Friday, 30 September 2011

September calendar

Not so many green dot days this month but with major ground excavations, a new roof and solar panels, overall we've accomplished a huge amount.

LP has been busy in the background but for some reason I haven't been photographing each stage of his latest project, perhaps I should just wait and have a big 'reveal' when it is finished?

Thursday, 29 September 2011


Another task which doesn't take much effort is raking up leaves. The chap who looks after the churchyard next door is more than delighted that I'd like to tidy up all the beech leaves - he even helped by dragging full builders' bags round to our back gate.

Management moved them to behind the log store for me and as they compress down so quickly, there is room for many, many more as Autumn progresses.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Light Duties

I am still officially on 'light duties' to give my wrist a chance to settle down. With a bit of care, however, a great deal can still be accomplished with one hand.

Whilst it was great that Arbor-Tec sprayed bark chippings all over the Coppice, when I looked in detail it wasn't an even enough layer to make planting very easy. Although Management thought I was nuts (so what's new??) I decided to rake all of it into one place so I could start again. With a bit of care, raking can be done one-handed!

I was able to use silver birch from the recent Delicate Surgery to outline a path and the rest was fairly straightforward:

This is a fabulous place to sit; peaceful and semi-secluded it is unlike any other part of Bag End, and there is still a view of Grasmoor (honestly, it is there, under the clouds!).

Much planting to do, Country Bumpkin has been clearing out her own garden and has kindly donated many hostas for this shady area, there are also some lovely self-seeded Foxgloves which you can't see. I have zillions of snowdrop and daffodil bulbs to plant but the soil is absolutely sodden and it will all have to wait.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


The solar panels were changed yesterday. Hopefully we now have 16 panels the same colour, rather than 13 brown ones and 3 greyish ones ...

Whilst I am more than a little pleased to be rid of it, I will miss the scaffolding. Actually, no, I won't miss the scaffolding itself because it was big and in the way, made the rooms at the back dark and we had to limbo around it on occasions. What I shall miss is the opportunity to get up to roof level and view the garden from above. I love living in a bungalow but it does mean we miss out on the opportunity to view the land from a different perspective.

Even Management agrees there is something compelling about looking down on our garden and he loved being at eye level with the trees at the back although this unusual view of the utility area doesn't really show it at its best!

Sunday, 25 September 2011


Reading blogs and gardening magazines it appears I am not the only one to have had a dreadful year with tomatoes and other temperature-sensitive crops. That doesn't make me feel any better about taking the decision to clear the entire greenhouse and put everything on the compost heap.

Whilst the plants have grown well, the wide variation between day and night temperature does not make for happy tomato plants, during August I regularly had temps of 7⍛C degrees at night but nearly 100⍛F during the day. Although much fruit has set and is now starting to go red (I won't say "ripen") nothing has any flavour at all.

I made one batch of passata for the freezer which is very ordinary, and the second batch went on the compost heap, I couldn't see the point of using freezer space.

I grew four Heritage varieties, all new to me. It's unlikely I will grow any of them again. In summary,

Pop In: meant to be a plum tomato. Huge trusses of fruit which were very small, thick skinned, no flavour.

Carlton: Beefsteak, some fruit grew far too big - one tomato weighed a kilo on its own. Nice texture but no flavour.

Imur Prior Beta: I had such high hopes for this salad tomato which came from Chile and was raised in Norway to make it suitable for colder climates. Attractive salad tomatoes with a foul texture - like an over-ripe Victoria plum, granular and very unpleasant.

Broad Ripple Yellow Currant: Tiny yellow fruits, sweet and pleasant early in the season, then the plant stopped producing. Whilst not unpleasant, I am a tomato Luddite and like them red, not yellow or any other non-tomato colour. Won't grow again.

Needless to say, my daft idea about using spare plants to experiment with growing outside was not a success .....

Don't greenhouses look sad at this point? The window cleaner has done his best to remove the shading from the roof, I need to give the rest of it a thorough scrub.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Finally, Honister

I know the Doctor just told me to rest my wrist for a week but first I've just got to ....

Look, it's taken me a month to get organised enough to drive to Honister and try the "fill your boot for £20" from the huge rubbish pile in their yard. I promised Management I wouldn't do anything stupid and had a lovely drive through Buttermere to the slate mine.

On reflection I could probably have brought home two or three times as much slate as I actually did. The car suspension didn't seem to be affected at all by the weight and neither was the handling. A very nice chap on holiday from Durham helped me put the biggest bit in the back of Hattie and LP unloaded it all when I got home.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Er, before you go ...

Whilst I am prepared to accept that a large digger is the only way to tackle some of the big landscaping jobs at Bag End, it doesn't mean I have to like the mess they make. It seemed sensible, therefore, to have Geoff do as much as possible before he and his marvellous machine departed.

We've always wanted to put a wide and level path at the back of the house. Going to the shed or log store in winter on sloping and slippery grass is no fun.

Less than three hours to strip off the turf which LP and I made into a huge loam stack*, then the soil was scraped out so that we can lay a proper path ... eventually ... when we've finished with all the current projects. In the meantime it looks like hell and and is also competing for a part in the Saving Private Ryan part 2.

*which proved to be a stupid thing to do because 24 hours later I was dealing with strained tendons in my wrist that had swollen so much they were pressing on the ulna nerve ... think a combination of being stabbed with a fine needle and electric shocks. Nerves don't like being messed with like this and I didn't enjoy it much either! Bad enough that I went straight to the Doctor. For once I actually did what I was told {mostly} and RESTED it for the best part of week.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Delicate surgery

After the less than perfect conditions over the weekend, thank goodness we had a dry Monday for Mike Graham and the boys from Arbor-Tec.

I'm not sure which gave me more pleasure - seeing the care with which they approached the task of pruning some of the Silver Birch to safeguard them against further wind damage and improve their health, or seeing the six remaining huge Leylandii stumps winched onto a trailer and out of my life (and garden!) forever.

There are many people around who call themselves "tree surgeons" but from what we've seen in a lot of gardens most of them are not much more than butchers with chainsaws. Mike, Nona and Rob are in a class of their own and nothing was too much trouble for them.

Including moving their wonderful shredding machine into the Coppice and covering the whole area with bark chips to enable us to get onto the soil without making it look like a set from Saving Private Ryan. Mike also brought us a load of bark which LP bagged up in record time, it will be spread around at a later date.

Upon close inspection it was found that the Silver Birch with the squirrel box was badly rotted and the main trunk likely to fall in a year or two. The tree was left with a few odd branches in situ but we've subsequently decided to take the rest of it down ourselves; it will never recover to a good shape and it's not like we are short of Silver Birch.

Although you're not meant to move a nest box we don't feel there was any choice and Mike carefully relocated it to a big tree in the Coppice which the squirrels are often seen in. This was a great opportunity to look inside the box and to everyone's surprise we found it half full of dry, clean, beautifully sweet smelling hay. The consensus was that the box is probably being used as a daytime drey, this certainly wasn't anything anyone had ever seen a bird build. It's new position is higher off the ground, very secure, and clearly visible from the house. Fingers crossed .....

The recent winds proved nearly too much for a badly mishapen cherry tree hiding in the shrubbery. The weight of a huge branch growing out almost horizontally had started to split the main trunk and whilst the original plan had been to see if the tree could be salvaged it was in such a state that felling made more sense. It is always sad to have to cut a mature tree down but it was in a lousy shape, too near the house, and we can always plant a replacement in a more appropriate location.

The same decision had been made about a Silver Birch near the log store. I think LP rather enjoyed getting on the end of a rope because Rob was somewhere down the A66 with a trailer load of tree stumps. Fascinating and very impressive to watch these big trees being brought down bit by bit,with each branch taking a zip-wire ride to the ground.

A long day but an extremely satisfying one, and another few logs for the fire.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Pond excavation, 2

subtitle: No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

Overnight Management and I came up with a shape, size and location for the big pond that we were both happy with. What we were not happy with however, was how the top pond had been finished. The big bank on the south side was horribly reminiscent of Telly-Tubby-land and Head Gardener decreed early on Sunday morning that It Had To Go ....

It might not look too bad from this angle - I should have photographed it from the other side, believe me, it was not a good look!

LP and Geoff were rechristened Laa Laa and Tipsy-Dipsy respectively which rather set the tone for the remainder of the day ☺ Fortunately they were in good humour and really didn't seem to mind filling in the 'small pool' and cutting away half of the Telly Tubby bank.

This means the final water level in the top pond will not be at grass height but around 6" - 8" lower. I'll have to cover up the exposed far side with timber, stones, or something .... but I'd rather have that problem than live with the steep sided mound which was Plan A. We also decided that the overflow channel/stream could be dug out by hand next year when the ground had settled and we knew exactly where we wanted it.

After moving a small amount soil that had been carefully relocated the day before we all trundled to the bottom of the garden to move huge quantities of soil that had been carefully relocated the day before.

You know your pond is a tad on the generous size when the heavy plant with a big hydraulic arm isn't big enough to take a bucket of soil and drop it outside the hole. Much time was spent as Geoff excavated soil, moved it to the side of the hole, moved it a bit further, then finally managed to move it out of the hole, and then later he had to take the digger onto what will be (one day) the lawn and pull the soil out ....

Huge chunks of stone were excavated from the middle of the pond, we think this is where the original garden boundary might have been, possibly what is left of a wall being demolished? It would match the wall at the back of the Coppice, makes sense.

More of a small tarn perhaps?

Bearing in mind that Bag End can be a little like Disney (the fun never ends ....) the day contained more than a few memorable moments. Once the shape and profile of the big pond was completed the boys made the mistake of asking me if I was happy with it. I had to reply "yes thank you, but in truth it needs to be 4 or 5 inches deeper". So Geoff set about removing more soil, very carefully because whilst we KNEW the water main was at least four feet down and we'd only excavated 2½, no-one was taking any chances.

Which is why, when suddenly a length of 2" metal pipe flew up into the air as soil was moved and it was no longer under tension EVERYONE STOPPED. INSTANTLY. And whilst common sense told us there was no water gushing out and that the main is 4" plastic, sheer fear had us all looking very worried ..... LP began investigating extremely carefully with a small spade as more metal emerged from the soil. No-one really wanted to get hold of it and pull because we didn't know what it might be attached to (remember the electric main is round here somewhere .....)

Tipsy-Dipsy and Laa Laa were even more confused when I started laughing; laughing so much I could hardly manage to tell them I'd realised that they were in the process of excavating a very old, very rusty, very buried wheelbarrow.

The jokes about whether we'd find hands attached and boots underneath were bloody funny and more than a little crude!

At the end of the day we had a wonderful big (muddy) hole and an awful lot of mess where the lawn used to be. Not a lot is going to happen to this for some considerable time because the ground needs to settle.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Magic moment

Tired Hobbit almost forgot ...

After LP and Geoff went home Management and I were having a long cogitate about how to fix the top pond. He was standing near the house, I was sitting on the grass with my feet in the pond, back to the bird feeders.

"Ssshh" he suddenly says "DON'T MOVE!" Out of the corner of my eye I saw a Red Squirrel running along the hedge line behind me. I was able to turn around slowly and sat maybe 7 or 8 feet away from a young Red as he ate a couple of hazelnuts (very noisy eater!) then chose a third and ran across the garden with it.

Bless his little furry self, he ran to the Coppice and onto the raised bank we have created and buried the nut in freshly turned soil. Less than half a day after the earth had been moved, nature is already planting hazel along this edge.

I'll take that as a very good omen because I have several home-grown hazel seedlings waiting to go in this very spot!

Pond excavation, 1

The arrival of large Tonka Toys had been anticipated for the last three weekends but the weather has derailed our plans. Today however it was a case of "getting on with it" regardless of the rain. The first thing to be dealt with were the remaining huge tree stumps which were moved onto the driveway.

Various unwanted stumps and shrubbery that have been in our way for the last three years were pulled out of the large driveway bed faster than I could make three cups of coffee - hence the lack of pictures!

Geoff then turned his attention to the Coppice. We very nearly called the whole thing off at this point - driving rain and hail are absolutely not the right conditions for working on soil but we'd all got to the 'sod it and get on with it' stage. I wish there were photos of the ground sculpting in progress because it was amazing to watch the precision and dexterity of someone who really knows what he's doing with heavy plant. Sadly, conditions were such that Management had done the sensible thing and tootled off to the shops whilst LP and I tried to shelter under trees and muttered darkly about the amount of water running down our collars .... we had a two hour period that you wouldn't put a dog out in so I definitely wasn't getting the Canon out to play.

The weather then decided to be somewhat more helpful and digging out the top pond was going to be much more straightforward. Allegedly ...

See that bank the digger is sitting on? Hmmm, the perils of trying to excavate a pond on ground which slopes. I was off doing something else (probably getting dry) and left the boys to dig a big hole and pile up the soil on the low side in order that the top of the pond was level.

This turned out to be a big mistake but that comes later ...

Firstly we had to deal with another mistake, that of not recognising just HOW MUCH this garden slopes. How much being the difference between the north and south ends of our outline for the big pond ...

A difference of 33" (that's close to 1 metre for young people who never learnt proper measurements). I know it doesn't look like it, but that string line is level, flat, completely horizontal, which is (strangely) just how water likes to settle . . .

A difference which would have involved a bank the size of a small dam that would have looked dreadful. Over the wonderful pasties Management had brought back from Harrisons (without doubt the best butcher and pie supplier in West Cumbria) we cogitated Plan B, and Plan C, and Plan D.

We decided to ignore the problem whilst Management and I tried to redesign the big pond and left Geoff and LP to carry on making a mess excavating near the top pond.

They enjoyed this bit. It involved removing an old manhole cover and destroying the brick chamber. Once upon a time this estate was heated with oil from a central tank at the top of the hill. 20 years ago the village got gas and the oil pipes are now redundant so it was time to remove as much of the old services as possible.

It involved severing a previously sealed pipe which allowed waste oil to escape, half of it into the soil, some of it all over LP (he didn't enjoy that bit) and the remainder into hurriedly placed buckets.

Nothing at Bag End is simple and we couldn't be too cavalier with pulling up old pipes as we knew the electricity supply was in the vicinity. Thankfully that was one of the things we didn't uncover during the weekend ....

When Geoff came to assess this job he made some excellent suggestions about creating an overflow channel between the ponds which had small pools along its route. Someone, somewhere thought that the hole left after the oil pipe removal would be a good small pool and so a little hole got bigger, and bigger, until I called a halt and explained that the "small pool" was now as big as most ordinary garden ponds!

In the meantime Geoff had come up with a solution to the sloping ground/big pond problem. By destroying even more of the lawn (but avoiding orchids) and moving goodness-knows-how-many tons of soil he created a large level platform. And whilst he and LP went home for a well-deserved beer, Management and I had the job of coming up with location number four thousand three hundred and eleventy-seven for the big pond.