Wednesday, 28 March 2012

That's a first

I start every day outside with a list, either in my head or on paper, of what I'd like to get done.  As nearly every job takes twice as long as I expect or I get sidetracked along the way, getting to the bottom of a list isn't something I expect to happen.

The Gods of gardening were on our side today, or the planets  aligned in just the right way, because not only did LP and I get to the bottom of today's list without killing ourselves, but we made a start on tomorrows.   (I'm having a seriously dumb moment - shouldn't there be an apostrophe in there somewhere?)

This morning Miss Daisy and I moved many trailer loads of stone from the drive up to the top pond.  The theory* is to have all the materials in place before we start trying to hide the liner and make an unnatural hole in the ground look semi-natural.

LP carried on digging in the Coppice and by lunchtime it had been transformed.  The soil has only been roughly dug, I need to go over it again and add large quantities of mulch but the whole space feels completely different.  This part of the garden is intimate and enclosed compared to the rest and the feeling now, walking up the path, is of an area which envelopes in a very comforting way.  It's already very special and I hope the planting will enhance that.

He has also re-raked what will be the back lawn and brought all the small stones to the front so it will be easy to scrape them into a bucket.  Keeping the birds off newly sown grass seed is going to be fun (not).

After lunch we spent a couple of hours at Bert and Jackie's and came back with another trailer full of big stones which went straight into a barrow and up onto the garden.  At that point we'd completed all the tasks for the day - there was an amount of standing around in amazement going "hmm, shall we stop or carry on"?

Of course we carried on;  he made a start on the side fence and I used the sack barrow to finish moving stones off the drive.  Spent the rest of the evening in shock at having accomplished so much!

* theory - notice I didn't say 'plan' because we know that would be silly!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Steady on, this looks dangerously like REAL gardening

The amazing weather continues:  wall-to-wall sunshine, unseasonably warm and an extra hour in the evening now the clocks have changed.  It's amazing but it won't last and not surprisingly, I am very tired but the forecast next week is for cloud and drizzle so I can have a rest then!

The Potager was pretty much abandoned last year and needs a major clear up.  Overwintered strawberry plants have been dug up from one bed - nearly 40 so far and I haven't started on the runners in one of the main beds.  Who needs so many strawberries?  We certainly don't but I have A Plan for all the extras . . .  Another pair of saw-horses and an unusually shaped pallet has made a brilliant outdoor potting bench which is lovely to work at.  Good job it's nice being there because I had forgotten how long it takes to pot up new plants.

Another Potager bed has been 'temporary' home for a couple of hawthorns and a hazel for far too long.  So long that they are now firmly rooted in and I can't get them out by myself.  So long that one of them appears to have set seed and we had a bed full of ....    That's the trouble, we don't know what we had a bed full of.  The emerging leaves are not hawthorn, and last autumn the leaves didn't look much like those on the hazel either.  Whatever they turn out to be I'm sure we will find a use for them but normally when I grow plants I know what they are!

Nearly 30 plants have been potted up and will live in the nursery until we've worked out what the heck I've got.  Another one of those moments when I forgot how long it takes to pot up things. The nursery benches are full and I'm trying not to think about just how much work it is going to be to plant all of this properly, especially remembering that there are hundreds of snowdrops in pots in the potager waiting their turn as well.

It's not all work and no play at Bag End.  Popped down to Bennetts to look for heather which we want to front the hornbeam hedge on the drive.  They won't have what I want until next week but I couldn't leave behind some gorgeous Dicentra spectabilis together with lovely native Cowslips, Primula veris.  Botanists have now decided the Dicentra is Lamprocapnos spectabilis; I'm sure to most people it will always be Dutchman's Breeches or Bleeding Heart.

Much clearing up of the area next to the log store which had become a dumping ground for odd bits of wood.  It took flippin' ages to cut it all into wood-burner sized bits but it's done now and looking much tidier.  It constantly surprises me how long things take in this garden.  It constantly surprises Management that I underestimate just how big this place is :}  Even so, I wish we had another half acre ....

There was a reason for wanting to get this area clear (apart from horticultural OCD).  I want the contents of the big compost bin that's behind the log store and it is a pain-in-the-thingies to get the wheelbarrow around to it.  As our long-term plan is to move all the bins to more convenient locations, why not start with this one.  I think a rather staid and boring neighbour was a bit taken aback to see me cutting into the back of this bin on Tuesday afternoon with a chainsaw.  Hell, how else was I supposed to do it?

The contents of the bin, whilst not 100% rotted, are wonderful.  What was not wonderful was deciding to move some of it to the Coppice when I was tired and should have stopped.  As soon as I had filled Miss Daisy with petrol I knew I'd picked up the wrong can.  An irriating hour later I had drained out all the fuel with oil additive (prepared for the chainsaw), flushed her out twice and started again.  As I didn't start the engine with the wrong fuel in the tank no damage has been done and Miss Daisy didn't even blow oily smoke all over the place when we did begin work.  Stupid Hobbit won't be doing THAT again in a hurry :{  

Saturday, 24 March 2012

"Cracking good job, Gromit!"

The 'wildlife blog' is taking a bit of a back-seat right now, but it'll probably be back soon.  In its place is my attempt to record the progress we make as slowly the land around the house is beaten, cajoled and bullied into becoming a garden instead of a muddy set for Saving Private Ryan, part 2.  Although the details are not yet confirmed, sometime during April LP is going to stop being self-employed and take on a full-time job which he is very much looking forward to.  He promises that he's not going to abandon Bag End and will still come to help us evenings and weekends.  This will probably work out quite well - keeping up with him for 2 or 3 consecutive days is brutal even if it does mean we achieve loads, but in the meantime I'm trying to get as much out of him as possible!

We've certainly got a huge amount done this week as Wednesday saw the creation of a bed for the hornbeam hedge.  Thursday was equally productive as LP spent most of it moving soil from the back of the house where it had been dumped last September when the path was excavated.  When he started we thought he'd just roughly spread the soil but we found it was in perfect condition for levelling - not too wet, not too dry.  One more going over with a rake next week to remove small stones on top and it's ready for grass seed.

There turned out to be considerably more soil than we needed, the surplus has gone down to the edge of the Coppice.  When we make the long side bed it will take its place as one of the 'lasagne layers'.

On Friday I only had help for half a day so we finished off the roof of the covered area outside the shed.  Lack of time and weather meant we hadn't put the ridge on or finished fixing down the steel panels.  There is more work to do but for now this gives us a wonderful working/storage area and I'm thrilled that Management had the idea.

The rubbish from last week got burned

We made a start on digging over the Coppice, another job that has been on a 'list' since September.

The greenery on the top of the bank is not weeds waiting to be removed but the comfrey bravely growing back after being severely abused last autumn.

I expected Management to spend the weekend playing in his garage - he's been away all week and needed some R&R.  Instead the dear chap spent all of Saturday in the garden with me and we made HUGE progress.  I've been painting the green mesh trolley all week and he had ordered stainless steel bolts to re-assemble it.  Together with a couple of new wheels we now have a very smart trolley and it's lovely to have it back in service.

After our first lunch outside in 2012 he wanted to sort out the Fedge in the Cottage Garden.  As soon as we created the bed last May (LP's first project) I remember saying "it's lovely but the bed is too narrow for the space" so Himself replied "well move the fence then ...."   LP put posts in for me before he went on holiday last Autumn but nothing has happened since.  If you think he's a whirlwind you should see how much Management can get done when he sets his mind to it.  Two hours later the fence was taken down and re-assembled and the result is fantastic.

We now have a bed which is 8 foot deep and that size balances the long bed opposite (the one with trellis where the arbour is).  I've got a lot of digging to do, we couldn't avoid trampling the soil a bit, the two big black obelisks need securing in position and there are new shrubs to go in but that's all 'down in the noise'.  The small pond immediately looks much better because there's no longer a fence post visually dividing it in two, and we have tadpoles :}

If that were not enough, the dear chap then spent half an hour moving humongous and heavy lumps of stone for me ... there was much falling asleep in front of the TV after supper!


The latest idea for this stone is to make a sort of dry-stone wall at the end of the bank in the Coppice, goodness knows when that will happen but I'm not looking forward to Keith & Wayne finding out they moved it all up a slope to the pond and we didn't use it . . .

Very large bits waiting to go into the pond.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

What a difference a day makes

When LP hasn't been here for a while it is easy to forget just how exceptional his work-rate can be.  He arrived at 8.00, I briefed him on what we'd done over the weekend and set off for a couple of appointments in Cockermouth.  By the time I returned mid-morning he'd dug over half of the ground under the magnolia tree and emptied Bert's trailer of today's stable muck!

Unsurprisingly, the digging was finished and a nice edge in place before the end of the day. The ground has only been rough-dug.  We need to go over it again and add a good quantity of compost but it won't be long before I can plant the hornbeam which has been plunged in a raised bed over winter and is already starting to break bud.

I wasn't completely idle during this time.  There is still the issue of uneven ground around the pond to deal with and I decided the shelf at the back of the pond wasn't deep enough to safely take the large stones we are going to put there.  I know that Nutty Gnome successfully enlarged a pond that was already full of water so I tried the same trick (albeit on a much smaller scale).  Amazingly, it seems to have worked, and without too much aggravation.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

If it seems too good to be true ...

If it seems too good to be true . . . then it usually IS too good to be true.

The coping stones on the top of our front wall need replacing.  They're 40+ years old, wearing away and some are loose.  It is one of those jobs that we know we'll need to deal with eventually, but it is not on the Priority List, heck, it's not even on any List.  However, when we learned last week that the local auction of building materials included several pallets of brand new copings it made sense to bid for the materials even if we stacked them on the driveway for a year or two.

I spent last Thursday afternoon online as the auctions came to a close (a bit like eBay, but not) and was delighted to successfully buy more than enough copings for our job, plus some lovely rivenned flag stones and an arc welder for Management, all at absolutely silly prices.

We went over early this morning to collect the purchases.  Wayne & his uncle set to loading their bounty onto the trailer whilst I looked around for the coping stones.  I couldn't find them.  I could, however, find three pallets of copings which were half the size of the ones I'd bought.  Long story short:  completely misdescribed in the auction catalogue, very embarrassed and understanding site supervisor, available stone not big enough to cover the wall, unheard of offer from auction company to refund the purchase price.  We did bring home lovely flagstones and the welder, but no copings - hey ho - good job we didn't need them urgently.

What you've never had (allegedly) you don't miss, but they would have been nice.

Monday, 19 March 2012


Management claims he doesn't know anything about gardening.  That is a load of twaddle - 21 years with a green-fingered Hobbit coupled with a keen brain means he has picked up far more than he realises.  We've already established he has an excellent eye for the big picture and garden design, and now he's coming up with splendid practical suggestions too.  The ground in the area that is becoming known as the side bed is going to be horrible to prepare.  It's full of tree roots and has had nothing added to it but pine needles for the last 40 years.

On Sunday night he suggested we use the lasagne technique again to build up the soil in order that it can better support the big shrubs I want to plant for privacy.  If we ask LP to break over the soil as best he can and remove the largest stones, we can then pile on as much organic material as possible and wait for the worms and weather to do the rest.  To our surprise this quick & easy method worked remarkably well in the Cottage Garden so it's worth trying again.  To this end, Himself suggested we move the large pile of cow manure/pony poo that has been sitting on the drive for too long so that it is nearer where we're going to use it.

Which is how, when Bert brought today's stable muck over, he stayed for an hour or so driving the quad up and down the rough path we created for Miss Daisy.  Management helped for as long as possible (wet cow manure is a heavy beast to move) until he had to disappear inside for a conference call.  Fortunately, LP chose that moment to drop by to say hello and, bless him, didn't even need asking!  He picked up a pitchfork and very soon we had a massive muck heap on the edge of the Coppice and a nearly clean driveway.

     This looked a lot better after I'd hosed it down!

Moving bulk materials was definitely the thing to be doing today. Using Miss Daisy I shifted about 2 cubic metres of bark chips and have completely mulched the big bed in the Cottage Garden, then made a start on moving stones from the driveway.  Our friend wants his waders back soon so I need to get a hurry-up in placing stone in the pond.

     Sadly I didn't have enough of the (dark) half rotted bark chips and had to start on the fresh pile on the drive - hence the two-tone finish!

The only mild irritation in the day was trying to burn yesterday's prunings which would have gone well if it hadn't started to rain.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

A busy couple of days

Management spent most of the weekend replacing the brakes on our friends' quad bike.  We'd planned on the job taking a couple of hours.  What we hadn't planned on was the amount of time it took to disassemble the quad to get at the necessary bits ... more than a little cursing, muttering, application of sledgehammer, brute force and WD40. 

When I wasn't helping out as mechanics assistant I took the mesh trolley to pieces.  Another wheel has sheered at the axle and we've bought a couple of new ones to replace this and the wheel which had to be welded a few months ago.  I have been promising the green trolley a rebuild and TLC for some time (heavens knows it has earned it).  Made a start on painting it but the smell of Hammerite doesn't get any less unpleasant. 

Happily, the weekend also included activity of the garden kind.  I made the 'mistake' of deciding it was about time I cut some of the wild honeysuckle and other escapees which were growing over the side fence.  Half an hour and a few moments with the pole pruner later I had a horribly large pile of rubbish to get rid of.  Management just laughed when I grumbled and reminded me that there is no job in this garden which comes out 'normal sized'.

Spent quite a bit of time on Sunday just 'clearing up'.  There is manner in my madness (yes, really!) and I am applying simple psychologically on LP.  He knows I want the bed next to the driveway dug, same with the ground along the side fence but despite being the hardest worker I've ever met, he seems in no hurry to start either task (can't say I blame him, I'm in no hurry to dig them myself either).  I figured if I clear up as much as possible and move all the junk that shouldn't be on the ground it makes it easier for him to come in and see what has to be done.  Well, that's the plan, we'll see whether he falls for the trick :}

This ground is now ready to be dug over so we can plant the hornbeam hedge.  Sound so simple when you say it like that!

It took longer to clean up by the side fence but does look a heck of a lot better.  As the ground slopes away we'll fix larch slab to the bottom of the fence posts to act as gravel boards and I laid long bits of birch to mark what will be the edge of the path.  All of a sudden it looks less like a bomb site and more like the garden I see in my imagination.  That's the sort of rash statement I have made on more than one occasion in the past, crossing fingers and toes that this time we retain the momentum.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Breakfast crew

Normal service has been resumed ...

Bloody Google

Wordpress is starting to look awfully attractive.

All the 'quick edit' links that an author can see on their blog are now missing. Why? Because Google, apparently in an attempt to get around some of the data protection laws which their new privacy policy falls foul of have, arbitrarily, changed the URL of our blogs.

Bag End no longer lives at http://[ . . .] Oh no matey, and don't expect all your embedded links and bookmarks to continue to work smoothly. We're now at http://[ . . .] blogspot.CO.UK

How helpful, just like the oh so very helpful Captchu images on Word Verification. Unless I'm missing something, to edit a published post I would have to go to Dashboard, then Posts, then select Published (my default tab is draft), find the post and click.

There's some forum blethering about it here, although surprisingly (or not surprisingly) little if you do a Google search . . .

Fortunately, whilst Google don't seem to want to acknowledge the problem, the workaround is to edit your url in your Address Bar - delete CO.UK and replace it with .com/ncr.

The NCR bit is important, it means No Country Redirect. Sigh ....

Edit (ha ha): You seem to need to retype the URL every time you return to your blog in a new browser session/new tab. It's not a change that stays put.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Refund of VAT on Air Ambulance fuel

This has nothing to with Bag End and everything to do with life at Bag End.

Anyone who lives in a rural area will tell you that fast road links and a network of dual carriageways are something that the rest of the country takes for granted.  If you're seriously injured round here and need ambulance transport it can take half an hour to get to Whitehaven, an hour to reach the big hospital at Carlisle and heaven help you if your condition needs treatment in Newcastle - that's a three hour trip.

Air Ambulances don't just serve folk 'out in the sticks'  There is a national network of them.

The Great North Air Ambulance provides fast transport and highly skilled medical staff, not just for fell-walkers who are stuck in an inaccessible location, but for local folk who need help.  We live within sight of the local rugby club and have had the Pride of Cumbria helicopter land almost outside the house to transport a young man with suspected spinal injuries.

The Great North Air Ambulance service costs £4 million a year to run and receives not a single penny from the Government, or the National Lottery.  An e-petition has been started requesting the same tax treatment as the RNLI enjoy.

Please, follow this link and add your signature to the 64,000 people who have already signed up to support this campaign.  More signatures are needed before this request will be given consideration by Parliament.

If you have a blog and can pass on this information, thank you!

Edit Saturday morning:  70,000 signatures and rising!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012


I spent most of today feeling like a hamster on an exercise wheel - constantly on the go rushing from one task to another but never actually getting to the end of the work.  After supper I had a long catch-up chatty conversation with an old friend (who regularly reads the blog but never comments publicly).  He expressed his continued amazement at the amount I get done, how many projects I am juggling at the same time and how hard I work.  Hmmm, but it all seems normal to me.  Which got me thinking, the renovations at Bag End have turned into a much, much bigger project than Management and I anticipated when we moved here.  I now look at tasks which, in a past life, I would have considered major work, here they're jobs we just shrug our shoulders at and get on with ... before moving onto the 'big stuff'.  Maybe it is some kind of Stockholm Syndrome, because this is my normal.  When the heavy lifting and landscaping is completed and all I have to do is 'garden', half an acre is probably going to feel very small.

But, enough wittering from me, back to a busy Wednesday.  Keith returned at 8.00am and was in 'chatty mode', trying to keep up with today's topics was more tiring than moving cow muck and every time I said "OK, must get back indoors, got a few things to finish" he started off on a new subject . . . A good 'listening to' was obviously what he needed though, because by late morning I was looking at this.

OK, seems a bit stark, huge and ugly like this but it is to scale with the rest of the driveway and with a bit of planting around either side will blend in fine.  And means we can get materials and equipment on and off the driveway.

At the same time our lovely carpenter showed up with doors for Miss Daisy's little home.  That required lots of decisions on my part and much travelling from one end of the garden to another.  It also required I move all the bloody roof lath AGAIN.  When I shifted it to the side of the shed the plan was to de-nail it immediately.  De-nailing was de-railed because I had a bug all last week, however it was in Colin's way so had to be shifted, piece by piece.  There was much muttered swearing on my part including swearing that I was NOT going to shift it a third time!

I also had to move the remains of a silver birch tree in a hurry (as you do) because Wayne and Keith had offered to do something for me above and beyond the call of duty.

Spot the difference?

Dog knows what some of these stones weighed but they have moved every single one so that next week I can get them into the top pond and start creating a proper pond rather than a hole in the ground with a water-filled plastic liner.

As no busy day at Bag End would be complete without interruptions, Bert delivered more pony poo (which had to be placed straight into buckets because there was nowhere on the drive for another pile!) and LP arrived for a chat and to arrange his working days next week.  He confessed to being a little staggered at how much I've done in the last fortnight without him.  You wait matey, you haven't seen how much I'm planning on YOU doing in three days next week if the weather holds!

Once everyone had gone home (mid-afternoon) it would have been good to collapse but Jackie and I had an appointment to meet friends in Lorton.  Their small pond contains almost more frogspawn than water so we brought home about a gallon of spawn and a healthy quantity of duckweed which has been added to the little pond in the cottage garden.

Even then I couldn't stop; spent much time online checking out materials prices, registering with the auction site being used by the Liquidator and agreeing with Management what I would bid for.

And then I got to collapse ....