The highs and lows of August Bank Holiday Weekend

What a mixed weekend that was for sure. Saturday’s weather was somewhat different from the forecast. Thunder and lightening and torrential rain for about two hours. The sky was heavy, dark grey and threatening. Hail banged on the shed roof. An inch of rain happened and we were a bit stranded. The puddle by the gate became a pool. And, most annoyingly, I’d persuaded Philip to do the watering in the morning because I was convinced that we would only have light showers.

Sunday was quite different. Quite sunny and pleasantly warm. There were quite a lot of garden visitors all day, many of them stayed to have a cup of tea and bought a few plants. I had a special hour or so with @papaver who I’d communicated with on Facebook and Twitter but it was out first  meeting for real and was most enjoyable. When I emptied the donation box at the end of the day I found my earring which I’d lost in the garden a few days before, so thanks to the mystery person who found it.

Monday was very much quieter, was everyone at the seaside or sitting in traffic somewhere? I got very little done except chat to customers and friends. An added bonus when I extracted the donations was the discovery of a £20 note which some generous person had left, that goes a long way to making me feel that all the human race is good.

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Wind Damage

The weather forecast yesterday was for ‘unseasonably strong winds’. Now I’m good at worrying about anything but high on my list of what can cause me concern is gale force wind. Roughly ten years ago we had been away for a couple of nights and on our way back up the M40 we could tell that it was extremely windy. When we arrived at work we found that three of the four polytunnels had lost their covers. Not blown away into the next county but ripped and flapping and causing a huge amount of damage to the plants which previously were being protected by the covers. The noise of torn polythene flapping in the wind is quite ear shattering. Initially there was not much we could do except cut away some of the long trailing pieces which were sweeping pots, compost and plants backwards and forwards and smashing against each other. And weep….

A new cover was ordered the next day which arrived within the week. The unenviable task of clearing things away, removing the rest of the polythene and preparing to fit the new cover took some considerable time. Then we had to wait for a calm day. The nursery is on an exposed site so patience was required. We lined up some friends to help. The day finally dawned about three weeks later when the conditions were just right and we got started. Unfortunately all the friends were unavailable so we did it ourselves without too much swearing.

I’m reminded of this because yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon, at the height of the strong winds, I was explaining to a friend that the covers are vulnerable at such times. As I was speaking and pointing I noticed, to my horror, a tear along one of the hoops. Luckily it was at one end and luckily Philip hadn’t left so he got the ladder out and some sticky tape and patched it up. I’m hoping it will last for a while until we feel strong enough to recover it. The last time this needed doing on one of the other tunnels was just before P started his course of chemotherapy. Some brilliant friends stepped in and did the job for us but unfortunately one of them is not so well at the moment so it looks like we shall have to do it ourselves……and we are now ten years older since we did the last one. Ho hum.

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Early August

Since I last wrote we have been getting some jobs done and we are more or less on top of things. We had the help of the lovely George (no not the cat) who came for a day to help Philip cut the hedges. While they were doing the cutting I had a bonfire to burn a rather large heap of rubbish. We planted a native hedge along the north side of our site in the first winter and then later planted quite a lot of hornbeam hedging which is one of the few plants which make a good hedge in our clay soil.

We also had help from Nick (a friends son) who donned waders and went deep into the pond to clear out a lot of bullrushes which were spreading at an alarming rate. He also went across to the badly neglected island to remove some of the brambles which have got increasingly adventurous and are threatening to take over. Nick didn’t complain once about doing a foul job, the sticky black mud clung tenaciously to everything it came into contact with.

After all the damp cool weather it suddenly went very hot which meant that all we were capable of doing was the daily watering then I slunk in the shade for the rest of the day reading. The garden dried up very quickly and cracks started appearing in the ground. the poor plants started to become a bit shrivelled then luckily we had a downpour one evening with half an inch of rain which made a huge difference plus it meant no watering for a couple of days. I just knew earlier in the year when it was endlessly wet that we’d have a dry spell and would yearn for rain. it has been a maddening year weatherwise but maybe I say that every year.

The garden is full, as always, of verbena bonariensis which attracts the bees and butterflies. Soon the asters will be flowering and it will look different again.

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Summer?

Is it really summer? Sitting here at 7am looking out at grey skies and damp ground doesn’t fill me with any kind of motivation to get to work and find things to do (there are always things to do but I need some incentive to get on with it). The weather, or maybe the results of the referendum, has caused a big downturn in sales over the last three weeks. Each time I do the watering I’m aware of all the great looking plants which are growing very well but not selling. I really don’t blame amateur gardeners for not wanting to do any work outside at the moment. In fact I have a theory that it’s only when the weather is warm enough in the evenings for people to sit outside and maybe have barbecues that they might feel inclined to make the garden look good.

Another downside to this cool, damp time is that there are very few butterflies so far this year. However there are plenty of ants both in the garden and in the tunnels and at home. They seem to be able to increase at an alarming rate. Very often they make their nests under a clump of Stipa tenuissima but can be found almost anywhere. I’ve started to use a different product which seems to be having some effect in reducing the problem. At work I’ve had to dismantle some 10 litre pots of plants (agapanthus, bamboo and a daisy) because ants had made a nest in them. I do hope I’m not inadvertently selling plants complete with resident ants!

On a positive note to end with though, I must mention how pleased I’ve been with the pinks I bought last year. I took lots of cuttings and have had lots to sell and I’ve also planted out quite a few. There are some old favourites like Mrs Sinkin and Gran’s Favourite but also one called Lily the Pink and Devon Wizard. They all have a delicious scent and it feels somehow self indulgent to pick some and bring home but I do anyway. Which is a timely reminder that the last bunch of flowers I brought home are looking a bit past their best so I shall pick some more today.

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More weeds

It may not feel like summer what with the endless rain this last couple of weeks and cool evenings but everything is growing at an alarming rate. The weeds in particular have been very difficult to control.  My two helpers have been unable to work for me this year, one is doing child minding for her two granddaughters and the other has some health problems. Last year I had someone for a few hours and she was extremely good but I just couldn’t afford her very expensive hourly rates. Consequently I have suffered some anxiety about the weediness of the garden. Then I had a brain wave (don’t get many of them these days) and rang a friend of a friend to see if she would be interested in doing a bit of work for me and she leapt at the chance. So, for the last two weeks, (in between the showers) she has worked with me for a total of ten hours and what a difference its made. We’ve removed barrow full after barrow full of weeds and I’m feeling a lot less worried. We pull and dig out rosebay willow herb which is just starting to flower, creeping buttercups, wild grasses and some vetch. All the time we are chatting and finding out things about each other. A real bonus is that she reads and has already brought me a book to borrow which I’m completely hooked by. Its by Rose Tremain and is called ‘Restoration’ and each time I have a coffee or when its lunchtime I read a bit more. Might finish it tomorrow!

Today there were some heavy showers but in spite of that there were quite a few customers so I didn’t get any gardening done, maybe tomorrow….

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Who would be a self employed nursery person?

Sometimes, on a sunny day, there might be a customer who says that they wish they had my job. It never happens when it’s cold and wet and windy, surprise, surprise! Depending on how I’m feeling I might say that maybe we could swap jobs so that I could have the benefit of paid holidays, have entitlement to sickness pay, work 5 days a week and perhaps not have to be dependant on the weather. Plus, above all, have a regular income. I also suspect that most people in paid employment are earning far more than me.

There are many advantages to being one’s own boss. But there are disadvantages too. It’s essential to be self motivated, no-one is going to tell you what to do or how or when to do it. The plus side of this is that there isn’t anyone breathing down my neck so if I want to have a break at say 12.15pm then I can do so. It must be incredibly hard to work for a person whose priorities are different from your own. There is the delight in working outside on mild (not hot) days rather than stuck in an office or shop. Obviously the downside to that are all the other days when its either too cold, too wet, too windy or too blisteringly hot to be able to work comfortably. The ‘wrong’ weather days far outnumber the good weather days.

A skill which is necessary is to be adaptable. I can rarely carry out a task without being interrupted by either a customer or the phone or a friend popping in for a coffee. Stopping and starting jobs can be quite maddening plus with a memory like mine I could easily forget what I had been doing before the distraction.

 

I am convinced that I am now, after many years of self employment, unemployable. I really couldn’t cope with an inefficient boss or unlikeable colleagues. Luckily I am totally at ease with spending hours and hours on in my own company (and the cat of course). When I’m potting I usually have the radio on tuned to programmes I want to hear not dreary canned music or something similar.

I guess the reality is that some of those people who say that they would love to run a nursery are being a bit dreamy and that the relentlessness of growing and tending plants plus an acre of garden would be beyond their abilities. But for those who have some understanding of how hard the work can be and if they also have a real feel for it then there isn’t a better way (in my opinion) of making a meagre living.

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Thoughts while watering

While I was watering the other day I came to the conclusion that it’s an activity which makes me anxious. There are many reasons for this but mainly it’s due to the number of different things which seem to need doing while I’m waving the lance around and dragging the hose to the right place.

Often there is a tussle in my mind about whether to do the watering now or, if it is calm, maybe the spraying is important. But if I spray first then the water will wash it off. There’s also the garden which is crying out to be weeded. The watering can take up to 2 hours. This depends on whether there are customers who might need some help or they might be standing exactly where the next lot of plants which need water are. So, if I can get on uninterrupted I notice plants which need repotting; plants which we need more of; plants which need labels; dead plants which need removing; climbers which need staking; labels which have come adrift and should be replaced; plants which are looking good and so need moving to a more prominent position and so it goes on and on. By the time I’ve finished I’ve forgotten most of those urgent thoughts and I might be standing wondering what the urgency was.

I forgot to say that there is often a dilemma about whether to water or not due to vague or misleading weather forecasting. Sometimes rain is promised which doesn’t arrive or not enough. Then, conversely, no rain is expected so the watering gets done only for the rain to come shortly after. We are on a meter so try hard not to waste water (and time) doing unnecessary watering.

Warm and sunny days are usually welcome but there’s always a downside…..

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mud

The soil is almost soupy. Its certainly sludgy, sticky, claggy and just about impossible to work. Oh deary deary me, who would opt to have clay soil especially after the amount of rain we’ve had this year? We measure our rainfall in a train spotting kind of way and this year we have recorded 7 and a half inches of rain. Last year it wasn’t until mid July that we’d had the same amount. Consequently there have been many days when weeding was simply out of the question because the garden was too water-logged. But every now and then I think I really must do some weeding because the weeds are growing at an alarming rate (as they always do at this time of year). I regret it almost immediately because its not easy to remove creeping buttercup or rosebay willow herb, never mind the clumps of wild grass which are threatening to take over everything. And while I’m having a good grumble, I often wonder why weeds choose to put themselves in the middle of other plants? The likelihood of getting  much done is remote because its just too frustrating and anyway, I’m removing a lot of the sticky wet stuff each time I get a weed out. I try to work on bits of the garden which are less wet which in turn means I do a bit here and then a bit there so it all looks the same after toiling away for a couple of hours.

The forget-me-nots have suffered a bit from some of the frosts we’ve had this last week or so. Some of them are not looking good so its time to remove them which is quite a time consuming job but if I start now then maybe there won’t be so many next year. fanciful thoughts really because there are always plenty however early I remove them.

I need to do some planting but it will have to wait until the ground it slightly drier. I also have a plan to remove some Miscanthus which have a lot of weeds in them and replace with some fresh plants. Yet the forecast says more rain tomorrow……

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Jobs-April 2016

I’ve clicked off all the spam so now I’m ready to write.

The bungalow across the road from where we live is soon to be a development site. There are clumps of snowdrops which would end up being destroyed so when I saw someone doing some spraying this morning I went over to ask if I could dig them up. He was very obliging and said I could help myself. Perhaps I shouldn’t have waited because someone else had already been and taken most of the bigger clumps. Anyway, I dug up most of what was left and took them to work where I will plant them in the woods in the next day or so.

The potato tubers were sprouting well so I planted them in large containers using compost from the compost heap. The variety is Charlotte, a tasty salad potato. they will be in the polytunnel so they should be ready nice and early. Next I sowed some mixed salad leaves and rocket in a pot. Later I planted out the young broad bean plants. I also did some potting using the new compost which was delivered a couple of days ago. I’d heard good reports of Melcourts Sylvamix which is peat-free. Not really sure why I bother though because none of our customers ever ask what type of compost we use.

I was much colder today with a north east wind and now, in the evening, it is raining. the ground was just beginning to dry out a bit but we’ll be back to square one again after just a teaspoonful. The chance of getting the place mowed seems remote but meanwhile the grass is getting longer and longer. If anyone does read this and is thinking of coming to visit the garden it would be wise to bring wellies.

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More Snowdrops

Its that time of year again when I realise just how lucky I am because my collection of different snowdrops has increased thanks to the generous galanthophile from Northampton. She turned up early the other morning clutching a carrier bag with 9 clumps of named varieties. (I won’t say what they are in case someone decides to help themselves).

It’s difficult to do any gardening at the moment because the ground is so very wet so I divided up some of the larger clumps and potted them up. The rest have gone back in the bag complete with their labels and I shall plant them some time in the coming week. I also wrote the names in pencil on the back of the labels as a belt and braces approach (this lady uses a waterproof marker but I don’t trust them, they tend to fade,whereas the pencil lasts for years). I am aware that I’ve been a bit shambolic in the past about keeping a good record of which snowdrops I have and where they are. But now, with the help of the photos which my special person brings, I can note where they are planted.

So I’m looking forward to seeing them flower next year.

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