Monday, 30 April 2012

Where did April go?

Where did April go and what happened to my attempts at keeping a record of what happens in the garden?  I think, although I wouldn't swear to it, the problem has been that although I've been outside most days, working hard, it's all been itty-bitty.  I've gone inside each evening knackered as usual but without being able to see the end of any particular job.  The OCD bit of me probably didn't feel like blogging about another task that was still half complete.  Or maybe I was just too tired to do more than eat and collapse in front of the telly for a couple of hours before bed! 

The rest of the country is either under hosepipe ban or a deluge (or both), but in the Promised Land which is West Cumbria we've had pretty reasonable weather.  Well, reasonable for April which means sun, rain, clouds, bitterly cold easterly winds and glorious days when it felt like June.  Clear skies mean cold nights and on more than one occasion the ground has looked frosty in the morning. 

LP did not  work here at all during April, a combination of his own Easter holiday and house renovation.  Whilst this meant I made no progress on big jobs which I cannot manage alone, it did mean I could pootle about at my own pace, stopping and starting when I felt like it and having three or four different jobs on the go at the same time.  It's been bliss and there have been occasions when I've had to stop and have a "pinch me" moment because I am really gardening, not undertaking the latest in a mad series of construction projects.

The warm days and sunshine mean that trees are breaking bud and perennials starting to grow strongly.  I think my favourite sights at present are the crab apple trees and the Honesty (Lunaria annua).

   Malus 'Evereste' in the Cottage Garden

Small bunny seems to have disappeared. I blocked up a fence section where I knew he was coming through but thought it would be of more inconvenience to the pheasant than to bunnikins, maybe he is so stupid he hasn't realised he can get in at one hundred and eleventy-seven other points.  Or perhaps, as we occasionally see stoat or weasel, nature has dealt with him for me?  Just in case he comes back all new trees now have guards in place.

  Malus 'John Downie'

I've finished planting up the top pond although nothing is growing much - it's too cold.  Management and I have made some more "design decisions" about how to deal with (some) of the ground around it.  Lessons learnt whilst planting have led to a decision to re-profile the Big Pond before it gets a liner.  Geoff and the Big Digging Machine are coming back in a month or two to remove the escallonia stumps and the work can happen then.

The birds seem quite impressed with my 'underwater growbags'.  A pair of thrush have spent many happy hours busily picking away at the hessian in order to gather numerous mouthfuls of muddy thread.  This is dirty work and has been followed by numerous baths, a lovely sight but not one I managed to photograph successfully.

I've put the rest of the ties on the willow fedge and managed to trim the uprights.  It all looks very smart and fingers are crossed that the rods take root, the blackbirds certainly approve and throw the compost mulch around on a daily basis.  Two clematis,  Etoile Voilette, needed a new home and now live at the base of the fedge.  At Harlow Carr they use a huge fedge as a living Sweet Pea support so I'm going to try a similar thing here.  Not sure whether one of them will survive or not - it wasn't happy in the Potager and relocation might just be the end of it.

In the Coppice there's been massive progress ... which is probably where the rest of the last fortnight has gone, but that can have a post all to itself.

And that's quite enough for now :}

Friday, 27 April 2012

VAT on fuel for Air Ambulance Service - update

Thank you to anyone who took the time to follow the link I posted on 15th March and to those who hosted the campaign on their own blogs.  There is now an update on the Government website which states:

This e-petition has now passed the threshold of 100 000 signatures.

The Leader of the House of Commons has written to the Backbench Business Committee, who are responsible for the scheduling of debates on e-petitions, informing them that the petition has reached 100 000 signatures

The Backbench Business Committee meets weekly to hear representations from MPs for debates in backbench time. The Committee can consider any subject for debate, including those raised in e-petitions, but an MP must make the case for their consideration. More information about the Committee is available on its website

A further response from the Government on this e-petition will be published in due course. 

Still a long way to go but it's progress in the right direction. Thank you.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Beardie Bounce

I don't give a rat's wotsit about Halifax insurance but I can't get enough of this advert.  Have probably seen it 50 times since it was first broadcast and it still makes me cry, every single bloody time.

If Benson was a brown Beardie instead of slate & white I'd swear I was watching Ollie.  Mr Hairy had a 'thing' for footballs but preferred his thoroughly punctured so that he could get a good grip.

The jump at 38 seconds is exactly how our boy used to try to catch/bite a new ball, and the flowing hair . . . it's just pure Beardie.

Now, all I need is for some lovely techie friend to show me how to save this video to a hard disc so I can watch it whenever I want :}

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Underwater growbags

I reckon the hardest thing about making a pond isn't digging a huge hole, lining it and filling it with water.  Experience indicates the hardest thing is making it look half-decent after you'd done all of the above:}   I hate being able to see the liner and having the tops of black plastic planting baskets visible is just as bad. Ages ago I found some wonderful coir 'sausages' which were used along riverbanks in the same way as you hang fenders off a boat.  They were planted into and as roots grew from the rolls to the ground they strengthened the riverbank and helped prevent erosion. Somehow the brain translated this into the idea of making underwater grow-bags which would fit around the large rocks we'd already put in place.

The weather forecast promised rain today but lied and I wanted to get on with the pond.  No work-in-progress pictures - how exciting is a photo of filling a sandbag with soil from the big pile next to the greenhouse?   Once a bag was in place I cut a couple of slits in the hessian and just pushed the plants into place.

I didn't get everything finished in one day but it's all looking much, much better even though the water is now murky and brown with dissolved mud.  The amount of nutrients I've accidentally added to the water will guarantee a huge algal bloom in a few days but that will eventually clear and will give small pond creatures something to eat - I plan to transfer some of the tadpoles from the little pond once I've finished messing around with the water.

Found a couple of metres of hessian in the sewing supplies which has been pressed into service as another method of covering the liner.  Eventually all the fabric will rot, not sure what I'll do about the fabric covered edges but the plan is that by the time the sandbags are no more the plant roots will be holding the soil in place.

Once everything is planted and has settled a bit I can add more stones.  If the small pond is anything to go by, the blackbirds are happiest bathing when they can stand on stone which is covert by about an inch of water so I need to try and replicate that.  THEN we can start to think about how to make the edges look less revolting and THEN get the pallets moved and THEN get the soil dug over so I can replant lawn and THEN think about a steam/overflow watercourse.

This will not end well

I glanced out of the bathroom window and saw this small, cute baby eating its head off in the Potager.  One would be bad enough but it brought some siblings with it.

It will never be possible to rabbit-proof this garden but I'm damned if I will tolerate them treating the place as a 24-hour, all-you-can-eat salad bar.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Your starter for 10

So, what does a job-lot of hessian sandbags have to do with gardening at Bag End?

Sunday, 15 April 2012

This wasn't meant to take two days

Silly Hobbit - why would I go outside on Saturday morning and think that in a couple of hours I could fix guttering onto the mower shed and covered area?

Actually, if ALL I had needed to do was fix up some guttering, two hours would have covered it nicely.  Unfortunately I had forgotten that before all the guttering could be installed there was finishing work to do on the mower shed.  Long story short - a combination of being over-tired and making it up as I went along meant that on a couple of occasions I could quite cheerfully have sat down and cried.  As crying never did anything except leave me with a headache, bunged up nose and eyes that could body-double for Kermit I didn't bother.

Thankfully, Management came to the rescue and spent all day Sunday with me.  Still nursing rather sore back muscles, he gave advice and encouragement and Hobbit developed another new skill - that of walking around on the mower shed roof and cutting metal with an angle grinder.  What, you've never spent a sunny Sunday morning burning holes in the sleeve of your work-shirt because there are sparks flying everywhere?  Protective glasses didn't feel like enough so the chainsaw helmet got pressed into service as well.

Management is disappointed with photos because for the first few neither of us realised there was gunk all over the back of the phone.  He's even more disappointed because he didn't realise my new phone does video too.  I've told him he can film the fireworks when I go back and finish the metalwork on the covered area roof!

(intense concentration)

(you have NO idea how much work went into the little plate at the end of the ridge)

We didn't get everything finished, a couple more joints need to be added to the next Screwfix order and then we should be done* ... she says, hopefully!

* but perhaps it is time to take the protective film off the metal flashing :}

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Looking forward to rain

Whilst the Easter weekend was, generally, cold, wet and miserable, the days which followed have been quite gorgeous.  Bright and sunny most of the time and I got caught out mid-week when the heat caused an uncharacteristic shedding of layers leaving me in a short-sleeved shirt.  That evening there was much application of calamine location to sun-scathed arms.   Most mornings Management and I have sat outside drinking café au lait and scoffing pain au chocolat - very Français but he's on holiday this week so why the heck not?  We have joked that if, as visitors, we'd had the coffee & pastry somewhere in the National Park accompanied by such glorious views we would have considered our holiday a very good one :}

So why on earth do I want it to rain?  Usual reason - Hobbit has taken advantage of the lovely weather to work too hard and is looking forward to a break! Found a neat little Met Office widget which tells me I can have some time off on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Here follows the usual litany of some of the tasks which have been achieved in the last few days. Probably boring as h*ll for anyone else but it's my way of keeping a record of the progress we make.

Much squared mesh fixed to the trellis panels to provide better support for clematis followed by heavy mulching of the lasagne bed. Made a start on the black arbour and trellis fence, only stopped when I ran out of cable ties - must order more.

Finally got round to filling the second big brick planter in the cottage garden and planted two Lonicera japonica Halianna.

Bit by bit I am digging my way along the bank in the Coppice taking out as much comfrey root as I can find. Lovely though comfrey is, this is the invasive variety and if I leave this it won't be long before much of the Coppice has been recolonised. Pretty and insect friendly, but not so friendly for the woodland plants that I want to grow in this area.  It's a long, slow job and I'm irritated by how long it is taking to do properly.  Then I remember that my 'little' Coppice is about the same size as most new-build back gardens which contributes a small measure of perspective to the activity!

When is the best time to plant a tree?
20 years ago ...

As my technical support team have not yet perfected the art of time travel, I'll have to settle for now.  I planned to get six trees into their permanent positions but only managed one of those recently brought home from Seaview Nurseries.  The Crab Apple, John Downie has been planted near the willow fedge.  Doing so gave me continued appreciation for LP's help - on heavily compacted ground (previously lawn) it took the best part of two hours to dig a decent hole, there were plenty of stones and old tree roots to remove.

I'm sure there's been more but I've been too busy doing the work to stop and photograph the work.  The ground is lovely and moist under the mulches but a couple of days rain to make me stay inside* won't go amiss.

*  There will not be indoors "resting".  There will be catching up on ironing, laundry, two weeks of paperwork ...

Monday, 9 April 2012

The making of a Willow Fedge

After wanting to do this for years, finally I had an opportunity to create a willow fedge.  The first time Management sat on the bench near the top pond he asked if we needed a windbreak, he knew I wanted to make a willow structure and I didn't need asking twice.  As is always the way with Bag End, the decision was made rather late, willow rods should be planted when completely dormant, not mid-April after a warm sunny spell when the sap was rising and buds breaking.  Not ideal but hopefully it will do what willow does - root easily and grow fast.

It took the best part of two days to turn the large pile into lots of smaller piles.  Not unpleasant, not difficult, but time consuming.  Management had the idea of storing the cut willow in water until I used it - certainly kept it all tidily in one place.

A bit of ground preparation to remove perennial weeds and make it slightly easier to hammer in an iron bar, wriggle it around and make planting holes.

I laid long rods out for use as uprights thinking I might be able to bind the tops together in threes when the fedge was finished.  First (of many) times finding out that this project would have been a whole lot easier with the right material*.  No way these rods were going to bend at the top so I might as well use the set that were even thicker.

A bit of rain, much cold and a dose of irritable frustration means there are no in progress pictures of the large uprights going in or Management helping to tie the binders in place.  All of a sudden, however, it starts to look slightly fence-like and quite exciting.  The process of weaving the binders across the top was difficult* but wonderful.  When the rods did co-operate and flex easily it was a lovely feeling to go 'behind, in front, behind, in front' and feel the structure begin to knit together and gain some solidity. 

The willow that was flexible enough to be used as weavers wasn't long enough* to reach where we want the binder to be so the structure developed a second (lower) binder of living willow.  Over time I can link new growth to the top binder (which isn't living) and I think the fedge is better for the change in design. 

A very healthy dose of compost bin contents to suppress weeds and TA DA!   It looks pretty good in pictures, in real life it looks absolutely gorgeous.  I am in love both with fedges and with the process of making them.

There is a little more to do, the top binder needs its permanent tubular ties which will look a lot better than bright green temporary twine, and the ties connecting the weavers to the uprights need their ends trimming. When LP gets back from  holiday I will borrow his large loppers and trim all the uprights to the same height.  After that it's down to Mother Nature.

* insert: because the long rods were too thick to bend easily and the flexible whippy ones were too short.

Over the last couple of years I have seen willow fedges I admired coveted at RHS Harlow Carr and at Garden Organic, Ryton.  All had been created by Steve Pickup and I found his DVD a perfect introduction into the techniques.  Highly recommended:

(if you're looking at this in Google Reader, the link to the DVD isn't displayed)

I deliberately haven't described every step of the process here, if you fancy making one yourself, buy the DVD :}

Friday, 6 April 2012

Another week gone

Whoosh - another week gone.  Life seems to be proceeding in a 'don't blink or you'll miss it' fashion these days.  Management worked at home all week, courtesy of very sore back muscles which meant he had a fairly easy (albeit painful) week and I had a responsible adult around to remind me that it was time to stop and have coffee/lunch/supper!  The weather went from short sleeves and sunny to a vicious east wind with snow flurries and back again.  On Tuesday it was even too cold to work in the greenhouse. 

A quick trip to Bennetts produced the heather plants we wanted and they've all been planted next to the driveway.  I chose Calluna vulgaris tricolorifolia, Smith's Variety which flowers late in the year.  The plan is that this will complement our existing heather (which flowers very early) and extend the season for the bumblebees.  It's all looking remarkably neat and tidy and not at all like Bag End.

Weeded and mulched the laurel hedge and planted four Vinca minor Auerovariagata.  Although I will probably curse it at some point in the future, right now the periwinkle flowers are so pretty and it looks like these plants will be fairly happy scrambling over the soil.

There was a lovely sunrise one day, but in the time it took to get from the bedroom to the study and set up the tripod the best was over ...

There has also been much work on the willow fedge but that can have a post all of its own when it is finished.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Watery weekend

It was definitely my weekend for getting wet, splashing around in the pond on Sunday morning was obviously not enough  . . . 

Whilst chatting to a friend recently I said "I've always wanted to make a willow fedge and the Garden Designer (Management) has just come up with a place I can put one" to which her reply was "the willow in our beck needs the annual prune because it's blocking the view, do you want some rods".  No such thing as coincidence, the Universe obviously decided now is the right time for me to have a fedge :}

So I toddled down the road with a pair of loppers and secateurs as instructed, five minutes later I was back home for the chainsaw. This was not the 'light pruning' that I had been led to expect, it was "pruning  by chainsaw, it would appear the annual prune didn't happen in 2011 and some of the growth is two years old.  Unfortunately there are no photos of Hobbit standing in a fast flowing beck using the chainsaw, Jackie did try to take some but the technology chose that moment to be non-cooperative.  Rather more than would easily fit in Hattie but just the right amount for Bert's trailer.

I may have more willow than I need but that's not a bad problem to have and ideally this should have been done a couple of months ago whilst the willow was dormant.  We are where we are*; this might work and the pond gets a small windbreak, or I could not try and then it definitely won't work!

Management in Garden Designer mode laid out the trusty ropes on the ground, "all" Hobbit has to do is dig, plant, grow.

* More Management-speak;  if  "it is what it is" does not fit the situation then "we are where we are" often does :}