Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

Driving through the village the other day I was a bit taken aback by a brightly coloured figure lurking in the corner opposite the old pump. I needn’t have worried. It wasn’t going to step out in front of the car as it turned out to be a scarecrow, part of one of the many competitions taking place for the Flower Show on Saturday. marquee

A really proper, old fashioned marquee had been put up on the playing field for the flower and produce displays and the village hall was serving steaming cups of tea and homemade cakes. With rainclouds being driven across the sky by a brisk breeze, we were lucky to escape a soaking and the sun even came out from time to time.

old ladies drinking tea

There were two lady llamas on display. They make odd high-pitched mooing noises and tried to turn away from the camera shyly whenever I came near waving my phone. Apparently they are very good at guarding livestock as they can be quite aggressive if anyone unknown comes along.

llamas

As expected, there were lots of traditional activities, such as ‘hook-a-duck’ and stalls selling cakes (the Women’s Institute now rebranded as County Something). We pottered around admiring a couple of girls selling professional-looking preserves and a gluten-free range (very Zeitgeisty) and watched the adults’ running-backwards race, just starting below.

start of the adults running backwards race

dreadlocked woman and child

girl sitting in a toy cot

Everyone seemed in a good mood and, while the bric-a-brac at the car boot tables was a bit half-hearted by the time we turned up two hours into the afternoon, we all came away with something that suited us. In my case, a bulb vase for 50p, my friend with some sheet music for her daughter and her husband, popping back to the WI, with a cake for tea.

sheet music

I was tempted to buy a verbena plant at the plant stall, thinking maybe third time lucky, but I didn’t. I just don’t think I can grow them here. Not that this is a verbena in the pushchair before anyone points this out. That much I do know!

plant in a pushchair

My ‘best bit’ – which was something I always made sure to ask my children about whenever they went to any events when they were small – was the produce on show in the marquee.

table full of competition cups

There were competitions for the most scary vegetable creation, the best vegetable person and the best plant jewellery, which is a brilliant way of getting children to engage with vegetables. Growing them can frankly be a little boring and disappointing if you’re small. Children are so creative and it must have been a lot of fun making the entries. I hope not too many of the mums ended up making them at half past midnight on the night before!

most scary vegetable creation

There were also the traditional fruit and vegetable displays. Comfortingly, there was nothing outstandingly vast, other than a huge cabbage and a giant lettuce. I remember being quite put off by some enormously long parsnips one year.

raspberries

huge lettuce

best potato competition

red onions

competition beetroot

I do love the conventions around how things like beetroot and onions are displayed. It’s so very decorative.

best vegetable basket

It looks like the entrants must do it for the love of taking part or the kudos of winning a trophy. They certainly can’t be in it for the prize money, which is very modest indeed.

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Mmm, anyway time to go home for tea and cake…

cake competition

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Having not blogged properly about Spring Cottage for a while, I thought we might take a tour of the back garden.

It’s mostly grass, or rather, moss that’s slowly smothering the grass because we don’t mow frequently enough. On the other hand, not mowing allows the wild flowers to have more of a life cycle.

On the right, there’s the end of a bit of concrete covering the septic tank — a feature of all properties that aren’t attached to sewers. I’d forgotten it was there. I recently exhumed this from a large patch of comfrey that was threatening to overwhelm the rest of the garden. The bare earth I also uncovered has already been colonised by small seedlings. Time will tell what they are. I’ve scattered various things here over the last few months and we’ll see what survives into next year. Or maybe the comfrey will win, again. It’s the yellow sort. I don’t think it’s really very pretty but the bees love it and this part of the garden is usually loudly abuzz with their activity.

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The ‘lawn’ lies beyond the area in the picture below, which is a mixture of paving and gravel laid by my predecessor here. In the middle of the gravel an old wagon wheel is set into the ground and I replanted this with herbs a few years ago. They’ve come on a lot since.

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Below is one of the cut flower beds full of Higgledy Garden flowers for the second year running. These have been more hit and miss this time following some, er, rearrangement by Nora the dog, who had a digging frenzy in late autumn. It was an autumn seeding of hardy annuals this time. Last time was a spring sowing. I’m not sure which I prefer. Both would be ideal obviously. I’ll have to have a think about where and how to do that.

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The beds were disused cold frames that I filled with earth for the glorious summer that yielded six carrots. So I gave up and decided to grow flowers instead.

The bed on the other side of the railings is planted with, amongst other things, alliums, marjoram, some fennel and a half-hearted rhubarb. I think it was intended as a kitchen garden by the previous inhabitants. You can see the ornamental vine too. It had great grapes last year although the jelly I made has only been added to gravy so far, as it’s more like syrup. I cut it back rather cruelly, having seen how hard vineyards are pruned, so we’ll see what happens this time around.

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I was given this poppy which I manage to miss flowering almost every year. At least I caught one of them this year. It’s in the wrong spot at the front edge of a bed but I didn’t plant it – the giver did and I have left it alone.

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Here is a really old rose with a beautiful scent. It was rather weak and straggly so I cut it back far more than in previous years and it’s really benefited. Much less mildewy, stronger stems and more flowers. I think it’s probably been here for a very long time and will probably outlast my tenure here.

Finally, some of the most ordinary things, these geraniums which are everywhere and are so lovely up close.

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So, the autumn equinox came and went, and I missed sowing my Higgledy Garden seeds on time. But the weather has been really warm here, even in the hills, so I sowed them about a week late.

I did a little planning this time and put the taller ones at the back and sowed them in rows within patches rather than just in straight rows. I hope this makes the beds even prettier.

Envelopes of seeds on a table

Planning is the point where I usually get a bit stressed and I need to remember that nature is pretty forgiving. The main thing for me is to make a diagram of what I sow, so that I can recognise and name what develops next year. I did this in the company of the final vase of last year’s Higgledy seed purchase which I sowed in spring. That’s inspiration enough.

vase of flowersI mentioned that it’s been warm. Well, the seeds are up already…

Sprouting seeds

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At this time of year the garden is quietening down but that doesn’t mean there’s any less work to do. The hedges and grass aren’t growing as fast but the blustery wind over the last couple of days has ensured that there are plenty of leaves for me to sweep up. This is a place where you do outside work when it’s dry so Nora and I were kept busy for the whole morning. The compost heap is growing even if not much else is.

dog on unswept grass

piles of swept leaves

Basket of swept leaves

Despite the waning of the growing season, there is still some colour around with a blowsy old hydrangea, two fuchsias (one pale pink and one a typical ‘fuchsia’-coloured one that has recovered its health since being on its last legs a few years ago) and some nerines blooming away. Hats off again to my predecessor here who picked such well-matched plants.

Fuchsia and nerines

I also pruned the blackthorn that seems determined to recolonise the area by the woodshed. It’s so much stronger than the hawthorn and cotoneaster which I would rather see thrive there, but which are stunted by comparison.

Blackthorn thorn on a glove

Another reason I’m not well-disposed towards the blackthorn – although I do love sloes, as do the birds – is because its thorns are brutal. This one went straight through the sole of my wellington boot and into my big toe. Luckily it was a youngish slightly bendy one, so I didn’t have to cut the boot off my foot to remove it. And good that it got me rather than Nora, which would have meant a big vet’s bill.

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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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