I Didn’t Need Another Hobby …

September 28, 2022

And yet it seems I have one, or a project on my hands at least: restoring the gravel drive.

Partially cleared weed grown gravel drive

The orthodox way to sort out a weed-grown gravel drive is to spray the lot with herbicides and then dump a bag of fresh gravel on the top but I was never going to do the first step, and the second is increasingly recognised as being unsustainable. So I’ve gone for the alternative, which is to painstakingly dig out the weeds, pull out the shreds of landscape fabric which was doing nothing to keep them down, and rake out the gravel that’s become embedded into the soil underneath over the years, inch by gradual inch.

Like unravelling wool, this is actually more enjoyable than it sounds. Even though I know that the drive will be weedridden again as soon as – maybe even before – I get the whole thing clear, there is a meditative enjoyment to be had in doing a task that is just difficult enough to be absorbing, while it’s still possible to make visible progress in an afternoon. Add in a couple of podcasts or a decent few hour’s worth of radio programmes (adjusted for whether a monarch has recently died or not) and you will also learn something. Plus it’s time spent outdoors and, as autumn and winter looms, that feels increasingly precious.

And besides, it certainly beats cycle campaigning, especially at the local level, which has the same repetitive nature but largely without the visible sense of progress. After 11 years at the helm of the Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign we thought that, if nothing else, we’d at least finally cracked the problem of the Rood Fair blocking our main cycle path, the one that joins all the other cycle paths together and which is summarily closed for a week every year since time immemorial. Last year, we actually managed to get a meeting with the fair operator and the council together and amazingly came up with an agreed solution to the issue that was too late for that fair but would definitely, definitely be in place this year.

Definitely …

There’s little more dispiriting than starting your week by setting aside all the positive things you were hoping to do and instead spending the morning lobbying the coonsil and anyone else you can get to listen, simply to get them to implement the thing that they have already agreed they would do. Especially after you’ve just spent a week visiting three cities whose authorities have actually been getting stuff done. So, after having most of yesterday morning hijacked by the ultimate in dispiriting activities, and with no chance of doing anything productive with the time left, I did the sensible thing and headed out to the garden to reclaim another few centimetres of gravel for civilisation.

Pointless as it may have been, it felt way more productive …

(I should add, in fairness to the coonsil, that after a combination of our lobbying, an official complaint, and some journalistic enquiries, a way has been found to reopen the cycle route. So a victory of sorts but oh dear sweet baby Jesus, why does it have to be this hard?)

Normal Weather Service Resumes …

August 16, 2022
Japanese anemones against a grey sky

As I pulled on my waterproof trousers, wellies, rain jacket, gloves and cap yesterday morning – after a week in which the only sartorial decision I needed to make was which POP t-shirt to wear – I did send up faint curses on the heads of everyone who’s been loudly longing for rain over the past week. Glasgow cyclists, bless their little Stockholm-syndromed heads, may welcome summer for its slightly warmer rain, but I love a heatwave and the drier and sunnier the better. However much my garden may be suffering, I’ll never pray for rain – after all, round here, the Weather Gods will generally provide it, in great quantities, entirely unprompted.

All that said, one inhabitant of the garden is probably welcoming the resumption of wet weather. Five years ago we planted six trees (three silver birches and three paper birches) to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Of the paper birches, one didn’t take at all, one seemed to disappear but finally stuck its head over the top of the tree tube after about 4 years) and one was apparently flourishing like the green bay tree until it decided to fall over a couple of days ago.

It turns out that it had been flourishing so much its trunk had thickened enough to grow into the zip tie that was holding the tree tube onto the stake. That had weakened it to the point where it just snapped. We’d kept the tubes on so long to protect them all against the attentions of Moo I 5, but we hadn’t been diligent at checking for other perils, and for that I can only say I’m very sorry.

Propped up birch tree

Anyway, after consulting Twitter, the tree has been duly propped up, lopped by about half, and held in place with (what else) a bicycle inner tube. The guards have come off most of the other trees (except the late developer, which is just too close to the fence and too temptingly in reach of any coos). So far, the patient appears to be fine so fingers crossed it will remain so, and strengthen to the point where it can stand up on its own. And yes, perhaps a little rain at this point wouldn’t go amiss … although I’m not, repeat not, asking for it.

OK, So Maybe TWO More Bins will Fix it

August 11, 2022

When it comes to composting, I’ve found, there are a number of camps: those who make a rough bin out of pallets, those who swear by the compost daleks, and those who prefer the high-tech compost tumbler approach. And then there’s our garden, in which we are now resorting to all three in a bid to somehow be able to compost plant material faster than the garden can produce it.*

In the past couple of months, the tumbler has not been keeping up with the mowing and the daleks have not been keeping up with the weeding, after a bit too much neglect in spring meant the weeds have been even more rampant than usual (perhaps its compost Tardises we need). The resulting emergency piles of vegetation left lying around the garden were beginning to take on an air of permanence so the other half has cracked and repurposed some pallets and doors in time-honoured fashion to add more capacity to compost corner:

Composting space in the garden with compost bins, tumbler and two new heaps made with pallets and old doors

Any illusion we might have had that this might be a permanent solution was dispelled by a morning’s work (although to be fair that was mostly moving the giant haystack of weeded material off the back patio into its new home). Hopefully it will bed down a bit before the next bout of weeding so we don’t have to start the second bay prematurely. But I’m ruling nothing out.

Composting bays with one already filled.

* Visiting last month, my cousin estimated that if we turned over two-thirds of the garden to compost management, the resulting loss of weed-growing capacity would mean we might just about break even.

New Hare Just Dropped

June 30, 2022
Path and borders at Broughton House

Yesterday I was speaking at an event at Broughton House. My photos don’t really do it justice but it has a garden that is, for me, pretty much the platonic ideal – not huge, but a glorious haven with wonderful borders, a productive but decorative veg plot, benches thoughtfully placed in a variety of sheltered spots and an optimistically large number of sundials when you consider the climate we have around here. It even had a resident cat who graciously allowed herself to be stroked and then plodded around in front of us as if giving us the tour.

Lawn, sundial and benches at Broughton House

My own garden is … somewhat less manicured, although it is about a thousand percent more manicured than it was at the start of the month. In fact, my clearing efforts have overwhelmed the capacity of the compost daleks so I have had to resort to just piling up the resulting weeds, to the point where there’s already a dalek’s worth waiting to go in.

Large pile of weeds

Part of the point of my latest frantic binge gardening efforts have been to get it into a state where two octogenarians can safely reach the greenhouse to water it, for we are going away next week to the US for almost three weeks, leaving the Pepperpots in charge of the tomatoes (and keeping up with the salad). As our garden is already one big trip hazard (whoever laid it out was very fond of shallow steps with treads made out of old wooden sleepers, aka the slipperiest substance known to man), I was keen not to add to the dangers. It’s not quite National Trust standard, but you can at least now see where the paths are supposed to be and watch your footing.

slightly overgrown path by fruit cage

Anyway, as the title of this blog post suggests, our garden does still fulfil its primary function of being wee hare habitat; something that would be less likely if it was at the more manicured end of the spectrum (or, indeed, had a resident cat). The latest leveret is a lot less chilled than its predecessor – it hasn’t come close enough to be usefully photographed, for example. But it has got wonderfully striking extra-dark tips to its ears which swivel constantly as it nibbles the clover on the drive before bolting the minute we step outside. It’s also got a worrying habit of hiding under the car when it rains, something to bear in mind when we need to drive anywhere.

Every year I try and work out how to combine an intermittently busy life with a steady application of gardening effort, and every year I revert to a cycle of binge and neglect. I’ll never have a garden quite like the one at Broughton House, but one day I hope to have one that approaches its level of charm, while still providing a steady supply of young hares to enchant us. That’s surely not too much to ask, is it?

Flee, All is Discovered

May 28, 2022

As I mentioned on Twitter, there’s a downside to wildlife friendly gardening – the wildlife does tend to do its own thing being, you know, wild …

These were the sweet peas that I had been nurturing since March, even suspending them out of harm’s way of the mice (and then subsequently having to rescue them after the inevitable happened and the string broke on one set of modules).

Half completed vegetable plot fence

I’ve been way too busy to get much done in the garden in recent weeks (or maybe months), largely using the fact that we still have to finish erecting our rabbit defences around the vegetable patch as an excuse not to plant out too much stuff. But in the few half hours I had here and there in the last couple of weeks, I did manage to build some nice wigwams for my sweet peas and plant out some of the plants that had amazingly survived plummeting to the greenhouse floor and spending 24 hours upside down before I actually went up to check. It’s possible they may still survive being nibbled to the ground by either the rabbit or the hare, so I’ve put bottle cloches over them for now, to see if they might resprout.

I’m not that hopeful, however, and having built the damn wigwams I feel I’ve too much invested now in growing sweet peas to leave it chance. Fortunately it was the village plant sale today and I persuaded my parents this would be a nice outing for them and that we should probably get there early to have the best choice of plants, by which I obviously meant sweet peas.

Despite turning up pretty much at the stated starting time (a basic rookie error: all the gardeners get there early to drop off their own plants and then snap up the best of what’s there) I was informed that the only sweet peas had already gone. And then, lurking at the back I spotted these.

tray of sweet pea seedlings

I reckon there’s about a 50:50 chance that these are sweet peas and not garden peas, as the plant stall holder was a little vague on the specifics. Either way, I’ve built those wigwams and they’re going in, and if they turn out to be garden peas, well that’s not the worst gardening mistake I’ve ever made.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen neither hide nor hare, as it were, of the likely culprit since the loss was discovered.*

Hare hiding in the weeds next to a hare sculpture

A guilty conscience? I’ll let you decide.

* Actually, if it was the hare, it’s already forgiven, as it’s a long established principle that the hares in this garden can eat whatever they like. Indeed, if the other half could find a hare-recognition system that would let hares into the veg patch and keep rabbits out once our fence is completed he’d be onto it right away.

Top Tip for Gardeners …

May 22, 2022

… whose garden has started to definitively cross the line from ‘relaxed and informal planting’

Garden in bloom

to ‘shame, you can see how this might have been a nice garden once’.

Overgrown and weedy patio

When visitors are due, make sure you invest in a young hare that seems happy to remain visible from various vantage points inside the house…

Hare scratching its nose seen through a doorway

and seems more than relaxed in its surroundings.

Hare stretched out on a gravel path

Suddenly your badly weeded patio and unkempt lawn become ‘hare habitat’ and everything else gets overlooked.

I wonder if hares will be big at Chelsea this year? If not, the garden designers are definitely missing a trick.

Man Get Out

May 1, 2022

With various work, family and campaigning responsibilities easing somewhat, this weekend finally saw me get some much-needed time in the garden. Sadly too late for some of my mangetout seedlings, which had suffered from a lack of regular watering in a sunny greenhouse.

Mangetout seedlings, some shrivelled

Hopefully, my bottle cloches will keep them safe until more permanent rabbit defences can be erected, which in turn will hopefully be before they have climbed out of their own accord. The problem with gardening as a busy person is that it’s time sensitive, but never sets a hard and fast deadline, and you never quite know when you’re going to tip over the line between ‘just in time’ and ‘too late’ …

Mangetout planted under plastic bottles.

Meanwhile the wee hare – not so wee, these days – remains the most chilled leveret we’ve ever had the privilege of hosting. Although it will startle out of its hiding place if approached too close, it doesn’t generally run too far but tends to stop and look at the interloper before ambling off (quite charming our substitute postwoman one day, who asked if it was a pet). This time, it decided that even though we were both busy in the garden, its hiding place in my forget-me-nots was good enough and stayed put for the morning while we took elaborate detours around it.

I mean, if you looked this cool, would you move?

Hare nestling in forget-me-nots

Rabbit-Proof Fence

March 29, 2022

It may seem a little discriminatory of me to celebrate – indeed even write a book about – one species of Leporid that inhabits our garden, but react in horror at the sight of a different kind hopping about among the vegetation …

Rabbit in the garden

For yes, after 6 years of blissfully rabbit-free gardening, it seems that Peter and his siblings have finally arrived at our back door, and I may need to go the full Mr McGregor. Undoubtedly cute as this particular creature is, this is bad news, although not exactly surprising. When we first moved up here, I was expecting the place to be as overrun by bunnies as the old place was and was pleased to discover I could plant my veg patch more or less unmolested (hares, unlike rabbits, seem to like a varied diet and while they will nibble a few things here and there, they won’t systematically work their way through a bed of plants the way rabbits will). Talking to the Oldest Inhabitant, it turns out that there were rabbits, back in the day, but they were all but wiped out by some outbreak of virus or another and it’s taken until now for the little blighters to work their way back up our hill. Last year, our neighbours lost a lot of their veg to rabbits but we were okay (possibly because I was so disorganised last year they didn’t recognise our garden as having any actual veg in it). This year it looks like our luck has run out.

So it is time to resurrect our plans to fence in the veg plot. Unfortunately, while I laid it out with a fence in mind, time, the bendiness of my raised bed edges, and my own slightly cavalier approach to creating things means we now have to work out how to marry something inherently straight, like a fence, to something that’s a bit more … organic. I suspect the end result will not be particularly Chelsea and rather more at the ‘allotment chic’ end of the spectrum.

Curved and crooked vegetable beds

That said, a belated birthday present of a garden ornament should help raise the tone. At least this one won’t be eating anything …

leaping hare ornament

Suspending Belief

March 20, 2022

It’s been a busy week last week helping my parents get their house in order to be put on the market as they make the move to Bigtown (if you’ve ever wondered why estate agents’ house listings never include a photograph of at least one room, I can confirm that that’s the room where all the stuff is that has been tidied away into, and if you’re reading this, Mum, I hope you find everything you need before the move…). Today, safely back home, and with the sun shining and, unusually, a gap in the work schedule, I had a couple of hours to get on with Project Maybe Don’t Completely Neglect Your Own Garden This Year.

First up: getting peas, mangetout and sweetpeas planted and hung in a place of safety away from the mice. Hopefully the string will hold otherwise it will likely not end well. It would be fairly typical of my gardening efforts to have spent a lot of time and trouble protecting my legumes from mice only to have them plummet to their doom the minute they germinate.

seed modules suspended from the greenhouse roof

Then I spent some time either (A) lovingly potting on the few tiny Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican fleabane) seedlings to survive overwintering or (B) lovingly potting on some random weeds – although in some quarters Mexican fleabane is a weed, so it’s possible the answer is both (see also Buddleia, which people tend as cherished garden plants around here, and which grows out of abandoned buildings in London).

planted seed trays and pots

Either way – whether it all ends in triumph, or disaster, time will tell, but having spent the afternoon happily gardening in a sunny greenhouse, I feel like I’ve already won anyway.

Or at least I did until I read this post from Belgian Waffle and became intensely jealous of the Irish census and this genius question. We’ve nothing so exciting in ours, which I also dutifully did this afternoon (they invited us to fill it in a couple of weeks ago but it seemed to me to be tempting fate to fill it in in advance of the actual census day).

It Begins

March 14, 2022

My seed order has arrived.

Seed packets

This year, I’ve promised myself, I’m going to carve out enough time to actually keep on top of the garden.

(I think I say this every year …)