A peek into my garden and a to do list

After the wind blew the protective fleece off the agapanthus I was tempted out into the garden to tie it back on.  And actually, when I got out there it wasn’t as bad as thought - I managed to time it between the rain and the hail, which helped!  Sunday was definitely a day with four seasons, but even so it was just a quick peek to check to see if the wind had caused any more damage. 

Thankfully the answer was not much, there were a couple of small tree branches down, one from the large tree at the back of our garden and the plastic trugs needed rounding up. It’s not clear if the branch was dipue to the wind or to squirrel damage.  That’s a real thing, sometimes they get a tasting for a type of tree and nibble of the bark weakening branches, which eventually die and then fall.  I’m hoping it is the wind, not the squirrels - I think it’s a bit early for them, so it could be ok.  When we’ve experuthis before it’s been expensive, mainly because the tree man has to come in and work on all three of the larger trees.

While I was out there it was clear there are a few jobs to do, ones we should be doing and I’m sure you’ll have similar jobs too, so far on my list there’s:

  1. Pick up the leaves from the beds, there’s some by the hare but there’s also some further up the garden where one of the foxes split the black sacks.

  2. Start thinning the forget-me-nots, ours are prolific and if we don’t thin some now I dread to think how many there’ll be next year.

A hare with a leaf hat and a leaf bed

The forget-me-nots are starting to come through - there’s a clump of them in front of the grape hyacinth, and marching over the edging into the grass. This spot clearly gets the sun, and no doubt that’s encouraged them to start their takeover bid.

grape hyacinths and ornamental quince in the sun
I spy forget-me-nots

See those leaves behind those lime green euphorbias? Yes they need to come up too - they’re the ones there courtesy of the foxes. It’s a dry spot so I suspect they thought about setting up home, or even a daytime snooze spot there, but thankfully thought better of it. We’re hearing the foxes screeching again in the garden at night, another thing for the list is:

3. Check/change the battery in the fox scarer.

I don’t want them settling in the garden, they make a dreadful mess and I want to be able to leave the doors open when the weather’s good confident that we won’t have unwanted visitors. I’ve a feeling that next door’s cat won’t be shy about coming in.

elephants ears and euphorbia
The kerria that came from next door

There’s plenty of yellow blooms appearing too, which you’ll know will please me. There’s the Kerria (above) that’s popped through from next door and is really getting established in a number of spots. It’s easy to see why it’s often called the pom-pom plant isn’t it?

Our forsythia tree is also in full bloom and we can see this blaze of yellow from the house. When it stops flowering though, then it’s time to give it a trim. I think we missed this one last year, so this one is definitely going on the list, and now I’ve got my new ladder, that will get an outing too.

4. Trim the forsythia tree when it finishes flowering.

Forsythia reaching for the sky

And yes, here’s a peek into the greenhouse. Peek in is about all we can do at the moment as it’s rather full. The trugs have been rounded up and stored here to avoid recovering them from wherever the wind fancies. I didn’t get to do as much in the greenhouse last year as I hoped, but this year I’m hoping to put those plans into place, rearranging the inside to provide more growing space, moving some of the storage space to the small shed we brought back from the allotment (which should be going on the list, but I’m saving that one until it’s a bit warmer and we don’t mind spending more hours out there).

A greenhouse to clear out

5. Fight my way into the greenhouse, sort it out and rearrange it to provide more growing space.

6. Tidy the hellebores when they’re past their best, and nurture new seedlings that I discover while doing this.

pretty hellebores to admire

At the back of the garden the rhubarb in the pot is already doing well and looking, well, looking like rhubarb.  Though by rights, this should be a relatively light rhubarb year as the advice is to not cut the stems in the year after it’s been moved, which when they’re looking this good already, is a real shame.

7.  Collect the fallen branches for the green bin.

8. Trim the pyracantha which seems to have two antennae heading straight for the cherry tree.

9. Cut the ivy out of the cherry tree, which has taken hold again.

10. Sort out some seeds to sow!

rhubarb in a pot

I’m sure though there’s plenty more to add, but for now let’s keep it to ten. What’s on your gardening list right now?

Starting our gabion basket journey

We've made great progress with our gabion basket 'installation' - and that's probably the right word for it, as it's become a bit of a work of art. But let's start at the beginning and our half-metre cubes arrived promptly, but flat-packed. Which makes sense but meant an extra job.  The helicoils were strange things, spring-like looking but not spring-like in their nature; they're an alternative way of constructing the baskets, although we found that they're not as tightly fitting as the hand tied wire rings, or lacing, which we improved our technique the more we did.

The gabion baskets had arrived, just the assembly needed then
A close up of the gabion baskets and helicoils

The helicoils looked good though. We've used them on the corners of each basket to ensure neither of us scrape our legs on the corners. To start with I wasn't sure about their whirly-whirly look, but it's growing on me.

These are the helicoils and are used for joining the gabion baskets

Assembling the baskets took longer than we expected, but I'm pretty sure we sped up as we got into a rhythm. It was definitely a 'gloves on' job, although I'm not sure why MOH has two odd, but still yellow gloves, on. I don't have yellow gloves, and yet he's two pairs...

It wasn't long before we got into a rhythm setting up and assembling the baskets

We found it tricky to keep the basket assembled while we were assembling, and I thought I had just the thing - and I did - freezer bag ties!

The essential ingredient for us was these simple freezer bag ties!

They were super helpful and meant we needed many less pairs of hands.

the freezer bag ties were useful to keep the sides together

The 'lacing' was very much like sewing with wire. Harder than it looks, but definitely do-able. Especially after watching a few videos on YouTube!

Assembling the gabion baskets was akin to sewing with wire - and with gloves on!
It took strength too to get the wires tight enough like this

One down, twelve to go. Or at least I think it's twelve, it depends on how many we'll use. And if I get any other bright ideas along the way. Our next challenge was how to fill them, and I'd a plan for that

A completed gabion basket, how many more to go?

We're a little way off filling the baskets here, but we have made good progress - the least interesting part, but essential, was levelling the area for the larger baskets which will house the Pizza oven.  

And as if this post couldn't get more exciting, next up was levelling the ground!

Not the most glamorous of posts, especially the last phtoo, but an essential one as no one needs a wonky pizza oven!


Getting my garden summer ready with help from Tesco and advice from Katie Rushworth

It'll come as no surprise to you that I've got a bit of work going on in the garden. Actually, more accurately, we're undertaking quite a lot of work in our garden, and you'll have read all about our circles, but there's more. There always is, isn't there?

There's a couple of areas at the back of our garden that we've never quite mastered, despite trying a couple of things. So even with all the work we're doing, and all of the established plants we have, even we have some problem areas. So when the people at Tesco gardening got in touch and offered me help to get my garden summer ready, including advice from Katie Rushworth from ITV's Love Your Garden, and with the date for our 110th party looming, you can imagine how keen I was.


It was a real opportunity to get some pro advice on these areas, and I was surprised at how much advice Katie managed to cram in during a thirty minute phone call. But before I get to that, let me tell you more about the areas I was keen to get advice on.

Problem area #1

It's the area where we used to have our veg beds, but since we got our allotment a couple of years ago they've been redundant. We dismantled them and the parts that weren't rotten have been put to use again on the plot. 

In the garden they took up a relatively large space, and it's the part of our garden where I planted the small Christmas tree and where we installed some trellis to grow jasmine on.

I wanted a relatively large flower bed here in its place, and one that was in proportion with the rest of the garden and my thoughts immediately went to the plants I could have in it. But I knew that I couldn't get too carried away with the planting as more substantial work needed to take place first.  

But what.

The second part of this problem area is around the lilac. The lilac sends up plenty of shoots, as they do, but they're not really the problem. The real problem is that the soil level is higher than the paving. We've had wood around this area in much the same way as the raised beds, but that's rotted and crumbled and has long been disposed of.



So our plan was - and still is - to install sleepers as a raised bed, but how, and what should I know before we started. What type of sleepers should I go for, and did they need to be lined - these were all questions that went on my list to ask Katie.  And how did we fix them, did they need fixing together to prevent them moving, and would we be able to cut them, or was paying for the cuts worth it. Yes, the questions kept on coming.

You'll be pleased to know I had a plan, I shared that with Katie too.  But I needed advice on how to work out what lengths I needed, as despite liking a plan, maths isn't my forte and it was making my brain ache, especially as every site we looked at the sleepers appeared to be different sizes.



Katie's advice...

It's made all the difference and really spurred me on, and given me the confidence to work out what I need. In fact the sleepers are due to arrive this morning!

Katie recommended:

  • Installing 4x4 posts at each corner, digging them into the ground at least a foot and a half, securing them with post-crete (a quick drying concrete that's often used for fence posts) and which won't interfere with the plants.
  • Fix the sleepers to these posts using large coach bolts, and using a good drill. That's MOH's domain.
  • Line the inside of the raised bed with Visqueen (a damp proof membrane), attaching it using a staple gun, to protect the sleepers from moisture and prevent rotting.
  • Interlocking the sleepers at the corners to give a nicer finish as well as adding strength.
  • And to finish cutting the lilac tree (on the left of the photo above) as soon as it's finished flowering, so that it flowers again next Spring.

Katie also warned me the raised beds will take much more soil than we expect. I hadn't told her I'd been collecting soil for a while!

So last weekend armed with my master plan, MOH and a tape measure we measured the space again, and I was rather relieved that my measurements were spot on. So having had those double checked we sat down and worked out the cuts we needed in the six 2.4 metre brown softwood sleepers we'd settled on. And it wasn't long before I was contacting the sleeper company asking how I could specify the cuts I needed.

Before breakfast on Monday I'd heard back from the sleeper company, with a quote and a contact number - that's pretty good going. So by the time I arrived in work I'd ordered the sleepers, paid for them and arranged delivery for today. That's a great way to start a productive week - and I'll let you know how we get on!

Problem area #2

The second area that we've not managed to crack ever is another quite large area mostly under our laurel tree. It's where we will have the gabion wall and seating area, along with the pizza oven, so I've a feeling that cracking it isn't too far away. But again, it's a big undertaking and well, although we know we want gabion baskets filled with a hotch-potch of bricks and materials (well that's what I'm planning anyway, MOH is still to be convinced) we have little idea of actually how to do it.

The area also slopes down towards the stone circle so there'll be more digging and more 'spare' soil; it's a shady area (despite what it looks like in the picture below) and for the past couple of years has been home to a large bag of slate and a less full bag of 'spare' soil as I wasn't keen on getting rid of something I knew I'd need in the future, only to end up buying new soil, and has become quite a dumping ground.



It's also been used to store some of the old patio paving slabs, as well as bags of slate and large stones that I'd kept because I might need them one day.  And that day is approaching, I tell you!  I was keen to pick up tips from Katie on installing our gabion baskets as I was sure it was something she'd done before.

Katie's advice...

Her advice here was a real gem, and one I wouldn't have thought of at all. I explained how I didn't want to use rocks in our gabion baskets, which is the normal way, but wanted to use a mix of bricks, pebbles and slate for a more industrial look, and to add paving slabs on the top for seating and for the pizza oven.

Katie suggested adding a paving slab as the top layer inside our gabion baskets to give it stability and to sand-cement that in place to the lid and to another paving slab on the top as we'd planned, so in effect forming a paving slab sandwich around the gabion basket lid. I told you, that, along with how to install the sleepers was the kind of pro-tip I was after.

Making progress with problem area #2

Last weekend I made good progress clearing the building yard look by laying the old patio paving slabs under the cherry tree and bamboo and using up two bags of sand left over from the patio installation too. Under the cherry tree I encountered some large roots and so changed my plans about where the last slab would go, placing it instead under the bamboo.  I'm rather pleased with how it turned out, and MOH who never wanted to keep the paving slabs at all even praised it. It will eventually have slate around it too, so will tie in with other parts of the garden.



As I cleared that space I dug out a trug full of bamboo roots and shoots, and inspiration struck. I could reuse some of these in our problem area, to disguise the badly pointed brick wall of one of our neighbours (the lighter coloured bricks in the picture) - and you know how much I like plants for free. I reasoned if the bamboo was in a pot, our neighbour, who's prone to everything being our fault, could find no fault, well with that at least.

With the space cleared, including potting up a fern I knew would be in the way, it really did look quite big.



But of course those bags had to go somewhere.

And they're temporarily housed on our stone circle, along with the remnants of the slate in the yellow bag.  The blue bag now also contains soil as I needed to decant some so we could move the white bag.  And yes, I did have a chair facing the space I was clearing, I wanted to enjoy the fruits of my labour!



So with the space cleared, and our 110th party date still looming, I ordered the gabion baskets and helicoils (spring-like pieces of metal to connect the baskets). They arrived on Wednesday and were outside our front door when MOH got home, and if I'm honest they don't look very basket-like yet do they?

So what with these and the sleepers, we've got a busy few days ahead of us. Plus we're going to a family barbecue and I'm celebrating my birthday on the Bank Holiday. We've a few days off work, and as usual we've a lot packed into them.



More from Katie

I'd shared some pictures of my garden with Katie to help her give me the advice I was after and I'd included a picture of our circles to show that our garden wasn't as dire as our problem areas made it out to be. What was nice was that Katie said she thought our circles were "really cool" which was great to hear as we think they are too, and even though it took us a while to build up the courage to do them, they've turned out really well.

Katie suggested adding a circular arches about two-thirds of the way down our garden, to break up the space and obscure part of the view. We'd also be able to grow plants along and over the round pergola like structure, and it would tie in with the circles in our grass.

After our phone call I looked on the Tesco gardening site and I was amazed at the range of their products, and I really liked the arched pergola, I had no idea these even existed. At the moment that's a project too far for us, but I know I'll be looking to see what Tesco have when I start scoping out project ideas in the future, and I'm pretty sure I'll be lusting after this round pergola a while yet.

Thanks Katie, it was great to talk with you and your advice has really inspired me to tackle these parts of our garden, giving me the confidence to get stuck in. And I know it won't be long before I'm sitting in a slightly more stylish garden chair admiring the results of all our hard work and contemplate the perfect spot for those super cute toadstools!


* This is a collaborative post and all views and opinions are my own