Thursday, 15 September 2016

A Plan?!

I worked out I need a minimum of ten full days in the garden just to get on top of the jobs I want to do before Autumn.  The main job is at the back where I am removing plants to create a proper place for a vegetable patch. Old photos of our house when it was two farm labourers' cottages show a vegetable plot in the rear garden so I feel like I am returning it to its original state.  I made a small start earlier in the year before we went to America ... I have a bucket of potatoes from the area under the trellis but the cabbages were overtaken by weeds!  The leaves taste okay though.

Well, that side has now been dug over and the other side will be cleared over the next ten days!  The rest of the plot is being cleared of everything (it feels like mostly bind weed and ground elder but there are a few things worth rescuing!) then I will move my strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb and gooseberries into a sunny spot where I can use the fence as one side of a fruit frame: then root crops, onions and cabbages can over winter in the rest.  According to the books I can plant beans and peas now ... seems a bit late but I will give it a bash.

To make the plot a little larger I removed three paving slabs from a small patio area ... unfortunately one was the roof of an ants' nest.  They swarmed out in a very angry mass and I had to leave them for a while to let them sort out my mess.  I am doing a better job with the bees and butterflies ... and the frogs.

My sister surprised me with this lovely bird bath.  (SO pleased with it so Thank You!).  The magpies love it too ... it is just the right size for their bath tub! I watched two line up on a branch while a third one took a dip then the others took their turns!  Obviously British magpies!

 I have a massive To Do list!

1. Prepare new veg plot; move the fruit then sow/plant some veg. Replant primroses, aquilegia etc in other parts of garden.
2. Clear the hedge bottom and plant daffodils and spring bulbs (plant up pots for Xmas).
3. Clear path near apple trees, chop back the evergreen (what was I thinking planting the old Xmas tree there?!) and generally sort it out .... this sounds so easy but part of a forsythia has died so it will probably take me hours to saw through the tangled branches!
4.  Finish tidying the front garden ... what will I do with the thousands of crocosmia bulbs I am pulling up!? 
5.  Bring geraniums etc inside.
6.  Fill the freezer with apples.
7.  Store the furniture.
Ten days may not be enough! 

 I just sent for 200 spring bulbs for £5.65 through the Gardens' World Magazine!  Lidl also have a good deal this week .... 5kgs of large British daffodil bulbs for £4.99.  Money CAN bring you happiness!


Monday, 1 August 2016

Chain Saw Attack

The laurel before the chop

The holly in 2011
Andy happened to be on the lane a few days ago when Richard came by.  Richard chops hedges and trees for a living so he could not resist commenting on our holly tree.  It has grown next to the front path for the last twenty odd years with its roots causing the paving stones to scrape against the under side of the gate. Here is a photo from 2011 when it was already large ...  Every winter it is covered in enough berries to provide food for a couple of mistle thrushes and the rest of the year it is home to robins, wood pigeons and tree bees.  It is a lovely tree but it had never been pruned and it was towering over the chimney.  A deal was struck and Richard returned a couple of days later ....

Holly now

The chinmey will now survive the winter without being pumnelled to bits in the wind.  The top third having been removed.  It looks a bit odd at the moment but it will soon push out new growth.

The ivy growing up the house wall was also chopped back and neated up.  I watched them very carefully this time .... last time I paid someone to do it I had to got out ... I returned to disaster ... all the honeysuckle round the door had gone too! These guys did a good job and tidied up really well afterwards. 

The main part of their work was in the back garden where the laurel bush had completely taken over!
You can see it in the top photograph just above the rose and here in the middle of this photo:

Laurel before the chop
As you can see it dominated the whole border.  Nothing can grow near it because it shades the light and acts like a vacuum for any water.  The kids were junior school age when we moved in.  The laurel was large then and had one branch that grew out at an angle.  The lads would sit astride it, bounce up and down and enjoy the bucking broncho effect ... until one day it split.  They didn't tell me and I didn't garden then so I didn't notice.  By the time I found what had happened the split branch had rooted itself into the ground so the large shrub was twice the width.  Well, one half now had to go so....

.... it went!

I have spent two days picking up bits of laurel and tidying up the rest of the border.  I have planted lots of tulip bulbs that we dug up from the allotment last winter (no idea what they will look like as all the colours have been mixed up!  Might be interesting!) but I have a large empty patch of bare soil now just waiting for me to decide what to grow in it!

Brilliant!  Should have done it ages ago!

August 2016
At the front of the house the farmer has been out with his plough this afternoon.  He is normally cutting wheat or barley this time of year but it has been fallow for a few months so he is obviously getting ready to plant something soon.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Fight Back

I put it off long enough .... I kept wandering round in despair at the state of the place instead of reaching for the shears. The pond had completely disappeared under the pond weed and the paths were becoming impassable.  

The crocosmia had to go.  I love it but it just spreads too much and flops everywhere.  It has gone into three large pots because it is about to flower .... I have lots of clumps elsewhere in the garden but this lot can be used as cut flowers if I haven't killed it!!

Next I totally surprised the frogs by pulling all the Parrot-feather pond weed out. It came off in one huge piece.  Suddenly the frogs were blinded by sunlight.  I counted twelve little heads staring at us but there are probably more under the water. Andy chopped back the honeysuckle and the snowberry bush: in half an hour the green bin was full and the wheelbarrow was overflowing but the pond had reappeared.

Still need to tackle that side border but the pond is looking better.

You can actually see the pump again. I will have to keep an eye on the hosta as it will probably be attacked by snails so close to that pond.

Improving the seating area was easy ....

.... just move the chairs and give it a quick hose down.

Chopping the vegetation at the back took some time though.

I then had far too much waste for my green bin.  Fortunately the bin men came today.  Now we are always first on their round.  They ALWAYS arrive on Monday morning at 9am prompt.  Always!  I can not count the number of times I have had to rush outside semi dressed because I have heard the van reversing sound and realised in a panic that I haven't put the bin out! This morning I was up very early as Iknew I had work to do.  I had already filled my bin to the very top but a couple of kindly neighbours allow me to add to theirs if there is room. Well, I filled their bins too and still had loads of waste!  It was five to nine when I noticed one neighbour's almost empty bin.  He can be a bit grumpy to say the least and I didn't want to cause any trouble but I knew he had gone out and the bin men would be here any minute wouldn't they?  ... so, yes, I filled the sack and dumped it in his bin!

Ten minutes later ... I heard the car stop and I knew he was checking to see if his bin was empty and, yes, the bin men were bloody late! Typical!  Hiding was an option, but I thought I'm not a child, so I  rushed out to apologise before he had chance to blew his top ... luckily it wasn't his bin!  The lady who did own the bin didn't mind at all! Phew!

I turned my attention to tidying the other borders. 

A very satisfying day in the sun but I am feeling rather stiff now!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Traditional Vardos

We nipped out for lunch yesterday.  The Royal Oak at Car Colston is right next to a large common where cows and sheep are allowed to roam and the village cricket club entertains the punters on sunny match days.  This weekend there were some extra visitors:

Beautiful aren't they?  The paintwork was exquisite!

Their horses .... with lovely plaited manes ... munched away at the grass while the travellors built a wood fire and cooked their dinner.  They were very welcoming and keen to show off their beautiful vardos (posh name for these waggons!).  The detail both inside and out was tremendous.

The villagers were also very welcoming.  The Caravan Club holds regular meetings (normally behind the pub rather than in front of it) so the residents are used to visitors. These vans were something special though.

Fancy one?  Click here.

Friday, 22 July 2016

July Rose Arch

Front garden
We have had quite a hectic few months .... a birth, a death and holidays .... so the garden has been left to rampage and it has! The borders are filled with things I don't remember planting ... and slugs .... thousands of slugs and snails ...... we have been invaded but not a hedgehog in sight.  I can't bring myself to kill them so I throw them in the compost bin and close the lid.  One day I will open it and the whole thing will be a huge slimy mass of writhing bodies! Horrible!

Opening to the back lawn 2016
This is the path onto the lawn.  As you can see there is a flower border on the left and a very large honeysuckle climbing over a trellis on the right.  The honeysuckle is astounding ... it was a tiny stick when it arrived from Thompson & Morgan (free with Gardeners' World Magazine) in early 2012.  It has thrived ever since: the trellis collapsed under the weight earlier this year.

Here is the same place from June 2011.  The trellis had not been added and the rose arch (towards the back of the lawn) had just arrived from the blacksmith.

Back lawn June 2011

The arch was the first change we made when I got into gardening.  You can hardly see it now as it is smothered in red roses and honeysuckle.

Looking through the rose arch 2016
Well I decided I wanted another arch at the opening to the lawn.  The old blacksmith has died so I couldn't get one to match.  After a few weeks of searching I found a metal one I liked.  B&Q promised to deliver in 14 days and I happily paid over the cash.  A week later the supplier (not B&Q) phoned to arrange delivery.  I waited in all day on the agreed date but they were a no show.  I rang customer services to be told they were very sorry and it would arrive in the morning.  I waited in again.  The van did arrive this time but there was no arch on board! Another phone call elicited a promise it was now on the van and all would be sorted first thing in the morning.  Another morning wasted!  A third phone call to customer services ended when they informed me the arch was now out of stock so I would have to wait another week.

Obviously I was not impressed and asked for my money back.  That would take 3 to 5 days .... which I found annoying: my payment had gone out immediately but their payment would take days!  I have always had good service from B&Q but this time their supplier had let them down and the admin system caused a short delay ... okay.  Unfortunately the money had still not been returned a week later so yet another call to customer services.  "Oh" said the girl, "did you want the order cancelling and your money back?  Sorry, that hasn't been authorised.  I will get onto it straight away ... it will take 3 to 5 days!"

New rose arch 2016
 As compensation for their poor service B&Q have given me a £25 voucher ... that will probably cover the cost of the phone calls!

I decided against a metal one once the money had been returned and I found this wooden one at half the price.  Our local garden centre was selling it for £79.99.  Andy kindly came to the rescue and put it together ... I helped but it was a two man job, especially moving it into place.  The old stone trough had to be dug out and shifted to another part of the garden ... I couldn't have managed that without his help.  I am really pleased with the result but the honeysuckle needs a proper cut back this autumn.

I will root a few cuttings because an old honeysuckle on the back fence has suffered an infection of some sort and I have had to cut it out.

Back lawn 2016
There's LOADS of work to be done.  The place is in a terrible state! The weeks in America spent visiting our eldest son were brilliant so I really don't care that I fell behind with the garden!  I looked round today then instead of sorting an obvious area I tidied up behind the greenhouse!

 Yes, there was a path there!  The edging now has rhubarb plants and gooseberry bushes (with a couple of flowering plants).  Now the allotment has gone I had to find a fruit patch so it made sense to put it near the strawberries. 

 The fruit has been great so far this year.  The apple tree is laden and the raspberries have made a wonderful breakfast smoothie blended with Greek yohurt and honey ... even better with a few strawberries added and poured over vanilla ice cream.

Before the honeysuckle took over ... May 2012

Sunday, 13 December 2015


 Over the last few weeks I have been moving plants from the allotment into the garden. It has been great to have lots of cut flowers over the last few years but I decided I wanted to enjoy the colours and smells every day not just on visits to the allotment.  I have dug up rows of tulip bulbs to put in the beds and into pots.  Andy planted half a bed with bulbs about three years ago.  I could not believe how many bulbs I was digging up!  Each single bulb had become a clump of four to six in size.  They went up to the allotment as small bags of bulbs ... they have come back in four large plastic storage boxes!  Well, most of them are planted now (just one plastic box left in the greenhouse but I have some large empty pots so I will get them finished this week).

We had filled another allotment bed with roses. This autumn I emptied one of the garden beds so at least twelve roses could be moved to be enjoyed at home.  We pruned them right back before digging them up.  They went back in the ground just outside my kitchen window.  I looked at them today and small leaves are beginning to appear so they have obviously taken.

I had yet another allotment bed of Iris and Peonies.  I chose a lovely sunny spot at the back of the  garden for the Irises.  Unfortunately the sun shine didn't hang around the day I moved them but I had to get them in the ground so I got steadily wetter and muddier. 

The peonies had also mutiplied.  Most of the original plants had come from my mother's garden before we sold her house.  I had divided the clumps and each one is now a decent size plant.  I have put most of them in a border where I already had a couple of peonies.  They don't like being planted too deep but I dug them up keeping as much soil around them as possible, that way I know they are at the right depth. The small pink buds are growing nicely now.

Thompson and Morgan were giving 48 lavender plants away for free when I first got the allotment.  The tiny cuttings were large bushy plants this summer covered in bees.  This spring I want to move a few of these plants onto the side of the lane where we live to make pockets of scent as you walk down to the house.

There's a whole load of crocosmia bulbs, some hollyhocks, about a dozen lupins, achillea and aquilegia still up there so there will still be some cut flowers to bring home ... unless I dig up some more lawn and find room for them down here!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015


Andy got the news about a rare bird in Chesterfield on Sunday afternoon.  Too late to do anything about it.  Well, it was still there this morning so we set off.

There's never any question of not finding the right location on a rare bird twitch. You just follow the crowd.  This was a small crowd in comparison to some I have seen ... but the bird has been here three days ... this was a Tuesday morning ... doesn't anyone go to work any more? Obviously not. But most of them were my age.   You wouldn't believe how many people can turn up to a weekend twitch: there is a full age range too, from young kids (with their own binoculars so not just dragged along by a parent), through to pensioners. Some of them travel miles. A man today had driven down from Newcastle to see this bird.  Last month there was a rare bird on the Isle of Lewis and people were chartering planes to see it. 

Birders can be very obsessive.  A friend left his own wedding reception on getting news a rarity had turned up: his father chased after him to bring him back! Another guy lost an eye in a car crash trying to get to a bird before it flew off and Andy was at a twitch where a guy died from a heart attack and his mate got in a panic because he had to stay with him when the bird was just down the road!

Today's bird was a Crag Martin.  There have only been 9 previous sightings of this species in the UK.  It should be in the South of France but it has ended up in Chesterfield flying round the famous crooked spire.  As I parked up Andy was busy finding the bird.  He got a good view of it as it flew away!! Luckily it returned about five minutes later.  That isn't always the case ... one time Andy drove to Yorkshire (two hours away) to see a rare water bird. He missed it by ten minutes.
 "Which way did it go?" he asked.
 "That way," replied a helpful Yorkshireman.
"Well, what's over there?" He wondered if there was a large body of water close by it might have headed towards.
"Eh," came the reply, "there's naught over there ... that's Lancashire!"

We spent an hour watching this swallow like bird zooming about ... it was incredibly fast.  I could find it with my binoculars but there was no chance with my camera.  It was a nice outing and I got to see the spire close up.  Locals have an amusing explanation for the crocked spire: apparently a virgin was married there and the church was so surprised it turned round to look at the bride!

The spire was added in the 14th century, just after the Black Death had killed off many craftsmen so lack of skill could account for the poor building work.  I was always told it twisted because unseasoned wood was used but apparently they always used unseasoned wood because it was easier to work with ... they just adjusted it as it seasoned.  No, it was the lead covering that caused it.  The sun shining on the south side all day made that side expand more quickly than the north side. The fault was compounded by the weight of the metal (33 tons) because the structure was not designed to hold that kind of weight. It twists by 45 degrees and leans 9 feet 6 inches away from its true centre.