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.
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’ …
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.
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 …
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.
That said, a belated birthday present of a garden ornament should help raise the tone. At least this one won’t be eating anything …
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.
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).
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).
I think I have remarked before that, ever since we’ve moved in to this house, working on the garden has been an exercise in making piles, moving piles, and every so often, dismantling piles – whether it be gravel, weeds, compost, bricks or what have you. Today, it being a mild sort of afternoon, I decided to tackle the last remnants of the ‘to be shredded’ pile which, now we’ve got a place to put all the shreddings, we’ve manage to reduce from this:
What was left was not so much stuff to be shredded, but all the stuff that had been put on the pile in the past few months in the fond hope that it might be shreddable, because it was too big, too weed-ridden or just too much to go in the compost bins. Some of that had quietly composted down of its own accord and could be scraped up into the nearest dalek with space in it until it could be used in the garden. The rest has been firmly dealt with by … sorting it into more piles. Some is in a much smaller and neater to-be-shredded pile, and some has been turned into what I’m grandly deeming to be invertebrate habitat (aka piles of dead wood tucked behind the fedge).
This leaves me with the final pile of disintegrating pallets which I defy even Bob Flowerdew to find a use for other than demonstrating that anything left outside for long enough in Dumfries and Galloway will either end up growing grass, or moss.
I’ve had that rarest of weekend combinations: no pressing deadlines to meet or places I needed to be, and weather conducive to gardening. It’s even been mostly dry enough in the last week or so that it’s been possible to get on with a few winter projects that I’ve had in mind for a while.
First up, tackling Compost Corner. Somehow, despite have three daleks and the compost mother ship, we’ve reached the point where compost storage capacity has become the limiting factor in most gardening tasks. Our garden is big and still pretty overgrown and so over time the pile of things to be shredded has started to become a feature in its own right (possibly not something that will be appearing at Chelsea any time soon, but you never know) while the bags holding the already shredded material were themselves beginning to disintegrate, where they hadn’t actually been completely devoured by the encroaching nettles.
Having salvaged as much as I could of the shredded material, and spent a satisfying few hour hoicking out nettle roots, we had room enough beside the current dalek army for more composting capacity. Ordering two more bins was tempting, but we know all about induced demand in the cycle campaigning community, so I decided instead to make space for the slightly more efficient management of our composting needs and get away from our use of unsustainable plastic bags: a space to make leaf mould and to store the output from the shredder until it could be mixed into the bins and/or used as mulch.
Having put down a few paving slabs to slow the nettles (I’m not naïve, I know that neither digging out their roots nor laying inch thick concrete slabs will actually stop them, but might give me a bit of a head start), today we managed to bodge together some wire frames to keep the shreddings in, and then spend some time with the shredder filling them up again. Satisfyingly, everything involved in this project was done with stuff that was lying around in piles in the garden or had been stored in the garage in case it came in handy. There is honestly very little in life that brings greater satisfaction than that.
I also managed to plant out some of my rehomed roses in my new rose bed, which in turn has been the partial answer to the question ‘what shall I do with all these stones?’ because, as I may have mentioned before, you cannot put a fork in the ground around here without producing a pile of stones (this is the real reason for drystane dykes, in my opinion).
The only slight downside to all this activity is that the to-be-shredded pile had been waiting for so long that it had started to turn itself into a compost heap in its own right and the resulting partially composted material has taken up all the remaining dalek capacity. Perhaps after all, I will need to order a couple more bins …
‘That’, said the other half as I brought tonight’s contribution to supper in from the garden ‘almost looks like something you would buy in the shops’
And it’s true: after a decade in which I was too scarred by my failures to even attempt such as tricky crop, and in a year in which I didn’t so much garden as dash out at intervals and throw seeds at the ground in an attempt to appease the gardening Gods, I have grown a reasonable crop of carrots with more or less zero effort involved (they don’t even need digging up, you can just pull them straight out of the ground).
Truly, the more I do this gardening lark, the less I discover I know. Do you think a similar benignly neglectful approach might also work for my asparagus?
So for a blissful two days between Transport Day at COP26 and the arrival of my next last-minute job with an insane deadline I had … some actual spare time. Or at least what was left over of my waking hours after I’d started to tackle the massive list of admin tasks that had been filed under ‘after COP’ over the last couple of weeks. Naturally, the garden beckoned.
These days the gardening people advise you to do a lot less in autumn – digging, cutting back and tidying away for the winter is all somewhat frowned upon, and who am I to argue with that? But I did have one thing I wanted to get sorted ready for spring and that was preparing a permanent home for my instant rose garden, which I had been gifted in the summer.
With the little rose I’d moved earlier this year still flowering away happily, and November be damned, I decided it could do with some pals so I spent a nice afternoon clearing out the worst of the weeds (even as the podcast of Gardeners’ Question Time I was listening to was telling me that exposing soil to the air was a complete no-no in carbon terms). The next step will be to cover it in manure and compost for a bit, and hopefully I can move the roses in the new year.
As so often with the garden, as soon as I was out there to do one job I started to realise all the other tasks that needed doing. Like raking the cut grass off my ‘meadow’ (which I probably should have done two months ago, but hey ho), and emptying my potato bags. For yes, despite deciding not to grow potatoes this year after getting a bit of trouble with blight, I did inherit a couple of bags for growing potatoes in from some friends who were downsizing. I filled them with the soil that was left over from excavating the sitooterie bed, and then added a few volunteer potatoes that showed up in the greenhouse over spring, and then pretty much left them to get out of it.
From this minimal amount of effort, I have harvested a fairly minimal amount of potatoes, but it is at least an amount larger than none. In what has been a neglectful gardening year, I’m taking that as a win.
Looking back through the blog this past year, there does seem to be a bit of a theme of garden neglect (interspersed with frantic catch up efforts from time to time). Despite this neglect (or perhaps because of it?), although the garden looks pretty shaggy from most angles, it does actually seem to be producing a surprising amount of veg, which is the main point after all.
It may just be the good summer weather we’ve had but we’ve got French beans – usually a tricky crop – coming out of our ears, as well as continuing mangetout supplies and all the chard we’d care to eat, and then some. And the fennel, which has always been a bit marginal and tend to bolt, clearly enjoys being planted at the last minute and left to get on with things. I even threw a few random carrots into their midst, also at the last minute, which appear to be doing well. Perhaps it’s actually true that planting them amidst a strong smelling crop like fennel protects them from the carrot fly.
Even the gardeny bit which has been even more neglected looks almost, well, like a garden from the right angle. Crucially, this is the angle from which you view it from the kitchen window, which is often the only angle I get to see it at on many days. That, and when dashing out to the veg plot to desperately try and keep on top of the bean output…
Indeed, it was while glancing out of the kitchen window that I noticed a new flower blooming. My hibiscus, which was a moving in gift when we bought the house, and which has spend the subsequent five years either being eaten by hares or sulking, has produced its first bloom. I can’t take any credit for it, other than not actually giving up on it and grubbing it out. Maybe a bit of benign neglect does have its gardening merits after all.
Meanwhile any good bean recipes you might have would be gratefully received …