Sunday, 24 January 2016

Tackling the jungle

Two tins of wild flower seedballs
Mr Robot and I have been on a bit of a house-sorting-out mission since Christmas. In my most recent Vintage Week post I mentioned we were getting new windows put in the back of the house. Well, that means the window fitters need access to the back of the house, and that means we have to tidy the garden so they can get in through the back gate. This weekend our main task was to chop back a load of brambles and tree branches to create a clear route to the house. We didn't think the window fitters would be happy ducking under branches!

As you can see, we had our work cut out for us...
A very untidy English garden
There's a shed and a fence in there somewhere.
Our garden isn't wide, but it is long. I'm not sure why it's so long; our house was built as millworker housing in the Victorian era, though very late on. Comparable homes in the north of England are very similar as far as the house itself goes, but don't have this much garden. Did workers in the south-west, which was still largely agrarian, expect to be able to keep pigs or grow vegetables at home? That's all I can think. I doubt they were throwing garden parties!
I look like Luigi in my overalls...
As we've got it now, there's a patio, which we spend most evenings on during the summer, then a lawn and flower beds (in a classic cottage garden style), then what used to be the veg patch and the shed, which is what you can see in the picture. Last year was pretty awful for my husband, so I was trying to keep everything in order by myself, and didn't manage it very well. I did my best with the two areas closest to the house, but mostly left everything further back. When we got the kittens in October, because they weren't allowed out we just locked the back door and ignored the garden completely.

That break from the garden seems to have done us both good; we're now full of ideas and plans for the garden this summer. I don't think we've been so excited about it in years. We've even talked about growing vegetables in a proper veg patch again. I grow tomatoes every year, just like my granddad McDonald always did, plus plenty of basil and coriander (for pasta sauce and curries respectively), and there are hardy herbs like bay, mint and rosemary out there all year round, though that's all in pots on the patio. If we re-dig the veg patch, we'll be able to grow lots more roots and leafy things, maybe even our own long beans for Burmese-style salads.
A man cutting a tree
Mr Robot making good progress
There are lots of established plants in the flowerbeds, not that that's obvious at this time of year. I'm looking forward to seeing my daylilies, red-hot pokers and scabious reappearing with the warm weather. However, I don't want things to be too tidy. We have a fair bit of wildlife in our garden, including slow worms, and I don't want to drive them out. The two tins in the photo at the top of the page contain seedballs from Meadow in My Garden, colour-themed collections of native wild flowers that will look lovely and appeal to wildlife. After we'd chopped up the brambles, and taken down loads of the tree and creeper hanging over the fence from next door, and tidied up a few other trees, I scattered the seedballs at one end of my larger flowerbed. It's mostly overhung by a magnolia tree and large plants don't take there, but hopefully the wildflower annuals in the seedballs will grow.

While we were clearing the brambles, the urchins were also allowed to come outside. They'd been out a few times before, though this was their first unsupervised exploration. Their behaviour isn't what we originally expected: timid Ziggy will quite cheerfully wander off, but Pippin, who usually has to do everything first before Ziggy will try it, doesn't like going far, though she does love to climb trees.
A young cat exploring

Anyone else started gardening yet this year? Or are you waiting for spring?

25 comments :

  1. I was out in the garden today, just to stop Mittens from chasing a squirrel though. She almost caught it but it legged it onto next door's upstairs bedroom window sill. I kept going out to see if it was stuck but figured I was scaring the poor thing and it is got up it can get down. Mittens is confined to barracks and in the huff with me now. I had to jump over next door's fence and grab her, just in my PJ's. The neighbours were really amused. My garden here is small (the one I just left looks to be of similar dimensions to yours) and has some grass clinging on for dear life and some more or less successful small fruit trees. I put them too close together as I didn't think that they would survive in the crap soil. The builders removed all the good top soil so it is very bad, almost undiggable clay. I would like to put in raised beds and make a paved flat area for a table and chairs as it is on quite a slope. I still have some herbs in pots that survived and two potted apple trees. Gardening is such great fun and so relaxing. Xx

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    1. There is something good about getting home and just putting your feet on the grass, isn't there? I do find the garden instantly relaxing, as long as it's not in the sort of state that makes me embarrassed to encounter the neighbours.

      Oh Mittens! Cat gonna do cat things... Ours go mental when they encounter flies, so they're going to explode with joy when they meet a butterfly for the first time. I expect sooner or later they'll discover why chasing bees is a bad idea.

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  2. The miner's cottages that I can see from my window here all have very long, thin gardens too. I haven't seen any pigs yet but a few people seem to have chickens or ducks.

    I'm going to give seed balls another go this year too! No joy last year, but I did sow them a bit late.

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    1. Yeah, I have no idea if these seedballs will take. Still, it's worth a go - if they do, I'll have lovely drifts of blue and white, and if they don't, I can always get a load of plants from the garden centre. I tend to rely on pots of annuals to fill in gaps anyhow.

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  3. You see those long, narrow back yards in the Victorian row houses in San Francisco too. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised as gardening was one of the few outdoor hobbies a Victorian lady could have.
    My garden here in Nepal is more of a jungle, despite having a gardener that comes twice a week.
    Our 3 cats have been catching lizards & shrews every day in the chilly weather here.
    http://calmlycookingcurry.blogspot.com/2016/01/tips-tools-great-indian-pressure-cooker.html

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    1. Heh, I don't think anyone in our house would've qualified as a lady - it would have been off to the woollen mill with them every day. (I should really go to the local museum and see if they have any photos of the streets when they were built.)

      I'm happier with the cats catching rodents than reptiles - I suspect our slow-worm population will shrink once the urchins catch sight of them.

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  4. Oo fun ahead!! Now's the time though, less foliage to bag up. There's not much gardening for us to do until Spring but I do need to chop the roses right down this week. And plan the veggies for our small patch! Good luck with it all x

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    1. Yeah, I wanted to get the brambles before they got out of control, and before the grass grew up round them.

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  5. When I lived in Boston, many of the row houses had narrow gardens like yours-people got creative with using the vertical spaces. I'm excited to see how your garden changes through the seasons. Nosy, I guess.

    I went from having over an acre of garden, to just a small area in front of our townhouse, so my days of hacking through overgrowth with a machete are over. On a positive note, I don't get cattle breaking loose and munching my flowers-so there's that.

    We're going to do something in back this year, but the East exposure isn't great for most things. Borage seems to do well wherever we put it, so that's an option. I like having plenty around for the bumblebees.

    My garden is still alive beneath tarps (some spinach and kale at this point) and I'm hoping the sorrel will come back in the spring. We still have our coldest part of the winter ahead (February is brutal here) so I'm sure there will be a trip to the garden centre for seeds when I can no longer stand winter.

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    1. My garden changes from a shabby place which I hopefully poke about in, to a blooming place that's untidy but lush, to a chaos of brambles and weeds on which I shut the door and hope winter will sort out!

      We bought a pair of loppers at the weekend. They're brilliant - just scissor branches off trees.

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  6. I started gardening at the weekend. well suppose its more like chopping down the brambles in the orchard in readiness to create a raised veg bed for the spring/summer. As the brambles are taller than me, I resorted to wearing my old leather motorbike trousers and jacket to protect me from the thorns - and they worked a treat!

    I spent Sunday evening looking through Sarah Raven seed catalogues planning wildly ambitious planting schemes that'll never come to fruition!

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    1. Yeah, you need something tough against brambles - I wore my steam train driving overalls. Your orchard must be tremendously hard work to maintain, but I bet it looks beautiful in Spring.

      Ah, yes, the planting schemes... I have all sorts of great ideas till the slugs put me straight.

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  7. I'd say chickens and growing lots of veggies was the order of the day when your house was built. I'm looking forward to seeing what you do with it.
    Living in a heavy clay soil area my garden is a quagmire right now so no gardening for me :(

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    1. I hope we'll get it more sorted this year. We spend so much time there in summer, it would be lovely to get it looking tidier. Of course, I could say the same about the house in winter...

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  8. Way to go on kicking off the year on such a highly productive note. Tony and I have been doing the same around these parts, tackling a myriad of organization, DIY, and cleaning jobs, the largest of which has been a complete overhaul (including new furniture, which we put together ourselves) of his home office. We both strongly felt that we wanted to get as many of those jobs as possible taken care of now so that we could (hopefully!) focus on other areas of our life for much of the rest of 2016.

    Our little condo doesn't have a yard for all intents (there's a wee bit of grass on two sides and one lovely tree, plus three small rose bushes that I planted shortly after we moved in), so we don't have a garden or else I'm sure I'd be planning this spring's happenings now, too.

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. Yes, isn't it lovely when things feel sorted? I had been feeling dissatisfied with my house, but the house wasn't the problem - the care I was taking of it was!

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  9. We have no garden, just an outside sunspot which is probably a good thing as neither of us are gardeners! We do have a communal lawn where the bunnies can go, but the kiddie opposite threw his ball at them last time in his excitement. I was not happy.

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    1. Ooh that is naughty! Was he too tiny to understand, or just an arseling?

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    2. Both! Young but old enough to know better. If I'd lobbed a ball excitedly at his head, I'm sure his mum would have had something to say!

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  10. Ooh how very exciting. I love the sound of all your plans. We grew and are a lot of our veg last year and it was wonderful. I love pottering in the garden and your post has made me start thinking about this spring/ summer. I'm jealous of your scabious. I always try them but they just disappear? Any tips? Sunshine/shade/ water etc? Xxxx

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    1. The scabious is in a reasonably dry, very sunny bed. I've never really done anything to it, it just keeps coming back, year on year. It's a dark maroon variety - Chili Pepper.

      I've tried other things that people say grow well over the years - penstemons spring to mind - but scabious and daylilies have been my most reliable things. Oh, and columbines, which grow like weeds!

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  11. Gardener-Mim..happy greetings!
    We are far from the beginning of our gardening year - because we know better than to trust currently mild climate. We have seen heavy snows in February, so we have learned to be patient with Mr.Weather, and hold ourselves down until it IS time to do things..
    Will things get done?
    I will surely try to squeeze some gardening-time into my lifestyle, we'll see who that turns up later in the year.
    Now, about your garden's shape.
    There is a sense of logic to the narrow but long allotments. I can tell you that's something we'over here also have. Back in old days, when everyone had their own homestead (before majority turned their yards into lawns OR large industrial-size sheds for their tractors).. the organization of housing was divided into 3 parts.
    1. living area where you have had your house, the flower garden and so on
    2. sheds, pigs, chickens.. everything about homestead
    3. garden
    The length was needed to prevent some "smells" from reaching the living area
    ... and I guess that is the same with your plots.

    M.

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    1. Yes, that's why I wondered if they might have had pigs at the bottom of the garden. I wonder if the local museum would know?

      It's too cold to plant anything out, but a good time for me to tackle overgrown trees before they start shooting up again.

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    2. You could try at a local museum, or (even better) search in the library for some books on local history. For instance, we have a lot of those, even with drawings of the organization and overall look of the homesteads back in time.
      ..
      On the "tackling the weeds" - yeah, this is PRIME time to yank, cut and sort out, since everything is still dormant and you can have more managing power while Nature sleeps. :)

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  12. If you PM me your address, Mims, I can search through some old maps and see when the layout dates back to - it's the shape of plot found in mediaeval villages across Britain, known as toft and croft, the toft being where you built your house and maybe had a few herbs in constant use, then the croft was the lad you used for semi-subsistence farming... more rural villages, you also had a share of the other land, strip-farming, and that was allocated differently each year so nobody had the rubbish bits for long, plus you almost certainly had to work some of the time on the landowner's fields too.
    As those villages became urbanised, the far-fields were simply built on, but sometimes the toft and croft layout survived long enough to become Victorian housing layout, and there it still is...

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