In the Midst of Life …

January 16, 2019
snowdrops

Snowdrops come up in the darkest days

It’s been a sad few days for us as a family, with my brother-in-law taken from us far too young by galloping cancer. He was a lovely man and a committed environmentalist, dedicating his life to keeping his small organic farm in France going and preserving the wildlife and habitat it harboured.

It’s times like these, I find gardening can be the best solace. My continuing dodgy shoulder is preventing me from doing what I should be doing (heaving bags of horse manure onto my raised beds) but I did manage to cut the ground (literally) on another project that seemed a fitting way to mark Adrian’s passing.

fedge preparation

Sadly our own farming neighbour doesn’t share his commitment to wildlife and agriculture and the field on two sides of our garden is a classic green desert – sprayed and cut and slurried to the max. Much as we enjoy our friendly coo neighbours for the two months they are with us, it has been eye opening just how intensive a dairy farm needs to be, having only had beef cows for neighbours up to now. The garden fence keeps the cows out but that’s all it does – unlike a hedgerow it doesn’t shelter us from the wind (or whatever is drifting in on that wind from the field) and nor does it shelter any wildlife. But establishing a hedge in the face of Moo I 5 will be an uphill task, if the fate of the ash tree is anything to go by.

willow fedge

We spotted this impressive woven willow hedge at Paxton House last weekend

Enter, hopefully, the fedge – a fence woven out of willow that will take root and sprout into a hedge. We have plenty of willow growing in the garden (some of it where it shouldn’t) and it seems that the main drawback to a willow fedge is all the pruning it requires. The hope is that our neighbours will see to the pruning while the willow will be vigorous enough to survive their attentions or at least numerous enough that some of it will survive. We’ll get a bit of a screen from the worst of the slurry drift, and the birds and the hares and other creatures will have somewhere to hide, while the cows will have something to chew on that isn’t grass, which seems to be their aim in life.

 

So this afternoon, I started peeling back the turf along the bottom fence, and filling the gap with some of the pile of woodchips from when the willow was pollarded. And – because it appears that there’s an iron law that if you reduce any of the various piles of stuff in our garden you have to replace that with another one of a similar size – creating another pile of the resulting turf.* Theoretically, once covered over, this will turn into beautiful crumbly loam in a year or so. At least, that’s what happens in normal gardens. Given that all ours wants to do is grow grass, I expect I’m just creating a three dimensional lawn, but I live in hope.

turf pile

An hour or two’s work was enough to prepare a decent length of ground, and the next step will be to plant the willow and weave it into shape once spring looks a bit closer at hand. And if it goes even a small way towards making our garden a better sanctuary for wildlife, then it will be a fitting tribute to my brother-in-law’s too-short life.

* Please can some well-known garden designer create a show garden at Chelsea this year that consists of random piles of stones, landscape fabric, bricks, old railway sleepers and lawn clippings?

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Back from the Brink

August 15, 2018

Nipping out into the garden between showers this afternoon, I thought I’d tackle the ‘hare’s toothbrush’ which was looking dead back in May and has spent the summer gradually looking deader and deader. Even the hares have stopped nibbling on it so it was time to hoick it out and find something more interesting to put in its place. Or anything, indeed, that wasn’t an eyesore.

dead spiky plant

Hare’s Toothbrush back in May, since when it has only got sadder and deader looking …

Except, when I went to pull away the dead fronds I found it had been quietly reshooting from the base and now looks slightly more attractive and certainly less dead. If, as has been suggested, it is a Cordyline australis, it’s pretty amazing it has survived at all as apparently I should have been protecting it in winter and it needs a mild and sunny location.

hare's toothbrush

Hare’s toothbrush, or more properly, probably Cordyline australis

Of course, as regular blog readers will know, I’m a complete sucker for a plucky survivor in the garden so regardless of whether it grows back into an attractive or striking architectural addition to the garden or just like something that’s been chewed by hares, I’m stuck with it now. At least the hares will be happy

And speaking of back from the brink – if you recall the willow tree which I thought I’d killed last year, but was showing signs of life?

regrown willow

I think we can safely say it’s recovered.

Perhaps there’s hope yet for the olive tree …


Green Shoots

May 28, 2018

Now that spring is firmly established, I’ve been going round checking just which of our plants really did die over the winter, and which were just playing dead. Frankly, it was no winter to be a Californian lilac, although ours has got over the fact that it’s not in California any more, Toto, and is struggling back into leaf, if not flower. A small hibiscus that suffers from the fact that it’s one of the hares’ favourite plants has also unexpectedly gone from ‘stick’ to ‘green shoots’ in recent weeks’ albeit still looking pretty nibbled around the edges. Half of the the dianthus plants from Aldi that did so well last year succumbed to the snow, but Homebase were selling them even more cheaply last week – not only could you buy six and get change from a fiver, we could have bought six, plus the entire shop and still had change for a fiver …

But there was one thing on my conscience, and that was our huge willow tree which I had rather cavalierly had re-pollarded in September. I was pretty confident you couldn’t kill a willow, at least not without trying a lot harder than we had done, but as winter passed and spring set in, things were beginning to look less than encouraging. Indeed I was starting to feel rather guilty (while enjoying the extra light in our sunny entrance hall). When a woodpecker started to show some interest in it, we comforted ourselves with the thought that standing deadwood is a valuable ecological resource, and my thoughts began to turn towards suitable flowering vines to scramble over the stump and hide the evidence of my crime.

And then, looking out the window this morning I realised, it really does take a lot to kill a willow. And we were going to have to try harder than merely attacking it with a chainsaw.

willow putting out shoots

Sadly, the same can’t be said for olive trees, at least olive trees in Scotland…

dead olive tree

And then there’s this, which never looked all that much, frankly, and now looks deader than a dead thing. But the hares seem to like nibbling on its fronds so we may be stuck with it until they’re done.

dead spiky plant

Any idea what it might be (& if it’s worth replacing)? Until then, I’m calling it the Hares’ Toothbrush