the latest compost bin.

Am delighted with this addition to the Bag End compost factory. I can now put new waste in the left-hand bin and as it breaks down keep turning it into the right-hand bin and so on until the contents of the 4th bin (far right but not in this picture) should be completely rotted and ready to use. Emptied most of the "current" bin into the newest bin as well.

Long story sideways: Management away and LP left mid-afternoon so there was no-one to tell me to go in and be sensible. By the time I collapsed indoors at 9.30pm as well as making the compost bin I had mown more of the grass including trimming all the edges in the Potager (pain in the *** of a job but it does look lovely), tidied the nursery, weeded all the Potager beds, chopped up all the remaining Maple rubbish AND BURNT IT. In my defense I didn't spend all day outside, did a few jobs indoors and sorted out a couple of things on the computer.

edges before and after:

Long day, late shower, didn't sleep well but very happy ... can actually see a difference.

A Helping Hand

Pretty much everyone who visits Bag End recognises the amount of work to be done to turn our little patch of heaven into a garden. Most comment on the scale of the task still ahead of us and usually have the decency to compliment the progress we have made so far (although the visitor who thanked me for the "Weed Tour" was not being funny just extremely hurtful and isn't going to be asked back).

It's the scale of the task which occasionally daunts me to the point of paralysis, so much to do that sometimes I don't know where to start but when I do begin a job it is rare it can be finished in a day or two. So it is with the soil preparation and making of new beds - digging is hard work and has to be done just when our clay-based soil is neither too wet or too dry.

Thankfully, help is now at hand in the form of a friend who lives in a nearby village. LP is one of those rare people who claims he is not a gardener but understands soil preparation, planting conditions and generally just "gets" what we want to achieve at Bag End. Weather permitting he's going to come over for a couple of days here and there during the summer.

Double digging the LP way: tarp on grass, 8 x 4 board on tarp, a full spit's depth of soil onto the board (from which he has removed all stones bigger than about apple sized). He then dug over the base of his trench another full spit depth and piled all the soil back in after breaking up all the clods and reducing it to a surprisingly fine tilth. To do two-thirds of the Cottage Garden middle bed in one (not ridiculously lengthy) day is nothing short of miraculous.

Before, During and After - I'm not used to so much progress in one day, nor having it all tidied up so beautifully.

Seeing so much accomplished in such a short space of time is unbelievably motivational - which might be why I did a rather full day myself!