In a far corner of an old deer park I rest for a while beneath century-old oaks, perched amongst tussocky grass on a log with just enough movement to rock gently back and forth. As I settle a glittery turquoise dragonfly zigzags by.
After a while I close my eyes to ‘tune in’, first to grassy stalks that tickle my ankles, then to the coarse bark that will no doubt leave an impression, soon after though, to the gentle waves of warm breeze that pat my legs and cheeks. The aroma is, as I’d expect, carrying a distinct whiff of deer and sheep.
Alternative layers of sound now begin to present themselves. Engines, one from a small propeller plane buzzing whilst ascending from the nearby airfield, then another more distant roar from a jet passenger plane passing high above. Both though are eclipsed, to me at least, as I restore focus to the nearer sound of the breeze that is rushing over, around and past countless oak leaves in the tree tops overhead.
Clouds moving constantly towards the southwest provide distinct periods of lightness and shade, warming on the whole but occasionally less so. On today’s summer day it is sandals and shades, tomorrow, due soon enough it’ll be boots and scarves.
On this day though, I’m enjoying just a few minutes idling, just listening and looking; valuable moments of peace in an idyllic location. All moments sat on this uneven log are well-spent ones as they progressively calm, nurture and nourish my own personal inner being.
As I tune in to everything around, expectations on me and my world, for a few moments at least, diminish. Schedules, plans and priorities are subdued, ambitions and worldly goals are hidden, as the environment around me speaks ever louder. Even the interruptions of passing engines leave me feeling no: not me, not now, not today, I’m happy right here on this piece of wood.
I’ll return to that log, to those aromas and the ankle-tickling grass again this week during moments of remembrance. Closing my eyes will transport me back so that I can again listen to the trees and feel the sun’s warmth on my skin.
The value of managed landscapes is immense, and I urge anyone, if you’ve not already done so to find your log, your bench or place to park, relax and free your mind. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
News from our family allotment plot in rural Warwickshire.
I can’t believe it was last October when I proudly exclaimed that our family had taken possession of a half plot down at the local allotment site. Since then time has flown.
As I write today, despite much more on the plot that still needs doing, I am more than happy with the progress we’ve made. Our aim from day one was to take things steady, a strategy reinforced by numerous allotment holders who warmly welcomed us to the community, and we’ve generally stuck to that strategy.
We have, I’m proud to say stuck with a ‘green’ approach to allotment gardening, which is by far the best option, and not just for the fact that we’re growing plants for consumption. The allotment, you see, is a complete oasis for nature, and you just can’t fail to feel it from the moment you pass through the gates.
When last on-site, as my car rolled to a stop on the grassy patch beside the plot, a charm of goldfinches fled from a hedge and along the gravelly track. A little later as I dug over the pumpkin patch, a robin whistled from atop an allotment shed, crows cawed, and as I sat for a break, a fly buzzed briefly under the eaves of a shed, shortly before it was enveloped by a resident spider.
Green gardening, therefore, just has to be the way, and we look forward to mastering the use of mulches, of using green manures, of growing in peat-free compost, and most definitely; of not using pesticides or weed killers.
To support our pest control, and I’m not even sure if we’re allowed to call slugs and snails ‘pests’ any more, we have dug-in a wildlife pond. It’s a little way from completion but its function, beyond the visual appeal is to offer a home to toads or frogs, or anything else that will keep the slime brigade at bay. At least that’s the plan.
The pond is a simple hole with a roughly level upper edge, lined with cardboard and a plastic pond liner. We added a few cans of water to weight the liner down, then we left it to fill naturally and find its own upper level. In due course, as the pond finds that level, I shall tidy the perimeter edge and plant around.
But what of the crops you may ask? Well, to be honest it would be nice to be harvesting more of our own food by now, but we have at least ‘sown the seeds’ you could say. Usefully, there were some remnant crops left from the previous plot holders such as parsnips, carrots and potatoes, and those of course were put to good use in the kitchen. But aside from that, it’s been enough, on this allotment voyage of discovery and clearance, to have broken and tamed some ground, and to have established a system for growing.
In respect of our own crops for this year, we have ‘Colleen’ first-early potatoes that are pretty much ready to dig now, and these will be followed by ‘Mayan Rose’, ‘British Queen’ (that variety seemed appropriate given the Jubilee!) and lastly some ‘Cara’. Hopefully then we’re good for spuds for the months ahead.
On a sour note, a few brassicas bought late last season from the bargain bench at the garden centre haven’t worked so well. We had just cleared our first patch of ground and so, after an impulse purchase, in they went. They established very nicely but eventually in the cool early spring, some cabbage aphids moved in under the covers. It was so cold that lady bird larvae weren’t really getting about, birds couldn’t reach them to keep the aphids in check, and so a good few specimens had to be pulled up. Lessons learned.
The ladybirds however are now out in force I’m glad to say, and I’m reassured that going forward, we’re in with a fighting chance! How different it would be had I reached straight for some spray – I’d likely have knocked out the ladybirds too.
Elsewhere, we’ve direct sown carrots – two varieties, parsnips and leeks, and planted onion sets too, which are all getting away very nicely. All that’s needed is some delicate weeding in between to keep the competition down, and crossed fingers in hope that the newly resident hare doesn’t take a fancy!
Numerous other things are being grown on in pots and trays at home and will, as more allotment ground becomes available, be planted over the coming weeks. I’d love to say planted over the coming days, but whilst the ground isn’t quite ready yet, the growth from seed to planting-out stage has been painfully slow this spring, some crops even started again using different composts to remedy the perplexing situation.
So there we have it, two thirds of the way through our first allotment year. We have two nectar-banks and a wildlife pond establishing, we’re halfway through turning a very dense compost bin, plot edges are defined, approximately 70% of the ground has been turned/weeded and most importantly, we are growing our own food!
Despite the occasional sore back, dried hands and blisters, despite time never really being easy to find; the satisfaction is real. The feeling that we’re investing in our health and wellbeing, not withstanding the increase in chocolate consumption and after allotment beers; is real. I’d thoroughly recommend it!
Hello and welcome back to my gardening ways blog. It has been a while since I last showed up, but many thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll find something to delight, entertain or connect with, be it a few moments pondering my weird take on a life in horticulture, or enjoyment of a few carefully selected seasonal images and notes.
If you know my blog, you’ll know the importance I place on images which contribute hugely to whichever piece I’m presenting. You’ll understand, that for the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m jumping straight into the writing, and the images will be randomly squeezed in afterwards. This isn’t due to a shortage of pictures by the way, but more related to my present state of mind. In the next few lines, all will become apparent, as they say!
The different approach to this post is due to the strange horticultural path I feel I’m treading just now, balanced precariously as I am between a garden consultancy role, restoring an allotment, and establishing a new garden at home. (This lifestyle shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise if you know me at all!)
I don’t think I’m different to many other people, in as much that I’m inspired regularly by my surroundings and situations, and I’m increasingly driven to capture them in some way. To this end, I’m usually to be found snapping pictures of flowers, bees, beetles and anything garden-like, in fact anything ancient, artistic or horticulturally trivial that captures my attention. I’ll often lag behind on an outing, only to have to hurry to catch up because I got caught up taking some pictures!
In the last week alone, I’ve filmed clips of freshly shooting trees, grazing deer, potato planting, potting-up in the garden, dragonflies resting, and both wild flowers and roses swaying in the breeze. It’s all linked I think, yet makes my photo archive something of a random mix of visuals. You might experience a slither of the experience were you to scroll down my Instagram page!
The random nature of my imagery has become all the more varied since taking a major personal turn in direction towards the end of last year with, as mentioned previously: a new home, a new allotment and new job. I’ve always collected images of course, but now they’re from here, there, and seemingly everywhere!
However, despite the head-filling work days and remaining no-time-to-rest hours left over each week, I feel duty bound to record a post that in some ways will capture this moment in time for me; a time when some days deliver intense frustration or exhaustion, whilst other days can present moments of complete fascination, enlightened discovery and new levels of personal fulfilment. It’s hard to explain, bu oh what a woven web we weave.
If only I could stitch all the good moments together and edit out all the bad. If the whole journey could flow and not switch lanes every five minutes. If the rain only fell at night to refresh our gardens. It would be all perfect and life would be more enjoyable, right? Wrong? Who knows.
What I do know is that it’s usually a matter of balance, in as much that the challenging moments often make the special moments even more special; a case of yin and yang I guess.
The main body of text in this post doesn’t therefore tell a story, or record key themes as my typical garden journal posts would, but hopefully, in the spirit of openness, lets you know where I’m at mentally. The images selected, therefore, whilst not themed to the post itself will nevertheless be chosen to indicate the random nature of the days I’m experiencing.
If none of it makes sense, or is hard to contemplate, rest assured that plants are still there every day in abundance. Physical gardening, whilst randomly placed, calls me regularly, keeps me active and keeps my thumbs green, and my mental engagement in the horticultural world has risen to new, infuriatingly brilliant levels. It’s all very busy, and all very fascinating!
Putting all that heaviness aside, I do hope you’ve been enjoying all the growth that spring has brought. It feels as though we’re on summer’s doorstep now and its warmth is already wafting over our gardens.
I’ve enjoyed some catch-up sessions watching Chelsea Flower Show on TV, and despite my concerns over the whole shebang, I can’t help but be inspired by the creative people and entirety of the product; I hope you’ve managed to watch some or even visit the real thing?! (If you’re more of a Beechgrove fan, I’m right there with you too).
I’ll leave things there for now, but will in my closing words encourage you to stay positive, enjoy the flowers and keep in touch. Oh yes, and please do pass on the keys to a balanced lifestyle if you have them, I could do with unlocking its mysterious ways!
Hello and welcome to my garden journal. It’s been a while, but I hope you’ll stick around for what I hope will be an interesting trot through my recent gardening ways.
You may remember that at the end of January, I was heading into a gardens and parks consultancy role for the National Trust, in the super-large Midlands and East region. This in effect means that for the first time in years, more years than I care to remember, I won’t have a ‘work’ garden to directly manage; which I’m still struggling to get to grips with to be fair.
In fact, the first question numerous people have asked during introductions has often been “How are you going to adapt to a ‘hands-off’ role?” Well, in all honesty it will have to remain a ‘suck it and see’ exercise, because if we don’t try new things or dip our toes in the water, if we don’t walk through the door when it opens; then how do we know if we’re in the right place? Only time will tell.
There is though a couple of tricks up my sleeve, which I hope will satisfy my thirst for physical, active gardening. The first, having taken over a new garden at home at the end of last summer, is brand new garden project that is pretty much a blank canvas.
It is a bland, largely grass and clay-based plot I have to say, and with economics the way they are, it’s certainly not going to become an overnight show garden. But what an opportunity this little garden presents; such an opportunity that I’ve hardly dare touch it for months whilst I’ve pondered the options. I’ve studied the light and shade, and frost-pockets since day one, so at this point I’ve worked out where’s best for a seating area or two. I know where my potted and long suffering sun loving plants need to go, along with those that will be happier in the shade.
The most challenging aspect, which isn’t entirely unexpected in a new development I guess, is the soil. Well, when I say soil, I mean subsoil. From the moment I dug out the base for the shed, to the moment I planted a new sapling in the front garden, my concerns over the quality of the soil were confirmed.
However, if I’m to maintain my presence as a gardener, my lot is to work with what I have, and so this week arrived a bulk bag of well-rotted manure, of which 1/3rd is already part dug into a new border I’m working on. There’s a long way to go before I can crouch down and plant, but I’ve made a start, by investing in what matters most; the soil. Just watch the weeds grow now!
The other trick up my sleeve, so to speak, is of course our family allotment, which has given my veggie growing ambitions a new lease of life already. We took on the new allotment at the very same time as the new home garden last year, and we’ve all thoroughly enjoyed visiting on fair-weather days.
Our boys have been there with us most times, and have both dug holes. Well, to clarify, they’ve dug one hole each. Every time they visit, they dig a little more out of ‘their’ hole, and it quickly reached the point where they had to cover over said holes to make them safe whilst we were away. But they’re digging, my boys are actually enjoying digging! We just need to figure out what they can do next with each hole, so any suggestions would be happily received!
There’s a good deal to do yet before it becomes the productive oasis I’m envisioning, and I’m absolutely certain we’ll have lots of fails and disasters. But, and this has been a huge surprise to me and my better half, if we go on to have as many satisfying fresh air filled moments as we have thus far enjoyed; we’re in for an absolute treat.
Don’t forget, when you’re a horticulturist and get yourself an allotment, it’s hard not to feel a touch of pressure. What I will say though is we, the royal ‘we’ that is, have already grown in confidence. Our first seeds were sown direct last weekend, and there’s a range of seedlings growing in the warmth of a growing frame at home; where I can keep a close eye on them. Can’t you tell I’m having a ball? Maybe I’ll be able to survive the day job after all!
Speaking of the day job, the adjustment has been quite a big deal I have to say, but without doubt, the best elements so far have been the opportunities I’ve had to meet fellow gardeners and tour their gardens. It’s already given me different perspectives and I’ve much more insight now to their working worlds. The organisation has grown hugely since I departed in 2008, and its work, its people, and their ambition is incredible.
If there is a down side, it’s the good deal of time spent worshiping a laptop, which for someone more suited to praying to a potting bench, or anointing a freshly sharpened pair of pruners; takes some adjustment. It’s also made blogging pretty awkward, as the last thing you want is more screen time blogging after a day on a PC! But, and it’s a big but; I’ve had some brilliant hours away from the screen, and I’ve spent quality time with some very talented gardeners in some stunning gardens. Plus, I’ve hugged some INCREDIBLE trees! 🌳
OK, enough is enough, I know you need to get on and do things, or check Instagram or TikTok, so I’ll thank you now for your valuable time; I’m very grateful you stopped by. I’ll nip away if I may to continue establishing in my new role, to fork-out more couch grass at the allotment, and to smash my spade through solid clumps of drying clay in my home garden.
If you’d like to have a look at progress on our allotment, you can find us over on Instagram: @allotofpotential
Tall, broad, weeping or not, most people love trees, even if they fail to realise it. Trees texturise our world, from landscapes with twisted ancient groves, in tucked away valleys, to clipped street trees or standard fruit trees in a homely garden.
Trees grow, attract, and enrich life, they even produce the air that gives us life. Yet, as tough as trees are, if storm events have taught us anything, it is that trees are at risk and vulnerable.
It is commonly taken that mature trees are solid and everlasting. Their roots will have spread far through the earth, having driven themselves between miniscule particles in every direction, anchoring every specimen firmly to its spot.
In many species, thick, ridged bark encloses and protects softer inner tissue within a trunk. Yet as we look higher, increasingly smoother and more flexible bark can be found cloaking branches, stems and twigs, where frequent breeze driven movement is guaranteed.
Trees then, with their strong cores, space owning crowns and flexible tops are dynamic, strong and resilient. They’ve evolved to endure, to last, and to grow in number in most environments, indeed, some examples are proven to have lived for centuries.
But when storms touch down, I worry, for each and every unshielded champion. Decayed twigs will rain down for sure, inflexible branches will fracture and fall, to spear the soil or shatter upon the ground below.
Wind waves will rock stems and heave root-plates until long established roots are torn apart. Trees therefore, our constant companions are vulnerable, and once touched personally by a storm are rarely the same again.
Seeing footage of trees snapping, shattering and toppling over recent days should leave an impression, as it has for many storm events in history. Having worked on many cleanup sessions where fallen wood lay strewn across wide areas, and where mud, sweat and tears were inseparable, I also feel for those who are tasked with the unenviable task of clearing away the remains.
Trees will always be at risk from storm events, that is a fact, and dealing with broken trees will always be a labour of love. But trees are, in the main, survivors. Like humans, they will in most cases find a way to endure and adapt, and it helps to take inspiration from this.
Trees and people are interlinked, and we must continue to invest in them and support their survival; especially where we’ve made environments so challenging for them. We have been fed, clothed, housed and warmed by trees since the beginning of time, we have even been transported around the globe by them, and we should respect that.
If then we lose faith in our trees, if we begin to worry that repairing or replanting a tree isn’t worth the expense, worry or risk, then I’d urge us as a community to think again. We must especially preserve veteran and ancient trees carefully, for unlike buildings, which have the potential to rise again from the ashes, trees never can.
Through any storm, irreplaceable, historically or botanically important specimens will fall, and their presence will be mourned by many. But in response, what should we do? How can we fill the vacant space that inevitably is left behind?
Practically, I suggest we look closer at the mechanics of any storm individually, and at each particular tree that has been impacted. I would also suggest looking to those trees nearby which survived the storm and ask questions of them: How did they weather the storm? Are replacements available in case they were to fall in future? Is there anything we can do to protect them? We must not just clear up and put the sorry event behind us, but learn from it.
There is much to learn from storms and the attention they bestow on our beloved trees. Survive them we must, but learn from the wreckage what we can before focusing on the new opportunities that will present themselves; for a new generation of life-giving companions.
Plant trees for your grand children, as they say, or plant trees for yourself. Whatever the reason; just keep on planting! 🌳🌳🌳.
Gardening Ways – a personal blog about plants and gardens.
Hello, thanks for clicking on the link and welcome to my garden journal – A bumper Christmas Edition you could say! I hope you’ll stick around for a few moments whilst I paint a picture of Sunlight and Snow, I look back on DecemberGardening, and record some thoughts peeking Onwards to a whole new chapter in 2022.
Sunlight & Snow
If there’s one thing that has struck me recently, apart from the roller coaster temperatures we’re experiencing, it is winter sunlight. I would be quite within my rights to waffle on about how poor the light has been of late, what with short days frequently shrouded with cloudy gloom, but I won’t.
I will instead refer to days when those grey pillows move aside to reveal bright skies, and when sunbeams flood down across our faces and gardens. Perfect moments for me, if a little challenging from a gardening perspective, are days when frost clings to foliage or when a sprinkling of snow highlights formwork and structure in the garden; both, especially when sunlight shines can enhance even the grumpiest garden corner.
Wildlife footprints leave telling signs of night time activity, frozen foliage droops, sound softens and time slows. What’s extra exciting in a public garden though, is the fact that a gardener often finds themselves alone and faced with a thousand picture postcard opportunities – even if there is work to be done!
Snow peppered tree trunks, perplexing footprints criss-crossing and silhouetted trees with their long shadows. If you’ve an eye for a photo opportunity, everywhere you look becomes a picture. Thank heavens for social media so that some of the half decent images of all that otherwise unseen garden loveliness can be shared. I hope you like the few I’ve shared here, snapped before a warm session with the snow blower.
Whilst many things have been (and continue) in a state of flux, gardening has continued as normal for me – like it must. On the work-front, December demanded that I focus on a few tasks which on one hand meant putting the garden to bed, and on another meant paving the way for a solid 2022 start.
Hedge trimming – there seems to have been a good deal of hedge trimming. Yew is the hedge of choice at Sulgrave and this year brought a second opportunity to raise the bar. Building on the work of previous gardeners and my efforts last year, I again tightened my approach and tried various forms of string tying to get the cleaner edges I desired. It’s better than before but, there’s room for improvement still.
Bulb planting – after last year’s 5000 + bulb planting extravaganza, this season has been much swifter, with a key focus on containerised bulbs plus more for six mixed borders. There’s a hope that many planted last year will flower again, but I did add more bulbs to guarantee a display. I also colour themed container displays to red, white and blue. I chose to take a cost-effective approach due to a tight year, but I’m sure all will be wonderful from the moment the first Iris flowers spring forth.
New shoots – at home, and with a new garden as referred to previously, I’m glad to say my first plant is finally in the ground. As a key plant to the front of the house, it had to be a special one, so after much deliberation I chose a Japanese cherry tree called ‘Collingwood Ingram’.
Naturally, it’s going to provide a wonderful display of single pink flowers in early spring, but I’m equally awestruck by its historical connection to Captain Collingwood Ingram (1880-1981) – known in horticultural circles as Cherry Ingram. I’ll save that fascinating story for now, but with regard to planting what was little more than a bare-root whip, I’m glad to declare that gardening, with a sprinkling of mycorrhizal fungi and peat free Christmas magic, is officially underway!
Honestly, if you’d have said one month ago that I’d be starting a new role in the first month of the new year, I’d have thrown you a long and pretty suspicious look. It’s true though, so following an unbelievably busy two months where I’ve even paused my blogging, I can confirm that I’ll be leaving the garden team at Sulgrave for a position with the National Trust in the Midlands.
There’s a lot to discover about my new role as yet, but whilst I’m really keyed up for my start towards the end of January, we do have a pretty busy (and festive) few weeks to navigate. To that end, I shall channel my next journal post to looking back over a fascinating and very productive fifteen months at the Manor, where I’ve worked with and been supported by an amazing team of gardeners who I’ll be sad to leave.
On the whole, it’s clearly been a topsy-turvy two years for us all and every one of us have our own up and down stories. I’ll spare you mine, but I will say that aside from a sense of letting a few folks down by moving on a little quicker than expected, I have found myself on a journey where I’ve learned more about me and my aims than I ever thought possible.
‘If a door opens, step through it’, and ‘things happen for a reason’, are sayings I’ve heard repeatedly, and I do believe in fate. But I also believe that whilst hard work and applying yourself to the task in hand is the only way, there is much to be said for looking forward and working towards a goal.
Yes, of course there have been times when I’ve been completely ‘lost in the moment’, but these have subsequently challenged me to view my job and career journey differently – and I believe I’m not alone over recent months in re-evaluating my connection with gardens and nature. I know I’m at the point of serious change, of turning down a new, thrilling garden path. My eyes though are fully open, and whilst I know there will be bumps in the road, I look forward with a great deal of excitement – it’s going to be quite some journey for little old me!
All that said, I really don’t know what impact all this change will have on my blogging or social media for that matter. I enjoy it all thoroughly, partly for the creative opportunity it brings me and also for the encouragement I receive to keep it all going. I will, somehow, always find a way to share my love for the detail in gardens and for the benefits they offer us. Where would we be without our gardens and green spaces eh. . .
Thanks for making it to the end of this garden journal update, I hope to be back for a new one soon! Whatever you have planned for the coming days, I hope you enjoy a happy and peaceful Christmas, lets look forward to a brighter New Year!
I’ve been wanting to write a little piece about trees for a while now, but as often the way, it’s been just another post on the to-do list. However, when our friends on BBC Gardeners’ World produced a special program dedicated to trees, I was inspired to get out my notes and to revisit that post I’ve been meaning to write.
Like many other people, I’ve a long held interest and fascination for trees, and not least for the fact they can grow from the smallest wind blown seed to enormous, living and breathing structures. How they establish a root hold and adapt their growth, melding with the environment they find themselves in is nothing short of extraordinary.
This post is the first in a new allotment themed category that I’m excited to be sharing to my Gardening Ways blog. The thread of posts will track progress on a new allotment plot we’ve taken on which will be tended by my partner in ‘grime’ Ruthie and myself, and our two boys if we can entice or bribe them to play an active part too – good luck with that one did someone say?