Thursday, 30 June 2011

Be careful what you wish for

I complained bitterly about the weather in May and wanted a dry spell so I could get outside. June has been stupid - four days off in the entire month, no wonder I am physically exhausted and the brain is fried. Short-term memory has gone to hell in a handcart, I'm battered, bruised and my fingernails look like hell.

But, we've turned a corner, some areas are actually tidy enough to require nothing more than maintenance for the foreseeable future and we might even have found a roofer to make us water-tight and a proper joiner to finish off the building work started in the Spring.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Scratching head?

If I can make this much progress, this fast, with only one extra pair of hands for assistance - why the heck haven't I done so sooner? (Don't answer that question, it is purely rhetorical!)

LP did a great job securing larch slab to the front of the laurel. It wasn't until we started working here that I realised how much the ground slopes in this part of the garden so a mini terrace was called for. It will also give me an edge to mow to as in the short-term the easiest thing to do with the ground in front will be to grass it over.

He also moved 8 barrows of well rotted cow muck up from the big pile which was destined for the hawthorn hedge. It turned out there was far more stacked than I realised so happily two hedges will have benefited from the pile. It's now been left to settle for a few days and then I can plant some of the smaller Portugeuse laurel in the gaps.

I mowed grass paths and generally tried to tidy up a bit.

After lunch we moved to the Cottage Garden. I've reached my breaking point with piles of "stuff" all around this area so we've decided to tackle this before the next hedge section at the back.

Management and I have cogitated and procrastinated for weeks about a seat in the far corner of this area; finally we bit the bullet and have ordered an arbour which will need to be fixed onto a flat area.

LP and I set out a couple of battens to be the back edges. We have left a "bed" about 8 feeet wide behind it and this was roughly dug over. Then three bags of soil saved when the nursery area was levelled were emptied onto it, followed by provisional positioning of some tree stumps. Around the stumps I plan to grow ferns, ivy, comfrey and other wild plants that will enjoy a slightly shady spot. The plans for around the arbour are, not surprisingly, based on scented climbers.

During the day the trellis sides of the arbour should give us some shade and it's a good place to sit and look at all of the Cottage Garden, in the evening this is the very last corner of the garden to get the sun before it sinks behind the house.

After LP had finished, Keith came by for an hour. He moved all the concrete blocks for me - they are stored next to the shed as they're destined to become cold frames in this area.

Next he leveled off the soil behind the shed where he removed stumps recently and the pallets give me a fairly flat storage area which is off the ground. Before I start using it in earnest I will move the pallets and put black membrane underneath them.

I managed to empty the white bag of bark chips when I did the clothes dryer area so it just remains for me to move the stones in this final white bag, I have a home for most of them, and then the Cottage Garden is free of rubbish.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


Too tired for prose and proper words. Hey ho, this is meant to be my diary so all it needs is:

Bark and membrane outside sitting room (heather bed). I know I wanted heathers here but they can come later - right now I need to be tidy and not have tarpaulin and builders' bags and goodness knows what detritus everywhere I turn.

When I can find the right sized bit of log I'll replace the stones. Need a new ground spike for the clothes dryer.

Potager and Cottage Garden grass cutting, tidying up, move larch slab from outside garden door.

I've been putting off cutting the grass, the clover and self-heal are in flower and covered in bees. The compromise was to cut around the edges and leave a big flowering patch in the middle.

Note to self - order more chain to secure obelisk and straighten the lean on the far one.

The courgettes have finally made it into the soil, next to the very poorly performing sweet peas.

The rhubarb did not survive my need to tidy up. Half of it has been re-homed with a neighbour, the other half has moved to the long side bed in the Potager.

Must excavate this garlic which has been in the ground for 18 months - I managed to "miss" it last year when I harvested the rest, I wonder if it will be edible? Of far more concern is the fact that I did not see a single worm in this bed when I was digging up the rhubarb.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Hedge Day

Hedge day began with compost shifting - there is , as always, a reason for my madness. If I leave the compost "until later in the day" as I usually do then I will either run out of time or be too tired and it won't get done - again.

Very satisfying to have a full bin of home-made goodness waiting to be added to the soil. Sensible people might think that moving more than a cubic metre of compost was enough for one day, but Hobbit is not always sensible people and I was on a roll ... With the promise of good weather in the coming week I need to get on with hedge planting. It will do the big laurels no good at all to be languishing in pots in a heatwave and if the sun shines I might get more "LP hours" and I could do with catching up on my own jobs in order to try and be one step ahead of where he needs to work.

Spacing out the tubs:

Even I'll admit that I overdid it finally finishing at 9.25pm when I was to tired to see straight, let alone plant anything else. However, it was worth getting so knackered because I dug over the remainder of the bed, filled it with soil, propped up larch slab as edging (leaving it to be fixed properly when I was less tired) and managed to get three out of five safely in the soil and watered in.

The least said the better about a huge bruise on the heel of my hand caused, probably, by poor technique whilst digging.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Prunus laurocerasus 'Otto Luyken'

Enough prevaricating ... "unplanting" followed very rapidly by replanting. Each of the three laurels which had to be moved from the back were out of the ground less than 2 minutes. I dug a hole and prepared it in the bed outside the sitting room before I went and dug up the plant.

By staggering the row I have fitted all five into the space, the usual addition of larch slab at the ends to stop soil spilling out and thick chunks of tree trunk at the front. As a friend said when he saw it "another use for that damn leylandii".

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Another long day

People kept turning up unexpectedly today. I'm not complaining but my plan for a gentle day pottering in the greenhouse was shot to flames at 8.00am when a grinning LP appeared in the garden. I asked if I'd missed a phone call or if my short-term memory was getting worse? It appeared not and that he had woken early, seen the weather forecast was good and decided to come and play at Bag End. Something about this garden seems to get under people's skin - our friend James is the same (although unfortunately he is 300 miles away).

Another digging day but sadly he had to leave before the final 2 metres was double-dug and the soil replaced. Guessing the distance between the third laurel and where he stopped, 4 metres of bed was double-dug today to a depth of at least 18 inches. Might not look much but by the time you've removed wayward tree roots it's a heck of a lot of work.

Whilst LP shifted quantities of soil, I made a start on clearing weeds from the other side of the gate in readiness for creating a hedge opposite the kitchen window.

Once LP had gone I cleared up tools and rubbish (question: how much can be squeezed into our green bins plus my neighbour's bin before they are collected tomorrow?), finished the greenhouse "A frame" and potted up six more tomato and two cucumber. I would have liked to do some work in the nursery but ran out of time.

Mid-afternoon Wayne turned up. I have been very quiet about the laundry room and new sewing room since they were painted because (a) the carpenter has disappeared off the face of the earth and we still have no skirting boards and (b) a couple of cracks appeared which could not be ignored. Today Wayne was on remedial duties, of course this means he makes even more mess before it gets better.

Just as I was waving him off and hoping to get inside for a wash and some food another roofing contractor turned up to give us a quote.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Greenhouse makeover

Why does so much of my gardening seem to involve rudimentary carpentry? Potted up the aubergine and most of the tomato plants into their large final pots and decided to take down the staging on one side of the greenhouse to give more full-height space. Whilst I realise that 14 tomato plants indoors plus a few experiments out in the nursery area is excessive for two people, last year I made huge quantities of passata which went in the freezer. We finished the last half pint in March and it has been wonderful. When added to ratatouille or bolognaise I could really taste the difference.

This year all the tomatoes are Heritage varieties, this is Imur Prior Beta, a fascinating variety originally from Chile and bred on in Norway. Adapted to cold climates it should do well in Cumbria. It has true potato leaves, rather than the cut edge tomato leaves that people are used to.

This is Pop In

Carlton, Broad Ripple Yellow Currant and two more cucumber waiting for their large pots.

Got half way through a fairly robust A-frame to replace the staging and realised it was 7.45pm - no wonder my tummy was rumbling.

After supper there followed Gardening in the Bathroom, not a new Olympic sport but the endless job of washing flowerpots.

The tedium was relieved by a long-overdue chat with Sarum who accepted the strange background sound effects as part and parcel of having known a Hobbit for 43 years!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Technically, it's still gardening

Weather-wise, Solstice was a washout, and the clouds at 4.30am meant there was no chance of a Midsummer sunrise.

Busy morning seeing roofing contractors, neighbours, joiners and making phone calls whilst it rained. A gap in the clouds this afternoon meant I could nip next door and get a selection of plants into the ground. It's not perfect, it isn't how I would do it in an ideal world but this is a huge improvement over what was there before and hopefully our neighbour will be pleased when he sees it. Still room for more plants and if Mr Next Door will cough up for them, I'll put bark chips across the top.

Wasp update: Sadly, last night I moved the nest; during the day it was becoming difficult to walk past the shed and the wasp numbers were increasing rapidly. I found a sheltered spot at the back of a log store where we never go, got togged up with gloves, goggles, balaclava and the like and went outside at 11.00pm when I figured the nest would be asleep. An old fish slice quickly removed the nest from the wooden shed roof, into a pot, lid on quick and move to the log store.

When I took the lid off the tub the wasps were DECIDEDLY UNIMPRESSED so I ran like hell and didn't remove any of the train-robberesque protective garb until I was back inside the house. I had a look this morning (from a distance) and am fairly sure they've abandoned the nest. A few stubborn ones were back in the shed and if they try and rebuild I'll have to get some noxious chemical to put on the wood to dissuade them. Not my finest hour.

I know it is hard to see, but the nest is in the plastic tub.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Not content with planting the laurel once

A friend of ours is very fond of telling me that if I get it wrong I can dig up a plant and move it; this will probably make her laugh but I would prefer sympathy.

We have convinced ourselves the first set of laurel are 'Otto Luyken' and which sadly is not going to get big enough for the back hedge. After 2 hours digging next door, LP moved to the odd shaped bed outside the sitting room. The clothes dryer and heathers are destined for this area and an evergreen hedge will set it all off nicely. Although it can't be seen properly, LP and I fixed up some of the new large slab at the bottom of the posts to stop soil falling through (this is the top of the stupidly steep slope I used to push the wheelbarrow up) and have been able to build up the soil level so there is no longer an ankle turning drop near the gate.

As soon as the soil has settled a bit I'll dig up the newly planted laurel and relocate them. The jury is out as to whether I will fit all five in this space.

Whilst LP was digging, I moved nearly 50 buckets of cow muck onto the hawthorn bed ...

There is manner in my madness

As if I didn't have enough to do in my own garden, I have promised our elderly neighbour that I will plant and tend a strip in his garden alongside the trellis fence. There is manner in my madness - I get a chance to control some of the weeds which will otherwise creep from his land onto ours and have a ready-made home for any surplus plants I find myself with.

The larch slab went in ages ago and will keep soil off the back of the fence posts and bottom of the trellis. Today I fixed up some spare timber rail (left over from the hawthorn windbreak) to give LP a line to dig to and to protect the plants. Without a firm edge the lawn/weeds will grow into the cultivated soil and the chap who cuts the grass will do all sorts of damage to perennials. Short-term loss for long-term gain. The line is not straight and I don't care, it is rather liberating to be engaged in 'just bung it in' gardening, rather than all the 'trying to do it properly' that I inflict upon myself at Bag End.

Not bad for two hours digging, it would have taken me two days:

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Open Gardens - Papcastle

Garden visiting today, seven private gardens open in a nearby village. A wonderful opportunity to peep behind normally closed gates and high walls into some very secluded spaces and thankfully, the rain held off for most of the afternoon.

This walled garden is completely hidden from the road and is kept immaculate by the very elderly Aunt & Uncle of friends, I hope I'm still gardening as much as they are when I'm that age.

West Worth, described as a relaxed family garden:

Hawthorns, absolutely gorgeous and one I was able to return to subsequently.  The photos don't do it justice:

Coach House:
Once part of The Burroughs (Papcastle's "big house") this very stylish garden has half of the original Orangery, the other half can be seen next door in the second photo.

Cedar Lodge:
A surprisingly big garden, long and thin, the woodland walk takes you down almost to the river. Once part of The Burroughs' land, this garden contains the remains of a Victorian folly plus the section guaranteed to make me reach for tissues - the dog cemetery. Some of the headstones are over 100 years old and the current owner has continued the tradition by choosing this as the resting place for a two of her own four-legged friends. 

The Cottage:
Another tiny gem hidden behind high walls, I have driven past this hundreds of times but there is no indication of what lies behind the gates.

The final garden was probably the biggest, and managed single-handed by the 78 year-old Mum of friends. Probably far more gossiping in this garden than plant viewing but that was generally the trend of the afternoon.