Sunday, 28 November 2010

Frosty days in the sunshine

The Field

A bit of gardening on a sunny winter's day has soothed my soul and refreshed my mind; It's also created a twinge in my lower back and in my shoulders but hopefully a hot bath will take care of later!

How come, when you've spent so much time raking up leaves it just looks the same afterwards?  I picked up enough to almost fill my second compost bin this afternoon but you'd never know from looking at it afterwards.  You turn your back and all the hazel trees in the hedge have a good shake and drop more leaves onto the path, patio and lawn!

After the non-effective leaf clean up it was time to check the compost heap. Earlier in the year I'd made a compost container out of old pallets  and then spent months filling it up and turning it over.  It seems my reward was a great pile of compost ready for use. In addition, I was given a plastic compost bin which I'm filling up at the moment, but it doesn't hold much so maybe I'll build a second one from pallets.  It's easier to access, not likely to blow over in a strong wind and I can get much more in it. The only downside is that it's a much harder job to turn it all over, but that's a small price to pay to have enough compost for both the garden and Field in the future.

Jasper joined me, taking  up his usual spot, like a sentinel, on a corner of the compost container. I think it's because not only is it a great place to catch the sun but he also has a strategically placed high point from where he can see the various mouse holes in the nearby bank without the poor unsuspecting mice seeing him before it's too late!  Besides, evidence suggests that not so many rabbits are coming in at the moment - one attempt at a new hole which was instantly filled in - so I guess he's looking for smaller snacks at the moment.

Don't let the looks fool you...he may look relaxed but Jasper is ready to pounce at a moment's notice!

The compost came in handy for my apple trees.  Planted this year, they could still be susceptible to any hard frost so it was time to clear the ground around them and ensure that they didn't have to battle with the weeds for soil nutrients.  The sun was reaching the trees but not the ground around them so it was hard with frost and I was expecting it to be a really difficult job.  However, it turned out to be easier than I thought to get the weeds out. Having had decent weather in the summer and more chances to strim the weeds and brambles, thankfully I was only having to dig up ground cover plants around the apple trees.  After that I used a layer of dead leaves and compost around the base of each one to help keep the frost away and to give their roots some extra 'food'. I think perhaps a trip to the garden centre to get some fleece for them might not be amiss next weekend.

I took time too to take some photos of The Field; I like to keep a record of it's development and seasonal changes. It'll be great to look back at them, and this blog in the coming months to see the journey of this project.  Today was a great opportunity to see the frost lying on the ground.  In previous years I haven't been able to get into the Field for the 6ft weeds, wildflowers and brambles.  It was lovely being able to wander through it, through patches of sunshine and hard frosty ground where the sun's warmth hadn't managed to reach.

Mr Robin sits camouflages in the hedge eyeing up the worms
Frost makes even the nettles look attractive
Leaves on the brambles add some colour in the sunshine

Is that a lodger in Room 3 at the bug hotel?
 Tiny flowers of the Fatsia Japonica

It was so enjoyable,spending time in the garden on a crisp sunny day this time of year, but to end that with a mug of hot chocolate by the wood burner is the icing on the cake.  Jasper wouldn't know about hot chocolate, but he'd agree about the fire - he's sleeping in front of it.  Probably dreaming of mice and rabbits.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Bulb planting

Had such a great morning yesterday.  Myself and a couple of friends from work hosted a bulb planting session at the care home where we're working with residents with dementia.  We'd gathered a group of the residents, care staff, relatives, young people and others from the community to plant a mixture of daffodils, crocuses, lilacs, tulips and Glory-of-the-snow in the garden.  Turf squares had already been cut in advance so that we didn't waste too much time and could get straight into planting the bulbs.

It was just so great to see the residents looking forward to being outside.  Because the outer garden area of the home has open access to the road, they spend very little time in their garden.   This is something we are changing as part of the project; demonstrating to the care staff that time spent outside is so important to people's well-being that it shouldn't be seen as an 'add on' to their normal daily routines, and by that I mean for both the residents and themselves.  

It only took about an hour and a half to do the planting but that was long enough for the residents and they were quite ready to go back inside once we'd finished.  So many rosy cheeks, so much conversation and laughter.  It felt just like it was, a morning spent with friends in the sunshine, doing something fun that would give us more enjoyment in the months to come.

One resident (I'll just call her 'R') is an ex-marathon runner and has been known to run off down the street when taken outside before, even making it difficult for fit and healthy care staff to catch her!  The care staff weren't keen on bringing R out to participate because of the risk of her running off, but we persuaded them to try and it was so worthwhile that we did.  She didn't once make a run towards the entrance, she was too busy enjoying herself in the garden, chatting with the member of staff who was planting with her and watching others planting their bulbs.  After R had planted all her bulbs, she asked to go back in for a cup of tea, and as she passed me she had the biggest grin on her face that I knew it had been worth it.

Another resident was a very keen gardener when he was younger.  E is 90 now and has been a bit of star in the project.  He's given radio interviews and had his picture in the paper, talking about his days as a gardener and how his favourite flower is  the Chrysanthemum which he used to grow for competitions.  E's eyesight is very poor and he can't bend down far these days, but we weren't going to let that reduce the level of his involvement.  Working with the guidance of a youngster he planted a whole row of bulbs.  It was a bit like watching an episode of 'The Golden Shot' (remember that game show?), with the young lad calling "Left a bit, right a bit" until E had his hand right over the hole then he'd drop the bulbs in and his assistant would cover them over.  They talked together as they planted and walked around the garden.  I think they're building up a real friendship, and it doesn't matter if E doesn't remember his helper the next time they meet - he'll feel a familiarity with the young lad that will make him feel safe and comfortable in his company.

You see, we're as bad at wrapping older people with dementia up in cotton wool as we are our kids these days.  We assume that people with dementia are unable to do so many things and yet when we let them take the lead (letting them know that there's support available should they need it), they show us that they're more capable than we think they are.  Particularly when it comes to being creative or using skills that they're familiar with.

Isn't it time we took the stabilisers off their bikes and allowed them to wobble a bit?  Because if we did, the obvious look of joy on their faces would put a smile on ours too.  Sometimes a risk is worth taking.


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Cornwall Floods

Well I wasn't expecting that this morning!  I was woken up around 5.15am by howling winds and heavy rain. At that time of the morning there's just no point in trying to go back to sleep so, as I usually do on mornings when I wake early, I got up to have a cup of tea.  Sir Jasper (the rabbit-killer) was asking to go out so I opened up the back door and we were both greeted by a torrent of rain.  This happened about 4 times in the space of half an hour.  It not that I'm losing my memory, just that Jasper tends to lose the ability to use his own cat flap if there's anyone in the house that could open the door for him; even if his legs, and eyes, are crossed! But each time the door was opened he took one look at the rain and turned tail back into the kitchen.  I suspect I'm not alone amongst cat owners in this ritual.

My brain still didn't examine the evidence before it - not until I'd gone through the morning routine and was in my car going down the road and saw the traffic queue ahead.  Not the rail crossing barriers down at this time of the morning surely? It was 10 minutes too early. Then I began to spot the debris on the road and several cars ahead were turning round and coming back the other way.................ah, maybe it was something to do with the high winds and torrential rain we'd had in the night.  Tuning to the local radio station confirmed my suspicion (hello Brain, finally awake I see!).  Floods, mudslides, fallen walls/trees, debris (both floating and non-floating), stranded vehicles, people trapped in houses and in cars.....mainly the areas of St. Blazey, Lostwithiel, St. Austell, Par and Luxulyan.  Basically, all around where I live. Even the trains were affected, both branch and main lines closed due to landslides or, in the case of a local branch line, a storage tanker had washed on to the railway line!  I'm sorry? had I missed the announcement about the impending Cornish Apocalypse?!!

I promptly turned the car around and attempted to get to work via another route.  To shorten this entry, I'll just say it was a FAILED attempt involving numerous texts and calls from caring family and friends, Asda, a dead car battery, a friend to the rescue and a repeat of the journey, in the opposite direction, back home.

After a greatly desired and enjoyable cup of tea I took a walk down the road (in my wellies, just in case!) to look at the damage. I had to take some photos of the scene; I felt it was important to keep a reminder of what nature can throw at us when we're not prepared for it.  These photos were taken several hours after the initial flood, after the fire engines had left and most of the traffic dispersed.......

We faired better than Lostwithiel and Mevagissey as I discovered when I checked the BBC Cornwall website .  I've been in touch with friends in both locations and fortunately they and their homes are safe. I'm one of the lucky ones; I can sit here tonight by my own fire in the comfort of my own home.  Others have been less fortunate.  Taken in by neighbours, families and friends they are most likely spending their evening contemplating the enormity of the tasks ahead of them tomorrow. And they're forcasting more rain tonight; not as much as last night apparently but still - it won't be welcomed in this area.  For once I won't be saying my usual wet weather comment..."It's good for the garden".

Saturday, 13 November 2010

A Good Read

I've been writing this blog since Monday!  I've added, deleted and re-written it.  I've had to change the weather comment so many times!  At the beginning of the week, the BBC weather website said this Saturday and Sunday would be rubbish, then it changed to both days being sunny, now Saturday is here and it's looking relatively sunny  but apparently the rain is back tomorrow!

I want to get out into the garden, continue clearing out the edges of The Field so that I can get to the hedgerows and give it another strim before the winter.......those darn rabbits will be back digging in if I'm not careful and the weeds are creeping around the base of the apple trees. So much to do, so little time (or in this case, so little dry weather!).  My garden isn't directly outside my house, it's actually behind my neighbours house so I can't see it from any of my windows and there are times when I get home too tired to check it.  Then before I know it, it's been a whole week since I've seen it.  So now I'm feeling guilty because I haven't been out in the garden for over a week.  Other things have taken precedence lately and, with the shorter days, by the time I get home from work it's too dark to see what I'm doing.  Like I've said before, I love Autumn - but I start to feel out-of-sorts if I don't get any decent time in the garden, or anywhere outdoors for that matter.

So in the meantime, I've turned to my gardening books for some connection.  On the sunny side (pardon the bad pun) it's provided the opportunity to try and improve my gardening knowledge.  I recently bought a copy of John Seymour's 'The New Self Sufficient Gardener'; first published in 1978. It's a wonderful book; chapters divided into fruit, veg, herbs, seasons, planning, cultivation, preserving and even a miscellaneous section on garden structures, tools and animals. The illustrations are lovely - I don't know why but it's like flicking through an old book from bygone days. I can see I'm going to get a lot of use out of it.  I particularly like his suggestion of having your hens underneath your fruit trees as they eat a lot of the harmful grubs and I'm certainly going to think long and hard about where to build the hen run next year!

There's another book on my shelf which I love to pick up and relax with on the sofa:  The Healing Garden by Romy Rawlings.  It begins with a quote from Thomas D Church:
There are no mysterious 'musts', no set rules, no finger of shame pointed at the gardener who doesn't follow an accepted pattern.  Landscaping is not a complex and difficult art to be practised only by high priests.
It's given me the confidence to just go out and try things in the garden; if they don't work it's on to Plan B (or in some cases C, D and even E!) but when it does work it's a real boost to the Gardener Within.  This book isn't just about plants for aromatherapy (although there is a section about that) or homeopathy; it contains advise and information on:
  • Creating a low-allergen garden
  • How to Feng shui your garden
  • Encouraging wildlife 
  • Herbalism
  • How to use colour in the garden as therapy (for example orange is the colour of activity, enthusiasm and freedom and complements the colour blue, which promotes relaxation and tranquility)
Not to mention the beautiful photographs. I'd like to try and incorporate some of the ideas from this book into the flower beds in the Field (when I get around to putting them in which probably won't be in the near future) along with some plants suggested in James Wong's book 'Grow Your Own Drugs'.  I quite fancy the idea of growing plants that will help my ice-cold feet warm up in the winter or stop me from spending a fortune in face masks and hand lotions!

My garden needs more in it; that's what will give me more reason to be out in it.  Vegetables, chickens, fruit trees, wildlife pond, fruit bushes, places to sit, views to soak up, wildlife habitats etc are the things that will help me spend more time in it and encourages me now to put those wellies on, grab my coat and hat, unlock the shed and out with those tools!

gardening puts a smile on your face!