Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

Hard labour

shears resting on a half-cut hedge

I’ve just taken an anti-inflammatory pain killer. This is not how a post about gardening should start but after two days’ hard graft outdoors, it’s much needed. With carpal tunnel syndrome, my fingers get painful, numb, tingly and I lose a lot of my normal dexterity when I do any exercise. After rowing regularly in the gym during the last few weeks the fingers on my right hand have been particularly bad, although some exercises I was prescribed by the hospital do help reduce the symptoms. Doing some heavy gardening hasn’t helped much. However, I don’t see what the alternative is other than spending most of the time being inactive or learning to use my feet more creatively, and that’s not going to happen.

The irony is that I thought a lot of the trouble I had with my hands was due to the amount of keyboard work I used to do. But it’s now almost a year since I left work and the hands are infinitely worse than when I was desk-bound. The head’s a lot happier though, and that’s what counts.

So the hedge needed trimming again. If you’re a regular reader, you might think: “but hang on, she just wrote about this…” and you’d be right but I hadn’t finished the job I started a couple of weeks ago. The cottage has both a front and a back garden (at the sides of the house along the lane). The picture in the right-hand column over there shows what I mean, although it’s only of the higher or front part of the hedge.

This is the one that needed attention, so I did the laneside section as soon as I arrived as the weather was showery. Not a good idea. The battery-operated trimmer, while very sturdy, decided it felt damp and needed a full 24 hours to dry out before it would work again. So, conscious of the lack of time to do the job (I’m never here long enough at a stretch to take my time), I moved on to the shears, which needed to be strongarmed by the pliers before they would cut properly. It was definitely one of those days.

hedge cuttings on the ground

piles of hedge cuttings

The next day, feeling quite achy and stiff, I attacked the hazel hedge in the lower garden which separates it from the field behind. It’s easy to cut and the powered trimmer was working again, so it wasn’t too bad. I’m always sorry to cut hazel at this time of year as the nuts get nixed, but I can’t always do it at the right time because either I’m not here or the weather isn’t right, so I do it when I can.

Of course, I never stop when I should and I ended up also clearing the rather overgrown beds as well. There’s so much more I could do. If only I had the time. Oddly, that’s what I used to say when I worked…

All the hard labour seems worth it though when I gather up vase after vase of lovely flowers. There’s nothing like it!

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As my activities repeat themselves year after year, my posts here have become more sporadic and maybe focus more on things that are a little more out of the ordinary for me (yes, my life is that dull). I sometimes forget that I’m quite happy to read about other people’s day-to-day lives on their blogs.

Even if I’m feeling less inspired to write these days, the blog still has a use as a diary and I find it interesting to look back at a similar date in previous years. I feel quite pleased with the pictures I took a year ago today; obviously didn’t take those with my phone!

walk

I may not be as as motivated to write about an ordinary weekend like this one, where all I’ve done is walk the dog nearby and mow the grass but it’s still nice to record things. I’ve kept a diary, one way or another, since I was a teenager.

Milestone

So today I found myself looking back over the five years since I came to Spring Cottage. During that time I’ve gone from waffling to myself about preparations for moving in to opening up the blog and wittering on to those who follow me and the odd other person or two who finds themselves here when they were looking for curtain material.

In the first couple of years, there were big changes involving redecorating and moving in. Then I focused more on the garden, and it’s with reference to the plants that I can see how the weather has differed from one year to another. Last year at this time in May the peonies were only just in bud. Today, they are all in full bloom and about half of them have been battered to death by yesterday’s heavy rain. I rescued the others and brought them inside. They are so splendidly fragile.

peonies in a vase

Even though things seem to repeat themselves, there are always differences. This year, perhaps due to the amount of rain over the winter, the bluebells seem to be more abundant than ever before. Although I used to ride up there quite often, I had never noticed them on Cothelstone Hill but maybe, without a Nora to exercise, I had just missed them. This morning, they were out in every direction, along with campions and buttercups. And I never tire of that view. Spring Cottage is a little dot on the brow of a hill in the distance and I love it even more for that.

View from Cothelstone Hill

Cothelstone Hill

As always with the past, the weather seems to have been better. Let’s hope tomorrow’s a bit warmer and sunnier as well.

 

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I’ve always longed for a garden trug but new ones are really expensive and it’s something you can easily do without. After all, a cardboard box or a plastic basket of some kind work just as well for holding picked flowers until you bring them indoors. Also, until I came to Spring Cottage I didn’t really have any flowers to pick so a trug had to wait. P1010966 Now, however, Spring brings loads of daffodils and other narcissi, and I also plant all kinds of seeds in my cut flower beds specifically to grow things to bring inside. So I’m enjoying a clapped out old trug that I bought last summer at a car boot sale for three quid. It’s a bit brittle and won’t last for ever but I’ve waterproofed it a little by painting it with Danish oil and it now looks as thought it’s a family heirloom, which I much prefer to things being brand new. It kind of goes better with the ancient nature of the cottage, looks suitably rustic hanging in the woodshed, and I can spend the money saved on seeds instead.

The main flowerbeds here are in the front garden, which is at the side of the cottage, if that makes sense. Being at the side, at the gable end of the house, there is no window overlooking it. So I have to bring flowers in if I want to see them more than in passing on the way to the car. in hedge Many of the daffodils have also been planted under the various hedges. Well, they would have originally been under the hedges but now they are in the hedges, the hedges having grown widthways as well as in height over the years. So the daffs need rescuing before they are forced to bend over by the branches sprouting above them. daffodils on windowsill

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water barrel and tapI love allotments; those little patchwork plots in cities, like here on the edge of Bridgwater in Somerset, where people grow vegetables and flowers; where they build sheds and scarecrows out of discarded materials; where they go to relax and unwind by toiling on their actually not so little patches of earth. Turning the overgrown, run to seed dirt into neat rows of sprouting vegetables and fruit.

allotment run to seed

allotment compost heapI think it’s the variety that you find on allotments that appeals to me: neatness, abundance, rot, abandonment and nurture side-by-side in equal measure. I love the textures of the ground, of the buildings, and of the things that are grown. I find them just as satisfying to look at at this time of year as in the fullness of harvest time.

I don’t have an allotment or even aspire to having one, having just one mouth to feed these days, but they’re still very pleasing to look at. It’s like looking at a microcosm of the countryside: tiny little fields, sharing water, battling to outdo each other yet doing completely different things, their keepers annoying each other with their varied methods of cultivation and outcomes.

Allot 4  Allot 6 Allot 7

Allot 5

What do you think? Have you got an allotment or do you want one? Or are you one of those who find them a messy eyesore on their horizon? Are my glasses totally rose-tinted?

 

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Usually, I’m pretty annoyed at hearing machinery on a beautiful morning. However, today the noise I’m listening to is a chap cutting my hedge.

I can’t quite express how happy this makes me after almost five years of cutting the rather long hedge myself, which has been exhausting and quite painful sometimes, as I have carpal tunnel syndrome and, frequently, tennis elbow – the latter most likely as a result of trimming the hedge. Afterwards, I always have a few days of numbness in my hands and pain in my forearms. I try to keep my strength up in the gym but wielding even a light trimmer at arm’s length for several hours takes its toll.

So after all this time the hedge was much taller than I wanted, as I couldn’t really give it the ferocious cuts it needed. And it became harder with each passing year as another couple of inches was added to its height, so Jay is taking a good eight inches off the top of the hedge today.

man cutting hedge

But it’s only waist height, you might be thinking. Indeed, on the garden side, it’s only that high but on the road side it’s probably about eight feet high, so no fear of anyone peering over the top. And that’s part of what’s made it so hard for me to cut, for, in places, it’s not reachable from the garden because of its width. Teetering on a ladder in the path of the traffic has been part of the fun of living here.

Man cutting garden hedge

Of course, Jay has the right equipment: a petrol-fuelled hedge trimmer far heavier than I could wield comfortably for any length of time. I’m rather envious of it though.

fuel for hedge trimmer

An added thrill is the fact that Jay’s parents used to live at Spring Cottage in the 1960s and 70s. They sold it to the woman from whom I bought five years ago. So he was interested to see inside and he was able to fill me in about which improvements his parents had made to the place (the addition of bathroom and kitchen extension, and the demolition of several layers of wall and fireplace to reveal the original inglenook).

hedge cutting

I wonder if it feels odd to Jay to be cutting hedge that was most likely growing here when his parents lived here almost 35 years ago. I’m hoping I can perhaps get to see some photos of the cottage in the old days when he next comes. I find this kind of thing endlessly fascinating.

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I’ve been meaning to go to Hestercombe Gardens – laid out by Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens – for a long time but I hadn’t looked carefully enough at the website. It costs £9.70 to go into the gardens and I just wasn’t going to pay that much for a walk with a silly little dog, who’s only allowed 15-20 minutes exercise. Another time, maybe, when she’s bigger and can cope better with having to be on a short lead and we can stay longer; or when we have visitors who love such places or when the weather is better. But not today.

I was determined to make something of our visit though; there’s always something to see if you’re curious. And somehow, it makes it easier to be nosy when you’ve got a dog with you as you have the excuse of walking it for snooping into odd corners. I fully intend to make the most of this.

So we set off down the drive to see what we could see and were rewarded with a small herd of cows at the bottom of the deepest ha-ha I’ve ever seen, being led to a different pasture by three members of the farming family. I love ha-has; especially as in this case when you walk to the edge of one to be completely surprised by what you find.

farm lady

cows in mud

driving cows

old farmer

These would have been Nora’s first cows but for the fact that the field opposite the cottage has cows in it at the moment – something that happens about twice a year when Sue lets someone graze a small herd there. We stood by and watched from a distance, and Nora actually sat when I told her to, which has, so far, rarely happened outdoors. The strategic rustly packet of treats in my pocket might have had something to do with it, I suppose…

There were lot of different mushrooms everywhere and I took  lots of photos but, with her dragging me around after various delicious poo smells on the other end of the lead around my wrist, they all came out blurred. Anyway, you all know what mushrooms look like. And now you know what bits of Hestercombe looks like. My guess is that it’s a lot more attractive around the paying side.

hestercombe house

view from Hestercombe

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Nora has been helping in the garden: she’s been digging…

dog digging

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pruning…

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watering… although some of that is me getting rid of her puddles…

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and generally having a whale of a time.

dog playing with flowerpot

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Thankfully it’s the end of the growing season, and most of the less established plants that I couldn’t move were either rescued from Homebase’s discounted section or cheap purchases from Morrison’s that I put in quickly to make the garden prettier for the Boy’s visit in the summer. (I should really start calling him the Man, given that he’s now 25 (and a half) but that just sounds weird.)

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But there are still some pretty things and this phase won’t last forever. I can see from the pictures – the ones where she isn’t wearing a collar are from last week – how much she has grown.

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After last year’s debacle with the non-growing vegetables that yielded about six carrots and a few lettuce leaves, I decided to try growing cut flowers instead.

small plot of flowers

The space in the garden for growing things is intentionally very limited, since tending time is spread out and infrequent. It’s rather like having a very inconvenient allotment rather than a back garden. But it has, nonetheless, been relatively successful this year.

Plot 1

Of course, some things didn’t grow at all and others did very well. But overall the amount of flowers was just right. Not overwhelmingly many – although it would have been nice to have had a few more to give away – and not so few that I regretted cutting them. Having a plot just for growing flowers for cutting means that you don’t feel guilty about removing from the garden, and the insects, what is rightfully theirs.

yellow 2

yellow 1

The seeds came from Higgledy Garden with a lovely, handwritten letter from Ben Ranyard. He only supplies seed that he has produced himself on his plot in Cornwall and, although he has only just moved there from Cambridgeshire (I think), that’s proof that things will grow in this part of the world, maybe even on my exposed hillside.

gyp and field scab

gyp and field scab

I planted about half of each seed packet, not bothering to sow inside first and then plant out. They just went straight into the ground on a windy and wet, late May morning in little rows, the order of which I noted (applause!) and that quite coincidentally went from A to Z from left to right. The seed packets weren’t marked with sowing instructions and I should have taken more care to look at Ben’s excellent online guides than I did but, given my rather hit and miss approach, I’ve been very pleased with the results.

phlox 2

phlox

My favourite has been the phlox, which has an old-fashioned, cottagey look about it and, yet, is quite geometric and modern looking. The ammi majus (kind of delicate cow parsley), eschscholzia (California poppies), nigella and gypsophila have been great, and I’ve completely loved the tall, dark purple cornflowers, which were substituted for the blue that I ordered (I’m very happy about that as they’ve been stunning). The lupins came up and were eaten before I even managed to see them, which wasn’t their fault but mine. The cosmos purity, which should have grown well, have disappointingly managed only one flower so far. The zinnias are only just starting to grow, so the pack of spring sowing varieties have been well spread out over the summer months, which has been perfect.

dark 2

dark 1

I’ve got some seed over for next year, if it’ll keep that long, and have separated out the hardy annuals for sowing next month for next spring. That’s really something to look forward to.

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The weather was fine today– in the sense of ok, but actually, no, it was fine. Dry most of the day so that I had time to cut the hedge, although I’m not quite finished. Everything in the garden seems to be out at once and the water butt’s empty so I can tell it hasn’t rained properly for a while. Not that the house seems any less damp. But that’s fine too.Sage and chives

Lupin 2

peony

Something to do with the warmth but being outside was really relaxing, and there was so much to look at just in my little piece of the world.Dandelion clocks

When I was sweeping up the hedge cuttings, I suddenly felt like someone was watching me and turned to find the field over the lane full, not only of cattle but also sheep. The buttercups won’t last long now that they’re back and I’ll be able to hear them ruminating in the night. Funny things. They are so curious. Sometimes they come and stand in a row along the hedge and watch what I’m doing.cowIMG_2720

I listened to Desert Island Discs today in the car and decided that I liked the outgoing governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, very much. One of his choices of music was a song sung by Anne-Sofie von Otter, which reminded me of a curious album by Elvis Costello and her. As luck would have it, I found in the kitchen on cassette and have spent most of the day listening to it on repeat. I had to remind myself how a cassette player worked but it was just what I was in the mood for.home

IMG_2706house at sunset

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It’s too cold for May. Things growing are in suspended animation, biding their time, waiting for warmth and rain. Instead, it’s windy and grey. The chimney booms with the sound of the air rushing over the roof, birds rise up from the field behind the hedge, try to fly across the garden and are beaten back to where they started by sudden gusts. The sun emerges for a moment but is swiftly covered again by layers of lowering cloud. Rain threatens but does not fall. Shivering, I put on the heating and think of making a fire, feeling the tension as my body tries to ward off the cold. Like the flowers in bud, I’m waiting for a change.

poppy in bud

chives about to flower

Peony

Peony almost blooming

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I do love this garden in the Spring.

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It’s incredibly windy at the moment which makes doing any work outside rather difficult. My hair gets in the way of seeing anything, so it was very frustrating being up the ladder fixing the cooker hood vent’s gravity flaps, one of which had fallen off during the winter. I could tie it up, of course, but that thought only ever occurs to me when I’m already doing whatever I’m doing surrounded by swirling hair.

bluster

I cleaned the windows, which is no big deal except when some windows have got ridiculous amounts of security metalwork to dismount before you can get at the glass. It made me realise that there were two windows I’d never cleaned before – in four years! Slut.

I’m quite an anxious gardener, going around prodding and poking and wondering whether things are still alive after the winter. So it’s reassuring to go back to old pictures and think that the tree probably isn’t dead because it didn’t have any leaves the previous year at this time either. Here are the last five years. (They enlarge if you click them.)

In the evening, after my final bout of cleaning, we found a small frog that had somehow made its way inside and got itself attached to a ball of slut’s wool. I quickly rescued it from the cats, who were looking very interested, and put it out in the garden under the leaves growing around the pond. It was only when I came back in that I remembered that I should have kissed it first.

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This is more by way of a log of my activity here for myself (the original purpose of this blog), so it’s not very interesting.

pondlife lowThe temperature didn’t rise above freezing all weekend. The pond was frozen so I kept breaking the ice for birds and other wildlife, and pulled sheets of it out together with whatever was attached. Quite an easy way of getting rid of the leaves that fill the water.

scaffoldingBen has been here to work on the chimney finally – the scaffolding’s only been up since about November last year. It hasn’t rained for about 10 days, so there’s no way to check if the new flashing has worked. Fingers crossed.

hedgeI intended to bring the logs down from the garage to the woodshed this weekend, but couldn’t get the big gate to stay open as the hedge was getting in the way so I spent Saturday afternoon hacking at it (the hedge) with shears, the trimmer and secateurs. I’ve actually managed to make it look miles better and am really pleased with the achievement because it’s always been the hardest part of the hedge to reach.

This weekend was hard work, what with grooming and mucking out the horse for Sunday’s ride as well but it’s such a relief, after all the rain in the last few months, to have been able to do something practical and worthwhile. I almost feel enthusiastic about all the other stuff that needs doing…

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Last week, as the snow melted away, new life was stirring beneath the trees’ damp discarded leaves. It is spring in the middle of winter.

snowdrops in bud

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So I was worrying about the trees in my last post. Well, I arrived at Spring Cottage to find things could have been worse. snowy landscape

A rapid thaw was happening, the temperature having shot up from minus three to about five degrees centigrade overnight. Where I’m told there had been knee-deep snow yesterday, patches of earth were now appearing.

snowy landscape

The house looked more or less intact. I’d remembered to turn off the water before I left, there was no burst pipe. On the other hand, the back door looked suspiciously wet and was hard to open. I put my shoulder to it and burst out into the soggy garden, shocking some birds into the sky. Above me, the gutter teetered at an unseemly angle and disgorged its melting contents straight at the door. In the garden, we’d lost a couple of tree branches here and there, nothing desperate and it will all make good kindling once it’s dried out.

hedge along a roadside

The weight of the now rapidly vanishing snow had done other things as well. Along the lane, bits of hedge were looming forwards in the manner of a drunk sharing a confidence. Lonicera Nitida, sometimes known as boxleaf honeysuckle, is easy to shape and trim but, being a relative of the climber, it hasn’t got any what you might call ‘integrity’. Rather, it leans up against itself like a teenager during that phase where they cling to doorframes to stay upright. Weigh it down with a lot of snow and it’s gone – teenager to drunk in a week.

trimmed hedge

I had to do something before the forecast rain arrived. So I swapped my idea of walking in the hills for sturdy yellow work gloves, reached through the hedge as far as I could from the garden side and hoicked the spindly stems inwards. Then from the roadside, more than ankle deep in thawing snow, I shoved it upwards with an upside down broom. But it wasn’t enough, it had lost its grip, and some of its top-heaviness just had to go if the next snowfall wasn’t going to see it lying stretched out across the lane.

Now that it’s done, I’m thinking that the snow did me a favour, although I would have liked a walk instead of a sore elbow from wielding the shears. The hedge is now thinned out for a bit of fresh growth in the spring and should be all the stronger for it.

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