The thing about attracting wildlife - particularly birds - to your garden is that you want them to eat the food you put out for them, not the food you're hoping to scoff ! I've got three feeders out for the birds. Two full of mixed seeds and one with peanuts. I regularly get to enjoy seeing sparrows, blue tits, starlings, robins and finches enjoying the free buffet. But I don't want them to see the soft fruit I intend to grow this summer as a sweet dessert.
Last year I bought four or five strawberry plants, which gave me a very modest amount of berries, most of which had chunks nipped out of them by my feathered visitors. This year I'm hoping for a larger bounty, and the fruit being intact. My plants sent out runners, which means I now have extra plants, and I've re-potted them all in larger tubs with added handfuls of vermiculite for better drainage. I'm going to rig up some kind of netting over the plants to shield them from hungry beaks.
I've planted two other tubs with soft fruit bushes, but they're only mini-sized right now, and won't give fruit for a year or two. A gooseberry and a redcurrant. The gooseberry's got vicious looking thorns on it, so I need to decide pretty quickly where I want it to permanently live and get it moved from the tub into the ground before it grows even thornier. Can't decide on the best position though ...
Yesterday was unexpectedly warm & sunny, meaning I could get outside for more digging. This is the view of the back garden, the right side of it as you look from the house. I'm still peeling back the membrane and digging out loads of limestone to get to the earth beneath. Ideally I'd have edged this border with some planks of wood, but I don't have those. As this is a budget make-do-and-mend garden I'm using what I've got, namely bricks I've taken up from the front garden. I'm standing the bricks on their end which'll give a neat edge, and hopefully will be largely covered by the plants growing against and over it. I cannot wait to get some greenery in here.
Apart from digging up endless chunks of limestone I've found more bits of broken glass, broken paving slabs, rotting wood, a yellow plastic peg, rusty nails and 'orrible slugs which - sorry - get squished. Not nice, but I can't bear them, so I'll have to accept the bad karma.
Today the sky's iron grey and promising rain, so it's a morning of sewing and household stuff, then yoga and grocery shop. I've got a job application form submitted, so am hoping for a phone call promising an interview. We'll see how the day pans out.
I keep telling myself that one day this patch of earth will be a thriving flower and shrub border, but in the meantime it's just a heap of heavy, wet clay soil, home to bits of broken glass, rusty nails and broken plastic flower pot that I carefully pick out as I find them. Because the soil is such dense claggy clay I need to think carefully about what I'll plant here. No good popping herbs like thyme or rosemary in as they hate having wet feet. Apparently Iris are ideal for these conditions, which is great as they're beautiful flowers. Also good are: Berberis, Buddleia, Cotoneaster, Astrantia, Helleborus and Sedum Spectabile. I do love Sedums, and so do the bees which is always a fab bonus.
As I haven't got a proper cold frame I bought one of those plastic covered cloches the other day. It's self assembly, reminding me of a Wendy House I had as a child, a great mass of poles and plastic covering that my parents had to wrestle with whenever they tried assembling it. Always at least one bit missing with the Wendy House, which was the case with this Wilko cloche. At a tenner it was a cheap option, and will do for this summer, until I make something sturdier. I've weighted the cloche down with bricks, so hopefully it won't fly across the garden when the wind blows. It's home to rocket seedlings, mixed salad leaves and the pea shoots. I've just got to make sure I remember that if I open the zipped bits of the cloche during the day, I close it up at night, especially important as we may still get the odd visit from Jack Frost.
Yesterday was too chilly for a lightweight like me to venture out in the garden, and judging by today's moody grey sky today might be the same. Thankfully the containers are doing okay without me. The rocket's popping up, as are borage seedlings and a pot of lovely pea shoots. The parsley's growing away, and the mint's doing fine, but then you have to do a lot to kill off mint. It's tenacious.
In the conservatory the lemon tree's in flower. Very pretty, but the flowers have a scent that's so sweet it's almost sickly. Oh well, at least it's pretty.
Instead of gardening I've been catching up on my reading. The wonderful Kate Atkinson's 'A God in Ruins'. Superb stuff, as ever, from one of my favourite authors.
You remember those TV garden makeovers shows, especially from the '90s? A team of 'garden experts' would swoop in, dig up a shrub, whack down some decking, add a few containers and some tea lights, plus maybe a glazed ceramic ball or a tinkly wind chime and - pow! - a new garden. They'd stand back smugly and wait for the homeowner's tearful reaction to the big reveal.
Yeah, well, creating a garden's nowt like that. Especially when you're starting completely from scratch. It's all about the 'grunt' work. Fetching, carrying, bending, lifting. In my fledgling front garden it's about removing brick paving, one brick at a time. Scraping up the thick layer of sand underneath, then digging out an even thicker layer of limestone (put in to level off the surface). Then it's digging at the proper soil underneath, which is thick and gloopy and so clay-like you can mould and shape it with your hands. I'm going to have to really build those flower borders up, otherwise my plants will have their feet permanently damp.
At the back of the house (less than inspiring photo above) it's about scraping back the gravel or pebbles (lucky me having large swathes of both!), then pushing back the membrane. Then removing more limestone by the bagful before digging more soil. Some that's clay-like, some that seems thinner and less well nourished (if that's a word proper gardeners apply to soil?). It's about digging out rotted down wood, bits of broken glass and plastic bag and ruddy great chunks of paving slab. I might hope to find a Roman coin or a pretty Victorian glass bottle, but so far all I've unearthed of any value is a 1p piece and a marble!
But the grunt work's necessary. It'll pay off in years to come, and anyway it's oddly satisfying even when progress seems irritatingly slow. No 60 minute makeover here.
I'm just glad I bought one of those padded garden kneelers, a hideous pink foam thing, cheap as chips but invaluable for keeping my knees graze free and the knees of my jeans/leggings hole-free. I did think that it'd be easy to make one by up-cycling an old oilcloth bag. You know, those tote bags from Cath Kidston and similar places in brightly patterned oilcloth. The handles always go, getting cracked and uncomfortable to use. You could buy a rectangle of foam (often found on fabric stalls in markets or use an old cushion pad), put it inside the bag and maybe use Velcro or sew on poppers or even (eek!) insert a zip to fashion a closure for the bag. It'd make an easy to clean, easily portable kneeler.
I did so well yesterday. After an early morning yoga class I wandered by Tesco in search of clementines and came out with a sage plant and three rosemary bushes. Reduced from £2.00 each to 20p each. Yup, a mere 20p for a healthy plant. I'd have bought a few more if it hadn't been for the fact I was cycling home. I was loaded up like a pack-horse on the journey back. A rucksack of groceries on my back and another bag slung across the body. The sage got slightly mussed up by being stuffed in a bag, but all survived.
It's great when supermarkets sell off their healthy plants cheaply, but it's so annoying when they reduce prices because staff have failed to water plants properly over the previous few days. Aldi and Lidl seem the worst for this. I've lost count of the times I've tutted irritably (like the middle aged woman I am!) at trays of plants wilting from lack of basic care.
Those I can't point the finger and look judgemental too much - some of my seedlings nearly expired in their propagator trays yesterday. The conservatory is freezing in winter and fiendishly hot on a sunny day. I'd gone out, leaving the propagator lids on, and come home to the plants limp as week old lettuce. I spritzed 'em all with water and crossed my fingers. Most survived, but I did lose a few basil seedlings. Sorry little guys. I'll have to remember to lift the lids off on any day that's bright enough to raise the temperature inside.
Maybe I just need to fill the conservatory with cacti and have done with it? They'd be perfectly happy with being watered once in a blue moon.
Okay, here's what you need to know. I moved into my house a year ago yesterday, and bought it partly because it was in my price range (... big consideration ...) but also because of the garden. On the face of it that was crazy because the garden consisted of:
At the front - brick paving. Lots of bricks.
At the back - more brick paving. Plus an area of membrane covered by pebbles. Plus an area of membrane covered by gravel. The dreariest grey gravel you'd ever (not) wish to see.
The only plants were the odd weed peeking up between the bricks, and the dead fuchsia plants surrounded by weeds in two plastic tubs by the front door.
It pained me to see this little patch of land lacking even the most basic of greenery. Not a flower to be seen. Nothing for the bees to feed on, or the butterflies. Even the birds couldn't get to the worms lurking under those bricks. Presuming there were worms.
Seriously, it pained me. Who'd layer all that brick and pebbles and gravel over what could be a lovely green space?
(Actually I found that out a few months ago. I got chatting to a couple who'd owned my house about five years ago. The wife proudly told me how they'd put down the hard landscaping. Smiling as if she'd done the world a Good Deed. I kept a diplomatic silence about how hideous it looked. I didn't dare ask them if they'd put that faux diamond patterned leading on the windows. Equally hideous, and now largely removed. Who puts Ye Olde Tudor Stylee Leading on a 1950s semi ?)
I've barely tackled the back garden, but I've made a decent start on the front. It's going to take some doing though. Loads of the bricks are coming up.
This photo was taken last summer, after a heck of a lot of time and effort. Now that brighter days and warmer temperatures are here this spring I'm making further progress. Widening the existing beds and taking up more bricks to make new ones. The drainage isn't brilliant, neither is the soil quality. Under the bricks is a layer of sand, then a layer of limestone, put there to level off the surface. My fledgling garden's not only home to stacks of bricks, then bags of sand and more bags of stones.
My nails are dirt encrusted, despite gardening gloves, and I'm doing two yoga classes a week plus Pilates to help ensure my back remains in good nick. But it'll be worth it.
Are you planning some major gardening work this year? What's on your agenda?
Last year's pinks. Let's hope they flower again this year.
A photo from earlier this year. Taken on a frosty morning.
Moved from a garden-less city flat in the South West to a Yorkshire village in 2016. I now have a garden ... of sorts.