Lockdown: Plant Me Out

Socially distanced raised bed

As we move into phase three of Lockdown in the Midlife Garden, restrictions are being gradually lifted as seedlings and young plants are allowed into raised beds and borders. We remain confident that the garden economy will make a recovery and start to get back to normal. Whatever that is.

Of course, we have no statistics or evidence to support this policy and, although we profess to be guided by the signs (more sunshine, longer days, that kind of thing), we are, for the most part, acting on gut instinct. Put another way: we’re winging it. We were winging it when we forgot to water the strawberries and they nearly died in the heat. We were winging it when we found random sweet peas and nicotiana in amongst the sugar snaps and we were definitely acting with little or no planning, fore-thought or intelligence when we left the beans out and let them get hit by the frost.

So now we are trying to look organised and have gone back to the core policies of social distancing and quarantine. We have applied these policies to the brassicas: the Purple Sprouting, Kholrabi, Sprouts and Cabbages. When they entered the garden from the greenhouse they were initially quarantined (hardened off) for fourteen days before they could take their place alongside the onions in the raised bed. There they were carefully placed a socially distanced 18 inches from the other plants, as we made the natural assumption that they probably all have underlying health issues. Initially, the policy seemed to be working, with all plants looking healthy with no symptoms of dry leaves or wilting stems. But that was when they were young. It seems almost as if, the older they get, the more susceptible they become to whatever it is that kills ’em. We started getting random casualties, just keeling over and dying, like sheep in a field. We Googled possible causes – club root being one, but discounted that. (We also discounted ‘Club Foot’, which, being a Kasabian song, has nothing to do with cabbages but does evoke memories of a very different time).

But the good news is that the social distancing measures are working, as there appears to be no spread of whatever it is that is killing the plants. When one plant dies, its neighbours are still able to survive – so now we are employing a policy of local lockdowns, even though no one knew we had such a policy till now. Including us.

In the absence of any conclusive evidence to explain these isolated deaths, we have come to the conclusion that these plants – unlike our Prime Minister – simply were not ‘fighters’. It is generally assumed by many that if you get ill, your chances of survival are greatly enhanced if you possess a pugilistic outlook on life. So we replaced the flattened plants with others who had been sitting warming the proverbial subsitutes’ bench in the seed trays. We put them in with a managerial motivational speech along the lines of “here’s your chance lads, go out and prove yourselves”. Results were mixed (even they weren’t all fighters, apparently) and we are down to our last super-sub for the Sprouts. But then, as 52% of the population would say, what have Brussels ever done for us?

In other news, we have had a delivery of PPE for the brassicas and the fruit. We have actually had two deliveries as we accidentally double ordered because the first order took so long to arrive – despite sending planes to Turkey to collect it. So we now have plenty of netting to prevent birds and cabbage white caterpillars from decimating our crops, although the holes in the butterfly netting look suspiciously large. But it’s not as if we would order PPE that is not of the correct standard, on a whim, or in panic, is it?

And as for questions concerning the spread of whatever is destroying the brassicas, we are not worrying. Why? Because (apparently) lockdown plants don’ give to you…

Don’t believe me? Just watch.

(repeat to fade)

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Dug for Victory

As lockdown starts to ease up, the Midlife Garden is is offering a new habitat for the residents and, perhaps, those who might have travelled from farther afield (albeit under exceptional circumstances and with strictly legal and reasonable grounds, of course). Responding to the growing pressure for living space, emergency planning permission has been pushed through to combat the expected second peak of young frogs and newts who will be finding it increasingly difficult to socially distance in their current accommodation.

In the old pond, life is – to quote 10cc – a minestrone, choked as it is with weed and lilies. So with the proposed re-development of the area for the expanded kitchen, the siting of a larger, clearer, pond on a greenfield site was quickly approved with the first turf being cut on a Saturday morning at the start of the month. This was followed moments later by the first contact between spade and concrete – six inches of it. Despite this, the main ground work was completed in a weekend and the intervening weeks have been spent planting and landscaping to ensure the pond meets the requirements of its ‘stakeholders’.

So who is this new facility designed for and who has actually been using it? Of course, we are expecting the frogs and newts to transfer soon, but totally understand their reticence in moving from their current swamp. After all, in newt terms, the distance from the old pond to the new is the equivalent of 260 miles and they, like the rest of us, are unsure of how rules regarding travel relate to mere pondlife…

Early tenants include the Water Boatmen who hitched a ride on the water lilies’ roots. But the main users of the pond are the birds, who spend their time on the beach like a stag weekend in Brighton, drinking and bathing. While blackbirds, tits, pigeons, robins and even the occasional woodpecker have availed themselves of the facilities, it is the sparrows that are the most rowdy and vociferous. Like a bunch of year 8s their diminutive size is inversely proportional to their potential for trouble. They argue and squabble in the branches of the pyrocanthus or hang out on the higher rungs of the wooden fence like the cool kids in the bleachers. And when they come down to the pond water sprays like fountains in Trafalgar Square as they bathe with the energy of over-wound clockwork toys. It is hardly surprising that the water level has dropped. But these are the same sparrows that vandalise the lettuce and chard in the veg garden and have, on several occasions, been caught out of bounds in the greenhouse. Will they never learn?!

So the pond awaits the hardcore denizens who will take advantage of its cool depths (OK, its only a couple of feet deep, but you try digging that much top soil and breaking up the gardening equivalent of the Maginot Line). The irises, rushes and water forget-me-nots are looking great for which we have to thank Ben from Water Artisans who provided materials and plants as well as his advice and encouragement, and without whom all of this would not have been possible.

From the newts, frogs and – especially – the sparrows: thank you, Ben.

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“We are Doing a Terrific Job”

When reports of something called “frost” started filtering through, the Midlifegardener took the threat seriously.  As this “frost” was being brought from the Arctic, the MLG, suspecting frost would not be welcome in the Midlife Garden, took steps to secure his borders and ensure his beds were safe.  He banned any contact with the Arctic:  there were no flights from the Arctic, no Arctic Roll for dessert and no room for the Arctic Monkeys on any Spotify playlist.

Despite these measures (which the Midlife Garden was the first garden IN THE WORLD to take) frost still seemed likely.  When questioned about this the MLG seemed unperturbed.

“Frost?  That’s just like a bit of cold.  It won’t bother us – we have it all under control”.

So the Midlifegardener prepared, by not preparing.  He went ahead and planted out his “hardened” courgettes and allowed his runner beans to exercise in the great outdoors.  After all, runner beans have rights too – it’s unconsitutional to make them remain at home.  And what of the effects on the Midlife Garden economy if those beans are unable to go out?  Next thing we’ll be saying they don’t have the right to bear arms.

But then Stupid Tuesday came and “The Frost” – or Frigid-19 as they have started to call it.  The MLG looked at the stats and was angry.  Why had no one told him about this?

He ranted.  “Do you know where this came from?  You bet you do – they said the Arctic, but you know what’s just on the other side of the Arctic?  Russia, that’s what.  And it’s the Russians who did this.  They knew about this “frost” thing before anyone.  But they didn’t tell us”.

So now the MLG (who is apparently doing a ‘FANTASTIC JOB’, by the way) is having to get the garden through this.  We listened in to his press briefing on the subject.

“The beans are in lockdown…

(‘Mr MLG, they are sick and the greenhouse can barely cope with any more‘)

…but they should be free to go out soon…

(‘Just as well, Mr MLG, as social distancing is impossible between them and the tomatoes’)

…we have to get back into growth.   I accept, some courgettes might have been seriously affected…

(‘They’re dead, Mr MLG‘)

…but we know that this Russian Frost is what has caused it. If you want to know why it happened – go ask the Russians.  Or the Chinese – it probably came from one of their laboratories”.

(‘Do you have any plan to make things better, Mr MLG?’)

“I’ve heard that antifreeze stops frost, so, perhaps, there is a way that we could spray the plants with this, or find a way to get it into the plants, like, internally by injection or some other way.  Would that guard against this Foreign Cold Thing?”

“I also hear that when it gets warmer, this Russian Frost will just go away, as if by magic.  It will be like a miracle. So it will all be fine.  And then we can make the Midlifegarden Great Again”.

Let’s hope so – it’s just a shame about the courgettes and beans, Mr MLG.

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Spring is Sprung the Grass is Riz…

I wonder where dem boidies iz…

Mrs B’s Cut Flower patch starts to take shape

While the debate continues about how long lockdown needs to be in place and we continue our social distancing, one positive thing that is clear around here is that the seasonal timing of this could not have been more convenient.  When one is legally obliged to remain on one’s property for hours – and days – on end, domestic tasks are the unavoidable priority. 

The Midlife Garden has never looked so trim and tidy.  The grass is trim and the edges are sharp.  Borders have been weeded and the seedlings are all in the greenhouse or potted on and hardening off.  Green shoots are everywhere which give some feeling of hope in otherwise desperate times.

Also noticeable in the air is the sound of birdsong.  Someone said that birds are singing more loudly, but that is not it.  Ambient noise from planes, trains and automobiles, has reduced dramatically while birds continue to sing at the same levels.  We can all just hear them more clearly now.  I am not sure how much of a difference this makes in a small village, but we have been sleeping with a window open and have woken to the sound of birdsong every morning these past few weeks.  Sometimes it is the cawing of a crow that has disturbed our slumber, but thankfully it has more often been a blackbird, blue tit or chiffchaff, or, for the last two weeks it has been the lilting song of the blackcap.  The blackcap’s is my favourite birdsong at the moment, which makes me sound a bit geeky.  But hey, I’ve said it now.

The sound of the blackcap is not only enjoyable, it is also a sure sign that spring is in full swing.  I finally saw a couple of swallows, too, near the Old Place on Monday, and in the back garden we have a pair of blackbirds sitting on eggs.  It has meant plans to trim the honeysuckle have been put on hold.  Likewise, any thoughts of stripping the dead leaves off the Cabbage Palm were cancelled as we watched a pair of wrens building their nest there instead.  The decibell levels have risen dramatically in the garden with the wrens, by turns, singing to each other and chitting their alarm at our presence.

It was an alarm call that stopped Mrs B and me the other morning while on the regulation dog walk.  We attempted to locate the orgin of the noise and saw a pair of wrens.  Suddenly, there was the flapping of larger wings and out of the hedge tumbled a sparrowhawk which sat on the grass, looking a little dazed, with its wings outstretched, peering over its shoulder at us.  The bird fixed us with its beady yellow eye before realising social distancing measures were being contravened and flew off.  The wrens survived the assault.

It was enjoyable to witness, but we don’t need to leave our home to be able to appreciate the vigour of the spring birds whether they are on their little wings or not.

Greenhouse starting to fill with seedlings



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One of our Own

It does not feel like only a few weeks since we were planting three silver birches in the new front border.  While a lot has happened in the world, for me the main events have revolved around staying at home and maintaining social isolation, which are coincidentally two of the key requirements to getting your garden looking good. 

I started my lockdown exercise regime by giving my back and shoulders a good workout, digging the tangled roots of shrubs and ash saplings from the front border.  It was the only way I was going to get the ground ready for planting, after the chances of getting a stump grinder slumped from minimal to zero. 

After four days of digging and hacking the job was done.  It took four days, but I did not work solidly all that time.  There were regular breaks for light comic banter from passers-who kept informing me “that looks like hard work”.  No shit Sherlock.  Whether they thought it really was hard work or whether they were commenting on my bedraggled, sweat-stained appearance giving the impression of hard-work, is a moot point.  But I responded with some amusing quip which rapidly turned to irony and then sarcasm as the tide of village humanity rippled its way past us on its daily release from quarantine, with no one able to resist the urge to state the bleeding obvious.

Staying within the confines of my property, though, I have managed to plant up the border, which I am creating as a memorial to Our Boy.  As a reference to Josh’s favoured football team I am designing it in the colours of Spurs – the team Josh was saddled with supporting as a baby when his uncle Richard inundated him with all the kit when he was barely a week old.  So the planting will be mostly white and blue, although there might be some lilac in there – as a nod to the away strips of 99 and 03 (and this season’s training top). 

“Design” is a word I normally hesitate to use in my gardening.  Mostly I bumble around and throw stuff into raised beds and borders on a whim, but this was going to take some planning.  Your average TV horticulturalist makes it look so damn easy, and when you take a look at the design sheets from Piet Oudolf for the garden at the Hauser and Wirth Gallery up the road, they are like works of art themselves.  But I have to start somewhere, so after browsing books on the subject and surfing the internet for “tall hardy perennials” I came up with the semblance of a ‘Spursy’ plan. 

Making up my squad of plants was not easy.  Like any good manager, I had cleared out a lot of the dead wood that I discovered when I moved in and started the re-building from the ground up.   Continuing the Spurs theme, I knew I would not be able to afford any top performers, already at the peak of their cycle, so I shopped around for a few bargains.  Which I duly found.  One source of quality plants was over in NI, at Ballyrobert Gardens who supplied a number of decent looking plants.  It feels very right that there is a Northern Ireland connection in Josh’s garden.  I have no doubt he guided me that way.  Here’s to you, Anya – not to mention Josh’s former colleagues at Hope Academy.

So, what plants are in the Tottenham terrain, you ask?  Well, we have a number of delphiniums which grow tall  and elegant but have a habit of falling over.  Those who remember Jurgen Klinsman’s days at White Hart Lane will agree this is apt.  While I would hope that all of my bought-in plants will be successful, having done my research on them, looking up their statistics on the RHS website and even taken time to view them at other gardens, I doubt that all will deliver what they promise. 

In addition to the plants I bought, I have a number of home-grown candidates that I am growing from seed – my academy players, if you like.  I have high hopes that the Echinacea White Swan seedlings might prove to be my Harry Kanes, though only time will tell.  But I live in hope: one cannot help feeling proud when it is one of your own that performs so well up front. 

At the moment, like the current Tottenham team, the border looks dull and lifeless, lacking spark or imagination.  But I am hopeful that, in time, it will be more “Poch” than “Jose” in style.  I imagine that some of the combinations of planting will work well together with good cohesion and synchronicity, while at other times and in other parts, it will be shambolic.  And while I expect it will do well for much of the summer, it will no doubt fade by the end of the season. 

To be truly Spurs-like I guess the border should be easy on the eye and unlikely to win any silverware.  But don’t judge me on this season alone.  This gardening game is a marathon, not a sprint.  We take each plant as it comes.  We do not look too far ahead but we will give it one hundred and ten per cent. 

But I would not want to be judged on just one season.  The pundits should only judge me after two years, by which time, perhaps, Josh’s Border – the “Spursy Bed” – might have clinched the Village Champions League title for best in the parish.

It will have been worth all that “hard work”.




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Time out of Mind

Tall and Slim

Day 8 of lockdown and we wake again to a changed world. People are talking of a “New Normal”, which is a fair description, although some of us have been living with a New Normal for a while now.  What has clearly changed – coincidentally with the restrictions on movement – has been the weather.  This morning was bright and still, with a dusting of frost on the newly dug veg bed.  It was the sort of morning we had yearned for all winter as the rain kept falling.  Today feels like a crisp winter’s morning as I set out with my ever-keen Labrador for my allocated exercise.

There are many issues surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic which anger me and, like many people, Mrs B and I try to ration the amount of news we take in as the Goverment hide behind “the science” to pretend they have a well-prepared plan which they are implementing with intelligence and honesty.  The daily walk is a time for reflection and re-charging of emotional stability.

As I walk down the lane Tim passes me:  a doctor on his way to man the front line at YDH.  I clap him as he passes and he replies with a suitable gesture.  Although it is reassuring that we appreciate “our” NHS, it feels, in some respects, a little patronising to be doing it now.  After all, some of us have been grateful for the professionalism of our doctors and nurses for years.  This morning Mrs B and I were marvelling at the amount of medication I have acquired and take on a daily basis, addressing my various physical infirmities.  I feel perfectly fit, and to all intents and purposes I am (if I keep taking the tablets), but as I head out on my walk, an ironic thought crosses my mind that if I did fall victim to this virus I could quite easily be noted as a “57-year-old man with underlying health problems”.  So no big deal.

And with that happy thought in my head I continue on my way to take a look at Josh’s Tree.  Our good friends in the village purchased it in his memory and it now stands alongside one of the footpaths that are used by an increasing number of villagers these days.  On the advice of Richard, we selected a Tulip Tree: Liriodendron tulipifera. I haven’t mastered the pronuncation as Richard has.  Too many r’s and l’s.   It will grow tall and slim, like our boy, so we thought it apt.  It also has the most stunning flowers (tulip-like, would you believe) when it reaches a certain age, which is perhaps less apt.  But we were drawn to the thought that in decades to come it will stand tall and proud and people may wonder at why such a stunning tree was placed there.  Some will know.  Some will not.  Perhaps they will have to dredge up this blog to know the story.

After I have paid my respects, Ella and I continue.  Despite the frost, it feels as if spring has sprung.  Chiffchaffs call, the woodpeckers continue to drum, and the rooks sit in the tree tops cawing noisily next to their partially constructed nests.  In the garden we have blackbirds searching for a ‘des res’ in the honeysuckle and the starlings are attacking the chicken wire, put there last year to prevent them nesting under the tiles.  I was surprised to see a Jay in the garden the other day.  It’s a handsome bird, if a little blousy, but it has a reputation for stealing nestlings of other birds – such as our house-hunting blackbirds.  So it might not be too welcome.

Around the lanes the wild garlic is looking grand and the horse chestnuts are coming out.  As a child I remember getting hold of the early buds – ‘sticky buds’ we called them.  I’m not sure what we did with them, but the tackiness was probably something you could terrorise your friends with.

We have not seen any deer recently but on the last part of the walk I spot a couple grazing at one of their favourite spots facing the morning sun.  Ella sees them too, and is preparing to make a frontal attack – from a distance of over two hundred yards, across open ground.  Like the Light Brigade, she does not understand the futility of such an effort, although at least the deer are not armed with cannons.  The charge is cancelled.

Only as we are about to move on do I notice that there are four deer.  Two others are lying down, blending in with the vegetation.   We leave them in peace and return home, enriched with the sense of being at one with the world and the spirits that inhabit it.

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Lockdown: You’ve Got to Roll With It

The sweet smell of DB No.5

When I was young, quarantine was for dogs.  Specifically, those coming from abroad.  A stay of six months was the norm, although that was increased to twelve months for a while when a dog named Sessan died of rabies in Newmarket.  These days quarantine is for humans – and it seems that dogs are our best way out of it, as it has been accepted that they need two exercises a day while we are allowed just the one. 

Our Labrador Retriever celebrated the first day of lockdown by rolling in something unspeakable during our single excursion from the house.  We have various names for the fields that we walk in, based on previous sightings and happenings.  There is the Old Deer Field, the New Deer Field and the Ducking Pool (where Ella wades and slurps water before coughing like a Covid patient).  There is also the Manor field, and the more descriptively labelled Dead Badger Field.  To that list we can now add the Second Dead Badger Field (DBF II).  We had to keep the dog down wind from us as we strode home.

I was deputed to put on my own Personal Protection Equipment, consisting of rubber gloves and an old anorak, which is not dissimilar to what the Government is supplying “our” NHS, it seems.  The dog herself could not understand the fuss and took it all as her own PPE (Personal Pampering for Ella).  So, after anointing herself with the odour of badger carcass, she now got to choose from a range of shampoos, left over from the Christmas hamper, with which to have a wash and shake.  She went for ‘After the Rain’ (from Arran Aromatics) and she looked gorgeous on it.  Fluffy and happy, smelling like a Highland Hunting party:  notes of heather and gorse, with a hint of rotting cadaver on the finish.

Ella does not see Lockdown as a problem and does not understand the concept of Social Distancing either; wandering out into the lane every time another villager walks past on their daily exercise.  It is not that she is being sociable – she is simply checking their pockets for biscuits. 

Self-isolation is something that the hen has decided she is going to rebel against too, as she escaped from her run twice yesterday and attempted to scratch away at the flowers coming up in the cold spring sunshine.  We sent her packing with a warning – next time it will be a fine, or perhaps a really hard stare from our Prime Minister. 

That should do it.

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Trees of Life

Two years ago this week it snowed.

I know that because it was the day my father died. It was the final freeze in a bitterly cold winter.  The Old Man had survived the Beast from the East but not the after-shock of the early spring snowfall on the night of 17th March.  The doctor had to trudge across the snow-filled fields with her dog to certify his death.

Two weeks ago they held the inquest into Josh’s death.  We have not, as yet, heard what the findings were but prior to it we had been sent the statements that formed the basis of the short inquest at which no witnesses were called.  The first item was a simple police confirmation of identity. 

The other statement was the hospital record detailing the treatment that Josh had received in hospital in those 27 days as the staff strove to save his life.  It made for awful reading: an account of his gradual decline which, like a movie to which you know the ending, felt as though the outcome was somehow inevitable, in stark contrast to our feelings of desperate hope at the time. 

So it was, last weekend we planted trees in Josh’s memory to start the construction of a part of the garden which will be dedicated to him.  We thought of Josh as we did it, but I was also remembering my father.  I have said before how my parents are often on my mind when I’m in the garden.  Trees evoke memories of my The Old Man, who invested in planting a good number of trees at the Old Place.  I particularly recalled the six maples that he bought – three copper, three variegated – for the end of the garden.  It must have been the school holidays, because my mother and I were the ones who sunk the not- inconsiderable trees into position.  When my father returned at the end of the day, his only comment was that they were not quite in the right position.  My mother’s response was to offer him the spade and suggest he move them himself, if he so wished.

The trees stayed where they were and flourished, providing a handsome screen.

So this thought was playing on my mind as Mrs B and I took a spade to the sodden turf and planted three Silver Birch (Snow Queen) and a Sorbus (of an as-yet-unconfirmed type).  I was naturally concerned that we planted them in the right place, which I think we did.  But a couple of concerns linger. 

Concern No.1: Have I left enough room for the stump grinder?  If not I am going to have to lift the trees when we come to prepare the rest of the bed by grinding out the roots of the old shrubs.

Concern No.2: Have I planted the right tree?  The Mountain Ash (Sorbus Aucuparia Cardinal Royal) is evocative of my childhood when a rowan tree adorned the church yard opposite my bedroom window.  I have a nasty suspicion that, in a labelling mix up, the nursery delivered a Whitebeam (Sorbus Aria Lutescens) but we had planted it before we realised the possible cock-up.  The nice lady at the nursery seems to think we have the right tree though it is difficult to tell when they are not in leaf.  But, as she said to me, we will soon know, won’t we?

And then there is every chance that, like my father before me, I will be wanting to shift all the trees I have just planted. 

I will keep my fingers crossed – and look forward to the re-birth of spring.

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Sowing the Seeds

When I started this post a week ago the immediate concerns surrounded the aftermath of another weekend bringing another storm – Jorge.  It seemed that our post-Brexit freedoms did not extend to naming our own storms with those Europeans coming over here, bringing their continental storms, messing with our rivers and flooding our golf courses.

Now we have the non-specifically named Covid-19 coming over here threatening to mess with everything and everyone we hold dear.  I wonder if we can comprehend the enormity of what we might have to face and the steps we can take to mitigate the the effects of the impending epidemic.  Back in 1976 when my father decided to buy a property with 6 1/2 acres of land it was, in no small part, because he wanted to be able to sustain a degree of self-sufficiency in case of a break down in the supply chain through either economic uncertainty of nuclear disaster.  I am not sure if he saw Opec or Russia as a bigger threat, but he was determined to be ready.

It seems many think we might be facing such a scenario now – which would explain the bizarre headline shortages in toilet rolls and hand sanitizer.  Really?  In his day, my father was concerned about shortages in proper essentials like, um, food.  So he grew vegetables on an industrial scale.  I cannot compete with him in the scale of my veg growing operation, but I have managed to maintain an element of self-sufficiency and am hoping that Mrs B and I will have a decent crop of vegetables for the summer.

This week we cooked the last of the stored squashes:  the recipe required “one large squash, 1 Kg”.  Half of my last Crown Prince squash weighed a whopping 2kg so perhaps it pays to grow your own.  We have almost finished the kale but the purple sprouting is doing as described (sprouting, in purple).  There are still leeks in the garden and the rocket has got its act together in the greenhouse, so we have green leaves.  And our hen – plucky Agatha – continues to lay eggs at regular intervals.  For the new season there are the green shoots of new garlic and shallots.  It might not be enough to ward off the prospect of self-isolation, but it is, if nothing else, pleasing to know that we can provide at least some of our diet for ourselves.

Most of the recent horticultural work has revolved around sowing seeds.  I have ordered all my veg seeds, which I will start sowing in trays this weekend, but in some ways the more emotionally rewarding work has been in planning the flower garden for the summer.  There will be a new border to be planted in Josh’s memory and I plan for the rest of the garden to be vibrant with colour and flowers for cutting.  Ultimately the new beds will be planted with perennials, but as these will take a year or two to mature, I am sowing more annuals than I have ever done to ensure the borders are more packed than the Greco-Turkish equivalent.  For flower seeds my go-to source is always Higgledy Garden and he includes old favourites such as cosmos, nicotiana and sweet peas, as well as newbies like Cleome Spinosa, amongst others, and a free packet of Godetia.

My father used to say that if you could not eat it, he did not want to grow it, but as I see the seedlings poking through and I look forward to sunny summer days and blooming borders in the garden it is a good time of year to remember Jesus being tempted in the desert and remind ourselves that we cannot live on bread alone.

Or toilet rolls for that matter.




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Bedding In

January and early February have seen an upturn in postive thoughts around here.  The early morning walks are punctuated by the sound of thrushes singing their hearts out from the tops of trees while woodpeckers drum on hollow branches and robins argue noisily below; all trying to claim their separate territories with spring just around the corner.

My attempts at my own territorial improvements have centred on transplanting the Acer from the pot at the back of the house, where it was looking rather sad in the atutumn.  It has now taken the place of the unsightly cotoneaster, which took some uprooting from the front garden.  The removal of the cotoneaster has naturally been delayed until the blackbirds had taken their fill of the red berries, just as my father would have insisted.  I follow his advice more now than I ever did when he was alive.

Elsewhere, I have been tinkering with some of the borders: pruning roses and cutting back the autumn bliss raspberries – though the latter was mainly to ensure that I could get to the hen house more easily.  There had been the usual hiatus in egg-production from Agatha (although she still claimed her free board and lodging).  Supervision of the hen house had become rather intermittent, so when I did finally check on the 20th January, I was astonished to see eight eggs in her nesting box.

Since then we have cleared the path to the hen house and check on her regularly to collect any more eggs, while they are still fresh.  But this hen has a sense of humour, it seems, and there has not been a single egg layed since the 20th.  It’s probably her way of protesting over her recent exclusion from the flower garden – a ban imposed on her after she destroyed some of the nascent daffodills.  Not all birds are welcome in the borders.

The main piece of garden preparation I have managed is to spread two tons of Viridor Revive compost on the raised beds.  Thirty-eight wheelbarrow loads to help improve the clay topsoil and top up the beds.  So far my efforts have simply created the biggest, most luxuriant cat litter trays in the village.  The feline equivalent of Andrex triple-ply quilted, they are soft and very deep, and not even my labrador is able to consume the quantities of cat-poo that are likely to be interred on my refurbished veg patch.

Last weekend storm Ciara blew her way through the country leaving us to pick up the pieces of her trail of destruction, although the greenhouse managed to remain intact (despite losing one pane of glass a few weeks previously).  Today I am sitting inside as storm Dennis repeats Ciara’s performance of a week ago.  It is the type of weather my old head of PE once described as so bad “I wouldn’t put a cat out in it”.  To this brown-fingered gardener, it is precisely the type of weather I would willingly evict any defacating feline.




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