Sunday, 13 March 2016

Spring has sprung

There's definitely a change in the air and although the mornings are still nippy, there has been a period of warmth most days this week. Having had a really busy few days, I had a sofa day on Wednesday, but the rest of the week I have managed to potter about the smallholding for a while each day. Pottering, obviously, is a relative term. I'd like to be floating through a perfume filled garden, gently snipping at this and that to make it look a picture. The reality is that I am still laying pathways, moving soil around and wondering what to put along the stock fence on the south side of the paddock to help protect us from some of the howling winds that blast across the garden from the estuary. I may just get to plant something this weekend, but I don't want to start putting plants in until the basic structure of the garden is ready. It would be frustrating to settle a plant into the ground, just to move it again in a couple of months.
Lupins (Russell mixed) are at seed leaf stage and will be transplanted into the cut flower beds in a few weeks and organic leeks (Large American Flag) are just starting to show themselves, these will probably have to be potted on in a month or so unless we have managed to create their raised bed by then.

I've sown plenty of seeds that are now quietly sitting in the boot room, sheltered from the frost, wind and rain and inspected daily by Mr J and I as we walk past them. It's been exciting to see them start to germinate, poking fresh green shoots through the compost with a promise of something more to come as the months go by.
I've also taken some cuttings of lavender and box. They have gone straight into the greenhouse and I am covering them each evening in a bubblewrap duvet and opening it up again during the day.
Normally I would just push box cuttings straight into the ground where they are to grow, I've been very successful doing this in the past, but as I am not entirely sure exactly where I want these to go, I am starting them in modules.
I've started placing some of the herbaceous plants into the spot where they might be planted. The grass along this border is yet to be lifted and I am hoping that it may be done today. My friend Jane is coming today for a day of gardening, chat and laughter (I hope) and this is the area that I'd like to tackle. Having decided that this is definitely the place that I want to have the perennials and having marked out all the pathways around it, I am happy to get this area finished, or as finished as it will be for the time being. Behind the green screening is the shrubbery that we've just finished and I imagine it will be lovely to see tall flower spikes peeking over the top of the fence. Many of the plants going into the perennial border have a sentimental meaning for me. Some have come from my parents' home, some from Mr J's parents' home, some from Jane and some from my previous Mid Wales garden (which I lifted and put in pots when I left that house in 2011). Others will be purchased or grown from seed as Mr J and I decide what we'd like to use to fill the gaps.
Next to the perennial border are four large rectangular beds and a triangular bed which will have herbs, scented plants and cut flowers in it (including the lupins that I've sown) and beyond those will be the raised beds for vegetables. Originally I had planned to use our inherited rotavator to turn over the grass and create beds for this year and then to build raised beds over the next year or so and build the soil up in each bed. Unfortunately some simple excavation has made it clear that this is not an option. The soil is very stony and has a lot of glass in it, it also has quite a lot of sub-soil on it (directly under the grass) from when the foundations were dug out for the kitchen extension. It therefore, seems to make more sense to build raised beds straight away. They may not all have wooden frames this year, but I will lay down cardboard to kill off the grass where the beds will be and pile soil and compost on top to grow vegetables in this year.
When my brother and nephew (who are visiting from America) and brother-in-law called in for a visit on Tuesday, my brother-in-law mentioned that there was a large pile of wood chippings in their field that we were welcome to help ourselves to and that if we did take it, we would be doing them a favour. Well, not wanting to let them down Mr J and I have trundled the twenty minutes to their house to bag up some bark chippings and bring them home. I've used them to cover the pathway between the herb beds and the vegetable beds.

This is the start of the first raised bed. I'm using lengths of wood to guide me where to put the cardboard, soil and compost. In this part of the garden, there will be a central path and a path each side of the beds to make it easy to move around the large vegetable garden. These raised beds are quite big, each will be four feet across so that I can reach to the centre easily and around fourteen feet long. We plan to grow far more vegetables than we need so that we can join the local food co-operative scheme and we hope to be able to swap surplus vegetables and fruit for locally grown meat. We also plan to provide a regular veg box to my daughter's family and my sister and brother-in-law.
Mr J and I popped out for a couple of hours on Thursday (to collect more wood chippings from my sister's field) and came home to discover that a flock of sheep had been put into one of the fields by our garden. The chickens were, well, chicken about them being there and hid in the chicken condo. It has taken a couple of days for them to get used to the sheep being there. I, on the other hand, am delighted to have these new neighbours. I like the sound of their gentle bleating as an added background musical contribution to the bird song in the garden.

It's been a week of animal magic here, the crested cream legbar chickens are growing rapidly now and have started enjoying scratching through the compost heaps in the paddock, Jack and Diesel have returned to laying one egg each a day, the sheep have arrived next door, we have organised our next new arrivals and yesterday, as we ate our supper, we saw a barn owl flying low through the yard and settle in a plum tree at the end of the paddock. I was so excited and I very carefully and quietly made my way down the paddock to try to take a photo or video of it. I feel very lucky to have seen such a lovely bird wend its way through our garden and hope that it has decided to build it's home somewhere nearby so that we can see it regularly.

Jane and I have spent the day in the garden tackling the herbaceous border. The turf has been lifted (thank you Jane) and wheel-barrowed over to a corner of the garden to be used for a project tomorrow. After lunch we started to plant out the herbaceous plants, as we put each one in, we talked about where it had come from or the memories that go with it or Jane explained to me about the plants that she had brought over and that I am not familiar with. This photo shows how the herbaceous border backs on to the shrubbery and just how much work we have done today. From the photograph I took yesterday with the plants placed on the ground in their pots of where I'd like them planted to a finished border just waiting for us to add in a few more plants when they are ready.

We lifted what we think is an acer (hopefully with red leaves as it has red bark on the younger growth and little red buds just waiting to open when the weather improves) from the courtyard behind the kitchen and moved it to the corner of the herbaceous border where it will add height and colour. We under-planted it with foxgloves, daylilies and a deep red cordyline. Once the seeds that I've sown get large enough to plant outside I will add aquilegia and alchemilla mollis to the area under the tree and some cheerful spring bulbs and corms. Now I am ready for a tasty supper, a soak in a hot bath and an evening relaxing in front of the fire.

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