I do love this garden in the Spring.
Posts Tagged ‘gardening’
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
Ben 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.
I 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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pop your clogs on and go and have a look. All kinds of sculptural winter beauty and living things await.
While I was shovelling earth three inches deep off my little driveway today, a woman rode by with some children on horseback and said, “I bet you wish you’d never started that.” She was right. I’d only gone out to rake up some leaves, and had ended up totally distracted into shifting five or six wheelbarrows of earth brought down the hill by the rain over the summer. It was slowly starting to encroach on the tiny bit of hardstanding by the garage and build up into a new verge, so for some reason, the rake gave way to a shovel for a couple of hours. And then I still had to rake up the leaves.
With strong gusts winds of the last couple of days and a sudden drop in temperature, whole treefuls of leaves had descended on the garden since Thursday when it was last cleared, making it look a soggy mess.
You could hardly make out the difference between the flowerbeds and the grass.
They were in the pond.
On the patio.
And in the porch. The American way of calling this time of year ‘the fall’ is very appropriate.
As so often, something small leads to something big. I thought I’d pick a few blackberries from the hedge at the back of the house. The result was spending most of the afternoon heaving at a dead blackthorn.
We’re very lucky around here. Being in an AONB – Area of Outstanding Beauty, England’s first – probably has something to do with it. The hedges are mostly in pretty good shape, compared to some parts of the UK, where they’ve been mostly replaced by wire fencing or removed completely as fields become larger and larger, with all the associated loss of wildlife and shelter.
Like many hedges, the one around this garden is made up of a mixture of different species, either in large sections or completely mixed: brambles or blackberry, honeysuckle (lonicera nitida also known as Poor Man’s Box), blackthorn, laurel, hazel, eleagnus, field maple and holly.
A hedge is a pretty substantial thing seen in cross section – this one must be almost 12 feet across – where they’re allowed to grow properly and not be cut for road safety or the convenience of moving gigantic farm machinery.
The reason this part of hedge is so clear in cross section is because a part of it has been removed – before my time – to allow views from the cottage across the hills down to Bridgwater Bay.
At the other end of the house, part of the hedge was at some time removed to allow for the building of the woodshed. Part of this, a bit of blackthorn, died last year and I’ve been waiting for the stump to rot enough for me to remove it and taking it out in bits whenever one of the trunks rotted enough to be pried loose.
Today I got rid of its last couple of trunks, after an afternoon of stripping and cutting away the ivy, brambles and roses. It looks annoyingly slender and light here in the wheelbarrow but it certainly wasn’t easy to shift.
Done now, though.
I’ve been battling nettles as tall as me while I was heaving out a dead whitethorn in the garden today, but before I started that I paid my feeble little vegetable beds a bit of attention.
I’ve decided that I can’t really grow any vegetables here as I’m not around enough to pick off all the caterpillars and snails, who have been enjoying the lettuces and broccoli I planted. The rocket survived more or less but still went to seed. Pretty though. Quite insect-like.
It’s becoming autumnal without ever having been really summery this year. Apart from a couple of days here and there, we haven’t sat outside much or enjoyed the usual sense of unwinding that comes with warmer times. Last night was apparently the coldest August night on record, yet the ice caps seem to be disappearing at an alarming rate as well. I long for the times when I believed that at least the seasons could be relied upon.
Yet, even when most of the garden seems to have gone over to rambling leaves, it’s still offering colour. These crocosmia are blooming everywhere. I don’t like them particularly but they go well with the fennel, which I love. Terrible pictures but best I could manage with my phone in poor light.
Elsewhere, there were small snippets of colour that I couldn’t resist bringing inside while it was dry, so that we had something to look at when we were sheltering from the rain.
Soon it will my favourite time of year – autumn. Am I weird, or what?
The human body is a wonderful thing: where yesterday evening I could barely move my hands, this morning my fingers are lithe and leaping over the keyboard. The reason was that it was actually dry yesterday morning, so I took the strimmer out and cut the grass in the back garden, which had got too long to mow successfully.
This is no mean feat as it is quite a big bit of grass. (I say ‘grass’ but it’s actually moss and all manner of other things. I quite like the term greensward, although it it no-one’s idea of a lawn, because one thing it is is green.) It’s supposed to look like this:
But I no longer feel that I have to keep up with Lady-Vendor’s standards of garden maintenance. It’s impossible anyway. She had a gardener who came for a whole day each week and I can’t have that. So between us, Pauline – who comes for a couple of hours a week – and I do what we can, if the weather permits. And it hasn’t permitted recently, so things have got a bit out of hand. One thing always leads to another and I soon found myself strimming the banks along the road and at the back of the house, and mowing the front garden as well.
I mutter to myself while I’m doing it: “There, almost done now. Ooof, just a bit more. There, that’s the best I can do…” Luckily, there are only cats, birds and insects to hear my madness.
On top of everything, I realised rather late that I was expecting house guests from Canada in a while, so, cursing my inability to see the bigger picture (too many things to focus on at once in this summer’s calendar), I set about cleaning the house from top to bottom and making the beds up for their stay. Somehow, the corners of rooms and windows are always adorned with cobwebs; the floor muddy and strewn with cat litter and nameless bits; and the windowsills dotted with dead flies.
Two hours later I headed back to the Real World, joining hoards of others, mostly holidaymakers with caravans and trailers, coming back from the west country along the M5. Without the exhortations of LOCOG, this would probably have been a four-hour journey. But, despite arriving in London in the rush hour, there was no traffic at all. A completely empty Games Lane on the stretch of M4 from Heathrow due to the Olympic rowing in Eton but still almost NO TRAFFIC in the other two lanes, and I got back in normal time, despite crawling along between between Bristol and Swindon.
Anyway, I’m off for a bit of a rest now. Or I will be, once I’ve got everything sorted out…
You’ll have paid your gardener, whom you’ve been eagerly awaiting for two weeks to give you a hand with the tons of stuff you can’t keep up with out there, and watched her drive away with your lawn half mown and her kids soaked to the skin, only to find the sun out 20 minutes later.
I feel a bit stuck – I’ve nothing to say really. It’s wet outside as so often these days and I’ve been dodging the rain to get my hedge cut and the cuttings cleared away. But a little ray of sunshine today was spotting my most elusive clematis, flowering high up in a tree at least 30 feet off the ground. It’s frustrating because it’s rather a nice bright yellow one – of course, I don’t know what it’s called.
That’s all for now. Here’s hoping for better weather soon.
When I woke today, it was sunny but with rain in the air and huge looming black clouds, so I decided to make the best of the dry, even if it meant heading into the garden at 6.30. I wanted to work on my new vegetable beds.
I’ve been thinking about growing vegetables for a while and was finally inspired to get going by reading a Daily Telegraph article about Quickcrop, a young Irish company that supplies raised bed kits and seedling vegetable plants, which they know grow well. Although, doing some online research and a good nursery would have done just as well, I found their website very helpful, particularly to work out how many plants, and how much soil and manure was needed. Although the broccoli is planted too close together because there’s slightly less space than I should have had.
I thought I’d mix the topsoil with some farmyard manure myself, having spoken to the people at Triscombe Nurseries, rather than buy Quickcrop’s premix. It was quite a lot of effort to manhandle this much soil and manure back from the shop, and it took a surprisingly long time to rake it all about to break down all the lumps in the manure this morning. Manure is such a wonderful euphemism.
I did order the plant plugs from Quickcrop though, and they arrived yesterday packed in straw. Some of them looked a bit yellow as though they’d been in the dark for a just a while longer than they should have been but with the exception of one rocket seedling, I think they’ll recover.
For the beds, I thought I’d adapt some disused cold frames rather than build new raised beds. They’re set on concrete not earth but they’re still 14-16 inches deep, which is a reasonable depth to grow carrots, broccoli, spring onions, coriander, lettuce and rocket. All things that I eat often – I don’t want a glut. There’s a layer of gravel and built-in drainage already, so in theory these should work, although they may get waterlogged. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping it’s not a disaster.
Oh, and I’m looking forward to the carrots. They’re called ’round carrots’, which I thought nothing of when I ordered them. I mean, they’re all round, aren’t they? I’ve never seen a square or rhomboid carrot. Only, these are going to be spherical not long and round. Like golfballs, in other words. So I’m unexpectedly growing novelty veg now.
I took these photographs in the back garden around the herb plot. This is one of the times of the year when I am so grateful to my predecessor’s sense of garden design. The burgeoning leaves and flowers remind me every spring and summer that they were chosen complement each other, down to the tiny rock plant’s flowers.
I can only claim credit for the dwarfish lupin. Surely they’re meant to be taller than that? Oh, and the cat who is a delightful beigey shade called ‘lilac’.