The Making of the White Garden ~ 2. Farewell Parterre

This post follows the first of my blogs on how the White Garden came into being.

There is that old saying,

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans

Plans: they are all very well, but when you are a novice, fitting a garden plan onto a lovely, fresh, white piece of A3 is asking for trouble. If only life were that simple! It took me months and a visit from my BF to accept just how wonky my back garden is; however long I watched it and however straight I wished it to be, it simply wouldn’t budge. It is as curved as a crescent moon. Or, perhaps more appropriately, a scythe. A parterre simply would not work ~ cheerio symmetry and four Weeping Pears.

A slow rethink and a new sheet of A3 and I arrived at this (below) and even this one doesn’t do the bendy nature of the beast justice:

white garden final plan

What did this new garden have going for it? Well, three lines of hedging (Copper Beech and Photinia) into which could nestle two new large, square borders for starters and a lovely, promising aspect, which is more or less due north/south. A few concerns: it sits fairly high up, so is quite exposed and I had no idea what I might find on removing the vast quantity of turf.

We moved in to the house at the end of April 2016 and it was in August that I finally set about marking out the plot. With the help of my two practically minded and mathematically competent sons, we decided on the dimensions and paced it out. Pegging it out with string made it seem very real and I was sure this was the right answer. Son No.2 came up with the brilliant idea of introducing a curve (now fondly known as “The Bill Curve”). Still more time was spent thinking (an under-rated part of planning) prior to starting the excavation. We toyed with the idea of hiring a digger and some skips (No.1 son and I both fancied the idea of a digger!) but, for various logistical reason, ended up hiring a turf cutter for a weekend. The turves (vast quantities) have all been saved and are slowly rotting down and will be added back onto the garden in 18 months or so.

 

 

The turf-cutting weekend was September 19th 2016, with a view to having the two beds ready for planting some spring-flowering bulbs in mid-autumn. It was a cold and drizzly experience, but we ploughed on, No.1 son and I, with a little help from the kittens. The turf-cutter was a big old beast of a thing to manoeuvre in the damp conditions, and if you weren’t careful, you could easily over-step the pegged lines. However, after a full day’s work the basic outline of the north and south borders were there and the turf-stacking had begun.

And what of the soil? Well, on the whole it is fairly good, apart from the remnants of a kids’ sand-pit and some hefty roots from the old orchard. The critical thing was to get as much of the grass and weeds out early on, otherwise I could see years of remedial weeding ahead of me. And nobody wants that.

The next blog will detail the plant lists and my final choices of bulbs, shrubs, perennials, grasses and annuals.

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Annie Bee xx

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 ……..

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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

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Gardening For Health

Hello all

After a month or so away from my blog, here I am, in the middle of winter, writing about gardening! Mind you, with El Niño giving us the mildest of autumns in the UK (not to mention very wet), the gardening calendar is slightly confused. Here in the ‘burbs, we have blossom out, sodden lawns and a smattering of snow. Nature will cope, although there are bound to be knock-on effects during the next few seasons.

I have gardened here for 15 years; when we moved in, it was, in effect, a blank slate. A few shrubs, a couple of roses, a grotty path leading to a half-collapsed shed, and rat-infested compost heaps, allowed us to landscape and plant (with help of course) the garden we wanted. I have learnt many things over the years:

  1. Looking from the house and wondering where to start to get a grip on problems is not going to solve anything: get your boots and gardening gloves on, grab some tools and get to work.
  2. If you do need help, ask. Don’t let the garden go: it will not sort itself out. As Rudyard Kipling said, “Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade”.
  3. Don’t keep plants which are wrong for the conditions or are in the wrong place. Move them, give them away or compost them. A garden is a dynamic beast.
  4. First and foremost, take care of the soil.
  5. If you have the space and can afford it, get a greenhouse. Growing from seed (which can of course be done in the house) takes gardening to a whole new level.

” A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust” ~ Gertrude Jekyll.

It is good for the body and soul. Therapeutic gardening is an old concept; hospitals have a long history of providing gardens for patients and in recent times there has been research to show that horticulture offers many benefits. One of the best known gardening charities in the UK is Thrive, which started in 1978. They use gardening to bring about positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities or ill health, or who are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable. Benefits include

  • Better physical health through exercise and learning how to use or strengthen muscles to improve mobility
  • Improved mental health through a sense of purpose and achievement
  • The opportunity to connect with others – reducing feelings of isolation or exclusion
  • Acquiring new skills to improve the chances of finding employment
  • Just feeling better for being outside, in touch with nature and in the ‘great outdoors’

Who needs a gym membership when there is a garden to get stuck into? If you don’t have a garden: volunteer in one, or help a neighbour, look into guerrilla gardening, read some gardening books, dream about spring sowing.

Ultimate greenhouse

On what has been billed ‘Blue Monday’ (apparently today is the most depressing day of the year) you could do worse than to get out into a garden, be mindful of the beauty, listen to the birds and get moving.

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Annie Bee x

It’s An Age Thing

I was out the other day with one of my very oldest of friends – we have been buddies for nearly 4 decades. During the course of our ramblings we covered mothers, losing our fathers, marriage, grief, gardening, diet, exercise, ex-boyfriends, schools, grey hair, children, health, money, the menopause, work, holidays: in 2 hours we touched on pretty much everything. Nothing is off limits.

Several times I heard myself saying, “well, it’s our age”.

“Isn’t it hilarious how we both love gardening?”

“Well, it’s our age”.

Our interest in healthy eating: – it’s our age. Our newfound specialist knowledge about dementia: – it’s our age. Sore knees after exercising? – yes, you’ve got it.

Our friendship has spanned forty years and we have changed, moved, made mistakes, lost touch and survived some ups and downs. At any point on that path, so much of what we did, decisions we made, things we said, places we went and people we shared our lives with were quite simply down to our age. In our teens we both did some mad things, as all youngsters do. But we did what seemed completely right at any given time.

Things may not be 100% perfect for either of us, but we are healthy and happy and getting on with what life is currently throwing at us. We still feel young, we ARE young! Long may that last.

It’s a funny old life. Old age quote

Annie Bee x

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