Okay I know what you’re thinking. Last year she said she was optimistic about her veggie patch. Well dear friends, I have to tell you, it was a disaster and I have to admit, rather sheepishly, that veggie gardening might not be my thing. (No, really? I hear you say … yeah, so you saw it coming before me, but you have to give me ten out of ten for persistence.) So, we have dismantled the netting and frame and just left the raised bed, which I have resolved to use for cutting flowers in the coming year. Any suggestions for good blooms?
I did the RSPB Garden Watch, which I do every year, but had a hectic weekend and found it difficult to select an hour to watch. Finally did it at 3 p.m. on Sunday (25th) and was very disappointed. My list of birds this year looks pathetic compared to previous years, and I am kicking myself because the feeders were a hive of activity earlier in the day. Hey ho, better luck next year.
A male bullfinch has joined our merry band of bird feeder guests. He particularly likes sunflower hearts which I have started putting in one of the new feeders. Two squirrels regularly destroy the feeders and I have tied them all on to their hooks now. A rat has been using the voles’ route behind the granite setts that are leant against the wall to clean up bird seed on the paving. The nuthatch continues to be very territorial about the nesting box, although he seems to have competition from a great tit amongst others.
I took the covers of the pond and scooped out any stray leaves. I cut back the ferns all around its perimeter and reduced the young bamboo on the jungle side of the bank. The giant grass in the jungle was leaning out over other plants (notably the two wrapped bananas) so I snipped the worst offenders off. Once I had picked up palm fronds, raked the last of the magnolia leaves up from the lawn and the paths, the garden looked almost like a garden again. The Autumn cyclamen have had a good show of flowers, followed by lush leaves. When raking the leaves up I noticed some small young leaves, which I think might be spring cyclamen – it will be interesting to see if this plant settles as well as its autumnal counterpart.
We have a large gathering of jackdaws (Bob calls them the posse or massive). They assemble in the ash at the bottom of the garden making lots of noise. They swoop out over the stream below and back over the garden, darkening the sky as they go. We also have a feral pigeon hanging around. It is not ringed, but it is very hungry. The wood pigeons have been keeping their distance whilst it feeds. Over the last ten days we have also had about eight long-tailed tits focussing on the fat balls. They are so pretty and dainty. It makes me wonder how all the birds are surviving our current blustery winter winds.
The garden looks really sad and soggy at the moment. I definitely have not mastered keeping it looking good in the winter months. The circular lawn looks a bit like a building site with footings for retaining walls and for brick edging to the lawn. The ivy continued to grow and I planted some new cuttings from a large leafed variegated ivy from the front of the house.
I have spent some Christmas money on new bird feeders, and currently the birds are bouncing off them suspiciously, not sure whether they should trust them or not. We have been delighted to see a pair of marsh tits join our regulars at the feeders. They are very neat, dapper little birds and a very welcome addition. The nuthatch is already stamping ownership on its nest box and we are hopeful the new boxes Bob added to the shed last year will have occupants this spring. My next job is to get the covers off the wildlife pond so the frogs and newts can get in and out more easily.
12th August 2014
Last year we netted the vegetable bed, but I once again had great difficulty germinating seeds. I bought cabbage plants and had some successes with them, as well as French climbing beans, but very little else grew except spinach. This year, with the warm spring, I felt very optimistic that I would have more success, but once again germination was the problem. I ended up buying cabbages and onions (red and white) and the only seed success I had was leeks. I planted up three bags of potatoes, but they did suffer from blight and ants. I still managed to produce some small potatoes for about half a dozen meals, so I will cheekily count that as a success.
Bob has been working hard on the terrace immediately outside of our lounge. We have a grapevine that we planted 30 years ago and it has never had a proper support system, although that never stopped it fruiting. This year Bob laid a terracotta terrace with a pond and stepping stone exit onto the rest of the terrace. Over it there is now a pergola and we do have an amazing crop of grapes this year. The retaining wall for the pond and the step down are granite, reclaimed from our house, garden and from various clients’ gardens (Bob is a gardener). It is very beautiful and the downpipe from the house now feeds the pond, which in turn overflows into a gully to be carried down the garden. Eventually it will feed the bog garden and is an elegant way of moving surplus water without a soakaway.
We have now started building outside Bob’s workshop where we are having a circular terrace, circular steps, a circular base for a hot tub (eventually) and a circular lawn. I started removing all the lower branches from some very old leylandi that we planted 30 years ago to screen the lower part of a corrugated barn wall. The wall is vast and we had covered much of it with a Boston Ivy. But in recent years the ivy had started to retreat under the pressure of the conifers. When I started to take the branches off, however, it was apparent that the ivy was far from dead and in the week since I allowed the light in, it has put up three brand new shoots that have grown about two foot each already. We are very confident that the barn will soon be clothed in this beautiful climber with its magnificent autumn colour.
I will draw a veil over 2012. My momentum was good early in the year and I sowed lots of seeds during February and March and got very excited about building on my successes and failures in 2011. We had the last of my parsnips and potatoes for Christmas and I felt the only way was up. I didn’t reckon on our fickle British weather though. Without a greenhouse I found it difficult to get anything to germinate, and much of what I planted was dwarfed and then decimated by the twin scurge of pigeons and slugs. The only real success I had was leeks, although they still did not develop that well. I managed to grow a couple of impressive cabbages, the lace of which would have made an exquisite Victorian collar, and cuffs to match.
Vegetables aside, I did trudge muddily up and down my slippery slope frequently, but precariously. I split the gunnera manacata in my bog garden and the jungle as they did not produce many leaves and I felt they had outlived their locations. I replanted the split roots and boosted them up with some of my husband’s wonderful compost to try and retain moisture – only time will now tell.
This year I am going to plant in rows instead of squares in my little raised veg bed and I am hoping to create a frame with netting to keep birds and butterflies off my seedlings. I am not defeated, but I am more cautious, so here’s hoping 2013 is a more productive year.