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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Putting Your Back Into It


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.


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


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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Catalogue ordering to banish the blues

Dark wet days post-Christmas and we all need a bit of cheering up.  Now is the time to plan for those longer summer days so I ditched the travel supplements, holiday brochures and flight planners and went and ordered my seeds for the prospective vegetable patch.

This year I decided to order locally from one of our local suppliers: Pennard Plants.  Their seeds are cheaper than the big boys which could partly be because there are fewer seeds in the packet. But since the average packet of runner bean seeds from Suttons would give you more wigwams than Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse combined, I think I should still have enough plants for the allotment.  Fewer seeds – less waste.

They had New Year 25% special offer, were delivered within a couple of days and look quirky and fun in their packaging.  The heritage and heirloom varieties are intriguingly named and should be interesting to grow.



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Pond Life


Ready for planting

It was back to school for me this week, but with no Saturday lessons, weekends really are weekends: two full days of fun and frolics.  The intention was to start planting in the new garden, as I last weekend I had ransacked the Cut Flower Patch at the old place for a load of stuff to start populating borders.  But in between a trip to Hive Beach and visits to the sick and elderly (our three surviving parents are taking it in turns to be Harry Hill’s “Most Sick Person of The Week”) we did not get do anything till Sunday afternoon.

But we got a lot done for what was officially our first proper stint in the new garden.  Mrs B wanted to start with the back yard border which last summer was inundated with geraniums that had taken over the place.  A new challenge for us here is to sort out a pond, so with images of Monty (or more pertinently Charlie Dimock) in our heads we donned wellies and started dredging our water feature.  It turns out that not only was the pond a lot bigger than we thought, it also contained a wealth of plant life that seemed to be choking itself – though not apparently a large number of frogs that were idly lolling in the bottom.

We took a lot of water lily out (laying it on the side to allow any fauna to find its way back, just like Monty had told us) then cleared geraniums, rearranged some of the bog-type plants around the pond and planted irises.  I say we – actually it was mainly me as Mrs B was obsessing about the frogs that both intrigued and repelled her.  She did not want to go near them, but was equally worried that they would be unable to escape the pond if we did not put a stairway of stones for them to ascend.

Elsewhere we planted snow drops which are the harbingers of our wedding anniversary in February.  And in front of the house I started digging up part of the lawn to extend a flower bed into which the echinacea and more irises went.  All-in-all it was a good afternoon’s work which augurs well for the future.


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