“Oh The Summertime is Coming..”

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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

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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.

 

 

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The Old Man and his legendary Hurst Greenshaft Peas

 

 

 

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Putting Your Back Into It

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Even Ella seems depressed by the weather

Back to school after a half term break of mixed fortunes. I started out with a burning desire to get the veg patch properly started with visions of raised beds marked out next to what promised to be a dazzlingly constructed greenhouse, risen from the pile of aluminium and glass in the corner of the lawn (well, field).

After a wet but enjoyable weekend in Liverpool with the youngest, the week stretched out before me with the promise of constructive horticultural efforts to come. But the North West rain followed us south (very cold and very wet) to put a major dampener on my efforts.  And then, while carrying out the first garden dig, my back gave way.  It was not one of those minor tweaks.  The movement in my lower spine was of a tectonic level that registered on the Richter scale.   The sound of my spinal plates collapsing was only drowned out by  the sound of the pouring rain and my heavy breathing as I maniacally turned the sodden earth to transplant the rhubarb.

My first reaction is always one of anger and frustration combined with feelings of stupidity that – as someone with a history of back pain – I had allowed myself to nearly rupture a disc once again. The sentiments regarding my own stupidity were clear in the look Mrs B gave me when I told her later but, frankly, I can’t live my life trying to mitigate against potential injury, when I am needing to design and dig a garden. It’s just a risk you take – like face planting in snow board in big air or tripping on the start line in speed skating. You just gotta go for it.

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The base is levelled (and square). Now just the frame and glass…

But from there the week did get better and with Mrs B’s able assistance we got fence panels erected at the back and managed to construct the greenhouse.  We constructed the frame, levelled it and glazed it without losing a single pane or running out of screws, although I nearly lost a thumb when I impulsively wiped some green mould off one of the panes.  Instead of wiping the face of the glass, my thumb ran along the corner edge – carving a long slice down the length of the thumb pad.

Two plasters stemmed the flow of blood, and two visits to the osteopath seem to have mended the back, so this weekend I was able to (carefully) start the construction of those raised beds.  I even managed to delve deeper into my atavistic gardening spirit by burning a very effective bonfire.

The garden is beginning to take shape.  Is that spring I see just around the corner? Answer:  No.  We have a week of Siberian conditions to get through first.

 

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Staying Positive

It’s half term and the weather has continued with its succession of weather fronts providing torrential rain to leave the earth  sodden.  Yesterday it did not stop all day although this made little difference to me as I had ricked my back on Tuesday trying to heal in the rhubarb I was transplanting from up the road.  A day inside in front of the fire and TV tuned to winter Olympics was probably the best option all round.

But when the short hours of daylight are filled with boggy walks in torrential downpours one needs to be on the lookout for positive indicators.  And there are some.  There are plenty of snowdrops in the garden and along the banks of the stream winking shyly in the occasional watery sunshine.  The first green shoots of the transplanted aliums are looking strong and vibrant in the cold pond bed.   In the tubs – some of which we acquired with the house and some of which had planted ourselves – the early shoots are coming through.  I have no idea what is in which, irrespective of whether we planted them or not, so there is an eager anticipation in trying to work out what each set of shoots is going to produce.

And out the front there are plenty of bunches of daffodils springing up.

And just to prove the days really are getting longer the hens have started laying again. These two lazy layers take more time off than your average MP.  They have not laid an egg since early autumn, it seems, so it is a pleasure to have the occasional newly laid offering once again.  The chickens have really recuperated after looking sad  and emaciated before we moved them down.  Now they have beautiful plumage (to quote Monty Python) and their combs are red and firm.  The black hen is looking sprightly though the brown one is still limping along , trying to persuade me that she needs reclassification for the paralympic winter sports.

Perhaps if we classify her in the LW2 category (“major physical impairment in one leg”) she will start laying too.

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The Road to Caryford

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The Holy of Holies

A wet West Country Weekend might, on the face of it, have promised little in the way of gardening opportunities, but Sunday was Potato Day, the Horticultural Hajj for the gardeners of Cary.  It is that time of the year when the green fingered pilgrims make their way through the wind and rain to the car park at Caryford Hall, before entering the door to the Holy of Holies: the rectangular table of seed potatoes.  Once inside, the devotees of the tuber huddle and queue around the hallowed trugs.

And so we stood there in line, wicker baskets on arms, brown paper bags and crayons in hand, ready to pick the choicest chitters.  We shuffled along, hardly daring to look ahead in case there were not enough King Edwards or Belle de Fontenay to go round.  We were worried that, although the opening time was advertised as 10.30, it was clear that some early worshippers had stolen a march on the rest of the gardening fraternity, leaving with bags bulging as we arrived shortly after the half past. Sadly there were no B de F’s so we had to hang on for Swift instead as our First Early.  The thought of trying to go back up the line against the slow-moving mass of potato fans was not one I wished to contemplate. (In other Hajj’s there have been stampedes and mass fatalities caused by less important issues).

Of course there are other subtle differences between this pilgrimage and the Hajj which kicks off annually in Mecca.  In this particular ceremony there is a differing direction of prayer (clockwise instead of counter-clockwise), and while there is no need for the pilgrims to run back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah, there is a fair amount of running between car and hall door in the pouring rain.  Disciples do not need to drink from the Zamzam Well, but teas, coffees and light refreshments were on sale in aid of Macmillan Cancer Care.  The equivalent of standing vigil on the plains of Mount Arafat will come later when the potatoes are chitting – as the green-fingered check them each day or week to see those shoots growing in their little eff boxes, while spending a night in the plain of Muzalifa and throwing symbolic stones at the Devil will be mirrored in the actions of gardeners throwing projectiles at the neighbours’ cats or dogs to discourage them from doing their own digging and fertilising in the newly dug veg patch.

Happy Chitting.

 

 

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