Gardening, Guest Posts, How To, Make over, Mrs P

Mrs. P the Mama Bird’s Story, Part 1

Oh, I do wish I had taken some pictures of the old garden! Way back last year when I suddenly found myself in the nest alone after 25 years of worm-catching for baby birds (now strapping great lads), looking at the space that had been a football pitch, a water bomb arena, a wake up and take breakfast outside space, I discovered the garden was not just a place of frustrating chores and endless struggle, but a blank canvas of interest and plans and thoughts that chill me out and amuse me. I started on a journey that as a busy mum, I simply couldn’t have imagined…


With lot of clearing and a new fence, the transformation is underway!

In the worm-catching years I struggled with countless lawnmowers – a ‘lawn’ that would not weather the scrutiny of any trade description, blessed as it is with random lumps and bumps, half a metal scrap yard (now safely dug up and recycled), some horrid bionic leaves that grow bulbs on bulbs and the most rampant hedge you wouldn’t wish for. Many hours of my life that I’ll never get back were invested in keeping the garden ‘under control’ and a fair bit of money spent on the odd plant (but I gave up after the Eric Cantona’s prodigy beheaded the rhododendron in two hours flat). It had truly been a love-hate relationship!

But last year I used some of the time once invested in motherhood to harness some energy, engage a bit of brain and try to liberate the garden. It was never going to be a quick fix because there is so much of it. And despite harnessing and engagement, the grass and hedge still demand a degree of attention that frankly I could live without. Still, by the end of the summer I was committed to never having my nails manicured (wasn’t going to anyway) and happily puddling ‘round, ‘digging’ with a trowel because I am way too delicate to jangle all my bones hitting buried junk with a spade.

And, if I do say so myself, decent progress was made. The weediest weedy bit was cleared and covered with weed control. Bark was unceremoniously dumped on it and a couple of lavender plants plonked in.

Wow! They are so happy there — they have doubled in size. But the main bulk of my work (with my trowel) was the lumpiest bit of garden that the ‘horrible plants’ had overtaken. No word of a lie, their bulbs grow one on top of the other and form a ridiculous mat of impenetrable stuff. Still, I picked a good time when the soil was damp but not soaking to have a go at them and slowly but surely they got green recycled out of my garden.

And then a Eureka moment! My biggest ‘Grrr’ in the garden is not so much the work but the difficulty of doing it alone. Silly branches just out of reach necessitating some sort of acrobatic endeavour to reach and cut them, all sorts of wonderful fencing that would require more acrobatics and the firm belief that no one could YouTube me fighting with them, lovely paving stones that just shout at me to leave them in the shop because I can’t lift them and I love my toes. You know the stuff, the list goes on.

And then the question of the technical know-how and the skill to make things out of bricks or stones and concrete, Ewwww. My two will tell you that you could artex a ceiling with the semolina I make because of the lumps, so there was no way Mrs. Weedy-arms was going to try her hand at mixing stuff that is dusty and goes all sorts of random, wrong places. No, sir.

But I did fall upon the idea of raised beds. You can’t build them wrong because they’re made of sleepers. (OK, I did cheat and have a little bit of help with moving and screwing together. In my defence I bought ones I could lift the second time although I have to concede that I ended up in casualty when one landed on my foot. Only me…)

The whole principle of the sleeper worked because they are straight and natural, provide natural divides in the wonky garden and can also host a flourish of colour when you plant things in them. Eureka! The garden is now sort of divided into four areas and while only three of them are de-bumped and level, there is a space that is flat and gravelled.

It’s modest but it’s mine. This space is fab late afternoon and into the evening with some candle pots and good company!

Working at a modest pace, with a very small tool and being prepared to be the tortoise not the hare helped the process. So did working out what I could manage on my own in my non technical, not strong but prepared to try, enthusiasm. Somehow that Eureka transformed my view of the garden, from a place of thankless graft to a place of exciting manageable plans, albeit with a hearty helping of hard graft. I don’t mind that, but I wish I had taken some picture before I started.

To be continued…
Mrs. P

Gardening, Grow Your Own, Guest Posts, Victoria

Victoria’s Garden Buzz

You should hear my garden, humming and buzzing with activity. You’d have thought our coldest April would have put paid to anything I’d planted early, but it’s as if nature simply went to sleep and woke up so fresh and revitalized that the herbaceous plants and vegetables are reaching double their usual height and you can almost watch them growing. How does your garden fare in this crazy weather?

What a difference a mow makes! After the cool spring rain the garden looked more like a meadow lush with daisies, buttercups and cowslips – it had been so long since it was cut. It was hard to see where the lawn ended and the borders began. Then, one hour with mower and strimmer, and it was a picture framed. Which garden task do you think makes the most difference, especially if you are short of time? Perhaps it’s weeding or pruning or hedge-cutting . . .

More rain! Never mind! The plants do so much better when nature waters them – somehow the rainwater penetrates plant and soil far more efficiently than a hose can. Plus, weeding is easier when the soil is wet and everything smells so nice. The downside? I can’t excuse myself from housework . . . although, there’s always something to do in the potting shed! How do you prioritise your time around your home or allotment?
Victoria's Veg Patch with Sprouting Broccoli
The purple sprouting broccoli lasted so much longer this year. It’s early June and I’ve just stopped picking it as it is in flower and will be too tough to eat – but just in time for the first broad beans. I have the baby pods whole and when the
first ones have set I pinch out the tops and eat those as greens – yummy stir-fry! I saw that one or two pea pods have set too. What spring vegetables do you look forward to most? How do you like them prepared?

Early last year in a bid to rid bindweed, I had my whole long border up. I divided and potted up perennials, put bulbs aside, pulled up as much of the pernicious root systems as I could and left them to wither and die! Then I dug in lots of my lovely garden compost and replanted. Last summer, the border looked glorious – this year even better – however, of course, the bindweed is back! Such is life. What is your worst weed? Have you managed to beat it?

Composting, I maintain, is a form of alchemy! Taking raw, base materials and turning them into black gold! I wonder who first thought of it – in primitive times, perhaps. My heap is six feet by three and growing as the garden matures.
Synergy, perhaps? I love the fact that the garden feeds itself and it’s a good place to put any slugs and snails I catch to help the process. Life, death, decay and life again: primordial recycling.

Victoria

Children in the garden, Flowers, Gardening, Grow Your Own, Guest Posts, Nicole

Blossoming Flowers and Planting Veg

After nearly 2 weeks of blistering heat, the garden looks much more fresh and vibrant, the latest downpour bringing my recently sown grass seed to life looking so lush that I’m tempted to take the cutter out to it – but as yet it remains untouched.
White Clematis Flower
The sunshine brought out some hidden gems, a clematis montana long thought dead has emerged gracing my archway with one lovely white flower… Yes that’s right just ONE, although more buds are forming as I type so fingers crossed; I’m looking forward to seeing more soon!
Pink Bleeding Heart Flowers Dicentra
A dicentra planted out about one month ago has burst into flower, the beautiful pink hearts brightening up my latest attempt at a flower bed.
Nicole's Pond
My boys (aged 4 and 6) are ever helpful (adamant they can garden better than me) and have been enjoying eating some of their own home-grown veg — Little Gem lettuces and radishes (Cherry Belle/French Breakfast), planted out in little willow planters. These been thoroughly enjoyed, inspiring us to try something else, so, splashing out on no more than a fiver we’ve got: Carrot seeds parceba (a small fast growing variety suitable for containers), runner beans, and two varieties of dwarf French beans: one having purple pods that turn green once cooked, which will no doubt fascinate my boys and hopefully nurture their interest to garden even more.

Nicole

Greenhouses, Guest Posts, Jackie, Water Features

A New Greenhouse, and an Edwardian Greenhouse Water Feature

Jackie's Greenhouse in GardenMy garden seems to belong to two eras: before and after the hurricane. Before the hurricane, I had a wonderful greenhouse. Twenty or so feet long and 15 feet wide (I sorry, but I belong to the pre-decimal era). It had a two foot, L-shaped raised bed, an inside water tank, electric light, and staging and it was made out of wood. The hurricane took the wood and glass off somewhere… What with children, parish council, and other commitments it never got replaced – until last year that is.
Jackie's Greenhouse
After two years of growing outdoor tomatoes and more half-hardy fuchsias than I could
accommodate indoors, it was time to reassess the situation. I’d saved a bit of money, so spent a few weeks drinking tea with friends who had greenhouses and inspecting theirs. Choosing the right greenhouse can be tricky: Aluminium or wood, and what size?

Surfing online for greenhouse providers, it soon became clear that what I needed was a wooden one. Price for price there wasn’t much in it, but the bonus of the wooden frame was that two very nice men came and erected it. Wood is easier to knock in nails or cup hooks too. Yes, these are important so that there’s something to fix tomato canes to, especially if grow bags are used.
Inside Jackie's Greenhouse
All I had to do is convince my husband to build a good solid base, just a bit bigger than the
greenhouse. The one I chose was 6 foot by 10 foot – mainly because I couldn’t afford a larger one.

We sited it with the door facing west – just because that was the way I would be approaching it –
on a good clear patch of the old orchard. I would have preferred to have the water butt at the front, but apparently the design meant that the guttering fell towards the back. The water butt is 125La larger one would have been much better.
Pond and Greenhouse
The greenhouse was in place by mid-September and, just before the frosts, it was not only packed to capacity with my fuchsias, but I also bought a couple of rolls of bubble wrap and fixed that to the inside with drawing pins – easy when it’s a wooden frame.
Jackie's new Waterfall water feature
But what has happened to the base of the old greenhouse? It’s still there. The raised bed has been dug out and lined. It is now filled with water and forms the top part of a waterfall acting as a filter for all the silt that gathers in the main pond. It has worked well, especially as I found an old quern stone as an outflow for the pumped water.

A raised bed sits in front to hide the rather ugly breeze blocks and there are a couple of water lilies gracing the water. Behind sits the oil tank, disguised by a reed screen up which grow clematis and roses. The water tumbles down over a waterfall into a larger pond inhabited by the few koi that have escaped the heron. It’s a fairly large pond of around 22,000 gallons and 4 foot deep with a ledge around part. The plan was to grow marginals – silly idea if one has koi, as they ate them!

Jackie