Saturday 14 April 2012

Today's the day!

Just a quick post this morning. I'm full of excitement and anxiety today.  It's the official opening of the garden. Not my garden but the one we've been creating at the care home in St. Austell as part of the Creative Spaces project.  I haven't written about it here for some time because I've been able to blog about it on our website instead.  There is a link to the web page from this blog if you look down My Blog List on the right hand side.

After many months of hard landscaping, multiple shopping trips to various local nurseries and numerous planting sessions (not to mention the tears, sleepless nights, smiles, laughter, joy and pleasure along the way) the day has finally arrived!  I can't believe I slept so well last night; even so, I awoke this morning with a list of things to check going through my head.  Everyone will arrive this afternoon and we have the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall opening it for us. It's not been easy getting the care home staff to take ownership of this garden, despite us getting them involved at every point along the way, including input into the design, but I think this will be the day that they do. I hope everyone has a great time despite the weather forecast of heavy showers (typical!) and I look forward to seeing lots more community events taking place in the new garden. I'll be posting about the event afterwards on our website if you're interested.

Care staff planting last September, under the watchful eye of
some residents

Monday 9 April 2012

Bloomin' borders

Please don't think I've lost the plot, this is not going to become a habit - two posts in one day!  But I've been busy in the garden recently and I'm trying to keep up-to-date with my garden diary so today there's a lot to write about.  Plus, for reasons that will become quickly obvious, I didn't want to write about this alongside my fine penny-saving efforts in my earlier post (ahem!).

For some time now the flower borders around my lawn have been looking sad and sparse.  The west border has always been the least planted; it receives very little sunshine, is almost always damp and regularly needs to have the moss scraped off the soil, especially in the north-facing corner. I've struggled to think what to plant there in the past. But after getting some good ideas from my boss and great friend, Jane, I went to shop at the Bodmin Plant and Herb Nursery a couple of weeks ago looking for border plants; in particular those that like partial sun and moist soil.

I always do this thing, and stop me if it sounds familiar, when I go plant shopping; the logical and emotional sides of my brain take up arms against each other.   On this occasion, Logical Brain was saying"Ok, plants that like moist soil, that's our target - nothing else right! Watch those pennies! When we get there, stick to the plan" (are you beginning to understand why I didn't mention this trip in my 'Looking after the pennies' post?).  However, Emotional Irrational Brain (which had been asleep during the car journey to the nursery) leapt out of it's slumber, grabbed its credit card and several large shopping bags, rammed a finger in each ear to drown out LB and jumped around inside my head shouting "Oooh, look at that! What a gorgeous colour, wouldn't that just look amazing in the alpine bank?...... no, wait I've spotted the bargains...over here! Over here! Oooh, you need that plant, really you do!"

As a result the west border now hosts a Pulmonaria rubra 'Bowles Red', Tellima grandiflora 'Forest Frost', Lamium maculatum 'Anne Greenway' and a Mitella Breweri.  I also planted some Sweet William along the front of the border.  The other borders now also contain several grasses (including 3 Acorus grasses which I got at the Lostwithiel seed swapping event), 4 Bellis rose plants, 4 Aubretias, 3 Armeria 'Alba' and 2 Lupins.  Plus half a dozen heathers have been planted in the alpine bank; they're a mixture of autumn/winter and spring/summer flowering plants.

Bellis Rose; beautiful but watch out for slugs
Lamium; spreads as ground cover
Tellima; likes partial shade
Armeria 'alba'
Erica carnea 'ann sparkes'
Pulmonaria (lungwort) grows in clumps
Calluna vulgaris 'Theresa'
Hey, I did save some money though, I split one of my saxifraga plants and set the smaller plants in the north-facing corner to prevent the moss dominating that area.  Ok not the biggest of savings but a great shopping day and my garden borders and alpine bank will be bulging this summer. Sadly I can't say the same for my purse.

Looking after the pennies....

Wherever and whenever I can, I re-use garden materials. Not just out of a financial necessity but because I've been fortunate (yes, fortunate!) to take on an overgrown almost blank 'canvas' and it feels right to use what I can from the current overgrowth in creating the new garden. Cut wood, in particular, is proving very useful in the renovation challenge! Hazel provides me with crooks for hedgelaying, woven shapes for Christmas decorations, sticks to make a pea fence, plant supports and much more. But other trees are proving useful too.

The hedge between mine and my neighbours is an informal, overgrown hedge; mainly dogwood and box, with a small elder tree (useful for future wine-making). Well this hedge hasn't been managed for years and as a result the top part of my garden wasn't getting much sun.  So back in February my neighbour helped me take down about 8ft off the top of the highest section and now I've got a heap of cut dogwood lying around.  I was going to have a big bonfire to get rid of it but it occurred to me that I could use some of the larger branches as kindling for the winter fire.

That's what I've been doing for the last couple of weekends; snedding (removing smaller side shoots and branches from trees/woody shrubs) and cutting branches. The recent purchase of a 21" bow saw, a billhook and the gift of a good pruning saw from my 'sister' The Green Man, has made the job much easier. I ended up with 4 crates and two bags full of kindling and a large pile of 'twiggy' branches for the bonfire.  At least I won't have to buy so many bags of kindling next winter and I discovered, with the recent drop in temperature, that the dogwood burns much better and longer as kindling than the stuff I usually buy.

hedge (top right) 11 months ago

use of pruning saw on lower branches,
February this year

useful tools: lopper, billhook &

hedge (top right) trimmed; more sunlight & room
for the Elderberry to grow

The start of the winter collection

It's also a good time to be thinking about getting a load of unseasoned wood to store and season for the winter. I haven't yet managed to source much free wood but purchasing unseasoned wood is cheaper than buying it seasoned so helping to cut costs later in the year. I'll be contacting my log supplier soon to do just that.

They do say "Look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves", so on that note, if there are any gardeners or tree surgeons in the Cornwall/Plymouth area who want someone to take cut wood off their hands..............hello!

Sunday 18 March 2012

Digging for therapy

Why is digging such good therapy? It makes my back ache, my limbs stiffen up a couple of days later, I get really thirsty, feel absolutely shattered and look like I've been dragged through a hedge backwards after. But it's still one of my favourite garden tasks and I've been thinking about the reasons why this evening. For me it boils down to this:

Digging allows me time to think; to let my mind wander over events past, present and future.  I get to watch the birds fly between the hedge and the bird feeders and find pleasure in watching my cat Jasper slip into the plastic mini greenhouse to bask in the warmth of the sun sheltered from the chill wind.  Sometimes there's the chance to chat across the fence with my next door neighbour's husband about tasks that neither of us got around to over the past months but will definitely do this summer (yeah right!).  Then there's the true pleasure in standing back, leaning on the spade and looking at the work done. It all adds up to being good for the soul.

This weekend has been about just that. Digging that is, not the soul. To set the scene: I need another couple of beds this year as 2 out of the 4 are currently in use.  I recently moved all my herbs in with the rhubarb for a more permanent position; I'm now growing sage, golden marjoram, thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary and mint......with room for a couple more.  So that's one bed in use. The other bed is currently hosting some 'all year' lettuce which has left me with only 2 beds to grow veg in this year (impressive maths!).

So instead of adding more raised beds I've gone for single-digging deep beds and used John Seymour's 'the New Self-Sufficient Gardener' book as guidance.  First I used an old plastic sheet as a rough outline and cut the outline of the bed with a mattock. Then I cut out a line across the width of the soon-to-be bed and cut out the turf before digging down to the depth of the spade (also called a 'spit'). The turf and soil dug out was put onto a plastic sheet for the time being.  Then working backwards I repeated this, putting the turf into the trench previously dug and chopping it up before digging up the top soil and shovelling it on top.  When I reached the last trench I filled it with the turf and topsoil from the first trench.  As I went along I got rid of any roots and stones I found but still finished off by raking over the surface and removing any that had managed to escape first time round.

The soil will be nicely aerated this way and, as the width of the bed means I won't have to stand on it, should remain so.

I began the job yesterday - eventually giving up because every time I went outside it rained and every time I came in the sun came out!  But today's weather was better and I was able to spend several non-interrupted hours finishing it off.  The plan now is to divide it and use a small section as a seed bed and the rest as a holding bed; for this season at least.  Looking at the picture below I think it would look more attractive with additional planting around the edges.

1 bed done, 1 to go
It's not the most straight-edged bed (perhaps I should have used string as a guide) but still, I'm pleased with my handiwork. Hopefully I'll be creating the second one next weekend.  Ooh, I've just noticed there's enough room between the new bed and the fruit cage to put in a small triangular raised bed to grow some strawberries in.  That's another job to add to this year's list then!

Sunday 4 March 2012

A symphony of seeds

This rain is putting a damper on my plans to get digging in the garden so today I've opted for sowing seeds indoors. Especially as yesterday I popped in to the Lostwithiel seed swapping event and came away with various bargains.  I swapped some beetroot, sweetcorn, tomato and mixed leaf salad seeds for leek (Autumn Neptune), pak choi, cabbage (Cabez Negra 2), Alyssum maritimum (Easter Bonnet Pastel Mixture) and a strange packet labelled 'non-anonymous mixture'.  This last one was so intriguing I just had to have it. On opening it I discovered a pack of assorted seeds accompanied with a list of contents.....34 different varieties to be exact. Are you ready for this?  Ok, so here's the list:

Aronia arbutifolia
Arthropodium cirrhatum
Asarum hartwegii
Baptisia tinctoria
Celtis edulis
Clematis cirrhosa
Cosmos, yellow-flowered ex Rhodes
Dendropanax arboreus
Diospyros cathayensis
Ennealophus fimbriatus
eranthis 'Orange Glow'
Eranthis 'Schwefel glanz'
Hibiscus syriacus 'Woodbridge'
Hosta 'Fire and Ice
Hypericum olympicum
Jeffersonia dubia
Kalopanax septemlobus maximowiczii
Lachenalia obscura
Liatris platylepis
Lythrum salicaria 'Robin'
Mahonia pallida
Malus toringoides
Muscari white ex Eastern Turkey
Pulmoniaria longifolia
Salvia hierosolymitana
Scabiosa argentea
Scilla tubergeniana
Scutellaria albida
Serratula coronata
Sternbergia sicula graeca
Tulbaghia simmleri
Tulipa, large-flowered varieties
Verbascum blatteria var. album
Veronica orchidea

Some list huh? I've no idea how I'm supposed to know which seed is which... that's the fun part.  I'll sow them into seed trays and see what comes up.  One day, I'll know what I've grown. In the meantime, it's time to get on to Google and research most of the plants on the list.  I have such a limited knowledge of garden plants that I don't even know what some of these look like............time to put the kettle on!

A small selection of the seeds from my treasure trove

Sunday 12 February 2012

What I did during my break

Well this won't do!  Nothing posted in my 'garden diary' since last September? I've no idea where the time's gone and there are no excuses; just a blur of family and friends visiting, working weekends on dementia events, Christmas with the family and friends and to top it all I picked up some sort of cold bug which lingered around for 3 - 4 weeks.

I did manage to spend some time in the garden though.....just to maintain some form of sanity!

The log store was completed, with help from my neighbour (very handy living next to a builder!). We used lengths of wood from the cut fence to make the posts and sides and palettes were used as the base.  My neighbour put a roof on and covered it with roof felt and I had a piece of tarpaulin which now hangs down over the store to help keep out the south westerly rain.  Not the most attractive cover but at least it does the job.

I bought a blueberry (Spartan) and a couple of raspberry bushes (Autumn Bliss) last autumn so the fruit cage was brought out of its box in the shed and finally erected.

My first year of growing vegetables was an interesting one - more of a 'taster' session than anything. I just wanted to see what grew and what didn't, what was easy and what was time-consuming.  The beetroot, peas, leeks and rhubarb did well.  The carrots and parsnips came up small and wouldn't have looked out of place in a 'strange-shaped vegetable' competition! No onions or beans showed themselves...don't know whether the seeds were eaten or something else got to them, but I'm not deterred and will try again this year.  However, I won't be bothering with the brassiceae this year.  They need much more space than I have for them at the moment and it's a lot of time and effort producing such large plants that produced so little - well, in my garden at least.  Maybe I'll have a go in another year or so but not this year. At least that will leave me room to try growing something else.  My pumpkins didn't amount to anything either.  I got three really good little fruits on the go and then suddenly they just disintegrated.  I have no idea what caused it.  The mildew on the leaves didn't spread, so if anyone has any suggestions I'd really appreciate them.

Indoors, the kitchen became the wine-making HQ as I went on a frenzy to make enough for Christmas presents. In the end 11 bottles of  elderberry, 6 bottles of carrot and 6 bottles of sloe wine were labelled and wrapped as gifts - making Christmas a lot cheaper this year.  At the family Christmas there was a little tasting session of all of them and everyone said that the carrot was the best - yay! Personally I prefer the sloe but, although drinkable, I think it will be better in another month.

Not wanting to follow the norm, I named all my wines:  Old Fogey, Tortoise Tipple and Donkey's Treat.  I'll leave you to work out which one is which! I also added my own personal labels; lots of feathers, glitter etc. Well, I try to be creative.

Following on from that I've recently bottled the last wine;  It's called Squingah and is a mixture of......well, answers on a postcard please.............It should be ready to drink around May time.

Elderberry fermenting nicely
Not the best picture; it's paler and
less cloudy in real life!

So, goodbye 2011 and hello 2012!

Seeing as how Cornwall has had the least amount of snow compared to the rest of the country (I think there was a light dusting over Bodmin Moor) I've been able to get into the garden this weekend and begin the process of tidying up and preparing for this year's work.

The first thing I had to do was put a bark path alongside the log store. We may not have suffered the snow but the amount of rain we've had turned the earth path into a quagmire.  Later in the year I might improve it by turning it into a gravel path.

The raised beds have had some attention.  I've added compost over the top and hopefully the worms will do the rest.  Black plastic sheeting over the top should help keep them warm until planting begins.  The rhubarb was beginning to come up again (like so many other plants in the garden convinced spring is here) so I've popped a black bucket over it. I'm not convinced we're over the frosty period just yet so I've also lain straw around the base of the apple trees.  I didn't let them fruit last year so I'm looking forward to a good crop this year.

The rhubarb and soil protected against frost

The False Spirea thinks it's spring already!

Unfortunately, time got the better of me this winter and I've left it a bit late to get any decent amount of hedge-laying done.  Instead I began filling in some gaps in the hedge this weekend using hazel coppiced in winter 2010.  Snedding the branches and making stakes is possible now that I've bought myself a double-bladed billhook. I love my garden tools!

A natural fence underway using coppiced hazel

So now it's time to start thinking about what to plant this year.  All the inner cardboard from toilet and kitchen rolls have been saved over the months and are now making themselves useful as seed pots.  Today, I started off rocket 'runway'and spinach 'Samish F1' (I sowed seeds straight outside last year but got nothing) alongside tomato 'Sweet William F1' and some mixed leaf 'Spicy Oriental'.

cardboard rolls recycled as seed pots

Carrots, parsnips, beetroot and red onion will be attempted again this year along with chard and swede.  There's space for me to add another couple of beds and I'm tempted to just dig a couple of plots straight in the ground this time instead of raised beds.  It'll be interesting to see if the rabbits take any notice; they don't seem to have bothered to come that far down the garden.  Perhaps Jasper has something to do with that!

Well, that's enough for this evening.  Now that I'm 'back in the saddle' I'll do my best not to fall off again!

Sunday 18 September 2011

Autumn is a-comin'

  • The carrot wine is bottled 
  • Elder tree has been stripped of berries (not by me!)
  • The log store framework is underway
  • Hazelnuts have been collected
  • The borders are almost tidy
  • Compost pile no. 2 is breaking down nicely
  • No sign of the rocket or spinach I planted
  • Rabbits are trying to dig back into the wild area at the top of the garden
  • Pumpkin fruit have been de-cluttered

Carrot wine
After a little taster and the addition of a tad more sugar the wine is bottled and sitting in the rack ready for Christmas.  It's a little sweet for my taste, but it would have been too sharp without the additional sugar. But wow, does it have a kick!  The difficulty now is keeping my hands off it until Christmas, although hiding it in the cupboard under the stairs does help.

Unfortunately for me, my elder tree produced most of its berries on the side that overhangs my neighbours garden. Fortunately for me, I have lovely neighbours and they were happy for me to pop round anytime and pick the berries.  Unfortunately for me, by the time I got round there early last week, the tree had been picked clean the birds! Not to worry, a short trip this weekend to nearby Respryn with my neighbour Sue and her two girls brought in great rewards with 5 freezer bags full (just over 6lbs) of elderberries.  Just some large bags of sugar required and I'll be starting it later this week.

I've also been keeping an eye on the sloes in the hedgerow at work; they're in abundance this year.  I know you're supposed to wait until there's been a frost before you pick them but, to be honest, we don't tend to get frosts down here until later in winter so I'm just going to wait until they feel soft and I'll pick them; not for sloe gin, but to have a go at sloe wine.  There's also a recipe in my CJJ Berry book that says 2/3 elderberry and 1/3 sloe makes a good wine - possibly 6 bottles of elderberry and 6 of elderberry & sloe wine this year then?

Log store
I've had some much appreciated help from Sue's husband this past week, in getting the log store underway. A couple of weekends ago, I started by clearing, levelling (which also included removing enough soil to fill 7 wheelbarrows) and compacting the ground only to then remember that I'd lent my saw to a friend and couldn't proceed with installing the support posts.  In steps Carl with his trusty saw, hammer and nails and up go the posts and 2/3 of the roof.  There's only the side slats to put in - I'll be using the wood left over from when the fence was cut down earlier this year - and a cover for the front to be found (I'm thinking along the lines of heavy tarpaulin) and it'll be finished. Hurray!

Well I've managed to get enough to make what I call my 'winter cookies' this year; the filling is white chocolate, cranberry and hazelnuts.  It's popular amongst family and friends.  If I remember I'll post the recipe when I make them. Thankfully, the strong winds of the last week have helped by shedding loads of nuts into the garden; saving me the trouble of having to reach up into the trees in my hedge to try and get at those 'just out of reach' ones.  There's about 12oz (340gms) in the dish so far; I'd like to get a full 1lb (450gms) if I can.....just a few more windy days might help.

Border plants
I've been far too ashamed to show any images of my lawn borders recently; for fear of being accused of cruelty to plants or neglecting my gardening duties. So the last couple of weeks, I've been out after work on the odd pleasant evening and tidied them up.  The Forget-Me-Nots have gone mad this year and it's about time they were replaced with something less invasive, so I've been clearing them out (I know I won't get them all this year) to make space for something with an autumn/winter interest. I've also been dead-heading the Siddalcea, the Herb Marsh Mallows and the Glory-of-the-Snow but left the seed heads of the Alliums on for a little longer; I rather enjoy the silvery grey colour in the garden this time of year.

Weeding has been a big problem as the weather's been ideal for weeds and I've struggled to keep on top of it. But I'm finally managing to get around the borders one bit at a time. I'm using the last of the compost from Pile no. 1 as a layer of mulch on top of the border soil; I hope it will help to keep them down. Talking of compost........

Pile no. 2 is breaking down nicely; I bought an 'activator' to help speed up the process and it's worked a treat - just wish I could remember the name of it now!  Once I've used the rest of Pile no. 1 on the borders I'll be starting it over again.  There's still a couple of bags of horse manure that have been breaking down for 12 months and they'll go on the raised veg beds soon enough.  Should all help towards a good growing season next year.

Rocket and spinach
Of which there has not been a peep! Maybe I did leave it a little too late to plant the seeds, but I was hoping for at least some small leaves around now.  Never mind, keeping a record of things like this will help me to do better next time.

Those damn 'wabbits'
Ok so some of it's my fault, I haven't managed to get up the top of the garden and strim away the rest of the overgrown area.  As a result, on taking a walk up there the other evening I discovered a freshly dug hole in the ground. Now it was heading towards the hedge and my neighbour's garden on the other side (not Sue and Carl's garden) so I didn't feel too bad about digging it back in as there's probably other entrances on his side of the garden.  But it does mean that if we get a dry evening this week (not looking hopeful I have to say) then I'm going to have to get up there with the strimmer and clear it down to the ground and check for other potential 'digs'.  Oh, and I'll be having a serious word with Jasper as well - obviously not the great rabbit killer he made himself out to be last year!

These have developed around 6 small fruit and there are still some flowers developing.  So, I've taken all but two fruits off so far and raised them above the ground to prevent them from rotting.  The plant will need to be helped along with some tomato feed now.  The mildew (see previous post 'Future fruits' dated 28th August)  that appeared on some leaves doesn't seem to have spread since I sprayed with the mixture of Bicarbonate of Soda and water, so fingers crossed...........!