Posts from previous blog

Here is a selection of posts from my previous blog at www.TheMichaelmasBlog.blogspot.com.  Apologies for formatting issues, the content did not migrate well, and my HTML skills are not equal to the challenge of correcting it!

Wednesday 9 January 2013  Further musings on pastures new

Firstly – we seem to be spending a lot less.  Food is especially much cheaper.  Having been brainwashed for years that supermarkets are what keeps the average Briton from starvation as we would never be able to afford to feed ourselves from independent retailers, I have been shocked to find that my meat bill at the local village butcher (who specialises in locally-grown, outdoor-reared pig meat but seems to sell everything you could imagine including smoked chicken breasts and quails eggs!) is between half and two-thirds of what it was when I did my weekly shop in the supermarket.  My village Co-Op sells many basics at pretty much supermarket prices.  Two farm shops within a short drive provide almost everything else I need, often at startlingly low prices.  For a few treats I go to Waitrose in a nearby small town, and in over our first two months I went to the out-of-town supermarket three times (for things which I have since found I can buy locally for comparable or cheaper prices).  I am not planning to go again any time soon.
My food miles have shrunk.  Firstly because a large proportion of what we eat now is grown and purchased within a few miles of where we live, and partly because much of my shopping is done on foot, or just a short drive away, rather than going on an expedition to the supermarket.  I drove a total of 14.5 miles for all the shopping for Christmas and New Year, as against probably well over 30 last year.  And apart from the Christmas pudding all of my Christmas dinner was grown/raised/shot/made within 20 miles (the pudding was from the Co-Op which is literally round the corner).
I have not managed to get out walking much.  There’s just too much mud.  Despite my statistically-backed assertion in a previous post that the average rainfall in Somerset was half that of Wales, we had hardly unpacked before the region was plunged into floods of biblical proportions.  Serious consideration was given to building an ark on the lawn, or at least trading in one of the cars for an inflatable dinghy.  Fortunately, we did not flood here, although many of the fields we can see from the house were underwater, and the only direct impact on us was the wholesale road closures during the worst of the flooding, and the disruption to the Paddington to Penzance train line, which made travelling to London for meetings a little challenging.  However, we are not complacent – the ground is now so saturated that only a few hours of rain is enough to create giant puddles on most of the roads, making them impassable in places, and to send the brook back up over its banks and into the field next door, to the consternation of the resident flock of Suffolk sheep.
My fears that friends would think that rural Somerset is too remote to visit have not been borne out.  The diary is filling up nicely!  It would be even better if it stopped raining long enough to be able to show them around the area…
I seem to be relishing domesticity.  No doubt as part of the nesting phenomenon associated with a new home, I have been baking at least once a week, made my first ever chutney (having made improbable quantities of apple sauce and Dorset apple cake, I had to find something else to make with my glut of apples!  Actually, it’s turned out well – I used a recipe from Clivenden from a National Trust recipe book, and it went very well with cheese and cold meat at Christmas) and indulging in afternoon tea with home-baked cake most days (curiously, I have also lost half a stone…).  Since I finished work I have caught up with two years’ worth of outstanding mending and dressmaking projects (so I now have enough clothes to wear, for once!), and am only a few hems away from finishing shortening all the curtains.  I even decorated a wreath for the front door – bought a plain evergreen one from a local nursery and then decorated it with pine cones, bundles of cinnamon sticks, and toadstool ornaments (a traditional Dutch Christmas decoration from my youth).  Despite stout gloves my hands were shredded by the holly, but it was worth it!  Move over Kirstie Allsopp…
I have been making gentle forays into village life, including a round of craft fairs before Christmas, and going carol-singing, which I haven’t done for 25 years.  I was much impressed by the generosity of the people we sang for, both in terms of donations to the Children’s Hospice and in the lavish quantities of alcohol and nibbles we were provided with!  Touchingly, one family of Polish heritage invited us in for their children to sing Polish carols to us in return.  Lovely.
Although I have not yet got around to setting up the bird-feeders (if we get really cold weather this will become a priority), there has been a steady stream of avian visitors to the garden and surrounding fields – so far, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, jay, jackdaw, blackbird, mistle thrush, robin, miscellaneous species of tits, goldfinch, heron, pheasant (a very fine cock bird and his harem of three).  The pond attracts birds who walk across the vegetation to drink and bathe – one robin last week was in there for about ten minutes, having a very thorough splash around!  I am assured that there are also green woodpeckers and kingfishers nearby, and I have heard tawny owls.  Circling buzzards are a regular sight from the upstairs windows – very much a signature bird of the Quantocks.
Although (not entirely surprisingly under the circs) I am feeling fairly exhausted by the events of the last few months, I think this has been a good move.  I have found a home with the local Quaker Meeting, which has given me time and space to find some equilibrium in what has been in some ways a somewhat disorientating experience, and helps to keep me focussed on the idea of simplicity and being attentive to the essential.  I am meeting some very interesting people and making contacts which could result in exciting possibilities for art and life.  And above all I am making some time and space for myself, to re-connect with what makes me tick, which is at this point what I need more than anything else.
Tues 1 January 2013  New life, new year
My lengthy absence from this blog has been due to something of an upheaval in the latter part of 2012. In the course of a few weeks we have moved house (from South Wales to Somerset), I have finished my job, been away on the first week of training for my new business venture, and survived Christmas.  We are very grateful not to have been flooded, as so much of Somerset has been underwater over the past few weeks, and every outbreak of rain on the saturated ground leads to another round of road closures and sandbags.
Moving house precipitated a new wave of decluttering, paring down, and addressing the issue of stuff versus simplicity, which has been a preoccupation in 2012.  Whilst I am not convinced that I managed quite to achieve my decluttering target in terms of volume, it was heartening to be able to unpack fully in less than a week (bearing in mind that we both work from home, so inevitably have considerably more stuff than if we only lived here), with pretty much everything having found a home.  The new house is larger, which means that it is easier to have demarcation of function in each room – no longer is my wool stashed in corners of the utility room, dining area, office and spare bedroom, but it is now all sorted and to hand in the studio.  Ongoing culling will continue, together with the implementation of a ‘one in, one out’ policy, but a great deal of progress has been made.Simplification of other aspects of life is a little less straightforward.  I am currently juggling domesticity, art, learning a new trade (traditional upholstery and furniture renovation) and adapting to my new habitat, while sorting out what shape my paid work will take.  It all feels a little disorientating at the moment, but new opportunities and contacts are emerging on an almost daily basis, which is exciting.  Having a little breathing space is also proving fruitful creatively.  And Somerset is a very art-orientated area, which is stimulating.For updates on the art and furniture aspects, please follow my blog at www.TheFabrikantBlog.wordpress.com.  I shall be back on this blog before too long with further musings…
8 September 2012 Form and function – house and gardens at Llanerchaeron
Yesterday we decided to take advantage of the glorious weather and do something we have been meaning to do for ages, namely to visit Llanerchaeron in Cardiganshire (see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/llanerchaeron).  Llanerchaeron is a 1790s reworking by John Nash of an older country house, elements of which can still be seen internally.  It has all the characteristics of the ‘form over function’ approach of Nash and his contemporaries – the handsome symmetry of the exterior of the house is achieved only because of the fake windows, which do not actually exist in the rooms inside.  The proportions of the Nash rooms are very pleasing, and a contrast to the rooms in the older part of the house, which are smaller and less imposing – but at least here the fireplaces worked properly and they were able to keep warm!  Again, function was sacrificed for the sake of the aesthetic.  It was, of course, exactly this kind of thing which Pugin, Ruskin etc were rebelling against half a century later when they were insisting that form should follow function in architecture, even if that meant asymmetry and sticky-out bits on houses.

Despite – perhaps because of – smiling wryly at the contrivance of the architecture, I really liked the house – the relatively small scale of the building means that it still manages to be intimate and domestic – one could imagine living there, in the grand manner but without feeling as if one was rattling about in a stately home.  The upstairs bedrooms and boudoir, although cunningly oval shaped (even with curved doors!), are modestly sized and furnished.  Also, the National Trust has decided to offer a more informal visitor experience, with little in the way of formal routes, and the guides tend to leave you alone unless you engage them in conversation.There are also two collections of interest – the P.M.Ward collection of decorated household objects which occupies the housekeeper’s and maid’s bedrooms upstairs, and the Geler Jones collection of agricultural, domestic, mechanical and craft items.  The latter is at the far end of the farm yard, and is only open on Fridays, so we timed our visit well – as well as a traction engine and a couple of threshing machines, there are horse-drawn carts and carriages, and even a hearse!  Also tractors, literally thousands of pieces of engineering (mostly agricultural) and a saddlery and clog-making shop.  I tried on a pair of ladies’ clogs, complete with metal tipping on the wooden soles, and although a size too large (should have worn my hand-knitted socks!) they were surprisingly comfortable.  Coming straight from the house to the Geler Jones collection, I was struck by the contrast – many of the things here were undoubtedly beautiful, but that was ancillary to their principal purpose of being functional, which dictated their form.And then we explored the walled garden, which I think brings form and function together – the walled garden is beautiful, but most of what it grows (apart from a few beds, and the Knot Garden) is edible – fruit trees, herbs in raised beds surrounded by gravel walks, soft fruit, serried ranks of beans filling beds surrounded by clipped hedges, brassicas in rows, rainbow chard the main feature in another bed.  The edible blocks of planting, within the formal symmetrical structure of clipped hedge and gravel walk, and punctuated with ornamental ponds (complete with waterlillies, pondskaters and a wonderful green glittering dragonfly) seemed to me to create the near-perfect garden.  I think if ever I had the chance to create a garden from scratch, this would be my inspiration.The estate aimed to be self-sufficient, complete with livestock and all the bottling, preserving, brewing, smoking, salting, curing, cheesemaking etc activities which you might expect, along with the inevitable laundry, in the complex of outbuildings attached to the farmyard.  Nice little detail – I’d not appreciated before that the sides of the large zinc buckets (in which the laundry was pummelled by a dolly) were ridged, presumably to provide more friction – like having a built-in washboard.  Clever.I’d highly recommend Llanerchaeron if you are at all interested in social history, slightly quirky gardens, architecture beyond the usual stately ‘ome, or indeed just walking in lovely surroundings – beyond the walled garden there’s more grounds, with a lake, whilst on the other side of the tearooms there is a footbridge taking you to a network of woodland walks.  Oh, and the tearoom’s not bad either – assorted cakes etc and also light lunches.  I gather from a regular visitor that the Cawl (Welsh lamb soup/stew) is rather good, and they even had gluten free cakes which made me happy.

But for me, it’s the dialogue between form and function which I shall take away from my visit – and continue to muse upon!

28 August 2012  Pastures new – moving towards greater simplicity?

Here we go again – the fifth house move in 11 years beckons.  Somehow it never gets any easier or less stressful!  This move goes hand in hand with some life-changing refocussing for me – going freelance after years of employment, starting to train as a traditional upholsterer and furniture restorer, which will take me through 2013 and out the other end with a certificate from AMUSF and hopefully the start of a business, and with a bit of luck a lot more time for art.Also a move back to the country, with everything that involves – fortunately the village we are moving to has quite a few shops left, so this time I won’t have to drive 7 miles for a pint of milk, which was the case last time we lived in the country!  The garden is beautiful (the first time we have ever moved into a house with a garden which didn’t need loads of depressing work doing to it before it was habitable) and has a vegetable patch which is going to have its retaining wall built up to make a raised bed which my back may be able to cope with.  It’s even got a pond.  And apple trees.  And multiple places to sit out.  And as the rainfall in that part of Somerset is roughly half what it is here in the South Wales Valleys, I might even get the chance to sit out and enjoy it occasionally!Things I am worried about?  The cost of getting anywhere when I may have no income in the first few months and the price of petrol is going back up.  My friends deciding that rural Somerset is even more remote than Wales and not coming to see me.  Not being allowed to be myself – I’m getting to the age when I am weary of having to act the part that’s expected of me to avoid criticism or worse.  Especially as the Dutch part of my personality seems to be gaining the upper hand the older I get, and I am getting more stroppy, assertive and unwilling to be conformist!  I’m also worried I might love it so much I never want to leave…Things I am looking forward to?  Not being hemmed in by thousands of houses for miles in every direction.  The birdsong being louder than the traffic noise.  Being able to go walking on the spur of the moment, without having to organise an expedition and first drive to the start point.  Feeling safe enough to walk through the village to the shops by myself (I am under no illusions about rural crime – but I know from preliminary visits that the atmosphere on the street is very different and less threatening).  Being surrounded by working countryside, with farms and businesses.  Being able to buy from the farm or farm shop, and reduce our food miles, shop locally and sustain local producers.  Having my own studio space – a beautifully large, light room with views over the garden, and even a sink!  Radically reducing the number of interactions I have with people, which, as a fairly extreme introvert, I have found particularly exhausting about my current job with its constant round of meetings and especially training sessions which often leave me ‘all peopled out’ and needing to go and hide in a darkened room, exhausted.  Above all, having some ‘me-time’ and, just occasionally, to be able to sit down and read a book for the sheer interest of it without feeling guilty or piling up a backlog of work I should be doing instead.The decluttering has been moderately successful – I think I’ve achieved something like a 25% reduction in my ‘stuff’, which is not quite the one third to one half I was aiming for – but the plan is to do a further ‘layer’ when things come out of the boxes after the move, and have to convince me that they are worth giving house room to.  The new place is quite substantially bigger, but I want to keep the SPACE, not fill it up with STUFF!  Altogether, I think this move is well timed to aid my striving for a simpler life in every way – actually having a significant drop in income will help to give an ‘excuse’ for reducing consumption, and a new home environment which is so lovely that I want to keep it that way, and a radical change of lifestyle, could all contribute to the overall simplification.  Hope so.

24 April 2012  Decluttering update (and asparagus)

Nearly four months on and I’m not sure I have made a whole lot of concrete progress in the great decluttering and simplification project, apart from in my head, which has moved on a lot!On the plus side, I have got rid of 4 giant binbags of stuff, and 3 binbags and two boxes to charity shops.  I have also been reading a lot about minimalism, and have even begun to sell the concept to my partner, who is something of a hoarder and has a serious paperwork habit which tends to spread out of his study and all over the house, much to my annoyance and frustration.On the downside, I have not yet satisfactorily decluttered any one room.  I have made inroads into the bathroom, the kitchen, our bedroom, the guest room, and my office, but there is just so much to do that I run out of steam before anything is completed, which is very discouraging.However – I have greatly reduced the amount of clutter coming into the house (being ruthless with the junkmail, for example) and have been actually binning stuff and getting it out of the house once it’s been designated as rubbish, rather than agonising about finding specialist recycling facilities for every last thing (which tends to mean it just stays in the garage/hall/utility indefinitely – some things have even moved house with us!).Also, mentally I am moving on in my thinking, and all sorts of things are coming together.  Earlier in the spring I finally decided to make a career change – to move from the ‘knowledge work’ I inevitably drifted into because of being academically able as a child, towards the very practically creative side of me which has being trying to get out ever since.  I have decided to leave my job at some point in the next year (exact timings yet to be decided, and partly dependent on other factors) and train as a traditional upholsterer and furniture renovator, setting up my own business in due course (specialising in chairs) alongside the textile art.  This is hugely scary, but also feels as if I am finally doing what I should have done years ago – accepting that I am happiest when making things, when being creative, and that I have always been the kind of person who can fix things, do things up, and give them a new lease of life when everyone else has given up on them.  Given what makes me tick, making/renovating things which I ‘know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’ has got to be a more satisfactory way for me to make a living than pursuing nebulous ideas, targets and agendas, with outcomes which are impossible to measure.  All this also seems to chime with the zeitgeist of craftsmanship etc which is the subject of so much discussion at the moment – another example of a lot of things seeming to come together just now.

I have also started attending Quaker meetings, which is something I have been trying to pluck up the courage to do for about 8 years.  I think all this thinking about simplifying life and paring it down to the essentials has brought me to the point where I can no longer put off exploring Quakerism, with its ethos of living simply.  Being amongst people who are accepting of diversity, and whose values and way of life I am increasingly sharing since my mid-life crisis of the past few months, is something I am valuing greatly.  In many ways it feels as if I have come home.

On a practical note, my partner has agreed to put ‘decluttering dates’ in our diaries over the summer to ensure that the shared areas get attended to.  We are starting in the garage, on the principle that this will give us space to store the ‘recycling’ and ‘charity shop’ bags and boxes temporarily while we are doing the rest of the house!  If we are to reach the target of third to a half reduction in ‘stuff’, then we are going to need a lot of temporary storage…

And the asparagus is coming up!  Another week or two and we should be cutting our first crop – yay!

24 December 2011  Reflections and resolutions
I think it’s true to say that 2011 didn’t really go as planned or hoped. Far more of my time and energy went into the day job than I had anticipated, to the detriment of my health, well-being and balance, and my back, IBS, and chronic fatigue symptoms have been dramatically worse as the year has worn on (although attempting to cut out wheat from my diet has helped a bit with the IBS latterly). The dodgy back put paid to a lot of plans for the garden and growing-my-own, and I am having to think carefully about 2012 to ensure I don’t get lumbered (no pun intended) with crops which I have sown but can’t tend. And I have had to give up on the idea of a smallholding and sheep any time soon.

The growing realisation that unless I do more creative work, and get my day job down to the hours I am contracted for in order to have time and energy for creative work, I am going to be very unwell and unhappy in the near future has been a wake-up call this autumn. No doubt the recession zeitgeist has contributed too, but I have been thinking increasingly about simplifying and minimising my life, moving from being a consumer to a creator. This might sound a bit grand, but the ongoing battle to keep on top of my clutter to enable me simply to use my workspace has left me feeling overwhelmed by all the STUFF in my life – so much of which does not seem to have been acquired by any conscious process! So – the plan for 2012 is to consume less – to ask more questions about whether we really need it before it gets bought or otherwise comes into the house. And, conversely, to own less – my aim is to finish the year having got rid of at least one third, and preferably half, of my STUFF.This will be a tall order – especially with the books. I pick a random book of the bookcase in my room. Myths and Legends of the Celts by James MacKillop. How long have I had this? About 5 years, I think. Have I read it? No. Have I ever consulted it? No. Am I really likely to read it in the next 12 months? No. But it looks really interesting! Grrrr. Amazon Marketplace, here I come!A lot of my clutter results from working at home, with my head office a 34-mile round trip away. Obviously, I want to make sure that everything I am likely to need to have to hand is here. And the nature of my job means I generate a huge amount of paper, training manuals, books and filing. Some things I can no doubt get rid of to the new shelves which I have just requested for head office. But a lot will need to remain, and my challenge is to stop it multiplying and taking over every available space. It’s the area which will demand most discipline. I might manage the one third reduction, but not the half, as this would compromise my effectiveness if the things I need are not here where I need them.Clothing should be easier – I have got rid of a huge amount already, either on eBay or to charity shops, as my weight loss over the last year has meant I am now about 3 sizes smaller an most things I owned a year ago just don’t fit. However – I seem to have about a hundred pairs of black socks in various stages of degeneration, which will need to be edited! Again, a significant amount of underwear is now too large to wear again, and must go. I seem to have 3 large drawers full of assorted underwear, but can never find what I need for the day.One room at a time – bedroom, office, guest room, boxroom, kitchen, living room, utility, garage (leave the worst till last – and all the stuff heading for the dump will have ended up there anyway!).

Simplify the vegetable gardening, in line with what is now possible with a bad back and a partner who loathes gardening.

Make time to get stuff out of the house – to the dump, the charity shop, or listings on eBay or Amazon – no point decluttering a room if the output ends up cluttering the hall or garage instead! Realistically, I am going to have to spend half a day a week on this for the foreseeable future.

I think back to how lovely a house is when it’s empty, or when you stay in a hotel – the mental clarity afforded by clear surfaces and only having the things around you that you actually need. I have always loved William Morris’ dictum, to have only those things ‘which you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’ – I just seem to have got lost somewhere along the way.

So, Mr Morris, 2012 is going to be your year – and if by next Christmas I do indeed only have things in my home which I know to be useful (as opposed to ‘might come in useful one day’!) or believe to be beautiful (including having had time to actually make some art) then 2012 will have been a huge improvement on 2011.

28 May 2011  New potting table results in flurry of activity!

I have finally got a potting table – this means that I can pot, sow and generally mess around with compost without hurting my back with repeated bending. Many thanks to Emma who offered a melamine-covered table on Freecycle. It is in the little yard area just outside the back door, with a pot-graveyard underneath it, all very convenient. As a result, I have finally got round to potting up the tomato plants which I started off in the little growhouse, I don’t know how many will survive the transplantation as it always seems so brutal to disrupt them, but I had 12 healthy plants to start with so hopefully I’ll still have enough for a good crop. The variety is Tiny Tim, which is suitable for growing in pots. They are all in large terracotta pots along the back wall of the house.I also sowed some corn salad, aka lamb’s lettuce, which we both like and are currently consuming in industrial quantities from the supermarket in expensive bags. I’ll sow some more in a couple of weeks so that we have a succession.A few days ago I put the second lot of chard into bed 3. The chard in bed 2 is up, but slow, as it was last year. In bed 1, the Little Gems are fine, but the pak choi got slugged again, so I’ll give up on that! It’s nice, but not worth the fight with the slugs – they always win. I’ve also now got broad beans successionally in all three raised beds – they last ones haven’t come up yet, should be here any day!I think that will be it for this year – salad leaves, toms, chard and broad beans. Next year I might try carrots in pots!Right – back to making supper, sadly not from home-grown ingredients this time 😦

29 April 2011  Pictures!
Went out with the camera this lunchtime to take some pictures of the Acer palmatum Okagami, and the quince blossom.
26 April 2011 Germination
Germination is breaking out all over. In raised bed 1, the pak choi and little gem lettuce are now up, as are about half of the broad beans. Cue frantic watering! A few of the sweet peas are up in the mini greenhouse, as are all the salad leaves – had the greenhouse open to the sun for a few hours today, and they grew before my very eyes!Next lot of sowing is scheduled for this weekend – need more compost first!Meanwhile, the guerilla rhubarb is up again with a vengeance, and has been cut for the benefit of Karen (my wonderful cleaner, who loves rhubarb crumble) and Pixie. So glad to have good homes for it, as I am not desperately keen on it myself, and it’s a lot of hassle to prepare.Moley is still going strong…
22 April 2011  The rowan tree
The microscopic rowan tree has surprised me by suddenly producing lots of flowers – four trusses so far – so maybe we’ll see some berries this year! It always amazes me how the tiniest rowans seem to be able to carry the weight of great bunches of berries. The idea of the rowan tree was partly to provide bird-food, so this is good. Talking of bird-food, must go and re-fill the seed feeders, the sudden spate of greenfinches this morning has finished the last of the seed off!Salad veg has germinated in the greenhouse, but still waiting for the sweet peas. They always seem to take for ever!The mole is excavating a great swathe across the lawn. If Matthew has his way, its days are numbered, but I am holding firm to the belief that it has a right to live in our garden, even if its activities are seriously inconvenient! Does anyone know how long moles live? This is the second spring we’ve had this one. And since next door’s excavations for their new garage, our garden is now pretty much landlocked, so it’s unlikely to be able to dig its way out to somewhere else – I think we’re stuck with it for its natural lifespan…A whole lot of sparrows have just appeared – don’t get many of them, so it’s always nice when they appear. The pair of bullfinches have been around a lot over the last week or so, such handsome birds. All we need now is a hedgehog, and we’d have a right little nature reserve here!
15 April 2011  Quince!
Very exciting – the quince tree has blossom buds! I counted 20-odd earlier. Brave little tree – I’m not convinced it’s strong enough to carry fruit if it manages to set any, but full marks for trying!
The first salad leaves (Salad Bowl) have germinated in the mini greenhouse. And 11 out of 12 asparagus crowns have sprouted spears – many more of them than last year, too.
10 April 2011  First sowing of the year

I see from my gardening diary of last year that it is exactly 12 months to the day since my first sowing last year! The warm weather tempted me out today to do some sowing of misc things for the mini greenhouse.I have sowed three varieties of sweet pea from Kings Seeds – Tara, Ethel Grace, and Alan Williams (three more will go in at the end of the month). Also tomato Tiny Tim, and four large pots of salad leaves to get the season started – lollo rosso, Salad Bowl, rocket and a mixture of oriental salad leaves.I also sowed the first of the broad beans Bunyard’s Exhibition into bed 1 (the raised be nearest the house), together with some pak choi and Little Gem lettuces. Little Gem did well for me last year despite severe neglect, but pak choi got slugged, so we shall see – if it’s not a success this year, I’ll give in gracefully and concentrate on other things!I really need to get some large troughs for the salad leaves – the Factory Shop had some last week, maybe I’ll call in on my way home tomorrow and see if they still have any. Six would be good – two for tomatoes (rather like growbags, but more orderly!) and four for a succession of salad leaves.More will go in at the end of the month – I have a list! – but so far I have filled two and a half of the four shelves of the mini greenhouse. More sweet peas, more toms, and the chilli which is my fun sowing of the year, will account for the rest, I think. When the sun has been on it for a couple of hours, it’s appreciably warmer in there than outside. It will be interesting to see what effect it has on germination times – I recorded those last year, so have a benchmark – last year’s were indoors, but in very dark conditions as I just don’t have enough windowsill space in this house (and what there is tends to be rather prone to being jumped on by Sophie! – for whom I have also sown the latest indoor mini-lawn of cat grass!).

The trees are all looking good – the quince especially is well on and covered in lovely downy leaves. Given the hammering they had during the winter, I am quite relieved. The dogwoods are in leaf too, which looks great against the red stems.

The Acer palmatum Okagami which I bought down in Dorset last year, and which I potted on in Feb as per instructions from the nursery, is looking well too – lovely deep wine-red leaves, which is what it’s supposed to do! I really must get round to getting it a proper pot soon – the blue glazed one it’s temporarily standing in (simply to stop it blowing over) doesn’t suit its new colour scheme at all. Cue a visit to the garden centre!

22 March 2011

Mini greenhouse!

The mini greenhouse has arrived! An eBay bargain, it’s a 4 tier Gardman – very sturdy, but easy to put together, took only a quarter of an hour by myself. It’s now in place at the back of the house, getting all the afternoon and evening sunshine. Very soon (poss next weekend) I will have to get on and do some sowing…no excuse not to, now!
22 March 2011

First post of the season!

This blog rather ground to a halt last year, so I am going to try to be better at keeping it up to date this year. My back problems caused me to have to give up on a lot of things last season, and although it is rather better this year, I now know that I have severe limitations when it comes to gardening, and must be sensible about what is achievable.Th autumn clearing up never got done, as it snowed at the end of November, and that was that really for a couple of months! I am attempting to enthuse Matthew about bramble clearance, as it really does need to be dealt with, along with clearing the large pots, drilling drainage holes in a couple of them, weeding the patio, and a few other jobs I can’t do myself because they involve bending and/or lifting.The mole is back – again, as last year, when the snow melted, the molehills became apparent. Am trying to prevent Matthew from calling in the mole catcher, as I really don’t want it killed.I am awaiting the arrival of my Gardman mini greenhouse – I went for a 4 tier one in the end, had toyed with a 5 tier one but decided that this might be more likely to blow over, and also replacement plastic zip-up covers (and indeed fleece covers) are easily available for the 4 tier size but not for other sizes. The idea is that the growhouse will go against the back wall of the house, and benefit from the fact that the wall soaks up the sun from about lunchtime, and radiates for quite a while after sunset. Last year I found that I had insufficient windowsill space in this house for seedlings, and would definitely need some greenhouse space if I was to grow anything much!As soon as the growhouse arrives and is assembled, I will get on with some early sowing – sweet peas and some salad veg – by the end of March, with more sowings planned for April and May. I am hoping the sweet peas will actually grow this year! They were very disappointing last year, mostly I think due to low light indoors in the early stages.

The raised beds need weeding too, and then some time in the next few weeks I will get the broad beans in. The asparagus bed is pretty much clear of weeds, and the first fingertip-sized spear of asparagus came up at the weekend, which is very exiting. Next year we cut our first crop!

25 July 2010

July Update

I can’t believe it’s over a month since I last posted. I have been musing about the success or otherwise of the garden, and it might be useful to write some of the musings down – not least for future reference when I am thinking about what to do next year.The roses did well, despite some greenfly, and were all gorgeous for several weeks. The arbour is still in bits in the garage (too much rain, too little time) and so the climbing rose and the honeysuckle are still in their pots on the patio awaiting developments. The scent was amazing – every bit as good as promised in the David Austin catalogue.Tomatoes needed more effort than I have been able to provide this year, although they are not dead yet and the Tiny Tim does have some fruits. Next year – start the toms off later, in a mini-greenhouse, and pot them up into larger pots earlier to improve water retention.My back and shoulder problems have been a major issue this summer, and as a result nowhere near as much weeding, tidying and general maintenance has been done as should have been. If it hadn’t been for the raised beds, this would probably have scuppered veg production, but fortunately the raised beds are easier to weed, and also don’t seem to get weedy in the same way as traditional beds. The patio badly needs weeding between the paviours, but it doesn’t help that it has been raining pretty much solidly for 2-3 weeks now, and also weeding with the gas wand is Matthew’s job and he ‘hasn’t got round to it’. The grass needs mowing too, but there it’s a combination of apathy, rain and the drudgery of first clearing molehills off it – fewer than before the ultrasonic gadget, but still an occasional irritating feature.For next year I will definitely buy a mini-greenhouse – one of those jobs with shelves and a plastic zip-up tent. Veg and flowers I started off indoors just got leggy and pale and keeled over – too little light in this house. The veg I sowed direct into the raised beds has all performed well, although very slowly (I think everyone is finding their timings out this year). We have had the first few meals of broad beans (tender and fresh and lovely), but the pak choi has been less successful as it proved very popular with the slugs – we don’t have many in this garden, but they all converged on the only brassica crop! We did get a few stir-fries out of the crop, but it was a bit disappointing. I think I did sow them too thickly, which helped make it easy for the slugs to hide. For next year – rotate to the next raised bed, and sow more thinly. The broad beans have done well, and staggering the sowing has proved to be a good idea – it looks like we will have a long supply, although not in huge quantities because I only have 1.5 square metres of them! (which actually is half of the active beds – the fourth bed is Matthew’s asparagus) The chard has done well – will sow more in a few weeks, to last into the autumn. It’s delicious! I should have sown successional salad leaves – the first lot were great, but then my back went, and I just didn’t keep up with it, so that has been a pity – we have bought a lot more bags of salad leaves this summer than I had wanted to.

The sweet peas were not a success – poor germination, and suffering from the lack of light indoors. Next year will sow later and in situ outdoors, or at least in mini-greenhouse. Have really missed them this summer. The ordinary peas did badly indoors too, so next year will try them in situ as I did with the broad beans.

The dwarf buddleia are finally in bud, one plant proved to be much more vigorous than the other, but both now have evidence of impending bloom, which the butterflies will like. Generally, though, ornamentals haven’t really happened this year, because of my back it just hasn’t been possible to do any planting and I haven’t liked to sow things I won’t be able to plant out. Fortunately all the seeds I have will still be in date next year, so I will give it a better shot then. Just waiting for the bulb catalogues to appear to order some tulips and daffs for pots, so at least we have some spring colour to look forward to.

The Wild Bank is in need of a cut, but this will be a bit problematic with my back/shoulder in the condition it’s in, and Matthew can’t be safely let loose on it or he’ll cut down everything, including what I want to keep! He did mutter about getting a strimmer for the job, which made me pale somewhat…the dogwoods have all but vanished into the long grass, and I do need to liberate them and clear the ground around them again, and maybe put some bark down this time.

The trees are all doing ok, and survived the storms – it was worrying, watching them whipping around in the wind, but they seem to have come through it and not loosened noticeably. The new foliage is lovely.

So, next year – mini-greenhouse, more salad veg, sweet peas and other ornamentals, keep on top of the maintenance. More widely spaced pak choi, more chard if poss, peas in situ. Toms, with more dedication! Broad beans as per this year. And try not to have my back go on me at a critical time in the gardening year in 2011…

19 June 2010

Benign neglect

A few days holiday, and continued fine weather, has been a bit of a challenge – I lost some little tomato plants while we were away, and have resorted to buying a couple of plants of the same varieties from the garden centre. The threat of thunderstorms (which, in the end, went round us) made me rush out and build cane supports for the broad beans, which are now very tall and sturdy and flowering prodigiously – and the bumblebees are doing their stuff. The brambles which I failed to root out in the spring have started growing all over the place, and we are going to have to have another assault on them before they render parts of the garden out of bounds without armour!Having to water every night now – but as it’s light until 10 that’s not too much of a burden. The great delight at the moment is the roses – Munstead Wood is in flower, and its claret gorgeousness is amazing – but the scent is even more amazing! Crocus Rose is not far behind, the first buds are breaking, and The Generous Gardener will be next – it’s supposed to be growing up an arbour, but we haven’t actually got round to building it yet, so the rose is still in a large container on the patio, pending planting out in its final location, together with a honeysuckle.Something is eating the chard, and the pak choi (which has emerged at at galloping rate), so have put out beer baths the last couple of nights – which have caught a dozen or so slugs, but I suspect it’s not slugs that are doing the chomping. Must sow some more salad leaves as we have eaten most of what came up so far, and the rocket has bolted. The Little Gem lettuces haven’t germinated well in the raised bed, suspect the local wildlife made off with most of the seeds! And the spring onions aren’t looking too bright either – don’t think they enjoyed being un-watered for 5 days while we were away in Devon. And there evidently isn’t enough light in the house to successfully grow things from seeds indoors – most things are spindly and pale, a marked contrast to what I sowed straight into pots or beds outdoors. The sweet peas have been a write-off, which is a pity. Overall, though, the veg isn’t doing too badly, and the roses are a great success so far.Followers of this blog may recall that a mole moved in under cover of snow – things came to a head while we were away – we returned to find 8 new molehills, and Matthew ran out of patience with the wholesale destruction of the lawn. I am very determined that I don’t want the mole-catcher brought in, as I don’t want it killed, so we have installed an ultrasonic mole deterrent instead – a tenner from eBay, solar powered, and so far we have had only one little hill in 3 days, which is huge progress. Watch this space…
24 May 2010

HEAT WAVE

The weather has been truly sweltering the last few days (approaching 30C in the afternoons) which has made watering a priority. Given the absence of frosts I have also taken the opportunity to plant out the peas, and have also been sowing the next round of veg – more broad beans, pak choi, spring onions and Little Gem lettuces. Not much evidence of slugs yet, but no doubt if there are any around, that will bring them out! The first broad beans are about 8 inches tall now and very sturdy. The salad leaves in pots are not far off their first cut, and the asparagus is now over 2 ft tall and going wild! All the 12 crowns have put forth shoots, which is very satisfactory.I built the first cane supports this evening, for the newly transplanted peas – it was a bit of a technical challenge as I could not put bracing canes in slantwise at the ends as I would normally as these would be outside the raised bed and would present problems with mowing the grass – eventually realised that I could put two internal bracing canes in, braced against the inside of the raised bed – it’s now a very sturdy construction, which I will replicate in the two beds that already have broad beans in over the next few evenings.The roses have lots of foliage but no signs of flowers yet, but it’s early days. The buddleia aren’t galloping away as I thought they might, but at least they are still alive. The new trees are all looking healthy and happy, and the quince even has a few blossoms!Fortunately the row of trees along the neighbour’s boundary, although a little depleted since they thinned them out to make way for their impending garage, is now in full leaf and is offering a bit of shade in the late afternoon and evening. It has been wonderful to go out into the garden with a G&T, and sit on the bench on the patio of an evening listening to the birds and playing with the little cat from next door (I think she’s bored – she always appears the moment either of us goes out into the garden!). It is so good to be able to get the use and enjoyment out of a garden, which we never really have been able to before. We even bought a little tiny table, just big enough for two glasses and some nibbles, last time we were in Ikea! So civilised…Even Matthew is getting a bit interested in the garden – he voluntarily waters the raised beds a couple of times a week, and is entranced by the wayward behaviour of the asparagus! I have to admit, it is pretty impressive.

Cooler weather promised for tomorrow, and I will not be sorry – it’s just been a bit too much – more like a really hot August than May. I have been very grateful for the aircon in the car, as it’s like a furnace otherwise especially if it’s been parked in the sun. And sadly it’s actually too fierce to have the top down on the convertible…

1 May 2010

We have asparagus!

I went away from Monday morning to Wednesday afternoon (doing creative stuff with Val in Dorset) and in the time I was away, not only did all 21 broad bean plants germinate, but on inspecting the raised beds I discovered the first spears of asparagus! Cue much rejoicing, especially from Matthew. As of this morning, 9 of the 12 crowns have sprouted, which is pretty amazing as they’d only been in just over a week. Keeping Matthew from harvesting them could be more of a challenge…All three baby trees now in leaf, the quince is looking especially attractive. I acquired a handsome Euphorbia while in Dorset, along with a cowslip from Val, and both are going into the bank as soon as a) it stops raining and b) my back starts behaving a bit better. The up-side of the rain, of course, is that I don’t need to water every day! The salad leaves are doing well in their pots – it won’t be long now before we are eating our first home-grown salad of the season. Very little evidence of slugs in this garden so far, which is a welcome change from the last garden which was infested with them. A few in the composter, which is to be expected, but the chard has been left alone, as have the salad leaves in pots.Peas and dwarf beans are growing well in their pots in the utility room, and will be ready to go out soon – the peas to the raised beds, and the beans to large pots on the patio. Everything else will take a while yet…
25 April 2010

More Spring

Yay! The chard looks like it is germinating – lots of little bright red stems with the most delicate pale green leaves. Now all we need is for the broad beans to come up – I’ll give them another week, and if there’s no signs of them I will sow some more in pots indoors. Sowing outside was always a bit of a risk, but everything else has come up now – I was rather amazed by the salad leaves, as we have had some very cold nights here recently and I wasn’t holding out much hope for them! Another few weeks and we’ll be having baby leaf salad – so much nicer, cheaper and greener than the stuff in bags from the supermarket. Everything indoors has now germinated to some degree, although some of the sweet pea varieties have been disappointing. The tomatoes were up quickly, and even the cayenne chilli peppers are now growing, though they look very small and delicate.Last night and today we have had the first rain for several weeks, so no need to water the garden this evening. I am quite relieved as I had planted two dozen bluebells which arrived ‘in the green’ the other day, together with a couple of the snow-in-summer, on the bank, and it was so dry that I was actually watering up there as well as the beds and the patio pots, which was all getting a bit tedious. All three of the new trees now have leaves, I am hoping that the quince will blossom, but maybe it’s too young?Wildlife notes – the first butterfly today, some sort of small white jobbie (not good on butterflies!). Lots of finches (gold and green) around the feeders today, they are eating me out of house and home again! Yesterday I was up at Builth Wells, at the Royal Welsh Show Ground, and spotted my first swallow of the season – then noticed there were lots of them around the buildings. Beautiful. Nothing so exotic here, just all the usual suspects – collared doves, wood pigeon, misc finches, sparrows, dunnocks, robins, blackbirds, thrushes, misc tits, and of course the jackdaws, although they usually sit in the high trees of the garden behind us and rarely come down into the garden. Lots of bumblebees around – big plump ones. Interestingly, since I started the ‘messy area’ behind the raised beds, the blackbirds and thrushes are now mostly foraging there, rather than elsewhere in the garden, suggesting that even this small change has increased invertebrate numbers in that part of the garden.Now that his beloved Asparagus has arrived and been planted, Matthew is getting impatient to see some results! If he’s lucky, he may get a couple of spears this summer just to keep him happy – about a month’s worth next year, then full production the year after. He will just have to learn to be patient!As I write this, there is a heavy shower coming down and the sun is shining brightly at the same time – how very stereotypical April weather!

18 April 2010

Signs of Spring

Another lovely sunny day, and I took my camera for a walk around the garden to look for signs of new life. The sunlight on the rhubarb made some interesting textures when taken as a close-up. The buds and beginnings of new leaves on the quince tree are particularly appealing. The two little pierises are doing well, one is flowering and there is new growth which looks like it will turn red very shortly. And the rocket has germinated despite the cold nights, which is very satisfactory.The two dwarf Buddleias which I had on order (special offer from Thompson and Morgan in one of the gardening mags) arrived a couple of days ago, and I have potted them up into a pair of sludge-green glazed pots about 35cm across. They are quite big already, and look like they will flower later this year, which will be good for bees and butterflies!
10 April 2010

Lots of firsts…

It’s been another busy day – the first mow of the year, with a brand new lawnmower which Matthew (mower in chief) is very pleased with. It has revealed just how many holes and molehills there are in the lawn, so I hastily purchased a lawn repair kit to attempt to fix it! Also, the first time we have ever installed our rotary dryer, despite having had it in two previous houses – the first one had a very public garden and I never felt comfortable hanging my laundry out, so the dryer stayed in the shed – and the last house was between three building sites for most of the time we were there, so there was no point hanging clothes out to get dirty again. So the dryer stayed in the garage. Now it is finally installed outside the kitchen window, in a sunny and fairly windy location, and it has already had its first load of laundry, which dried in record time.I went down to Blackwood Garden Centre this afternoon to get some more compost, and finally got round to buying a water butt, together with its attachment to capture water from a downpipe. They were out of stock of stands, so that will come later in the week, at which point we’ll have a shot at following the instructions, complete with hacksaw…I only have room for a small butt near to the downpipe, so have bought a slimline one which holds 100 litres. By my reckoning, that’s about a dozen watering cans-worth.I also bought four large and healthy snow-in-summer plants (see previous post for my problems with these), so I am going to grow them on a little and then excavate large holes for them in the bank, fill with compost to counteract the clay, and hope for the best!The robin and the cock blackbird were very excited about the mown grass, it has obviously churned up all sorts of tasty titbits. Cue much excavation of the clippings! Visitors to the house often comment about the range of birds visiting the garden feeders – I think it’s 19 species so far, almost all daily visitors. The sunflower hearts have proved a great success, especially with the goldfinches, who ironically take no notice at all of the nyger seed thoughtfully provided for them. The sparrows were the ‘early adopters’ when I first started feeding sunflower hearts, which I am pleased about as they are in such decline nationally that anything I can do to help has got to be a good thing. Have even put up a nest box with the right size hole for them.An awful lot of seeds are in various stages of germination around the house. The utility room looks like a greenhouse. I am mostly going for salad leaves, broad beans/peas/dwarf French beans, chard, spring onions, pak choi and my beloved sweet peas. Have bravely sown the broad beans straight into the lovely new raised bed – normally I grown them indoors in pots, but I thought I would risk it. If there’s no signs of them in a couple of weeks I will revert to plan B with a very late sowing indoors. Have also decided to try tomatoes, which (like roses) I have always avoided as there is so much gardeners’ mystique about them – but for goodness’ sake, how hard can it be? As well as the traditional Moneymaker, which needs support, I have gone for two varieties designed for patio pots – Tiny Tim and Garden Pearl. Both sort of cherry types, and look reasonably idiot-proof. Watch this space…

10 April 2010

Update

After yesterday’s exertions I spent some time today pottering around and looking at progress elsewhere in the garden. The trees are thriving, as is everything in pots (apart from the eucalyptus which is failing to come back after its severe cut back in the autumn – but I’m not giving up on it yet!). The roses are getting new leaves, the honeysuckle which is destined for the arbour is up and running, and the trees, especially the quince, are looking very promising. It has been a strange spring without bulbs, but I was too late last autumn, after we moved in October, and by the time I got round to thinking about it the garden centres were all out of bulbs. Better luck this year! But some primulas have appeared along the bank, which is nice. And the dead looking clump of grass is starting to come to life again, looks like it could be quite large when it gets going.The main casualty is the snow-in-summer, which all seems to have curled up and died. I wonder if it would have been better to pot on the little plants into larger pots of compost, and then transplant them later, rather than putting them straight into heavy clay soil, especially as we then had several weeks of heavy rain. Might try that again, as I am really keen to grow this plant – it just looks so good on sunny banks.I still await the arrival of the bluebells in the green, the two dwarf buddleias for the patio, and the asparagus crowns, but at least the bed is ready for the latter now!Apart from dealing with the seedlings etc, the main garden tasks for the next few months are dealing with the last of the brambles, tidying up the patio area, and building the arbour and planting it up. Emlyn and Barry kindly left me a bag of sand when they finished the patio extension, for me to use when laying the paving slabs which the arbour is to stand on, so all I need is some paving slabs, a bag of gravel, a spirit level, and a willing Matthew! Once it is assembled and in place, and before I plant, I think I will paint it with the same stuff I used on the garden bench last year, as it is attractive and apparently hardwearing, easy to apply and didn’t make me feel sick! It would be wonderful to be sitting in my arbour by midsummer…Wildlife note – lots of bumblebees around already. And I think the collared doves and the woodpigeons might be nesting, as they are now coming to feed singly where before they would come in pairs. And the mole seems to have emigrated – for now, anyway.

8 April 2010

Spring appears to have sprung!

It’s ages since I posted anything, because my attention has been pretty much all on my art assignment which was due mid-March, and on work, which has been a bit overwhelming during the last couple of months. However, having determinedly taken the week after Easter off, and with the next few weeks not looking quite so manic, I am able to think more about the garden – and it has even stopped raining for a while!!! There are buds and new leaves on everything, including the newly planted trees and the roses on the patio, which is very encouraging.I shall be attempting to load some pictures today – we spent an energetic morning in the garden, finally getting the raised beds finished. Each one had its turf cut, then was filled with four bags of topsoil, four bags of John Innes No 2, and a large bag of manure. Additionally, the asparagus bed (close up picture) had a bagful of sharp sand incorporated at the bottom to help with drainage on our very heavy clay soil, and the other three beds had a quantity of very good garden compost forked in – this precious material was transported from the previous house in Tubtrugs in the boot of Matthew’s car – he was very skeptical at the time, but was today waxing lyrical about what wonderful stuff it is, which amused me…The rhubarb is a bit of a surprise – it had been cut down to ground level by the workmen who cleared the jungle late last summer, and I had not expected to see it again – but over the last couple of weeks, it has reappeared, phoenix-like – which is a bit of a pest as neither of us is that keen on rhubarb, but I haven’t the heart to dig it up when it’s been so persistent!The other photo shows the new section of patio, and its accompanying gravel trench, which is Emlyn and Barry’s attempt to deal with the flooding corner of the lawn. The whole thing is sat on a bed of gravel about 2 feet deep. It certainly seems to be working – in the recent heavy rain, the bottom corner of the lawn was a bit damp, but there was no standing water spilling across the path and lapping at the house as before. This is definitely progress.I was late getting the first seeds in this year, but will report further in due course. I have found in previous years that late sown plants more than make up for their delayed start with the extra light and warmth later on, so I am not too worried. The utility room has been transformed into a greenhouse!

25 February 2010

Snowdrops…

A short lull in the arrival of plants for the garden ended with the arrival of some ‘in the green’ snowdrops, which have now been planted along the bank. The idea is that they (and the bluebells when they arrive) will come through the snow-in-summer when it gets established as ground cover on the bank. With luck there will be foxgloves , euphorbia and knautia in due course too. Maybe some vinca if the snow-in-summer doesn’t provide dense enough ground cover to keep the grass at bay. I will be glad when the weather warms up a bit and working in the garden doesn’t involve creating mud and freezing fingers! It’s too cold to contemplate making the arbour yet, which is frustrating.
So far everything that has gone in is still alive, as far as one can tell given that some of it is dormant. The only casualty was the ‘Red Baron’ ornamental grass which looked pretty dead when it arrived through the post.The fluffy little cinnamon-coloured cat from one of the neighbouring houses (we have dubbed her Peaches for some unknown reason) has become my companion when I am gardening – she hears I am there and comes crashing through the hedge to keep me company. Actually, she is quite a hindrance, as she wanders around silently and appears behind me just as I am stepping back off the bank, which is rather hazardous to both of us! Fortunately she isn’t digging anything up, but I’m afraid she is an efficient hunter (of mice, anyway) and I am concerned for the safety of my growing bird population, especially if they have babies in the spring.Must get on and prepare the raised beds, especially the top one which needs to be ready for when the asparagus arrives!
14 February 2010

Trees and roses

After a couple of strenuous afternoons, definite progress has been made in the garden. The roses went into their handsome green pots, and are looking very healthy. I followed the David Austin instructions to the letter, so hopefully they will grow well – I am very much looking forward to the flowers, and Matthew is even managing to get vaguely enthusiastic about them!This afternoon we planted the trees – very hard going as the ground in the right hand side of the garden is very heavy, alluvial clay – the left hand side is much more manageable, presumably because it used to be a veg patch and therefore has been dug more recently. After much digging we ended up with three fine holes, and planted the rowan, silver birch and quince. We also decided to use the hole for the silver birch for another purpose too – when our previous cat, Gus, died back in 2006, we were a little taken aback on collecting his ashes from the vet to discover that they were in a very fine wooden casket with a brass name plaque! We had intended to scatter his ashes, but when confronted with this very handsome casket we didn’t know what to do with it – so we didn’t do anything! It didn’t seem quite right to bury him in the garden in Dorset when we were about to move away – anyway, the upshot was that we have been wondering what on earth to do with him ever since, including through two house moves – and now that we were planting trees it seemed like a good idea to bury his ashes while we were about it. All the more appropriate, of course, because of his love of climbing trees (although he wasn’t very good at coming back down in a dignified manner!). So the lovely silver birch is now Gus’ tree, which all seems very seemly and fitting.The garden looks very different now that the trees are planted – even though they have been in position in their pots for a few days while I worked out where they needed to be. It will be lovely to see them developing – as I bought quite mature trees, in the case of the birch and quince anyway, we should see them getting to adulthood before we leave this house.Yesterday’s post brought the latest consignment of plants (snow-in-summer, Spindles, and some more ornamental grasses) which I will plant out tomorrow (back too sore today after digging holes for the trees!). They all look quite healthy, which is good. So far mail order has been quite successful!
8 February 2010

More pics of garden early Feb 2010

8 February 2010

Pics of garden early Feb 2010

 are all to be delivered some time next week. Many thanks to Tony for the generous discount! There was also a catalogue with a lovely pedestal sundial which Matthew and I both fancied – a possibility for later this year maybe, if I haven’t entirely blown the budget…I then came home and stripped a whole lot of brambles from the back boundary, and cut back some of the suckers which have come up from the trees in the plot that we back onto – I decided not to cut them all down as they do provide some privacy in the summer, if and when a solid fence is put in I can re-think that. The grass is very poor along that boundary, because of the overhanging trees, so if the suckers do eventually go it is going to mean either digging a border or else re-turfing. In any event, that’s a problem for another year! I also marked out where I think I want the trees, and have moved them into position in their pots so that I can see if they are in the ‘right’ places.And today I braved B&Q in Caerphilly (which was mercifully deserted as everyone was watching the rugby at Twickenham!) and bought a nice little border spade which is manageably small and light for me (I can’t lift a full size spade, on account of the dodgy shoulder, let alone acually dig with it!) and a wheelbarrow (which will be needed when the topsoil etc is delivered as it will all need to be trundled down the path beside the house to the veg plot at the back).

The spade has now been inaugurated as I promptly went and planted the dogwoods which have been sat in temporary pots on the patio. The soil is pretty heavy and sticky – I think Matthew is not going to enjoy digging the holes for the trees:( and my shoulder is protesting somewhat. I am ever more convinced that raised beds are the way forward!

4 February 2010

Trees!!!

My trees have arrived! A slightly bemused-looking young man delivered them this afternoon. Matthew took them round to the patio, and I set to with scissors to liberate them from the industrial quantities of bubblewrap and parcel tape in which they had been mummified for the journey. Result – one rowan about 3 ft tall, one quince about 6 ft tall, and a very substantial silver birch about 7 or 8 ft tall (pretty bark, although it won’t be properly white for a couple of years yet). If it stops raining long enough, we will plant them at the weekend.I am ridiculously pleased about these trees – I have never actually planted one before, and it’s so exciting!
1 February 2010

Finally, some decisions…

After much indecision, and picking the brains of various kind and patient people in nurseries and garden centres across the UK, I have finally ordered both my roses and my trees. Pixie will be pleased to read that I have after all managed to source a silver birch which is not too big! Betula jacquemontii ‘Snow Queen’ has amazingly white bark and only grows to about 7 metres, apparently, which should fit nicely in our garden. A native variety would have been nice, but just not viable in the space available, so this is definitely better than nothing. Thanks to John Ridgewell (Independent Green Space Adviser) of Wattsville for putting me wise to the properties of Betula jacquemontii! In the end I ordered my trees (a quince and a rowan as well) from Lodge Farm Plants in Warwickshire, they do lots of native species and wildflowers, and really know their stuff – and they have no minimum orders and reasonable delivery costs, which made all the difference compared to the one I thought about in Devon. Hopefully my trees should be here by the end of the week!I have also made a decision about roses, and have ordered three from David Austin Roses – again, great help from the ever-patient Ann Hilse. They should be here some time in Feb or March, which should just about give me time to drag Matthew down to the garden centre and choose a pair of pots for them. Crocus Rose, Munstead Wood, and also climbing Generous Gardener (for the arbour, when we get round to building it) should look good. And more importantly, smell good…The lure of the plant catalogues proved too much for me again this week and I ordered some more from J Parkers – some ‘Snow in summer’ to blanket the bank, and some Euonymous alatus (a kind of spindle which produces strange corky twists in winter, and amazing autumn colour) to plant along the back between the arbour and the corner which will eventually have the pondlet in it. There were special readers’ offers in two gardening magazines this month, as a result of which I have ordered some ‘free’ (i.e. pay for postage) snowdrops ‘in the green’, and a couple of dozen British bluebells, and also two buddleia bushes which are a dwarf variety which bloom heavily (butterflies and bees!) but can be grown in 40cm pots. Blackwood Garden Centre has lots of BOGOF offers on large pots at the moment. At this rate there won’t be room to sit on the patio for all the pot plants!I have calculated the amount of topsoil, John Innes No 2 and manure which I shall need for the raised beds, and have entered negotiations with the garden centre – including delivery, I shall see quite a lot of change out of £150, which as set up costs isn’t too horrendous. But I think that, once I have bought a border spade, a wheelbarrow and a hand hoe, I really ought to stop buying things, as the budget is pretty much all gone! I got stacks of plastic pots, planters and seed trays through Freecycle from a local firm who recycle plastics, so that has not cost me a penny.
Meanwhile, it has stopped freezing, and although the forecast is for rain this is preferable to trying to dig holes for the trees in frozen ground!I really hope we get a decent summer this year, so that we can enjoy the garden now that we finally have a nice one…
26 January 2010

Mole…

…when the thaw came, it became apparent that, under cover of snow, we had been joined by a new inhabitant in the garden – a mole! That first molehill has now been joined by several more. Negatives – the poor lawn has already suffered this winter – before the snow there was a layer of wet leaves. And molehills are not pretty. Positives – I am not a houseproud (gardenproud?) gardener, and anyway moleheaps consist of lovely friable soil which can go on the raised beds. And moles have to live somewhere!The wildlife is doing well – the squirrel is an occasional visitor, but generally the bird clientele is expanding – as well as the gorgeous pair of collared doves, and the two nuthatches whose visits give me so much pleasure, we now have a pair of loved-up woodpigeons. Also, a pair of robins, ditto blackbirds, and (to my great delight) a beautiful male bullfinch, who occasionally brings his dowdy olive-coloured mate along too. There is a proliferation of tits of various sorts (blue, great and coal) and most days a marauding troupe of long-tailed tits, like miniature animated feather dusters with mohican haircuts! Lots of sparrows, too, which is good as they are getting scarce, and some dunnocks and chaffinches. Every couple of days there is a single goldfinch, but despite the supply of nyger seed he hasn’t brought any friends yet. I live in hopes of lots of baby birds in the spring, although I worry about the presence of magpies and jackdaws. I need to enthuse Matthew about fixing a nest box to the eaves for the benefit of the sparrows!
23 January 2010

Exciting new stuff delivered!

Very exciting – yesterday a very heavy-laden courier arrived with my four raised bed kits, which are now in the garage pending Matthew helping to make them up. And today, the doorbell heralded the arrival of yet more treasures – a box of plants from J Parkers and a big parcel of seeds from Kings Seeds!The plants were a bit of a self-indulgence – all ornamental, three dogwoods with lovely red stems for the back corner of the garden (a bit of winter colour), three ornamental grasses for pots for the patio, a honeysuckle to grow up the arbour (it flowers at a different time from the rose), and two little pieris plants (I already have a bigger one) again for pots. I spent a very therapeutic afternoon (especially as it was sunny and dry, and not too cold – a miracle!) potting up all the new arrivals – some only temporarily until I get round to digging holes for them. The pieris need ericaceous compost as it is lime intolerant, so while I had the compost bag open I also potted on the lovely camelia that Val gave me, which has doubled in size since we moved here 3 months ago, and is full of plump buds, as the poor thing has been toppling over because its pot was too small. It is now looking wonderful in a lovely blue glazed pot, which sets off its dark, glossy leaves beautifully. The crimson flowers will look good against it too, when they appear – which won’t be too much longer, by the look of the buds!This evening I have worked out a sowing calendar, from February to July – things like lettuce are pencilled in several times to ensure a continuous supply. Goodness knows what Matthew is going to make of all the pots and seed trays on the window sills – he complained enough last year with just a few! Maybe next year I might think about investing in a little grow house – can’t justify a greenhouse, but that would be a compromise.This is going to be fun!!!

14 January 2010

Seed catalogues etc

As promised, a report of what I am actually ordering after my trawl through the catalogues. For some time now I have been buying Gardener’s World magazine and Grow Your Own, and looking at the adverts and also which suppliers get mentioned in the articles. This narrowed my shopping down a bit! Together with some searching on the web, I ended up with Thornhayes Tree Nursery in Devon (they specialise in trees for the Wet West of the UK), David Austin Roses, King’s Seeds (I have grown their sweet peas in the past), Dobies, and Thompson & Morgan.Thompson & Morgan rapidly proved to be a waste of time. Although their catalogue is lovely, their customer service wasn’t – I have emailed several times in the past few weeks with a specific enquiry about the dimensions of their raised bed kits, but apart from an automated reply demanding my order number (how can I provide one of those when I haven’t ordered yet, as I am waiting for their reply before I decide whether their product is suitable for me?!) I have heard nothing. When the Dobies catalogue appeared, it turns out their raised bed kits (fully described, with all dimensions) are actually cheaper than T&M, so I have given up on T&M altogether.Dobies seem to have the best in asparagus crowns – they have varieties that can be gently harvested from the first, rather than second, year, which is good as Matthew isn’t the most patient gardener! So I will buy them, and the raised bed kits, from Dobies.Pretty much everthing else in the way of veg and flowers will come from Kings Seeds, together with highly secented varieties of sweet pea in a range of colours. I love sweet peas. For many years I have grown them in pots, growing up a wigwam of canes – this year I will use part of the raised beds too, so there will be lots to cut for the house.

In terms of veg, I have gone for mixed lettuce, salad bowl (cut and come again leaves – I grew them in pots on the window sill last summer), chard (just like spinach but easier to grow), broad beans, dwarf beans, pak choi, peas, rocket, and a variety of tomato called Tiny Tim which is designed to grow in containers (will try them on the patio). I have generally gone for veg we really like, which is expensive to buy (those bags of leaves!), or which tastes so much better fresh (peas). I have tried broad beans before, with mixed success (slugs!), but other than that it’s all new to me!

I got some ‘pretties’ too – I love alchemilla (Lady’s Mantle) and although I have some in a pot (which originated in my friend Val’ garden in Dorset) I would like it everwhere! So I will try that from seed and try to get it to naturalise under the hedges and on the bank. Also foxgloves and knautia for the bank at the back, and nasturtiums, nicotiana and nigella to grow in containers around the patio. And 5 varieties of sweet pea – Knee Hi (a dwarf variety in mixed colours) for the pots, and Ethel Grace (lilac), Gwendoline (pink/cream), Tara (salmon pink) and Alan Williams (blue) for the beds. Are are described as highly or very highly scented, so that is something to look forward to!

The star of the customer service awards has to be David Austin Roses – I emailed a plaintive request for advice, as their extensive catalogue is so extensive as to be bewildering for the beginner, asking for varieties which would grow happily in a container and also for general advice on compost, size of pots etc as I have always been very daunted by roses – there is so much mistique about them, especially from elderly male gardeners! Ann Hilse, their garden design and landscape coordinator, emailed me back at lenght with lots of easy to follow advice, and a selection of suitable roses in the colours I had indicated, and in the end I am going for Crocus Rose (a cream – my choice) and Munstead Wood (a deep crimson – Matthew’s choice). I will also buy The Generous Gardener (palest pink) which is a climber, to plant beside my arbour. I shall have no hesitation in contacting Ann again with any future queries.

The tree nursery were also helpful, but I don’t think I will be ordering from them,simply because of cost – they have a minimum order of £100 net, for orders to be delivered, and I can’t very well hire a van and trog down to Devon to collect them myself – and my modest order won’t get anywhere near £100. Plus there is £30 plus VAT delivery charge. I could easily be paying £150+ for £50 worth of trees. However, I now have a clearer idea of what trees I want, so I will try more local nurseries and garden centres – Usk has quite a good selection, I think. I feel some trips to garden centres coming on when the snow melts!

I shall also need some hardware – I have a set of Felco secateurs on order (much cheaper at World of Felco online than anywhere else I have found), and will also need a wheelbarrow, and a border spade (I can’t manage a full size one). The other major expense will be approx 800 litres in total of topsoil and compost, plus a few bags of manure, for the raised beds – still, all these are one-off expenses, subsequent years will just require some seeds and compost and the odd plant here or there.

Meanwhile, I had better get on and fill out those order forms!

14 January 2010  So now I’ve got a blog, what do I do with it???

I really started this as an experiment to see whether I could actually work out how to do it – sad, is’nt it!? However, my friend Pixie suggested that I could record my progress on my new garden, especially as I am going to attempt my first proper veg garden; and I am doing an art foundation course with the Open College of the Arts and they are very encouraging of blogs as a means of getting your work online and to chronicle your progress – so, here goes!This first post is mostly about the garden – it has been snowing a lot here on and off for the past 4 weeks or so, and I haven’t even been able to get outside – but it has given me a chance to sit down and plan what I want to do, and then pore over the seed catalogues and work out exactly what I need to order.At the moment the back garden is rectangular and almost all grass. The left-hand boundary is a delapidated fence which is the neighbours’ responsibility, and which should get replaced at some point in the next year or so. The back boundary is an open chainlink fence, with a line of the neighbours’ trees immediately behind it – mostly sycamores. The right hand side is a bank leading to a high hedge of something evergreen with large shiny leaves (as yet unidentified – you can tell I am not a gardener!) at the house end, and more open and scubby at the far end. About one third of the way across, nearer the left hand boundary, is a concrete path leading from the back door of the house to the back boundary.The plans, roughly, are as follows:

To the left of the path will be the ‘working’ area of the garden. Here, there will be 4 raised beds of 1 metre square, alongside the path. There will be enough space between them to mow. The top one will be for Matthew’s asparagus (he’s been going on about growing asparagus for about a decade, but we have never been in the same place for long enough before – they take a couple of years to get going) and the other three will be for veg and my beloved sweet peas.

As it is possible that the neighbours will remove some of the trees if their plan to turn the area behind our garden into parking for their house comes off, I would like to plant some small trees – their height is very limited as they need to be more than 1 1/2 times their height away from the house, and the garden isn’t very deep. I would love a silver birch, but even small varieties grow to 12+ metres, so that’s not going to work, sadly. However, rowan (mountain ash) and spindle would work, and also I would love a quince tree (mmm, membrillo!) and as they are self-fertile you only need one, unlike apples etc.

Wildlife is a priority, and I want to turn the top left hand corner of the garden into an untidy area, with a log pile, perhaps a hedgehog house if I can persuade Matthew to build one, and some stones and leaf piles. In the top right hand corner I would like to make a small pond – my friend Val has a very successful and froggy half-barrel pond in her garden, so it really doesn’t need to be big to attract wildlife.

I would like to plant the bank with sort of woodland species, and would start with foxgloves, and in a garden in Dorset last year I saw dark crimson Knautia (a kind of scabious) against lime green euphorbia (spurge) which was very effective, so we’ll give that a go. Next autumn I will think about bulbs.

I have an arbour in pieces in the garage, ready to be built in the spring, and would like to grow a climbing rose and a honeysuckle up that. It is going to go at the end of the path, on the right hand side, facing diagonally back towards the house and patio. On the patio itself there is a bench and some chairs and a table, and already some pots which I brought from the last house, and I would like to have some more including two roses and some container veg.

So – that’s the plans, and next time I will write about the catalogues, and what I have decided to order.

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