Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Week one

The first week of Management's retirement did not go exactly to plan ... not that we had a exact plan, but there were ideas - of relaxing, being kind to ourselves, taking it easy.  What actually happened is on Thursday he went down country and did not return until after the weekend.  He went to support his Mum for a few days; she's in her 80's, her last surviving sister is nearly as old and in very poor health.  Normally Management's sisters provide all the day-to-day assistance and driving around but they were both going away so M. stepped in to provide moral support, transport for hospital visits and so on.  Not quite how he expected to spend the first week as a free man, but we were both pleased that he now has the time and flexibility to do that when needed.

Daisy and I revelled in the unexpected alone time and the equally unexpected heatwave.  There was much sitting around in surprisingly little clothing (by Cumbrian standards), eating salad and reading the Kindle.  Although I am never likely to do so, there was much pondering as to why folk move to Spain and places with reliable climates.  But in a thoroughly warm and Mediterranean climate I would be unlikely to have such a green and luscious garden, so the foreseeable future I'll be staying in Blighty ... Some of the pictures were taken as I worked, and others a couple of days later because the first lot were over-exposed.  It's a sad day when there is too much sun 😎

A couple of years ago I dumped temporarily heeled in some Primula florindae until I had a good home for them.  Clearly they rather liked their temporary digs because they have self-seeded and grown until I (nearly) have too many - although I have become rather fond of the primula family and will never have too many!

Some lovely delicate, lilac Primula cortusoides and a few of the florindae now live next to the little pond in the Cottage Garden.  They should get enough shade, and moisture when the pond overflows ...

Many more have been rehoused in the new bed LP made for me recently in the Coppice; same shade and moisture conditions hopefully apply.

As well as digging up the primula I took the opportunity to plant out bits and pieces which had been sitting around in pots;  didn't realise quite how much I had done until it was time to clean the empties ...

Talking of ponds, the Top Pond outside the kitchen window is looking fabulous - despite getting badly frosted in late April the Gunnera manicata is recovering well, other planting is looking lovely, and the new path edging gives a wonderful sense of enclosure which we never had before.  Still need to replace the worn out bark chip path with slate chippings but Management tells me that won't take us long to do once we get started 😌

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Daisy and daisies

(New 2017 blog post published in December 2019)

A snatched set of images, she had taken a Bonio outside, I had followed with a mug of tea.  No different to something I had done hundreds of times before, but on this occasion, the planets and the Goddesses aligned.

15 pictures, all subtly different, and subsequently used fairly often.
And carefully backed up in multiple locations and on many different drives.


Thank you Pinterest:

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Net-house progress

This is West Cumbria, also known as Wet Cumbria and we both know the continued spell of dry and settled weather will not last, so we're pootling about outside and making progress whilst we can.  Yesterday we had a quiet start to the week, Management chilled out and I planted peas and salad leaves in the net-house.

Fingers crossed the salad crops can grow away before the slugs find them, I've never tried grit around lettuce before but it shouldn't do any harm.

Atriplex hortensis - Orach 'Scarlet Emperor', new to us this year.

Without any coercion or pressure on my part, this morning M. suggested we make a start on fixing the netting to the net-house.  The usual Bag End dependencies apply and we had to finish moving all the timber first, so that we could see what we had.

Another fine example of  photobombing from Little Miss Perfect:

Not only do we now have a terrific store of second-hand wood, but I've now got a huge space (almost 4 foot wide and 16 foot long) next to the greenhouse.  Suggestions as to what to do with it gratefully received.  Our current ideas are either cold frames (but that would involve a lot of work to level the ground) or Management's suggestion of "flowers" (which could mean perennials, annuals, he's not specific).  I'm cogitating a 'physic garden' of medicinal plants . . . but there's no hurry to make a decision.

No pictures of the most of the work because two people, one up a ladder with wooden battens and the other tensioning the netting in two directions at the same time is not conducive to photography.  We now have both long sides secure and know how we are going to fix the ends.  For now we can relax a bit knowing nothing is going to blow away if we get bad weather.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Asparagus and bedding plants

(New 2017 blog post published in December 2019)

The greenhouse was overfull and it was not my fault

It was all Management's fault . . .

As has happened before at Bag End, it started with asparagus - or rather it started with (as has happened before at Bag End) the FAILURE of asparagus.  Honestly, it is meant to be a tough, hardy crop and in theory I am giving the damn plants what they want/need, but for the second time I had got an asparagus bed fail.

Attempt number one failed completely - what is now the first bed in the fruit cage killed off ten crowns of Asparagus Jersey Knight in their first winter.  Hindsight and understanding our ground better now than I did then leads to suspicion that the culprit was waterlogging.

20 plants went into a carefully prepared bed in the vegetable patch in April 2014 and for the second year running I only had five showing any signs of life, let alone offering up anything edible. I started with ten crowns each of two varieties - the ‘Gijnilm’ is delicious but half of them have disappeared and all of the “Pacific Purple” has gone back to New Zealand without saying goodbye :(

This time last year I wanted to order some new crowns to fill the gaps but left it too late.  This year however, in in late April I realised that three-quarters of the plants weren’t going to give me a crop, got online in a hurry and found the only place which had available stock was Thompson & Morgan;  20 new crowns, four each of 4 varieties, were due by the end of May.

Anyway, stop rambling around and get back to the point:  whilst at the T&M site I had a quick firtle round, as you do.   Lunacy was in the air that night and I found they were having an end of season sale.

36 Geranium F1 ‘Best Red” plug plants on sale for 2.99 instead of £12

72 random bedding plants on sale for £1.99 instead of £71.88 - no, that’s not a typo, the full price was over SEVENTY POUNDS. 

There is no way on God’s Green Earth I would pay nearly a pound each for what I knew would be tiny little things, barely more than seedlings but at that price, get ‘em in the basket.  Which was my first mistake - by now I really do know that annual bedding plants are a lot of work and not always worth it.  But then Management came along and said “don’t be daft, at that price get two lots of each”.  So I did.  Which was my second mistake, because I was doubling the effect of mistake number one.

There is a third mistake quietly festering in the background - I am never, ever pleased with the quality of T&M stock, and I don't seem to learn - sigh.

I was not hugely surprised when the plants arrived; I expected them to be in poor condition and they were.  The packaging T&M use was completely substandard - whilst the plastic grid holding the roots does its job the cardboard outer which is meant to protect the plants during transit is thin and flimsy, we’ve got cereal boxes in the cupboard which use better packaging.  I should have taken photographs on arrival but I was in a hurry to rescue the poor little things so I dived straight in to re-potting.

A week later I had some casualties, but that was to be expected;  those which had survived slowly picked up.

And with the benefit of publishing this two years late . . . the bedding plants were "shrug shoulders: Meehhhh".  They grew reasonably and a non-gardener might have been satisfied.  Knowing what I can produce when my plants have a decent start in life, I was not.  To ram home the point, as if it were needed, a picture of tomatoes raised carefully from seed for comparison:

And the Asparagus which caused all the trouble?  It was planted in the second fruit cage, very carefully.  And with the benefit of publishing this two years late . . . it also failed, a complete waste of another £25.  The plants never grew strongly and the slugs finished them off.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Novelty value (and a new 'wildflower lawn')

Perhaps it is the novelty of knowing that in future, theoretically, we both are going to have the time we want to do the things we want?  Perhaps it's the relief of knowing that LP, wonderful though he is, won't be here much more and that if we tidy up things might actually stay tidy ...

Whatever the reason, no complaints from me because after lunch today Management joined me in the garden and we made a terrific start on clearing up the two massive and somewhat impenetrable piles of timber that are laying around, one behind the log store and one next to the greenhouse.

Many, many months ago this was "someone's" idea of tidying up spare wood for me ...

But the mess outside the greenhouse is mostly my fault 😕

We had the idea of using pallets to make "bays" to store different sized bits and I'm delighted that everything we used was recycled - the pallets, the horizontal battens were from a neighbour's roof, and even the screws & brackets all came from a messy tray of hardware that had been used at least once before.

This is how far we got before calling it for the day, fabulous progress!

All the time we were walking back and forth in front of the log store we had an audience - this blackbird dutifully sat on his nest nearly all afternoon.  At one point when he did move, however, Management had a quick peep and there are four eggs.  The nest is in the middle under the beam (red square) and no, I didn't get that close for the second picture - much zoom on a little compact camera.

And the 'wildflower lawn'?  At the end of the afternoon we sat in the arbour in the Cottage Garden with Daisy and a mug of tea.  I said I needed to look through the blog for a photo I took last year of an unmown strip of grass because there were two Orchids in it.  "Why don't you have a look now" suggested Management and to my surprise, within a few seconds I had found the first plant.  He came to join me and very quickly we found the second - so I rushed off to get a couple of canes to mark the spot.

By the time I returned he had found another, after which we spent goodness knows how long crawling around the lawn and ended up finding a total of THIRTEEN Dactylorhiza fuchsii, the common spotted orchid in the lawn.  Plans are now being formulated to allow this lawn to grow into a wildflower meadow, it's also full of yarrow, self-heal and clover and goodness knows what else so why fight nature?  This is clearly what this patch of green wants to be 😀

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Our first day of retirement

If truth be known, the time elapsed between making the decision "leave now, not in a few months time" and actually finishing has not been long at all.  Factor in a lot of accrued but untaken holiday used to offset a notice period and it has been brief by most people's standards!  But for the last (gulp) nearly 30 years together we've not been known for dithering about on big decisions.

So it was that waking up this morning was strange, very strange indeed and we both felt a quite weird and displaced.  We have decided to spend this first week gently;  M. said to treat it as if he had a week off from work.  In our usual fashion, "going gently" took the form of an afternoon of metalwork and welding!

First take two large sheets of weld-mesh and cut off the nasty, sticky-out bits (if anyone would like to volunteer the technical term I'll be glad to update the text!)  Edit:  thanks to Eunice, I now know if short they are 'overhangs', if long they are 'flying ends'

Take a handful of the offcuts, stick 'em in a vice and knock the hell out of them with a large hammer (my only real contribution to the whole project).  Hey presto - hooks!

Take 8 lengths of 12mm rebar which just happened to be laying around and weld a hook to each length.

(In the middle of which take sewing machine to welding apron and sort out a buckle closure, who says contrasting hobbies cannot intersect 😀 )

Sympathise with burnt welding gloves . . .

Try and take photos of the welding from a really odd angle because it is far too dangerous to look at what's being done without a proper mask.

Move some of the net-house netting and limbo in with a large sheet of weld-mesh.  Balance it into position, insert four lengths of rebar, stabilise the bottom with some timber batten and whoo hoo - pea and bean support!

Planting is on my agenda for first thing tomorrow.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Staff ?

Susan asked me if I was on the lookout for a "replacement LP"?

Thankfully I know someone who can fulfill all the requirements of a garden slave, but this chap will not insist on showing up at 8.00am and working like a thing possessed for 8 hours with a mere 30 minute break half way.

My gain is the IT industry's loss because the person who fulfills all our requirements is already onsite and knows the garden intimately.  The 19th of May will always be remembered in this house as a Big Day because it's Management's last day at the coal-face which is 21st century corporate life as he commences early retirement.

It is incredibly difficult to find someone you can rely on to work hard and diligently.  Someone with years of experience, does far more than the job description requires, has integrity, assists colleagues and can be trusted.  No, I'm not talking about LP (although all those things apply to him) but Management - his skills have been taken for granted for several years and it's going to be an almightly wake-up call and shock for a few folk over the coming weeks when they discover so much which Management took care of is no longer being done.  Hey ho, no longer our problem.

He has asked for a brief press release denying the rumours that the only reason he is retiring is because I need to replace LP, and reserves the right to escape for a few weeks contracting at some point in the future to get away from the long, oh so very long, list of jobs we've already lined up "now we've got the time to do them".

Congratulations darling, you've earned a rest although you won't be getting one!

The boards are full of "stuff" which we know, unless written down, gets forgotten and there are no plans to have it all done by the end of the month!  Just in case you think he is getting a really raw deal, the two boards of the floor are garden & sewing stuff which is just for me to deal with but his personal list of "Management only" stuff is even longer .....

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Nearing the end

We've been here before - LP has gone away for a few months not intending to return but the lure of endless hard work and relentless graft at Bag End pulls him back [NOT]!!   This time, however, his house is sold, he's bought a new one the other side of the country and it's quite likely that today was his penultimate day with us.

Thursday started well (for me) with Management meeting him in town to collect steel and timber. 

Their reward for this selfless act was bacon and egg sandwiches.

It took LP very little time to fix the compost bin side which needed more support, and whilst the tools were to hand we put in some bracing for the picket fence.

LP and I put in the final section of larch slab around the Top Pond which completes, for now, all we can do in this area. 

In another act of Bag End insanity, I had LP finish dismantling the nursery beds we built a couple of years ago.  I over-designed them, haven't used them as much as I had hoped and want the timber for something else . . .

That something else being (hopefully) the last large bed we create.

Unexpectedly, but happily, we had a delivery from Northern Polytunnels and with Management available we spent an hour or so in the afternoon man/woman-handling a very large piece of shade netting.  For now it is clamped in place and over the weekend Management and I will tension it and fix it firmly to the frame.  Happy Days . . . !!