Hundreds Feared Lost

Tens – possibly hundreds – of seedlings were feared lost in a tragic mudslide caused by the collapse of a stand holding a number of seed trays.  The flower seedlings had previously suffered slug damage, and in an effort to prevent further losses to the slime menace, four trays of seedlings had been placed on top of the kneeler.

Tragically, overnight, the kneeler keeled over jettisoning its load, leaving a pile of potting compost and seed trays on the floor of the greenhouse.  Dawn broke to reveal a scene from a disaster movie with seedlings strewn across the floor.  Some were broken, some still rooted, but with unknown numbers buried beneath the damp soil.

Investigators quickly established the cause of the disaster:  there was no need for black boxes or forensics here.  Instead the rescue mission started immediately with seedlings being carefully picked from the surface and transplanted to waiting pots of compost.  One tray of Rudbeckia (Marmalade) had remained mostly intact so most were saved.  The big losses were in the Ammi Visnaga and Majus and the California Poppies.  The germination for these had been slow, so any seedlings were very small and less likely to survive the major trauma of air crash followed by landslide.

Over the following days rescuers managed to pot on many of the survivors, and a fortnight later many are recovering well.  One outcome of the seedlings being so mixed has led to mystery over what seedling is which.  So planting plans for the season have been changed from swathes of individual Ammi, Poppies and Zinnias to what is more likely to be a small groups of mixed annuals.

A small service of remembrance was held as the remaining seed tray soil was placed on the compost heap to be recycled.   Before the hen scratched the lot over looking for bugs.


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The Destructive Gardener


An Open Border

A burst water main in town meant that school was closed last Thursday.  So instead of nurturing the young minds of tomorrow’s generation I was forced to spend a little more time on the more pressing task of nurturing the young seedlings of this season’s vegetables.

As luck would have it, Thursday is Mrs B’s day off so she joined the team (with Ella).  The other day we started clearing the border next to the front path which was overgrown with celandine, Alchemilla Mollis and a host of other unwanted invaders.  It was hard work so Mrs B agreed that I would be best suited to continuing this.  Instead she decided to set out to seek and destroy all the Ash saplings that have been springing up uninvited around the garden.   It turns out that horticultural demolition is something that Mrs B does very well.

Ash dieback has been in the news as whole forests of the stuff are apparently being killed by this pest. We would not mind a little drop of “Die Back” here as, left unchecked, I suspect our garden could become the New Ash Forest of Somerset in little more than a year. So Mrs B’s zealous campaign against the invasive menace was most welcome. She has form in the area of garden clearance, having managed to break off and hurl stakes when disposing of old PSB plants, but she has honed her technique to perfect her arboreal eradication methods and seemed pleased with the pile of Ash she produced.  from the area around the holly tree.  But after this act of deforestation she turned her hand successfully to the more selective and skilled work of thinning out the radishes.  I have always had a problem with thinning out, feeling that uprooting the very seeds I planted seems cruel and heartless.  We all know that thinning out is a necessary act to grow good healthy plants.  Unlike me, Mrs B has no qualms about destroying a number of seedlings “for the greater good” and the line of radishes look a lot better for it.

An Appetite for Destruction can be a positive thing.



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Some People Say a Man is Made Outta Mud

The song Sixteen Tons was playing in my head the weekend before last.  The original dates from 1946 by Merle Travis, about a coal miner in Kentucky.   The version I know is from the strike-torn 80s and is by The Redskins.  This was my ear worm as I spent last Friday evening and Saturday morning shovelling and wheeling a load of top soil from the drive up on to the lawn to fill the raised bed frames.  A total of something like forty barrows – which adds up to nearly six hundred shovel loads in my estimation.  All this to move only three tons, but it looks like I might need nearer to sixteen.

When I constructed my raised beds I naively imagined them filled to the brim with compost and soil.  After shifting that much soil (as well as a ton of compost from the previous weekend) it was disappointing to see that the beds retained the look of a harbour at low tide with compost only getting halfway up the nine-inch boards.  Another ton of compost last weekend helped top them up.

Top soil and compost are not cheap.   After shovelling all of  that, to quote the song, I felt more than just “another day older and deeper in debt”.



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“Oh The Summertime is Coming..”


Amelanchier in bloom – briefly

What a difference a month makes. In the space of what feels like a few brief days we have gone from a cold spring to the heat of midsummer. The Beast from the East has departed, with last month’s snowy downfall trailing in its wake, leaving us basking in warm sun this past weekend.  The grass is greening up and the trees are gently blooming, with Amelanchier blossom been and gone. Mind you, the speed with which the flowers went was mostly down to the impressive thunder-storm we had on Saturday evening which decimated the delicate blooms in one evening downpour.  But the thunder was timely as it meant I did not have to water in the veg patch that I had put together that afternoon.

Of course we know it will not last so I took the opportunity to take a significant step forward in the development of the new garden as I tried to get a lot of “done”.  On Friday the rotavator was delivered back to our place.  In a neat trick to avoid requesting favours of friends with trailers I asked the good mower man to collect the machine from one address, service it, then return it to another.

The Howard 350 Rotavator was one of the first things the parents bought when the Old Garden was being cultivated.  It is a legendary piece of equipment and still gets the job done over forty years later.  As a teenager I struggled to keep control of the beast and I was never too happy using it as TOM or my siblings were always likely to cast a critical eye over my efforts.  Maturity should lend some confidence to how I go about things now, but I was still a little self-conscious about trying to control the machine as I drove it onto the front garden. Saying I drove it suggests I was in charge.  It still feels to me as if it has a mind of its own, moving along like an old prop forward mindlessly trundling forward with little awareness of me trying to steer it.  It certainly draws attention to itself, sounding like a large tractor, and the clutch has a tendency to whine and slip.  And I had also forgotten how the prongs make the machine lurch alarmingly forward if they hit hard ground – and there was plenty of that underneath the lawn I was digging up.  I eventually crisscrossed the proposed potato bed six times trying to break up the clay soil, ending up with a collection of hashed lawn, earth and clay marbles.

Afterwards I drove it towards the entrance to the back garden, knocking through the latch as the clutch slipped and the beast nearly took the gate off its hinges.  But the job was done.

The next morning Richard arrived with a trailer load of compost.  A ton of compost does not go far, but it is a start.  And I was finally able to spend my Saturday afternoon planting  onions, shallots and potatoes.

Just in time to be watered in by the cacophanous downpour.

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Isn’t It Grand Boys


The Old Man was a dab hand with orchids

The Old Man was laid to rest this week with all four of his sons getting together to contribute to the send off. We took turns to deliver something in church, with Hugh reading a poem and Nick selecting a Bible reading. I read the poem that TOM had requested – Funeral Blues by W.H. Auden (Stop All the Clocks): a rather doom-laden piece following Paul’s sometimes ironic and amusing eulogy.  The poem reflected TOM’s admission of his grief at losing his wife – our mother – eleven years previously.  Feelings that I suspect he had suppressed for most of that time.

Grief is very personal.  I read the book “H is for Hawk” a couple of years ago in which the author (Helen Macdonald) describes how she took to training a Goshawk as a means of working through her sorrow and depression after her father died.  It is a bit of a Marmite type of book amongst those I know who have read it:  some love it, others detest it.  But, like Marmite, I did enjoy it but in small servings.  Her descriptions of nature and the slow grind to train the hawk are often lyrically descriptive and beautifully observed.  But the dark undertones of her struggle with her emotions makes for sometimes depressing reading and one almost wants to give the author a shake and tell her to get a grip.

But, like I said, grief is personal.  I suspect my father never properly grieved for my mother, keeping a tight rein on his emotions.  And my brothers and I have reacted in different ways, with different trigger points and feelings.  Without the patriarch of the family around, there is a subconscious reappraisal of our relationships.  While Paul joked in his eulogy about the genetic indicators that had been passed down to us (I apparently have green fingers and tell long boring stories about golf) there is no doubt we are all self-evaluating as we go through the painful process of selling up the house and disbanding the estate.

For me, like Helen Macdonald, I feel that nature is a soothing and apt way to balance my emotions, through walks in the country with my dogs and gardening (FINALLY, a bit about the bloody garden).  As I come to terms with my father’s death, I cannot honestly say I am physically grief-stricken, but there is a hole in my life which is going to take a while to fix, as a I come to terms with the loss of my sole-surviving parent and the loss of the house that had been my home for nearly twenty-five years of my life.  Creating something fresh and vibrant in my new  garden is the best therapy I can think of and should be a fitting testament and proof positive of my father’s genetic bequest to me.

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Green Shoots

Back to a new term and the new garden as we prepare to put my father to rest on Monday.

Potting Shed being put to use

It has, of course, been a strange time – the combination of funeral arrangements, sorting The Old Man’s estate and domestic affairs, combined with family matters has kept me occupied through the latter part of the holidays. Having a six-day break in Arran was a much-needed breather and by driving eight hours north we also found far better weather than the West of England enjoyed.

We are now at school in at what is amusingly labelled the summer term. It would have been nice to have had a few days in the garden in the latter half of the hols, but the rain has been incessant and in one of the few dry intervals when I tried to cut the grass, the mower broke.  Getting the garden under control does is not coming easily.

Still, I am glad I made the investment in the greenhouse allowing me to plant plenty of seed trays.  The potting shed is coming into its own with the last surviving hen keen to help out on occasion.  Everything is late, but we finally have some tomato seedlings poking through as well as Cavolo Nero, cabbages and PSB.  I thought we had some chillis up, but they turned out to be mushrooms. Not what I was expecting at all.  They grew one day, died the next.  Hey ho.  Might need to look at a different brand of potting compost.

On the upside, the potatoes are looking well chitted and are more than ready to get into the ground. The down side being that I have not been able to prepare any beds in the waterlogged clay soil.  I have the frames for the raised beds, but no compost or topsoil to go in them.  That’s a plan for another week.


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End of an Era

The snow returned on the weekend of the 17th / 18th March. This time it fell benignly and softly, covering everything overnight in a thick white insulating layer.

And overnight my father finally passed away: quietly and peacefully in his sleep. The falling snow created an atmosphere of tranquility and peace. His much-loved garden, the one that I had naively blundered around in and tried to maintain, was mothballed in a mute downy blanket. It seemed apt and the garden looked far more beautiful with its cloak of snow than it otherwise would do at this time of year.

The Old Man had become increasingly frail to the point that G had recently suggested that we might wheel him one last time down his garden.  I am glad we did not as the garden now – at this time of year – was no way for him to see it.  It was better that it remained in his mind as the veg patch on which he grew some of the best peas you are likely to see.

The creeping stranglehold of COPD had robbed him of breath and energy, and his ability to even stand, let alone walk was so diminished we were seriously thinking of trying to move him to external care in a hospice or community hospital. With this in mind it was a blessed relief when he slipped away at home, in a room overlooking the garden. The snow drifted down to cover the barren veg patch, the leafless trees and the ragged borders.  Instead all was softness and conformity as he lay quietly in bed, at ease for the first time in what seemed an age.

With his passing comes the end of an era.  He had designed and created this garden, alongside our mother and with the sometimes less than willing help of their sons.  He had lived here for 42 years.  It is difficult to imagine this 6.509 acres of Somerset not being under his control.  Even in his last 24 hours he was taking visitors and handing down instructions like the Pope or a Roman Emperor.  We waited in the kitchen while he talked to Aubrey about what he was going to do with the field this year.  He wanted to know from Jim how the garden was going, now that I had relinquished my role.  I spent a little time with him on that Saturday and was going to drop in on Sunday, but Nick’s phone call early Sunday told me it was not going to be the type of visit I had been expecting.

Instead we had to organise the confirmation of death which our good neighbourly GP friend did.  She trudged across the fields with her dog (The Old Man would have been amused by that).  The Funeral Director came to remove TOM.  I did not want to see this bit.  Dad was so peaceful in bed – I wanted that to be my final sight of him.  I had witnessed my mother leaving the house eleven years before – in a wheelchair – to die in hospital three days later.  Thankfully that indignity was not visited on The Old Man and I am pleased that he was able to pass away within sight of his garden – the garden that had given him so much pride and joy.



JMB Peas2

The Old Man and his legendary Hurst Greenshaft Peas




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