1clairewhere did that year go?

i am starting to sound like my grandmother… the years really do fly by when you get older dont they?  it was october of last year when i last wrote… this exercise of writing about our work and progress is, if nothing else, a great thing for me to look back on and see how far the garden has come in the last 10 months.   we had got as far as putting in all the paths and hugelkultures and we were starting on the wishing circle. we’d planted whip-like indigenous hedging and trees, we’d sown green manure/nitrogen fixers across the bare earth – and the dogs as ever – were a tremendous help (in making more work for us, but more on that later…)

claire2claire1the grass is the main villain in this story, especially as it is quite a large area to work with.  its couch grass and really great at creeping horizontally across the land and under the soil to get everywhere.  pain in the butt all round but not an insurmountable problem.  in time when the trees and other layers establish the mselves the grass growth should get better and easier to manage with every season.  i am also trying to keep it at bay alongside the edges of  my paths with cardboard and edged with stone that have come out of the field.  I’m also ‘lucky’ enough to have had a big pile of horse manure and straw hanging around that i needed to do something with, so i covered the cardboard in that to keep it anchored in place. this may not have been the best idea in retrospect but we live and learn…..patches has been keeping an eye on my work at every level of course..

i had been laying the membrane down underneath the paths, covering them with rough stone, then the plan was to put a pebble stone or something on top.  but, i got a tip from someone reading the blog that the membrane is a waste of time and doesn’t really do much to suppress the grass and that they had used mulched willow as a paving idea.  they were right and I’m grateful for the tip.   as someone who has a whole bunch of willow to harvest every year and i never really had a firm plan as to what to do with it (theres a limit on the amount of living willow structures one needs in the garden..), + my parents gave me the best christmas present ever of a small mulching machine these two things = great path ideas and uses for excess willow.   it was a job of work, but a satisfying one.  i mulched and raked and mulched and raked and all came good. i now am the proud owner of some lovely home grown and mulched willow paths leading from the three points of the garden to the main hugelkulture and fire pit and then down to the wishing circle.  every year i can see me using up most of my willow in the same way as the deeper the path, the less likely the grass is going to be bothered to come back up through it.   thats not to say theres no work in maintaining them – there is – but not too much.

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anyways…we’ve gone from a bunch of whips to lovely happy looking trees in the space of this past season…and heres the wishing space as it was and how it looks now from a similar angle..this has a beautiful american red hawthorn at the centre. its already had many a wish and a thank you…its surrounded by ten silver birch trees.

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this shot is taken from roughly the same place looking out from the main hugelkulture at a greengage tree in the centre of both pictures.

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heres one side of the shelter belt hedging, when planted in march last year and now how it looks from the same spot..

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and some of the hedging from the bottom of the garden looking up towards the house..

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claire18in late spring we made some mud seed bombs with the kids to fire around and about the place. get some soil from your plot, mix it with seeds, roll them into a ball and leave to dry out for a day or so.  then enjoy throwing them randomly about the place.  one of the ideas being that its not quite so easy for the birds to come get a quick fix of your seed…having said that, id say i had a good flock of pigeons and other rascals come eat the young shoots….they contained lots of white, red, crimson clovers, fennel seeds, echinacea, feverfew, plantain, evening primrose, comfrey, chives, rye, mustard, borage, camomile, vetch, lupin –  some worked, others didn’t – or most likely the robbing birds came and took advantage.  in early summer though the whole garden was alive with colour and a magnet for all the pollinators.

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claire22the hugelkultures (right now i have one big space-ship round one as the central point of the garden and two smaller ones near to it). I’m sure ill get more but i ran out of wood.  the previous shots show them with the wood and then a bark mulch on top of the wood.   we covered them in top soil and sowed nitrogen fixers. i did plant some annual crops in them BUT our biggest pests in this garden – the dogs – destroyed the lot of them, so we had to start again and it was too late in the season to go for it properly with any more edible crops.  we reverted to just sowing green manures and i threw in a few strawberry plants. for some inexplicable reason the dogs really seem to love chasing each other in circles only on top of the hugelers.  they loved to run at top speed about 30 times around the top of it, destroying anything in their path of course, and leaving them panting for breath and me ready to shoot them…as lucky is marys dog and i would like to talk to her again, i did not shoot her of course, but we had to do something to stop their fun!  netting and short bamboo canes became my best friend, and mary suggested we erect a protective structure so the dogs would be put off. it did work and next year after I’ve sown anything, i will be more on the ball in protecting it..

the culprits…i of course could not be mad at these bold dogs for long…look at their contrite faces…and mary – the shamed owner – making net coverings…

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so then, when the hugelkultures started to sprout green (second time around), at least they were somewhat protected from the dog derby…heres the first shoots spouting and then what they looked like last week.  since they grew up, we took the netting off so the bees and insects can get better access. when there is good growth on them, the larger, hairier pests tend to keep off…famous last words possibly, but so far, so good.

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smaller hugelkultures sown and covered with straw on the left, then after a month of growth on the right.

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claire32claire33another job that we’ve done this year was to start the shrub layer by planting a load of berry bushes.  we ordered them from future forests and again, we’ve had great success with all of their plants they’ve sent on. we got a couple of each of these and planted randomly around the garden using the cardboard and mulch around the base to give them a fighting change against the grass.  white, red and blackcurrants, gooseberry leveller and pax, thornless blackberry, blueberry, josta berry (had never heard of this one, but interesting to taste the fruit), worchesterberry (ditto), boysenberry, tay berry, claire31raspberry all gold, Lonicera caerulea, lyceum barb arum, actinida deliciosa (look them up if foxed like me) and we also got some goji berry bushes to see how they would work.. they havent died so far. this month I’ve even got some flowers on them, so I’m excited to see if any fruit come.  we also got a good lot of rhubarbs – timperly early, glaskins perpetual and victoria and last but not least an elaeagnus umbellata!  heres another helper doing a bit of mulching for me on one of the bushes.  by the end of the month in january, we had about 40 berry bushes and rhubarbs dotted around the place.  i also put in a lovely shrubby lupin (lupinus arboreous) which mary tells me is a glorious plant. i only know the regular lupin plant, so interested to see this version.

claire34in summation, we’ve had a really positive year in the garden.  we’ve even had some other crops out of it which i sowed directly into the soil in round about places. onions, leeks, potatoes, beans broad and squeaky, cabbage, herbs various, salad leaves, peas, blackberries, rhubarb, wild strawberries which taste like bubblegum and the most delicious ‘regular’ strawberries that any of our family have ever tasted. i had a great looking crop of gooseberries too which i kept leaving to ripen just a bit more and then one day i came out and they had obviously ripened enough for the robbing birds to take the lot! so never got to taste any of my goosgogs.  same with any of the currants. next year hopefully the crop will be bigger and there will be plenty for all – otherwise my friend the garden netting might have to be employed again..some of the brasicas took the full force of the caterpillars too, but you can’t win them all can you?

the rest looked, tasted and ate rather well!

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i even got medlar fruit from the medlar tree. apparently you have to eat it when its near to rotten…i have not found the right moment for that yet.  but, the flowers on the tree were real stunners with a fabulous perfume.  the bees loved them too..likewise the scent from the roses in the hedging were really something else.  the bees were not shy in seeking them out either…lots of lovely frogs around in the long grass too doing their slug eating business.

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everyone that has come into this garden has commented independently, on what a good energy comes from claire55being within it…there seems to be a very positive buzz here, and thats not just from the bees..it is definitely still a work very much in progress and of course in regular gardening terms it is indeed a challenge to try to overlook the grass and nettles and straggly bits that in normal circumstances one would usually try to eradicate in one foul swoop.  but, there is a beauty in all of it and thats probably rooted in its own authenticity as a living fairly wild space that has been designed specifically to consider what lies beneath..this is certainly not a fast track approach to anything but i have faith that it will be a most beautiful and giving space in the fullness of time. in fact, it already is and surely, it can only get better…

maybe my dog sacrifice at the red hawthorn helped??

authors note : no dogs were harmed in the making of this garden…honest 😉