The Making of the White Garden ~ 1. The Plan

Since the relocation of Bee HQ to a small village in north Oxfordshire, (is it the Cotswolds? ~ no, not quite but we can see it from here) I have spent a great deal of time on and in my new garden. The last time we moved house, at the turn of the new millennium, we didn’t have the knowledge or the skills to design the garden ourselves, so employed a landscape garden designer. This time round I have just enough know-how, chutzpah and creativity to test myself and boy! am I having fun. I am now spending the majority of my time in the place that gives me the most pleasure: the garden.

The ‘bones’ of this garden (which is just under an acre in total) are exquisite. Clearly somebody with a good eye for structure, dimension and form planted heaps of simple but useful yew, copper beech and box hedging, a few good shrubs (repeated throughout the garden), a handful of hardy perennials, some classic topiary and half a dozen espaliered fruit trees. The lines are clean, the proportions are just right and the borders, such as they are, are small but of reasonable depth. Apart from a bit of tinkering, I have left all that largely alone, other than pruning, trimming and general maintenance. The soil still needs a lot of organic matter adding, but that will happen over the next few years, and beyond.

On first seeing the garden, in January of 2016, I was struck by the opportunity to do something bold with a fairly large expanse of lawn at the back of the house. A sales brochure from 1874 calls the house a “gentleman’s farmhouse”; it was built at the very end of the 1700s. The brochure also talks of “a large piece of highly productive garden ground and lawn”. Neighbours have said that a few decades ago, there was an orchard on the area in question and the village children used it as a playground. Presumably in the mists of time, it may have had farm animals on and around it. Certainly the soil is generally fairly good at the back. Unlike the front of the house, which is quite manicured and designed, we found a rather dull and under-utilised space ~ perfect for a new project; it felt like the owners who made all the design decisions at the front simply ran out of steam.  I must admit now that even before we had exchanged contracts on the house, I was already planning what I grandly referred to as my parterre. I even did some initial drawings.

Below, you can see my (very) rough drawing of how it looked in the January, followed by a photo (looking north-ish) which should give you an idea of the blank canvas. The two lines of fastigiate yews made no sense to me at all and they were removed (and resold and therefore reused) within a week of us moving in. The white A3 plan below that is a very simple sketch of the ‘parterre’ idea and I was bold enough to include a plant list. At that stage, the idea of it being a white (+ green + grey) garden hadn’t occurred to me.

 

White Garden

What did happen when we moved in at the end of April 2016, was that I planted up a cutting garden (look out for a separate blog post to come) and spent several months deciding whether the parterre idea could work. Taking that time to decide ended up being an excellent decision. So how does it look right now, in June of its first year?

Annie Bee\s white garden south border

 

Annie Bee's white garden north border

 

More soon ……..

Annie Bee blog signature

 

 

 

 

 

Annie Bee x

Making A Cheap, Recycled Compost Bin

My latest homemade project here at Bee HQ is a compost bin. When I googled “compost bin made from recycled wooden pallets” there were 1.7m suggestions, so you might ask, why add one more? Well, I hope you will find this simple and clear.

I have an 8-9 step guide below, and, in case you worry it is difficult and time-consuming, I found it surprisingly easy to make, bearing in mind I am a very amateurish DIY-er. How wrong could it go?

First up, find yourself a kindly local company willing to let you have the pallets. You need four, roughly the same size and shape. Some pallets (which tend to be painted bright red or blue) are not to be recycled; they belong to the company who own them, CHEP, who are very clear on the subject:

CHEP equipment cannot legally be bought, modified, exchanged for non-CHEP equipment, sold, or otherwise disposed of. Unauthorised appropriation, use or disposal of CHEP equipment is strictly prohibited.

However, there are many other pallets around, and I have never been turned away when I have asked for them from companies where I am a customer (thanks Hillier Garden Centre, Wickes and Topps Tiles). Indeed, they seemed happy for me to have them, especially when I explained why I wanted them. Obviously you need to be able to transport them (they fit in the back of our trusty Volvo with the seats down) and, while rather unwieldy, are not too heavy.

I did read a handful of the million or so internet articles and forums, and was slightly concerned that some of the pallets are stamped MB which means they have been treated with methyl bromide, which is a pesticide. One article said to avoid using them if you are going to be then putting the compost you make onto crops (which I won’t). All the other articles I read (The Telegraph, Guardian and Gardeners World) didn’t mention it at all. In the end I made an executive decision to not worry about it. Also, sorting through the pallets searching for the stamps (many not easily visible) made me look pretty damn fussy. I reckon life is a little too short and delaying making the compost bin (and therefore the compost – which is a fairly long process anyway) seemed a bit silly and counter-productive. More to the point, I just wanted to get on with it. Patience is not my middle name….

Four pallets later, I started the project by getting some chicken wire from the shed and pegged it out onto the area I had chosen for the compost bin. This is to prevent vermin from burrowing and tunneling into the compost from the bottom.

Chicken wire at the bottom of the compost bin

Next step is to get the first two, then three, pallets roughly into the right place and tie them together with some wire once you are happy they are about right.

Roughly tie the pallets together

Three pallets in place

Stand back. Admire. Have a cup of tea.

Maine Coon 'helper': Huck

At this point our one-year-old Maine Coon, Huck, decided I needed some ‘help’.

Saw the gate in half

Get a saw and cut the fourth pallet in half.

Screw and nail the pallets together

Get a drill, some screws, a hammer and some nails and secure the entire structure together.

Gate hinges for the final pallet

This is the only part where another pair of hands is welcome, and I luckily had my nephew staying who was able and willing. You want this bit of the compost bin to open so you can fork your waste in from the wheelbarrow. You could have the entire fourth pallet opening in this way of course. Initially I used some small hinges, but realised the weight of the ‘gate’ required more substantial ironmongery.

Attach a cabin-hook

An alternative to a hook would be some farmer’s twine but this looks elegant ….. for a recycled compost bin.

Hook it on

All done. Now the far more difficult business of making good compost begins. And more to the point, one compost bay in isolation is not ideal, so I will need to add at least one other pallet-structure to this first one. However, I can wait for a few months before I need to go scouting for more pallets. This is what I will be aiming for:

Ideal 3 compost bays

Overall cost?  Under ten pounds for the hinges, screws and chicken-wire.

Cheap. Cheerful. Recycled. Fun.

What’s not to like?

Annie Bee x

Annie Bee blog signature

Hidcote Manor Garden: Something For Everyone

There are a few significant gardens in the UK which are on any keen gardener’s ‘must-see’ list; Hidcote in Gloucestershire is one of them. Today it is owned by the National Trust and, unlike most NT gardens which seem to open in March or at Easter, Hidcote opens in mid-February, giving visitors the opportunity to discover its winter bones. From our new Bee HQ, Google Maps took me winding through 3 counties and many narrow lanes, and despite being in the very back of beyond, I finally found it after a couple of wrong turns here and there. Just in time to get a take away coffee and start my mooch about, note-book in hand. Being February, it wasn’t too busy, despite it also being half-term. It was peaceful and tranquil. The hover-flies massing on the Mahonias were about as loud and hectic as it got.

Hidcote Manor Garden Gloucestershitre

img_6813

Evergreen ‘bones’ to any garden are fascinating I think. This is a garden which was built on the idea of different ‘rooms’, by the famous American plant-hunter and gentleman gardener, Lawrence Johnstone (1871 – 1958). Other gardens are set up in a similar fashion (notably Sissinghurst in Kent) and it is now a technique often employed in modern gardens.  The bones at Hidcote are mainly box hedging, plenty of yew, pleached hornbeam, pergolas and topiary. Gates, pillars, vistas and gazebos abound and there are beautiful views of the Malvern countryside too. I have a particular interest in vertical structures and am always on the look-out for exciting ideas for my own garden. It is often easier to see these in the depths of winter than when they are smothered in luxuriant flowers later in the year.

 

Beech Allee at Hidcote

It was very noticeable just how many actual gardeners (as opposed to visitors) were at Hidcote today. Presumably a mixture of volunteers (the National Trust has thousands of volunteers who help maintain their properties and gardens) and paid staff. None of them seemed at all put out by my many questions (primarily about box blight and pruning times for some shrubs). Indeed the advice was thorough, expert, interesting and willingly given.

Lawrence Johnstone's Tool Shed, Hidcote

Hidcote Facts & Figures

If you have never been, I thoroughly recommend a visit. A cafe, National Trust shop and a plant sale area all add to the delight.

 

Annie Bee x

Annie Bee blog signature

It Has Been A Funny Old Year

Greetings ~

2016  (not that it is over yet, but my head is full of Christmas bauble plans already, so it is fast heading that way) has been one to remember. At Bee HQ it has been a weird mixture of very good (moving to a new house/planning a new garden/discovering a new county/the addition of two kittens to the family) and very bad (family illness/Brexit/Trump/the zombie apocalypse – oh! no that hasn’t happened yet, but surely can only be just around the corner).

But as I get older, I am trying not to wish these times away. There is an art to taking the rough with the smooth, and although I am not known for my optimism, I am working on accepting things the way they are and not spending too much time worrying about either the past or the future, but just enjoying BEING.

If change makes you anxious, it can be a tough gig being a human being, and I am talking from my extremely warm and comfy house in rural Oxfordshire. This is hardly Aleppo; I am not a refugee fleeing my country for a better life. I am hugely privileged  and for that I am very grateful and thankful, every single day. Mr Bee and I have found ourselves custodians of a very beautiful old house and we often walk around, wide-eyed in wonder at the beauty and luck at finding ourselves the current owners. So any change in our lives tends to be the sort that many people the world over would jump at dealing with. But change is unsettling for some of us, and 2016 has brought on some big, big changes for many.

So let’s get back to baubles, where my muddy-menopause-mind is on safe ground.

xmas-decs-2

Christmas  has always been very special in my family. We take it pretty seriously. My dear Dad was a fiend at putting decorations everywhere he could get away with. Things dangled from ceilings and curtain rails and tinsel adorned every picture hanging on the wall. The tree often looked like the Christmas Fairy had thrown up on it – no colour co-ordination or ‘theme’ in the 1960s and ’70s. It didn’t matter what it looked like per se as long as all the decorations were up somewhere.

I am rather more fussy, but the same principle applies: Christmas is important and the tree (or trees – is one enough?), the lights, the colours, the food, the family, the warmth, is very special. This year it is going to mark the end of a strange 12 months for us, and many others too. xmas-decs-1

Perhaps the very fact that I am writing about the end of 2016 and it is still November suggests I am not quite there yet with the ‘living in the moment’ ideal I talk about. I prefer to think that maybe I just have a child-like enjoyment of Christmas and am not that good at mindfulness.

~ how soon in Dec can I get away with putting up the tree?

Annie Bee x

Annie Bee blog signature

 

Garden Inspiration (Full of Bees)

When your country has been turned upside down, nobody knows what the future holds, there is enough political infighting on all sides to last several lifetimes, and the summer refuses to arrive, what is a girl to do?

Visit a garden and wallow in the simple beauty of a gloriously planted space of course.

The Cotswolds are absolutely laden with lovely gardens and houses to visit, and I plan to visit each and every one; Asthall Manor, near Burford, seemed a great place to start. There has been a house on that site since 1272 but the core of the house you see today was built in 1620. The reason it is currently open to visitors is the stone sculpture exhibition , “on form 16“, which is organised, curated and hosted by the manor’s current owner, Rosie Pearson. I over-heard one of the gardeners explaining that there are 3 types of visitors to Asthall: those who want to see the garden and admire the house; those who are interested mainly in the sculpture, which is dotted around the extensive grounds, the neighbouring church and churchyard plus a couple of the rooms inside, and then you have people who are interested in the Mitford family, who lived in the manor between 1919 and 1926.

Asthall Manor on form 16

For me, it is always the garden, and this one is utterly gorgeous. Designed in 1998 by Julian and Isabel Bannerman (who also designed the gardens at Highgrove) it is a Grade II listed Historic Garden, and is a wonderful mix of scented, pastel borders, a sloping parterre, wild meadows, woodland and water (including a hidden lake and a glorious natural swimming pond).

swimming pond at Asthall Manor

sempervivum at Asthall

Is it just me or does it seem to be a particularly good year for roses? The roses at Asthall were quite something to behold, draped all over the ancient walls and house, gently scenting the air. I spied a number of gorgeous Astrantia and Achillea which I have noted and will need to try to source for my new garden which will be planted next spring. And the entire 6 acres were a pollinators dream. The place was a-buzz, despite the unseasonal chill in the air.

Astrantia Asthall Manor

roses at Asthall Manor

My photos don’t do it justice ~ if you can, go and visit. There is a nice little pop-up cafe in the walled garden and you get a lovely catalogue for the entry price of £10.

on form 16 catalogue

In the meantime I am having to deal with the possibility that we have Box blight at Bee HQ. A truly horrendous thought. I have also just heard on the weather forecast that there may be a ground frost tonight in parts of the UK. In July.

The world seems to have tilted on its axis. Hold tight and buckle up folks.

Annie Bee x

Annie Bee blog signature

 

 

 

5 A Day ~ For Mind As Well As Body

The NHS has added a 5 A Day for your mind to the now fairly well understood theory about 5 A Day fruit and veg. I am not sure when this was introduced to the general wellbeing lexicon, but I rather like it.

wellbeing

The origins of the 5 A Day fruit and veg campaign are a bit unclear. Some argue it all started in the orange- growing fields of California but Ken Kizer was director of the US State Department for Health Services back then . He says that it wasn’t a case, as some have claimed, of fruit and vegetable growers looking for new markets, but a mutually beneficial venture for industry and public health policy.

“It didn’t originate from the agricultural community. It just so happens that when we reached out to them and pointed out this would help them, they got onboard and became enthusiastic partners.”

In the UK there is evidence it was mentioned as far back as the 1980s.

Whatever the history, in 2003 the World Health Organisation launched a worldwide campaign to promote the importance of having 400g of fruit and veg per day which could prevent cardiovascular disease, some cancers and stroke. Since then, many countries have marketed the idea; Australia have adopted a 2&5 policy (2 portions of fruit + 5 of veg which sounds eminently sensible); Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and Norway are all in on it.

Does it work? Well it works at Bee HQ and does seem to have entered the minds of the generation who were at school when it was first heavily promoted in schools here in the UK. Of course it is a target – the campaign in Australia is called “Go For 2 & 5″  and in NZ they add a ‘+’ into the equation (5 + A Day) showing an impressive optimism.

Naturally fruit and veg producers have got in on the marketing act, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. However I think the jury is out as to whether it works.

The government’s former chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, says he thinks it has been partially successful so far.

The middle classes did listen, and the supermarkets listened and they tend to respond to the middle class consumer particularly.

I think it’s been less successful in reaching the disadvantaged communities where those levels of fruit and vegetables were already low.

So now we have a 5 A day for mental health:

Connect

Be Active

Keep learning

Give To Others

Be Mindful

five ways to wellbeing

Food for thought. I like it ~ will it work? Let’s see

Annie Bee x

Annie Bee blog signature

 

 

 

Whiskers: mine and the cats’

Hello friends

I just googled “menopause whis” and didn’t have to type in the rest: up came Menopause whiskers on chin, for which there are over 22,000 search results. So it’s not just me then…..

A few alterations to the family bathroom have meant the addition of a fancy magnifying shaving mirror. On testing it out (it swivels and expands out into the room) I noticed I have slowly been turning into a hillbilly  – grey hair abounds, and (as the youth of today might say), WTF!!! a very black thick hair, at least an inch long, on my chin. I suppose I should be grateful it was just the one.

Menopause- chin hairs

A friend of mine of a similar age recently reported she found an eyebrow hair which had grown overnight in the middle of her forehead.  Another couple of friends (a bit younger, but there is seemingly no escape) regularly groom each other, checking for stray nose and chin hairs. This seems like an increasingly good plan. Please send your CV.

The menopause is truly the gift that keeps on giving. I must say, hormones are vastly over-rated.

On a more jolly note our kittens have arrived at Bee HQ. We are all in love!

Whiskers ~ here there and everywhere.

Annie Bee x

Annie Bee blog signature