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
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!
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.
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!
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.
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 😦
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!
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!
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…
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…
We have asparagus!
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!
Signs of Spring
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…
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.
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!
Trees and roses
More pics of garden early Feb 2010
Pics of garden early Feb 2010
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!
Finally, some decisions…
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…
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!!!
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!
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.