Archive | December 2016

Winter Gardening

As the last of the leaves flutter to the ground, the gardening year comes to an end. Very little will still flower after the first hard frost, and in my garden I just have a few solitary Schizostylis still going strong. It won’t be long before the camellias start opening their fat buds, and the witch hazels also, but there is a definite gap around the shortest day.

This is the start of the Big Winter Clear-up. Firstly the fallen leaves, which find their way into every nook and cranny. Then the Crocosmia foliage is to be pulled off before it gets too brown and mushy. Many of the perennials can still add structure and seed heads to the winter garden, so I always prioritise those that look at their worst, and leave the prettier ones ’til the spring.

Once the autumn vegetation is cleared, I can then see the structure of the garden more clearly, and it will give me a chance to check all the edges of the paths and borders. Many are edged with logs which have rotted, so will need renewing.

I am creating some new paths as well, along desire lines, which are the routes that one wants to take around a garden. They should be the basis of any good garden design, as there is little point in placing paths where no-one wants to walk.

 

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There was a definite need for a path across this flower bed, and we were taking short-cuts last winter without a path. I have finally completed a new, levelled path, connecting an existing path with the large lawn, and a route which heads down the garden.

The whole thing is made with an assortment of stones that I have found while digging the garden. There were a lot of flattish oval shaped stones, and they have been half-buried on end along the front to create an edge. Then the body of the path was laid in a crazy-paving style using all sorts of shapes of thin, flat stones. To finish off, it is topped with a dressing of gravel which will work its way into the cracks and help to prevent the stones shifting.

When I have tackled the border beyond the path, it might be nice to build a little retaining wall for that border, but I have had quite enough of working with stones for the time being!

Our first year in Devon

A year ago today we started our new life here in our converted stone barn near the North Devon Coast. It has been a huge change from living on a modern housing estate in Hertfordshire, with a small square garden, and I want to take a moment to reflect on how we have got on, and share with you some of my favourite photos.

 

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We looked at houses over quite a wide area, but were aware that the location was hugely important. We turned down some nice houses that were just too far from the coast, and that was definitely the right decision. We are perfectly situated here, with a ten minute drive to not only this stunning beach, but also the headlands and coastal paths, and we are loving being able to pop down for an evening stroll on the beach, or a late afternoon swim in the heat of the summer. Our village is really friendly, and has a shop, a village hall, and a pub, so what more can one want?

 

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We did have concerns that it might get very busy here in the holiday season, and it certainly does. But we have learned which roads to avoid, and have found back routes to the town and the beach, and spent the busiest few weeks quietly at home. For most of the year, the roads around us are nice and quiet, although Barnstaple, out nearest main town, has plenty of rush hour traffic and queues, as does every town. We just avoid them as much as possible.

 

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The house itself is mostly as it was when we arrived, with a few repairs, a new garage door, a new shower, and some new lights. Next year we replace the heating system, and start decorating through, now we have a feel for what we want. We love being ‘upside down’, with cooler bedrooms downstairs and living areas with views of the garden upstairs. The log burner in the lounge is great for these chilly evenings, and laying the fire is now my first task every morning.

 

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The garden has given us both massive challenges and massive amounts of pleasure. Ideally it would have been about half the size, and flat, but 1.3 acres and sloping is what we have, so we are making the best of it.

 

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We have acquired an arsenal of tools to help us, all bigger and more powerful than those we owned before, and two new sheds in which to store them. There are some lovely plants in the garden, but also some invasive thugs, and this has been our greatest challenge to date. One thug has finally been defeated, and I am now tackling the second. Once this is done then I can start to be creative.

 

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One of the most enjoyable aspects of the garden has been the wildlife. We have seen so many different birds, moths amphibians, and mammals, and every new species causes great excitement.

 

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The sheep invasion was not quite as welcome, but all part of living in the country.

 

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We intend to do a little write-up at the end of the calendar year about all the birds and moths we have caught.

So is my life here as I imagined it? Yes, in some ways. I knew that I would be spending most of my time gardening, but somehow I imagined myself swanning around in a long skirt and floppy hat, gently snipping flowers to place in my trug… a Lady Gardener. Not so – most of my gardening clothes are worn to holes, and I am usually smeared with mud and sweat, having spent the day wielding a mattock or lugging vast quantities of unwanted plant material down the garden. I do enjoy it, although I didn’t expect that I would always be exhausted by the end of the day.

 

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The other difference is that we have been out and about far less that we though we would. There are so many wonderful walks that we want to do, so many days out, and we have done very few. We have simply been far too busy, and I am hopeful that we will have a little more time next year…(or maybe the year after???)

 

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We do feel that we fit in here, and we have certainly been made to feel welcome. We are already well known in the village, and take part in local activities, and are starting to make new friends.

The one thing I do miss is shops, especially clothes shops. The nearest decent shopping centre is Exeter, and that is a 90 minute drive! Not that I need clothes, as a clean pair of jeans counts as being dressed up round here, but a girl likes to look…

 

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So has it been a good year? Yes, most emphatically yes. We are less stressed, fitter, more relaxed, and generally happier. We can walk out into the garden and hear nothing but birdsong, and see nothing but greenery. I have space to create a beautiful new garden. The nature that we both love to study is all around us rather than being a car ride away. And the sound of the sea is nearby for us to listen to whenever we want.

 

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