Foundations mostly in place, so now a decision

In implementing the terraces in the grand design, I’ve been almost entirely personally handling the heavy-duty landscaping, like an idiot. So far, anyway.

First there were the trenches, one and two:



Then there were concrete footings, which I got people in to help with:



Now, the breezeblock foundations are finished for the longer trench, and laid out without cement for the shorter:



And it’s probably long past time when I should’ve taken stock of how much work is remaining. Because…

… this past week…

I’ve ended up unable to move with a bad back.

Nothing to do with the walls, but it’s left me even further behind schedule, and made me wonder what it would be worth to have the rest of the work completed by someone else.

The problem is, really, that the next bits could be quite fiddly. I’ve got ideas for the steps and I’m always worried if they don’t get communicated, then it’s going to be costly to redo. Following that bit, though, is the even more backbreaking work of ferrying topsoil up to backfill behind the walls. But at least that’s easy to do, and less hard on the back (no crouching, no lifting while turning, no tensing.)

So I just don’t know. I think maybe I find letting go hard! Especially given that the footing laying—the only bit I’ve outsourced so far—was OK, but went slightly awry when the van was too big to get up the drive. Things like that, you can throw more work hours at, but what else might go wrong?

Yep. I do find letting go hard.


The spirepose or “sprout bag”

I’m always happy to receive odd gardening innovations as presents, as I wouldn’t buy them for myself: the ecopotagator is in its second year, only suffering from the rather poor compost that I used for some planting.

This year, for my birthday, I got a “spirepose”, or sprout bag. From what I can find online, this is some kind of traditional Scandinavian method of growing small sprout seeds. The company Flying Tiger produce these foil-lined bags, which I think is what I’ve got:

Spirepose at Flying Tiger

How was mine, then, at growing oregano? In a word, hopeless:


This one tiny sprout died shortly afterwards. I think I followed the instructions properly:


But the soil level in the bag I found was much lower than those diaagrams imply.

To be honest, I’m not convinced these would ever work. The foil-lined bag is too likely to either waterlog or dry out; the growing medium (which appears to be moss, groan, with perlite) doesn’t seem particularly forthcoming with nutrients, and the bag too deep to let light in. I did later on trim the sprout bag down somewhat more, to try to get more light to the seeds, but perhaps the depth is the point, to encourage sprouting.

Either way, I’m not convinced the spirepose is for me. A bit too wasteful, even if it had worked. Nice to try it out, though!

End of Month View June 2017: still building

As much of the first crop of flowers of 2017 have started to fade, the garden seems to take a month-long breath at midsummer, during which I’ve been building the foundations for the first retaining wall. More of that later, though.

Right now, the House Acer is still doing wonderfully:


It keeps wanting to bud lower down. Right now I’m starting to let it do that – maybe in preparation for hacking it back over winter and moving it….

If it doesn’t survive the move, Acer “Anne Irene” may still be small, but it seems to be settling in:


The Rose They Couldn’t Kill and the Buddleia They Also Couldn’t Kill are doing well:


The antirrhinum is still weaving itself amongst the buddleia spikes.

The row of tomatoes, White Lisbon onions, broad beans and bronze fennel is doing well:


The tomatoes especially are suckering like wildfire, and I’m having to rub or pinch off axil shoots every day or two.

As are the kales, lettuces and backup onions:


Both look great with the newly repainted furniture, although I would call it a mint-blue rather than “gentle sage.”

The hebe is cuddling up to the geranium, tiarella and the mints:


It’s another remarkable plant, always covered in bees and even at one point hosting a cinnabar moth.

The philadelphus has lost its single bloom, and now looks merely like some kind of ghoul trying to envelop the euonymous:


I’m undecided as to what to do with it next year. This is the first that it’s flowered (I think everything is glad of the removal of the privet) but I’ve also been told it responds well to being cut right back, so who knows? If I do cut it back, the euonymous—tangled up as it is—will have to be sacrificed.

The Zaluzianskya phlox and Anthemis tinctoria by the back door have had a second flush of flowers, the latter thanks to some judicious deadheading:


The annuals and perennials opposite them look happy:


The lavenders are still out; the pelargoniums will carry on for months; the Geranium sanguineum var striatum, and Lamium Red Nancy are both filling out since RHS Chatsworth (the former responding well to pruning); and the cosmos that Gwenfar kindly looked after when the Bord na Mona compost nearly did for it are bouncing back (along with their cousins, bought as larger plants and already flowering):

Rather worryingly, though, our new compost bins show evidence of something landing on them considerably more heavily than a cat:


I guess it could be the fox I’ve heard about, but I do wonder if someone tried to use all the back gardens as a passageway. How could they do that? Especially when everyone surely knows it’s a building site instead!

(Thanks to Helen Johnstone for hosting the EOMV meme. Helen’s taking a break from blogging, but the meme lives on!)

Bumper harvest of garlic: but why?

Back in mid-November I planted this year’s garlic: 27 bulbs of the Solent Wight variety, spread over five pots, left alone back in the baking north-east corner of the garden.

Just after midsummer, I’ve dug them up. Garlic bulb growth slows substantially after the solstice, so although I could’ve left them in a few more weeks to put on slightly more mass, I needed the pots!

Over seven and a bit months, the garlic grew from five unprepossessing pots, topped with twigs to prevent foxes and cats digging in them:


To a burgeoning set of scapeless spears:


And finally to our harvest, a remarkable 30+ bulbs (some of them had split!) almost all of “supermarket-size” or greater:


This is in noticeable contrast to the previous year’s crop, which was reasonable but small-bulbed. The only smaller bulbs are from the big pot containing the pak choi; here they are, alongside those from the other big pot, for contrast:


Gwenfar did warn me this might happen, but in a scientific spirit (and being aware of the fact that there was only a few weeks of growing left) I thought it worth trying out.

What has made this crop larger than last year’s? I’m not completely sure, but some of the differences were:

  • Fewer, but bigger, pots: these were the biggest pots in the garden; the three smaller ones were as big as last year’s biggest. This is in line with Gwenfar’s own experiments.
  • More heat: last year, the pots were near the decking, in the partial shade of the house; this year, they were in almost entirely full sun.
  • Re-mulching: I left plenty of space to re-mulch, and always watered before I did so (and used our own compost to do it, which has been great.

So nothing conclusive, but clear indications of some of the conditions garlic likes. Those, plus avoiding competition from catch crops, will hopefully guide my next season (when, I hope, I might have raised beds to plant them in.)

Until then, I’ve got more garlic—of an amazing and distinctive taste, utterly different from any you can buy—than I can eat. But I’ll do my best!