Chainsawing logs and fixing up the new store and old water butt

Now that we’ve had the concrete footings laid (and they couldn’t get the damn mixer up the drive anyway) it was time for me to return both the log store and the water butt to their rightful locations on the drive.

Water butt

Our house’s previous owners (who we always call The Chumps) had a water butt for years that had neither an overflow nor a properly fitted downpipe above it: as such, in heavy rain the butt would pour water down the driveway; and in high winds the section of drainpipe immediately above it would fall off.

Fitting an overflow turned out to be fairly straightforward; as far as the drainpipe went, though… I’d previously tried to tie things in place but, with the water butt in position, I couldn’t safely get a ladder close enough to accomplish anything more permanent.

However, now that the driveway was clear, I had my chance; and I took it:


Above the water butt, you can see on the left a narrow drainpipe, and to its right the wider soil pipe from the bathroom, leading straight into the ground. Half-way up the drainpipe you should be able to see the support I drilled in place.

It was all very sturdy when I was finished, but when replacing the butt I realised that, with the pipe forced to be closer to the wall, its spout no longer made it all the way to the butt. Hence one fix has simply led to the next bit of jury-rigging:


Maybe we’re just as bad as the Chumps! Only, this now works perfectly well, and I’ve got it on my list to get some more piping or guttering. If nothing else, we’re making small, incremental improvements.

Speaking of which, you can see just at the bottom-left of that earlier photo a newly elevated storage platform, which leads me neatly on to the….

Log store

Here’s a reminder of how much space the apple wood took up; back in November, before we moved it:


Back then, it didn’t even sit on an elevated wooden platform: just the two concrete pillars. And it still took up a lot of vertical space!

And most recently, in its temporary home beside the decking and euonymous:


But before moving the logs, I really wanted to chop them up. Our neighbour lent me a cheap Titan chainsaw with a blunted chain, and after literally scorching a few of the cuts I tried to make (this is a common symptom of a blunt chain, I’ve since learned) I swapped in a new chain and got to work.

A few logs in, the stage is set:


You can see I’m using the eventual platform for the log store, to cut logs on without doing too much damage to the decking. I’m also wearing the quite thick gloves you see there (and safety glasses that you can’t), but really the most important safety is the chain brake inside the saw.

Half way through, I already had a lot of both logs and a lot of sawdust and wood shavings:


As I made many of the cuts while sat down on the decking steps, and as I was wearing shorts, I can confirm that wood shavings get everywhere.

Eventually, almost all of the wood was cut up, except for the old rootball: the soil on this almost immediately blunted the new chain, and the wood began to merely char again!

So I gave up on cutting, and instead all of the logs to the platform on the drive, using the hewn-but-unsawed rootball to prop up the old store roof and almost entirely cover the logs:


Comparing this with the November photo of the log store, way above, you can see that the sawn logs take up about half of the vertical height, and now almost none of them spill out from the structure! This last photo was taken after the rain overnight, so you can see that most of the wood remains pretty much dry.

Perfect timing, on all fronts: the water butt is now filling up nicely in its new location, and the wood is all kept out of the rain, and ready for the wood-burning stove that as yet is only a would-like on our long-term, lottery-win shopping list. But small, incremental improvements seem to be the way to go. If nothing else, I’ll get a chiminea!


Potting up kale, borlotti and the tomatoes I got in the post

While Gwenfar looks after my sickly cosmos and broad beans—here’s a heartrending picture of the last five cosmos that didn’t die in my B-rd n- M-n- compost:


Some things have thrived better than others in the compost: basil has largely died off, looking weak and yellow if not given seaweed solution; purchased coriander seed has done OK, but self-harvested has mostly gone; parsley went all right, until I started to pot it up further. And the remaining broad beans that Gwenfar isn’t babysitting are OK, but corkscrewy:


Anyway, with all of these ailing plants in mind, I decided to plant up as much of my remaining veg as I could.

I’ve been growing some kale in the vague hope that maybe this year I won’t get cabbage white on brassicas (I’ve noticed kale is the least palatable to them) and am still risking them unfleeced right now. In addition, the Welsh rose’s mother gave me some borlotti beans that I didn’t have the heart to throw away (the pak choi went up in among the garlics; the mustard she also gave me blew almost immediately to seed and was composted!)

But the star of the show are the five Gardener’s Delight tomatoes that I ordered from The Organic Gardening Catalogue as plantlets, and eventually arrived from Rocket Gardens, wrapped rather nicely in straw, but a little bit unpromising all the same.

I’d potted them up and plunged them into water almost immediately:


And they recovered so fast, despite the poor compost, that I was fearful of them becoming too leggy by the time I was able to pot them up:


So I set to work, and used the biggest pots I could find:


I put stakes in them, and assembled them on trays, giving this ensemble picture:


Meet the band; anti-clockwise from bottom-left:

  1. Three lots of borlotti: two pots of three, staked; one pot of six, awaiting some more empty pots to transfer them to.
  2. Three tomatoes in a growbag tray, with two more tomatoes behind them in their own saucers.
  3. A partly hidden, flopped Delphinium.
  4. Those corkscrewing broad beans in the top right.
  5. An orangey Geum “Prinses Juliana”, and some herbs: salvia, rosemary etc.
  6. Three pots of kale, just at the top.
  7. A long grey planter of Pea “Latvian” and parsley as a catch crop.

Most pleasingly, I was able to use our own compost for all these pottings: the pine from the cat’s litter tray wasn’t entirely rotted down, but I also watered with a seaweed solution that should hopefully buffer against the locked-up nutrients. And I’ve also received a phone call about pallets, which means I can build a second composting bay soon enough, and then hopefully alternate, and always use well-rotted material.

This leaves a number of parsleys, plus some spring onion “White Lisbon”. I’m hoping I’ll find a more permanent home for them once I’ve done the levelling-off, but when that’s going to happen is anyone’s guess!

The trench footings are in

Twenty-one days ago, I was confident that the garden’s days as a building site were numbered. Well, it turns out they were: it’s just that I underestimated their number a bit.

But! Last Wednesday, the next phase was completed:

  1. Three cubic metres of concrete arrived…
  2. … And even though the van they’d specified was still too big for our driveway…
  3. Two hard-working landscapers capably ferried it all the way up and into the trenches for footings.

Here’s the lower, longer, deeper trench; before:




And here’s the higher, shorter, shallower trench; before:




Here’s Trench Inspector Indie, checking things out a couple of days later:


(When it had finally stopped raining, and I had finally been able to take some photographs.)

And here, finally, is more of a bird’s-eye view of the garden as a whole, so you might be able to see the future shape of the terraces and walls better:


It’s this last photo that gives me hope, to be honest. The garden still looks like a mess. But now it looks like a mess with structure: the structure will evolve; the mess will become backfill. Perhaps, just perhaps, we have passed through the nadir, and are climbing back out of it: muddy, but unbowed!

Visit to Keukenhof spring and tulip gardens, April 2017

Towards the end of April, the Welsh rose and I made a trip to Keukenhof, the spring and tulip gardens just outside Lisse in the Netherlands. Even for someone who might not be the biggest fan of tulips, the gardens were really impressive and well worth an especial trip to visit.

Because I took so many photos, this blogpost is liable to end up bursting at the seams. So I’ll try to focus not so much on tulip after tulip, as on details that might convince the undecided that they should go: if not this year (after all, the season is coming to an end!) then next. At the end I’ll discuss how to get there, especially from the north of England.

(Although I won’t focus completely on tulips, or even on monocotyledons, below I use “T” for tulip, “M” for Muscari, “N” for Narcissus” etc!)

Keukenhof and its rooms

Keukenhof consists of some 30 hectares in the middle of the flattest landscape you can imagine: as such, it feels like an enchanted world; you don’t get much warning of its arrival, and you don’t get much idea of the outside world when you’re in it. Pay too little attention to the horizon, and you might even miss the Keukenhof castle (we did!)

The site is divided up into many different rooms, with wildly different characters and not all oriented too tightly around bulbs of one sort or another; a Japanese garden (which was the biggest surprise):


(Just look at the “blushed apple” colours on that acer:)


A naturalistic garden, with an artificial hill (most hills are artificial in the Netherlands!):


The Zocher water garden, with huge wooden “stepping stones” across part of the lake:


And fringed by big, beefy Apeldoorns (bottom to top: yellow T. “Golden Apeldoorn”, fringed “Apeldoorn’s Elite” & red “Apeldoorn”):


Overlooking this wild bedding, covering the whole of that same artificial hill:


A long (and very frequented) tulip walk:


with beds of many different types of tulip, often cutting across the walk to give a continuation on either side (T. “Foxtrot” with M. armeniacum):


A hortus bulbarum, or natural-history garden, offshoot of the museum in Limmen (top to bottom: T. greigii; T. schrenkii & humilis; Lavendula angustifolia; T. “Van der Neer”, “Duc de Berlin”, “Cottage Maid” & “Red & White”):


Novelty gardens, including the huge Mondriaan canvas and smaller Mondriaan-themed garden:


Quirky cottage-esque:


Beach hut:


And Miffy!


Paths and artworks

Between the obvious “rooms” were many lovely avenues and vistas:


Sometimes, these were oriented around sculptures:


Sometimes, being in the Netherlands, these were oriented around water features:


Exhibition centres and cafes

There are several exhibition centres dotted around the site, usually with a cafe attached. The highlight was the central glasshouse of Willem-Alexander, which contained a wide assortment of different plants and stands:


Plus yes all right many tulips (top to bottom T: “Whispering Dream”; “Lambada” & “Flamenco”; the same, separately; “Dream Club” & “Candy Club”):


Oranje Nassau contained, among other things, a narcissus exhibition (top to bottom: N. “Isha”; N. “Golden Bowl”, N. “Wheatear” and two displays):


With bonus Fritillaria persicaria “Red Light District”:


and even more surprising bonus IBCs:


I think in the long term IBCs are better used for rainwater collection than illumination, but it was nice seeing them here, raining down light symbolically!

Beatrix contained a permanent orchid exhibition (top to bottom: Phalaenopsis on Delft blue china; Miltonopsis; Anthurium “India Love”; and two displays):


Finally, Juliana provided a brief history of tulips, which is I think really for children, so I’ve not taken any photos! There’s also a kind of market square, with a windmill and carillion, from where you can take boats around the tulip fields:


Every building had cafes attached, providing food and drink. The one by Juliana had this great fountain and organ:


If I had one complaint about the food, it was that every single cafe was packed. Given it was a cold day, sitting out wasn’t ideal.

Tulips, tulips, tulips

What, you want more tulips? Well, all right:



“Yellow Emperor”:


“Albert Heijn”:


Mix, incl “Bell Song”, “China Town, “Claudia”, “Mistress”, “Monteux”, “Mysterious Parrot”, “Rasta Parrot”, “Spring Greeen”:


“Trintje Oosterhuis”:


“Tom Pouce” (named after an iced custard dessert) with F. imperialis “William Rex”:


“Professor Einstein”:


“Janis Joplin”:


“Muscadet” and “Spryng Break”:


“Rodeo Drive” and “Red Riding Hood”:


“King Bhumibol”:


“Queen of Night” and “Alabaster”:


And finally, the stunner for me, T. “Queensland” and M. “Valerie Finnis”:


I could have included so many more in this blogpost; if you want to gaze for longer on yet more photos of tulips, check out my Flickr tag “keukenhof”….

Getting to Keukenhof

As befits a tulip garden, Keukenhof is only open in the spring: this year, it closes after May 21. You can still make it, if you’re quick!

You can get to Keukenhof from the UK without flying! There are daily/nightly ferries from Hull and Harwich, to Rotterdam Europoort and Hoek van Holland respectively, and the Dutch public transport system is amazing: the ever-informative Seat 61 has all the details you’ll probably need.

If you’ve a bit more time available, you should do like we did, and stay over in Amsterdam for a few nights, as you can buy “combi” tickets including free travel from the capital to Schiphol, then transfer to a shuttle bus. Even if you stay on at Keukenhof until closing time, you’ll be back in Amsterdam in time for a late dinner.

I’ll write more about this in a later post, as there were a few gotchas. But you should try it!


Keukenhof is an awesome garden: there’s far more to it than just tulips, but the just-tulips are so heartbreakingly beautiful that they’ll probably make even the most die-hard foliage nut into a tulip fan by the end of it.

Getting there is a little fiddly (a later blogpost!) and the cafes can often fill up, so make sure you dress for the weather. And take a camera. And make sure it’s fully charged. And make sure you are too.

Although, sitting and watching the tulips from inside Juliana:


It felt a bit like recharging a battery. As did writing this blogpost! Keukenhof, I’ll be back.

Visit to Renishaw Gardens, April 2017

Nearly three weeks ago, the Welsh rose and I, plus other friends, visited the gardens at Renishaw Hall, a few miles south-east of Sheffield. Gwenfar was among them, and she’s already done her own writeup, but I thought I might add my own thoughts.

Renishaw Hall was built in the 17th century by one George Sitwell, with largely Italianate gardens designed by another around the turn of the 19th century; all of the above is still in the Sitwell family. Influences of the formal Italianate style (with its emphasis on perspectives, symmetries and vistas, and inclusion of water and statuary) are evident throughout:


You can occasionally even see echoes of long-gone Regency buck Sitwell Sitwell, such as in the “SS” cast into this lead tank:


As with any good Italianate style, it’s super-formal up to a point, and then informality burgeons behind it, barely kept in check:


including a rather silly sense of humour: that cloister houses a dog cemetery; and I imagine that, when it’s Christmas and not Easter, the ribbon passes from one piece of topiary to the other.

More burgeoning; Acer pensylvanicum “Erythrocladum”, Pulsatilla, Azalea, and a Rheum (?):


The warm varnished-pine bark of that Acer pensylvanicum “Erythrocladum” was especially fine.

Beyond the main gardens, there were informal bluebell slopes:


Edged with dozens of different camellias:


and spilling out into a woodland of many different magnolias, including:


“Tina Durio”

M. x loebneri “Leonard Messel”

In some of the beds were wonderful tulips and other spring flowers, beginning with this Tulipa “Silver Parrot”:


The scent from this Viburnum x burkwoodii was divine:


and has made me realise I probably want one of these, rather than V. bodnantense “Dawn”!

The path had many inviting, interesting and picturesque twists and turns:


Leading us slowly back to where we started from.

Renishaw Gardens are a great day out: all of the above notwithstanding; they were very kind when one of our party had accessibility problems and needed a mobility scooter; the food in their cafe is very tasty; and they are participating in the Gardener’s World 2-for-1 scheme. So you should get this month’s GW magazine, and then get yourself over to Renishaw Gardens!

End of Month View April 2017: the last few days as a building site

I’ve been away in Amsterdam for a week, and my phone suddenly died: these two things have made it difficult for me to do any gardening or blogging, respectively. But during my holiday I did take some photos of the Keukenhof tulip fields, which I’ll share in another post.

Now that I’m back, what does the garden look like? Well, for the next few days only, still something of a building site:


But there’s plenty going on, even since last month.

Back garden landscaping and furniture

That previous photo was taken from one of my new sitting places, up near the compost bin. Here was my situation today, with someone to keep me company:


Elsewhere, the longer trench is still yet to collapse:


And the shorter trench is now entirely squared off to to the right width and (spirit) level:


One final bit of landscaping in the back garden: to make space for the cement van to come up the driveway, I’ve had to move the log store and water butt from the driveway. Gwenfar kindly gave me a second water butt, so I was able to keep most of the water:


And the log store will do just fine in a separate, spread-out location:


Also kindly, a neighbour has lent me their chainsaw. So when I move the log store back, I’ll be able to saw it up and stack it much more neatly.

Back garden edibles

Edible gardening is still a bit tricky: I’d have hoped to have beds in place by now to put things like the “Super Aguadulce” broad beans, into as they’re romping away but starting to suffer from lack of roots and sustenance:


The salvia, rosemary and Lavendula angustifolia “Hidcote” above are also putting on new growth (ignore last season’s dead “Hidcote” in the pot at the bottom right. That’s had its final warning now!)

The overwintered Latvian peas are starting to give more and more flowers:


Again, though, if they’d been in beds, they’d probably have been more manageable: it’s tough to even get any pea pods off them at the moment.

The “White Lisbon” spring onions are almost all up, and the “Italian Giant” parsley seedlings have had good germination (which surprised me) although the next round of broad beans have barely germinated:


To the bottom right are the mixed cosmos. They’re past the seed-leaf stage nowq, although I had one die off very early on, and another three die while we were away in Amsterdam, despite considerable watering before we left.

The “Solent Wight” garlics are bulking up, at the very rear of the garden, although the phacelia and sunflowers in front of them have yet to appear:


In the growhouse, the seedlings are happy:



I haven’t had amazing germination of lettuce (started off indoors)—Tantan (left) better than Buttercrunch—but now they’re up they’re putting on true leaves.

Back garden ornamentals

Star of the show remains the Acer palmatum var dissectum at the rear of the garden:


Now the apple tree is gone, it seems to really appreciate the exposure, light and comparative warmth there.

The Daphniphyllum himalaense is once again putting on its neon-green new growth:


It really needs repotting, not least because that pot keeps blowing over. I think it’s root-bound, but doesn’t mind it too much.

The primula are handing over to the pelargoniums and pulmonaria:


Unlike the new delphinium and eryngium I bought, the pulmonaria seem fine. The former two are sadly almost dead, as you can see top right!

The assortment of hardies are very happy:


(Left to right: Stipa tenuissima, Geranium (!!!), Anemone hupehensis “Hadspen Abundance”, Tiarella “Sugar and Spice”, mint, chocolate mint, and Impatiens omeiana “Pink Nerves” out from the growhouse for a spree; it’ll return at night, to avoid it getting eaten.)

Geum “Prinses Juliana” is a lovely almost blood-orange orange:


Making up for the premature death of the Lamprocapnos (eaten at the base, I think.)

The Crocosmia that were hidden by both privet and apple tree are bouncing back, as are some kind of seedlings (a maple or similar?)


And the buddleia and myosotis still bring some cheer to a corner of the mudpit:


Finally, the Welsh rose’s favourite flower, photographed along with the Welsh rose’s favourite cat:


Lavendula stoechas “Fathead”, and Felis catus “Fathead”!


As mentioned above, the log store is gone. Before (from November):


After (now):


Pleasingly (well, Indie seemed interested) the Meconopsis cambrica has come back:


I do absolutely nothing with this plant, and it just self-seeds all along the north-facing wall of the house, and is a joy:


Its flowers even close in the cold or at night, which is adorable.

Front garden

So far, the area I dug over round the front, and planted with phacelia, sunflower and other bee-friendly plants, is doing very little indeed:


The spring bulbs might have mostly flopped:


But white bluebells have taken their place:


I believe (from the scattered blue forms) that these are the Spanish sort. I can’t say I have the visceral reaction against them that others have!

Finally, two reliable perennials, the Centaurea montana and Choisya ternata (mumble Tropical mumble?) have started to take off:


The smell from the choisya is lovely, close up: of course, the previous owners have planted it somewhere that you can’t really get close to, where the wind blows the scent away.

But we can change this! And we are doing. Once the walls are in place, there’ll be no stopping me.

(Thanks to Helen Johnstone for hosting the EOMV meme!)

Phacelia: you’re breaking my soil

Our front garden is pretty poor: the chumps planted both a creeping ivy and a prostrate heather; presumably in a spirit of low maintenance; both, of course, try to take over the entire space, bullying the white and blue bluebells, and looking menacingly at the choisya. Also, prostrate, creeping plants are practically invisible from the house, which is what led me to planter up some spring bulbs out there, with a bit of height that I could see from the window.

However, as we’re waiting on a May 2nd deadline for our trench footings in the back, there’s nothing doing out that way. So today instead I dug over our pseudo-gravel garden at the front; tore back the ivy and heather:


And planted up the dug-in stones:


I call it a pseudo-gravel garden, because the layer of gravel is too thin to be a proper one. But hopefully this will have improved the drainage at least, and its slightly southerly west-west-sou’west aspect should make it exposed and, in summer, warm.

The soil is pretty poor, so I’m hedging my bets and planting alternating rows of:

  1. A free packet of Bee Friendly Seeds that someone gave me some time ago.
  2. Some Phacelia tanacetifolia from Higgledy Garden that ditto.

The former will hopefully thrive in the rows, and be discernible from any weed seeds I’ve dug up; the latter will hopefully improve the soil, being a recommended green manure. And besides, my Phac-tan seeds were a gift, so if they do grow, then I can re-save the seeds, and improve the viability of what I think are often quite expensive plants.

I also dotted the area with a dozen Sunflower “Pastiche” seeds, which as with everything else can just fight it out. We’ll see!

The few remaining sunflower and Phac-tan seeds were sown up at the hottest corner of the back garden:


Other than the garlic, there’s not much happening back here—but also not much disturbance planned—so we’ll see what happens. Anything will be a bonus!

End of Month View March 2017: a deconstructed garden

A lot of my End of Month Views in the past have lamented the lack of progress in our landscaping, so perhaps I should think of a more positive spin for this one. It’s true that, in overview, our garden does look like a mudpit:


But those trenches are now complete; the concrete for the footings is booked in for the beginning of May: we have reached, in both literal and metaphorical senses, the lowest point of this enterprise. Indeed, it feels like we have all the separate pieces for a great garden, lying around the place: it just needs putting together.


For starters, the inherited Acer, which I cherish, has suddenly broken bud, with slightly flaccid leaves accompanying tiny red flowers:


The hardy perennials in the ornamental border have been augmented with Pulsatilla vulgaris “Alba”, Eryngium varifolium and some Delphinium “Excalibur”:


The Cirsium rivulare “Atropurpureum” is thriving this year, protected by both pellets and a full saucer of water:


The pellets are ferrous phosphate (largely non-toxic) so we’ve been using them liberally around the garden. Before you judge, any long-term reader of this blog will know exactly what kind of a war is waged here, with everything from Iris to squash being frequently ruined; see below for more!

The Lavender “Fathead” has survived among the crocuses and is starting to put on new growth:


Unlike the “Hidcote”, and the salvias from last year’s cuttings workshop, all of which died off indoors over winter! I have a suspicion I’ve also thrown my Salvia “Ember’s Wish” away, somewhere along the line….

A couple of cheap-and-cheerful primroses are keeping the stalwart Pelargoniums company, alongside a new Ipheion uniflorum “RHS Wisley”:


When I repotted that container, it was clear that it stays very wet at the bottom, despite the drainage holes; in the long term I need to think about what I will pot in it.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis “Alba” is going off like a rocket:


Our spring containers are also shifting from Iris “Blue Note” and Crocus “Spring Beauty” to a mixture of tulip and Narcissus:


The hellebores and cyclamen alongside the patio doors remain a joy, and the blossom on the cherry sapling outside the front of our house likewise.

Finally, by the back door are two night-scented phlox (Zaluzianskya ovata):


Looking rather dull in that photo; but replanted immediately and already starting to fill out a bit.


Indoors, our lettuces “Buttercrunch” and “Tantan” have just started to sprout:


In passing, I note that our Cosmos seedlings are doing well:


Alongside a surprisingly good crop of parsley, which I was always told was tough to germinate and I should wait six weeks:


This only took a couple of weeks!

Outdoors, the broad beans “Super Aguadulce” are already growing rather tall:


Harking back to the Cirsium, there’s probably too many pellets around those Echinacea purpurea “Double Decker”, but it’s worth noting that one of them was reduced to a stump in a week! I’ve used the pellets more sparingly elsewhere, but by that point in the day I was rushing to get pellets down and photos taken.

Our five pots of garlic “Solent Wight” are sending up leaves, up by the back fence:


Kale “Blue Scotch Curled” is just peeping through, although the new pea “Latvian” are still dormant (one of them was revealed to be shooting when I watered it, however:


In the background, the Impatiens omeiana “Pink Nerves” is just starting off again (its first shoot of this year having wilted slightly in a too-hot growhouse) while the snowdrops are left in the green to go over.

Finally, the three peas “Latvian” that I overwintered are starting to flower! Amazing:


I’m not convinced I’ll get much yield from them, but it’s nice for a legume to be flowering so early.

And the unexpected

The jasmine and buddleia that we can’t seem to kill are both shooting:


Elsewhere, the removal of the privet has revealed a number of plants that were hitherto struggling underneath it; what looks like a Myosotis is going wild alongside stray spring bulbs:


And who knows what this is a shoot of?


Exciting, isn’t it?

(Thanks to Helen Johnstone for hosting the EOMV meme!)