Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Flower Garden - Clearing a Path - December 2011 onwards

Jobs for the start of the year ~ in the garden - good ideas from Country Living.

1. Dig over the soil in the vegetable garden. Underway! A job that will continue for months in fact.

2. Plant new fruit bushes if the ground is not frozen. No frozen ground in this part of Devon to speak of this year.

3. Continue taking hardwood cuttings of deciduous trees, shrubs and currant bushes. Yes - I must do this today!

4. Buy or order vegetable seeds and seed potatoes. Such a delight.

5. Collect egg boxes to chit potatoes in. Have chickens, so no egg boxes, just eggs - improvise. Good idea will find some for next year.

6. Cut the old leaves from Hellebore's to reveal their flowers.  Have yet to buy some! Think I need loads so always refrain. May try seeds and wait - or not! Have discovered that they self seed wonderfully.

7. Plant bare-root roses, trees, shrubs and hedging. Have done so.

8. Melt frozen pond surfaces so fish can breathe. Dig hole for pond immediately.

9. Recycle your Christmas tree or shred it for mulch. Oh yes!

10. Treat timber structures such as pergolas, fences and obelisks.  Have started this. I planted a white Wisteria against an old shed, belonging to my non gardening neighbour, which I had painted previously painted a few times with heavy duty masonary paint to protect it from further decay for a while. I have now painted it Nordic Blue which will look delightful in the summer with green leaves and white Wisteria against it.

11. Prune apple and pear trees. But they have hardly got going. I will leave it for this year. The farmers cattle tend to do a very good job at pruning.

12. Regularly put out food and water for bird life. Every day, costs me a small fortune but it's worth every penny for they sing all day long and flit about whilst I'm digging. I have a very friendly Blackbird and a Robin who are always by my side. I keep Fizz permanently full of food - organic - only the best - so he won't be temped by fresh meat and feathers. The neighbour's cat is another problem. Do I have to feed him to?

13. Begin forcing rhubarb by covering plants with a forcing pot or bucket. I did this last year and got enough to make a pie, then nothing as they were then depleted. Obviously I need much more rhubarb. I will also need loads of horse muck.

14. Repair lawn edges or patches. Well my lawn is a dreadful mess. I am going to try to level it as I put in the central garden path this Spring and slightly terrace the whole affair. I am thinking of planting a wild flower lawn anyway so will not be wanting trim, sharp edges!


The birds are singing as if it were Spring and I am going to take full advantage of this wonderful weather and get to work on the part of the garden that is immediately around the shed/one day will be a studio.  It needs a lot of work - levelling the entrance to make way for steps and a path and cutting back the very overgrown Hawthorn, Sloe and Ivy hedge along the side and building up the wall along the edge. Back filling with decent soil, after no doubt digging out yet more broken bottles, cups and saucers, old farm implements and numerous bits of slate and asbestos.

This hedge also has a very old rambling rose intertwined which I shall leave to scramble over the roof. And there's an old tarmac path somewhere underneath this hedge that needs to see the light of day too. I think it's about 2'-3' wide so could be very useful, as it will give access to the side of the shed where I may be able to store logs for the winter. Dartington Hall estate has loads of fantastic split hardwood logs for sale which need to be stacked and dried out before used.

This is a job for a shredder as the Blackthorn is truly lethal. So wrapped up in an old coat and armed with thick leather gloves, secateurs, a branch lopper and a saw, I set about the job in hand. The birds were singing and the sun was shining and I felt really pleased be be getting down to some practical work after the diversion of Christmas and New Year. The shredder certainly looks the business so thank goodness for shredders, it would be such a long job otherwise. I used to do this kind of work with a pair of secateurs and a big plastic bag. 

The hawthorns are revealed! As a hedge they are pretty useless and yet strangely beautiful. I could plant more in between but I am looking for fragrance when I enter the garden in the winter and I think I have found just what I'm looking for. There is a lovely scented evergreen bush that grows in the gardens here at Dartington

I went to Kew Gardens last week and was struck by the most incredible fragrance that greets you as you enter. It turns out to be the Christmas Box! So I headed off to Hill House Nursery when I returned home and found three of them to plant in the new gaps in the hedge. I'll have to build up the edges with stones to support the soil a bit more and to hopefully discourage the hens from digging them up. I love the fact that Hill House Nursery is open all year round and I hope that they NEVER change these incredibly practical and beautiful wheelie things.
Every time the farmer ploughs the field across the lane more and more stones work their way up to the surface and then he heaps them up on the side of the road ready to be used for repairing walls. I know that my wall looks pretty amateurish but it is in keeping with the general look and when the soil settles, plants will start to grow and it will look fine. The Box will grow to 3 feet and easily fill out the spaces.  But there are plenty more spaces to fill and I need to think of what else to plant along this little stretch of earth. Another trip to Hill House beckons!Half a dozen Rosa Rugosa, five white and one pink, a Flowering Currant, a Rambling Rose -white and an evergreen Clematis. I have also dug over a new flower bed along the opposite side of the newly revealed path which I am thinking of planting Roses and Lavender. I will have to push some slates into the soil along the edges as the chickens are constantly scratching away and covering the path with soil.
Old slates have been pushed in along the edges of the new border temporarily at least, just to contain the soil. I have dug in old horse manure and transplanted Lavender. I've popped in a few Lilly bulbs and have quite a few Forget-me-Nots which can go along the very edge and spill onto the path - which I have yet to lay! A trip to Hill House provided me with Iris x three, an Aquilegia, a rose pink Oriental Poppy and a standard Gertrude Jekyll Rose. Here is a link to her website http://www.gertrudejekyll.co.uk You may well have heard of her and know her gardening philosophy but if you haven't yet come across her and you love gardening and gardens, especially the country house and cottage garden style then you will find a treasure trove of inspiration. She worked together with Edward Lutyens, deemed the greatest British architect of the 20th century http://www.gardenhistoryinfo.com/gardenpages/lutyens.html to create gardens that were in sympathy with his buildings. I have a lovely book on her - The Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll by Richard Bisgrove. There are many books on her. One could easily have a bookshelf devoted to her alone.

Not strictly on the path but leading to it, I have a lovely old stone wall covered with a trailing white flowered plant I have yet to find the name of. I have put an very old terracotta pot there now with Lavender and Forget-me-Nots in and hope it will look as good as I imagine it will do later on this summer. I have not been able to find Forget-me-Nots at garden nurseries for years but now I find an endless supply at Staverton Bridge Nursery, which has become my favourite place for coffee and cake plus soup and delicious bread and Ploughman's to beat all contenders. 
Back to the garden. This is where the stone path will go. I would love to level the ground by degrees and have a series of low steps. For the time being, I am collecting various pieces of stone together and laying them out rather like a jigsaw puzzle. It's quite hard to find flat surfaces! 
Every time I go for a walk I look out for a piece of flat stone and bring it home for the path. A bit like a jigsaw, I shall wait till I've found all the pieces before I start to assemble it. They are all needless to say of different thicknesses so not quite sure how I'm going to do this. A trowel and sand comes to mind.
The border on the right of the path has a standard rose - Gertrude Jeykll and lillies, irises and lavender with a sprinkling of annuals sown throughout.
I now have nearly enough stones for the crazy paving path. I must build a hen pen!
The border in the wall, which was until recently full of broken glass and bits of rusty metal from eighty years ago if now coming to life. Amongst the flower are three Grappenhall lavender.

Another small flower bed to help divide the garden in front of the shed (studio). I have transplanted one of the roses bushes from the big flower bed successfully and will fill the remaining space with a mix of perennials and bi-annuals.
I have started to make a border to run along the side of the Studio and as I have kept the hens here for a couple of weeks to fertilize the ground I and am now moving them further up and digging as I go. Today is a fairly grey day but so far dry enough so I think I could spend some time trying to decide on how the area in front of the studio door will look. I can promise that it will not look anything like this by the Spring!
I have been so busy making and painting during the last few months it is true but I feel guilty every time I enter the garden as I thought I would be so much further on by now. Everything takes so much time. I can't blame the weather this winter as it has been the mildest I have ever known. 
You can see the technique! I move the chicken coop up the edge of the shed and let the hens dig and fertilize and then move up a bit at a time. It works beautifully though not a method I expect you would find in a gardening book. Perhaps you would on a blog though as we are all free to share our more unconventional ways here. 
The new flower bed down the side of the shed is looking good now. Just put vine eyes and wires along it's length to train the roses on before they are allowed to travel up and over the gables. Also transplanted some of the herbaceous plants from the big bed. Going to transplant all the plants from there in fact. It was a good start last year but I think that now I have a better idea of how the garden could shape up and there is so much space there that could be made into a couple of smaller 'rooms'. I will have to work on some ideas and designs. Will refer to Gertrude Jekyll for some inspiration too. Mind you I don't suppose she kept chickens and they will need a place for the summer as I will have to restrict their wanderings and give the seedlings a chance. So this may be their summer quarters, the bit along the grotty fence anyway.
May 1st - I have had to protect plants from my over zealous hens until their hen pen is finished. 
So, here begins the breaking down of the large bed. The soil is wonderful and I can use it in all the new beds, giving much more depth and height. It does seem a pity to have to use it to level off the bit that is going to be the lawn and place to eat and sunbathe. It's tucked away and wonderfully secluded.
For now it is time to move the stones. They came from around the edge of the bed and made a great home for ants and nettles so are being repositioned along another new bed at the back of the shed now, in order to give some help to raising the overall level of the lawn. Well, it's not a lawn yet, merely a patch of the field that it once was but it needs leveling and reseeding. April is the month to seed the ground which gives me about three weeks now, we are at 9th March today, for the ground to be relaid and have time to settle. My constant companions are my hens and an assortment of Robins, Wrens and Blackbirds that I have been feeding all winter and who will hopefully take up residence close by. I have to keep Fizz, our cat, constantly refilled with food in the hope that he won't decide to hunt any of them.
I am getting stronger every day and feel very pleased that I am managing to do tasks that I would have thought were beyond my strength previously. Not that there was anything wrong with me, I was just a bit of a wimp and thought I needed help when in fact I now feel like Superwoman! I dug this old railway sleeper out from lower down the garden and persuaded it to walk up to here, where I have dug a trench to lower it into. The idea is that this will help to terrace the lawn and make a fairly level area for putting the table and chairs on. It would also be quite nice to be able to sunbathe without being on such a slope! I do like to enjoy my garden, I don't always work in it, although at the moment every minute counts as Spring and Summer come racing in. This photo makes me aware of how dreadful the back of the cottage looks! It doesn't get much sun across that wall but I do have a plan!
Next stage as more soil as slowly added and the 'lawn' becomes level, bumps are smoothed out and bit by bit, depressions are filled in. I can see that I am going to run out of soil as the incline of this piece of land is more than I realised. However, there is a section in the vegetable garden that I would like to put a greenhouse on and that will need digging out so will give me some more soil for this little lawn project.
I have decided to make a pillow of soft grass to rest on, hence this pile of soil. I have also transplanted some more plants from the old bed. They seem to be quite happy! There are loads of forget-me-nots that have sown themselves on a patch of land that is due to be made into a road nearby so I will move a few of them before they are bulldozed into oblivion. I will transplant a few strawberries too as I have lots and then Bella will be able to help herself. I now have a fence and a gate between the two gardens. Last year I think she pretty well devoured most of the soft fruit and tomatoes. The cucumbers didn't do too well either. 
Along the boundary of the garden is a wire fence where I have planted Rugosa - white and red plus a rambling Rose. Further along are a thorn-less Blackberry. I can fill the border with Lupins from the rapidly decreasing border and I am thinking of putting in some large pea sticks to grow Sweat peas and Nasturtiums up and act as a temporary barrier and provider of seclusion. The barn is used by a conservation charity and every now and then people come to collect wheelbarrows that are stored at the back. I am hoping to rent the barn when their time is up as tenants and make it into a workshop. 
I am slowly building up the level of the lawn with soil from the area in the vegetable garden that will be the foundation for the greenhouse. 
 Slowly the area is being filled in and leveled but still a long way to go.
The hens delight in chasing each other around and scratching for worms. The transplanted plants are taking a hold in the new border beneath the studio window. I have also put a Clematis at the far end. Another transplant from an idea I had that didn't work. I was hoping to train it up the kitchen wall but it is alas to dark and dreary even for a shade loving climber. A problem to be thought over and solved. I have joined the Cottage Garden Society and am off to a meeting at the end of this month so maybe they can help me out with this problem. Update on CGS - it was raining but I headed off for the venue only to discover that I was the only one who turned up apart from the owner of course who was busy working in the garden. Hey ho, I thought that the British were used to rain! Never mind, I had a great time.
 This lawn leveling business does take ages. It's a good job that I have allowed plenty of time for it, little and often, barrow load by barrow load. At least it will be considerably better than before even if not perfectly level and flat.
 

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