Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Garden and Life Progress - Three years later - Mind the gap please!

It's almost 3 years since my last post, but so much has happened in that space of time.


I am not surprised I was feeling a little 'blah' about gardening when I wrote my last post. It turns out I was quite ill. I had been diagnosed with Endometriosis, but later I found out I also had Folate Deficiency Anaemia and Adenomyosis! Aren't I greedy! I was in constant, agonising pain, feeling dizzy and faint, and in a hormonal nightmare.

I'm 41 now, and never had any intention of having children, so after evaluating the risk factors, having a lot of discussion and a lot of soul searching I went into hospital in February this year, and had a total abdominal hysterectomy. It has taken a long time to recover, my 15cm scar can be quite sore at times and oddly numb, but I've pushed myself a little more each day, and six months later I can honestly say I have never felt so well. I don't need horribly strong painkillers or constant hot water bottles anymore. I'm on Hormone Replacement Therapy, and take a minute Folic Acid tablet to keep my Folate level up. No more pain, no more bleeding, no more fainting! Whoohoo!

Gardener's Society:

I decided to withdraw from the Gardener's Society in it's entirety. As my crafting and jewellery making flourished, and my involvement with the Society increased, my gardening time reduced and it became such a chore - that surely isn't the point of being a gardening society member. I get too involved in things too quickly and this was just the same. As a Committee member I felt obligated to go to every talk, every excursion, every meeting. It just wasn't for me. I'm delighted that my resignation had no detrimental affect on the Society and it continues without me.

Felling Leylandii trees
The wall of green from our upstairs window


Having repeatedly discussed the monumental Leylandii hedge, which was in our neighbour's garden, forming part of the boundary between our garden and theirs, both parties agreed that if we took responsibility for removing the trees, then we could have the land that they stood on. It was the full width of our garden, approximately 13 metres, and would add about 3 metres to the length. That may not sound much, but the trees overhung our garden so far and so densely that only half the garden would get wet when it rained. The trees constantly shed dead 'needles', turning the lovely soil mix in the raised beds into inhospitable acid, and the grass was parched and yellowing.

Felling Leylandii trees
Leylandii half felled
Getting the trees taken down by a tree surgeon was the easy part, taking one man a week and a half. The next challenge was getting the stump and roots out, so that we could drop the soil level down by about a metre to match our finished garden level. The stumps and roots were enormous! The fibres were so dense that they seemed to be fossilised. The trees had been planted on a spoil heap containing bricks, tiles, broken asbestos sheets and goodness knows what. It was impossible to get a stump grinder up to the top of the stump, the roots would not yield to encouragement from mechanical diggers, and chainsaws were instantly blunted by the detritus embedded in the roots. The tree surgeon, a second tree surgeon and our builder Fred (from Just Patios) all scratched their heads.

We'd started, so we had to finish! In desperation we went out and bought a jet washer and a chainsaw of our own.

Leylandii tree stumps felling
This remaining stump was below the original ground level
Felling Leylandii trees
They WILL come out!!
We  washed those stumps 'til the bark peeled off, the clay soil turned to pudding and I looked like I'd been dumped head first into a First World War trench. Every now and again we'd attack the mud with spades and hand trowels. The chainsaw and reciprocating saw nearly disassembled themselves trying to cut through the soaking wet, fibrous timber. Finally, after about 2 weeks of constant battle after work and at weekends, aided during the day by our builder and his brother Mark, the first stump fell! The sense of relief was enormous. During that week the builder, spurred on by our physical endeavour, managed to remove all the stumps - it was a hard-fought victory.

Garden hard landscaping
Fred begins the final stage of hard landscaping
Garden hard landscaping
Where the Leylandii tree stumps were
Fred progressed with the rest of the landscaping very quickly. Retaining walls, fences and patio were completed at the end of the garden, where the Leylandii had once stood. Fred took a little rest from us (probably in a darkened room!).

A note about Fred - He is awesome! He is fast, thorough, is very accurate with his time estimations for jobs, arrives when he says he will and works like a demon. Fred landscaped our first garden, front and back, and then we broke it to him that we had bought a plot of land to self-build on. He demolished the old building that stood on the plot, laid out and dug all the footings, unofficially project managed, sourced tradesmen, helped us lay out the under floor heating, fitted plasterboard throughout and landscaped the garden front and back - he is a machine! I'm sad that we've run out of jobs for him to do, because he is a brilliant, trust-worthy, devilishly witty contractor, and we miss him.

Garden hard landscaping
Perimeter fencing and raised beds done
When Fred returned, he built me two long raised brick beds and one taller square one. We bought in cubic metre bags of 20mm gravel, sand, compost and course-grade vermiculite. Weed suppressing membrane was laid at the bottom of each bed, a layer of gravel, then sand, and then a mix of compost and vermiculite were added. The square bed became home to a small apple tree on M27 rootstock, variety 'Scrumptious' from The Potted Garden, Bearsted. We then created a hedge around it in lavender 'Munstead' from Stone Green Nurseries, Pluckley.

 The two long raised beds became Square Foot Gardening beds, with the addition of wooden grids laid on the surface. Once Fred had completed the paving between the Square Foot beds, we took the opportunity to buy a beautiful Swallow Greenhouse and potting shed.

Garden Square Foot vegetable beds planted
Square Foot veg beds planted up

I purchased some excellent vegetable plug plants from Victoriana Nursery, Challock for Autumn, mostly brassicas. All performed very well, and in fact, some are still in the ground. I also purchased Asparagus plants, Strawberry plants and over-wintering peas. The peas were not successful, but I put that down to me and the manky weather. The Asparagus and Strawberries are doing superbly well. The Asparagus may not crop for a year or two, but the strawberries have been delicious, even the little mouse that lives in the tree ivy thinks so!

That just left two major life goals to achieve...bees and chickens!

Garden Swallow Potting Shed
Swallow Potting Shed
Garden Swallow Greenhouse
Swallow Greenhouse