2nd August 2019

 

Roses are great. We have such luck with roses (none of my own doing I can assure you), that I’m guilty of taking them a bit for granted.

I’m always looking at the gaps and problems in the garden and thinking up ways to solve them; sometimes you literally do have to wake up and smell the… well, you know.

 

 
Also my pet project: a rescued Venus Fly Trap.

I love that the flowers have to be on such a long stem so that the plant doesn’t accidentally eat its own pollinators…

So charming.

 

 

 

Work in Progress – Before and After

 

Before…

120720180220

During…

130320192225

After…

220620192488.JPG

The butterfly bush is flowering better than ever – softening the rather spare looking plot while it’s in the awkward phase.

 

After missing 2 months, it’s all systems go again.

Old mint and lavender plants, rescued from other spots will make a fragrant boundary line.

There are courgettes in pots, awaiting the spire growing experiment, and 2 raspberries and a blackcurrant are already bedded in the purpose-built raised box.

(next time, pics of plants in the main bed – red cabbage, beans, pepper; and the new gate arch, made from wisteria tree cut-offs, and a very convenient wild dogwood rose)

A few notes for zero-budget gardening:

  • the raised beds are made from reclaimed wood (totally free from folks on Gumtree)
  • the chicken wire was all found stuff, and holes etc repaired before putting up (moss painstakingly removed to add into the moss garden – waste-not-want-not!)
  • the weed suppressing is provided by second-hand straw from a goose house, a very old carpet headed for the tip (providing an eclectic, bohemian feel to the plot, I think) and some carefully placed wood-chip mulch – making sure a little goes a long way.
  • The black plastic on the right is old compost bags, in situ until more covering stuff can be found.
  • The dug-up root balls have been stored, to provide screening and hedging elsewhere instead of buying new plants. (Hopefully deer-proofing for an orchard, eventually – but that dream is a long way off!)

 

Photos of the actual planting by next week!!
(And some silly beautifying courtesy of a box of old jam jars!)

 

A few outtakes…

(sadly I don’t have any of me stuck in the mud when it flooded – those root balls make some very deep holes…)

 

Seasonal absence

I’ve missed two whole seasons from my notes here.

I spent winter pulling old roots out of stubborn clay (that’s so much quicker to write that it was to do) and managed to clear a pretty large area- which is being transformed into the new vegetable and herb garden.

I was going to write a flippant post about a fall I had in Spring (April Fool!), but actually I’ve realised I probably should have learnt a bit of a lesson from that.

Compulsive gardening may be relatable to most plant people – getting obsessive about things is par for the course. But I feel a huge responsibility for this garden – for reclaiming it, for correcting the balance between the wildlife and the people who live and share it. Sometimes I think the compulsive aspect of the work isn’t as wholesome as it seems.

I think… as vicious cycles go, taking it for granted that it’s just how you are isn’t necessarily that great. I fell over in April because I went out into the garden too soon after a bout of flu, I fell awkwardly and couldn’t really move my shoulder properly for 8 weeks. So then, obviously, the first day it didn’t hurt like @~*#! I was out there again, trying to make up for lost time.

I started to realise just how many injuries I’m actually carrying. Somehow, I don’t think it’s normal to have this much trouble getting up off the floor…

Funnily enough, I was probably saved by The Moss Garden.

I started this little project a while ago, and apart from weeding I don’t put much into it because it’s a slow burner. But before I was fully back from injury, I could go down there and just fiddle about.

You can’t muscle-through moss work. It’s about watching where you step and micro-weeding. It’s also about being very close down to the earth, and moving as lightly as you can.

Working in this shaded, damp, hidden little spot, with its totally different micro-climate and its fuzzy velvet floor (balding, but beautiful), I noticed one day that I was not in terrific pain – my back, my joints, my chest – when I was working softly in the moss garden, I felt rather nice.

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that this also happens to be an area where my expectations are nil. I know the moss will take years to establish. I know nothing here can be rushed along – I can’t really influence it, whether I work hard or not, it just is. And I think there’s a correlation between how my body feels, how I work, and the expectations I have going into the job… (I also suspect this is all rather basic information to other people – those strange people who can do things in moderation, who know how to relax and enjoy things – who are doubtless in reasonably good nick, both above and below the neck).

So. There we go. I have missed two seasons of notes, but I’m deliberately not going to worry about it. This compulsive gardener is trying to learn how to, like, not compulse?

But I will be back to posting, and I am really looking forward to catching up with all your news I’ve missed (so apologies if you get some new comments on some very old posts of yours!)

I will be posting before-and-progress shots of the new area. I was waiting to come back online until it was finished, but that’s silly. This is a long project, and I might get some invaluable advice as it goes along.

Sneak preview of before shots

The twisting Snowberry and the voracious, 6-foot Buddleia

(Which, incidentally, already had a chop before these photos were taken – it’s really not a job you can do among ‘other things’ – you have to just go at it, every day, until it’s over, otherwise you just thicken the bushes and make the job even worse!).

310720175748

120720180220.jpg

Nope… even looking at it is making me feel queasy. I need a strong pot of coffee…

 

 

 

 

Free Gold

 

With mulching playing such an important role in the health of the clay-based garden this summer, naturally thoughts go to the issue of mulching. I had time pressures this year and was forced to do two things I’m not fond of doing in the garden: spending money, and taking whatever was cheapest at the time.

I didn’t like it because I didn’t do due diligence about where the mulch comes from. Of course I checked for the sustainable tick etc, but to me that’s not enough of a guarantee, because my idea of sustainable and other peoples is vastly different.

I’m lucky enough to live close by ancient woodland. On the one hand, you don’t want to take more than woodland can spare – even collecting leaves from the ground needs to be done with caution, because that gentle coating on the ground is essential to the survival of growing things. But in late Summer, before the Autumn fall starts in earnest, I’ll skim a little litter for my garden, and that little goes a long, long way.

 

mulched roseFree leaf litter, to ward off the late summer weeds – an experiment in mulching for roses

 

I’ll also keep the freefall from the garden, for a neat winter covering should the winter be a hard one. Waste-not-want-not, as my kin have always said.

It bears thinking about when selecting trees for a garden: evergreen is wonderful for screening and reliability and much-needed winter colour, but the deciduous trees should always be our friends. Without their seasonal changes, what would this time of year really be? Without the stark bare branches in Winter, would we still delve inwards so deeply, seeking inspiration of a less material kind? I like to think huddling around fires has done us all the world of good at some point or another.

 

valmir-dzivielevski-junior-717484-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Valmir Dzivielevski Junior

 

I already planted the first Spring bulbs back in early September, and the process goes on, like all Autumn rituals: a great gathering and planting plans for next year’s ease. Something buried for our emergence from the cold.

Autumn is my favourite time of year – coloured daubs of leaves, early mists, a wholesome chill in the air, and Halloween festivities. I wake up about this time of year – like the last five months have been a sluggish dream I can’t quite remember, and don’t much care about.

There are plans afoot now. The perfect meeting point between brash colour and natural darkness. Ritual fires and tender reflections – a harvesting of sleeping plans.

It’s all so very abundant, and that’s exactly what we want. Abundance is the perfect antidote to madness, sadness, stresses and grief.

 

11-02-vertical-red-and-yellow-abstract-painting 2

vertical red and yellow abstract painting
Osnat Tzadok

17th August

We are all custodians of our little patches of earth.

At the end of the day, whether we own them, rent them, or just work on them, we will not be here forever. I hear people talk about gardening legacies, and it strikes me how short a legacy can be: vast structures disappearing in a matter of decades, to be rediscovered like treasure troves just a scant generation or two later, or the sprawling cities of the ancients, just a few feet beneath tangled jungle.

Ten years in the wilderness is a lifetime to something as malleable and erasable as a garden.

The stories of these plots far exceed our own in both directions – far into the past, far into the future. It strikes me sometimes: this place is billions of years old, they say there were lions here once. Before them, great towering caps of ice. Perhaps one day it will be a flooded wetland – playground of millions of sore-throated whooper swans, or patchwork tribes of yet-to-be evolved ducks and waders.

 

David Parfitt

Painting by David Parfitt

Or perhaps, if my plans go as I hope, it will be a forest of mighty oaks –a haven for beast, fowl and all manner of creeping and slithering thing.

Field work

I go diligently about the field at the end of the plot, picking up molehills. It really makes you think. Especially when you overfill your bag – forgetting it’s still clay you’re carrying, because those little moles with their pudgy demon hands have kindly filtered and sifted it for you into pyramids of fine earth, and you forget how heavy it is. I think about the scale of my body struggling to drag bag after bag through the grass, and I think about their tiny bodies – fiendishly strong. The tonnes they must move in a day, their little minds set on what they do: experts of the dark. I think about them, and I’m glad to know them. I’m glad they do what they do, which so helps me out when all I need is good solid earth that I don’t have to cut out like slices of thick, impossible fudge.

mole by Notes from a Compulsive Gardener

Sketch by Notes from a Compulsive Gardener

After collecting as much as I can be doing with on a hot late summer’s day, it’s onto looking for saplings. We have a lot of oak saplings that never make it past ten inches or so – falling either to the field mowers or the deer, and I take their care seriously, even though I know they’ll outlive me to that strange scale again – where nothing makes sense from a human’s perspective.

I’ll be the one setting them up in pots, trimming their leaves to encourage their roots, but it will not be my generation, or even probably two or three that will really be able to relax about the fate of the tree. I will have to take good care of it – watch it for oak diseases, protect it from hungry mouths, or clumsy feet. All the while knowing they never used to need us at all, and there’ll come a time again when these trees certainly won’t miss us.

Majesty 2006 by Tacita Dean born 1965

‘Majesty’ by Tacita Dean 2006

But I want there to be oak trees in that potentially people-less future. It matters to me that these little saplings reach their future, which never really did have anything to do with us. Their ancestors have been great naval warships, and the beams of vast important houses, but they were always meant to be trees, and I only want them to be trees.

As long as they keep finding the light, I’ll keep taking them out of harm’s way, and I’ll put them back when they’re too big for mowers and deer.

11th Sept 2018

I haven’t written in a while because I have been greatly occupied out of doors – something which is now possible with serious vigour, because the sun has finally finished with its infernal shenanigans and we have real weather – like clouds, and drizzle, and wind.

Today a great grey covering of promised rain is being sulkily withheld for the third day in a row, and everyone in the house is both sleepy and tense – a most uncomfortable cocktail – like a late Summer hangover.

I have torn out a humongous hedge which has been creeping out further and further, with its middle getting deader and deader. Beastly, furious work, but it’s left me with a hole to fill, and a gardener loves nothing better than a scrap of blank canvas, even if the ground underneath is brittle as old chalk! It’s a new challenge, a full call-to-arms first thing in the morning. It is a sense of purpose, and an inexplicable current of energy…

All this means that the season is about to turn over.

Harvest tractors plague the country roads, there is a smell in the air.

Autumn is coming.

 

221020164533

6th August

Well, what have I been up to in my absence? Battling with sun-baked clay, mostly.

 

120720180215.JPG

 

There’s not a whole lot you can do for the larger areas of ground, unless you have money and machinery (we have neither). The fissures turn into cracks, the soil turns into dust, the most worrying thing is that the rain pours down into the crevices and undermines the structural integrity of the ground, but I suspect this all part of some perfectly legitimate plan the earth has, so I don’t interfere. I’ll probably disappear into a sink hole one of these days!

With beds, I do try to intervene as best I can: mulching like it’s the end of the world and covering the topsoil with a dense layer of wood chips: I use it like sunblock, hoping the earth underneath will stay moist and protected (wood-chips sweat something chronic en masse), and it will all rot down to provide some much needed hummus. I’m hoping it will retain what little rain we get instead of letting it run straight through into those terrible dry gunnels as well.

 

250720180524.JPG

 

Having clay soil can be a little like having concrete when you get sudden downpours, so we get flooding, even though we’re surrounded by hedgerows and trees to drink it up. Inventing ways to slow down the water and retain it is an exciting prospect, and so-called ‘rain gardens’ are very fashionable in these parts for exactly this purpose.

Half of me wants to collect it for the dry seasons to come, but I can’t help wonder what effect that might have on the wider landscape? Dry rivers and streams need the run off, I’m not sure me hoarding it is the best course of action…

Anyway, for now, I just work on slowing it down rather than stopping it moving altogether.

I dug over two of the small beds and beefed them up with some home-made compost, but I was forced to use a bit more of the grass compost than I wanted, so I’m waiting to see now if that’s a bit too acidic.

The herbs seem alright, the verbenas are managing, the shrubs are fine, and really it’s only the roses which seem a bit bothered by it. I’m surprised because I’ve never known a rose to mind anything!

Still, even on a bad day, you’re guaranteed to get something.

 

120720180222.JPG