Our Gardening Year 2023

5 years on from my first record of a year of work in this place, I thought I’d repeat the project. Partly to see how things have changed as areas of the garden have matured, and partly as certain timings have been altered as we’ve worked out how to tweak the management.

This is a simple factual record of what we were up to around the whole property, during the year 2023. It might serve as a prompt to us, as we become more forgetful, about what to do, and when. More importantly in the future, it may be an aid to whoever takes over as custodians of this very special place once we’ve left. Should they ever choose to refer to this?  A vain thought, but one never knows.

The garden won’t stay the same of course in future years – that’s simply never the case with gardens, and things evolve with time. But this record will try to capture some of the practical tips which we’ve learned from trial and error about how to look after this place, and land, in what is sometimes a challenging climate.

This is the un-glamorous and sometimes tedious aspect of living in a place like this. The necessary graft which enables us (and you) to enjoy the views and scenes throughout the year which feature in my blog posts. The few photographs and style of writing on these pages reflect this – snapped quickly as a simple aide-memoire often after the tasks are completed, and simple, typed-up factual notes, before I’ve forgotten what’s been going on.

_

January – Week 1

In a week of unremitting gloom and continued wet – a very similar start indeed to the weather in 2018 – opportunities for gardening were limited! Rainfall of over 140 mm in the week, means everywhere is waterlogged. However, work still has to be done:

Another big session of lifting and potting up snowdrops for sale to any garden visitors and later re-planting the surplus in the garden. For the first year in ages, I’ve ceased recording the relative flowering times of cultivars – having reached a certain age, I still relish tracking their opening, but the recording has simply become too much of a chore, as numbers have grown, and enjoying the snowdrop vistas, even under grey skies and an umbrella is more important to me now. 2023 has been the slowest start to a season for many years.

Some sessions of logging up previously cut timber and hedge-laying surplus, for firewood use in 2 years. Cutting back the dead Astilbe flower stems which give great interest in the late year, but have to be removed now, before the early snowdrops and daffodil foliage gets too tall. Monitor the bee hives for signs of life in any brief weather windows – after the coldest snap in early December for 12 years, followed by incessant wet, I fear few colonies may make it into spring of 2023, although the Daphne bholua, first Hellebore x hybridus, and Crocus ‘Firefly’ flowers all opened in the first week of January in 2023.

Work preparing for my Thought Box idea.

Cut back remaining Miscanthus/grass stems of those varieties which persist for the longest before losing leaves and making a real mess. Spent time replacing multiple large turf divots in the lower wet hay meadow, where a badger had ripped the surface extensively, looking for chafer grubs. Something which only happened for the first time in autumn 2022 in this meadow, and along with greatly increased mole activity, reflects the greater life and invertebrate population in our meadows now. Almost exactly mirroring the progression in our upper meadow, where such damage only occurred about 5 years after we began the journey to wildflower meadow restoration.

__

January – Week 2

At last a day with a bit of light, and a break from the rain. Empty full green waste into 2 tiers of worm city 1, making up with leaves from the reactor.  As is often the case I then spotted creeping buttercups in the shrubbery, and then ivy creeping in from the rear slope trees,.so a great time to get them out after all this wet using an old kebab skewer I keep in a gap in the slate wall by the front door.

All the wet and activity from blackbirds meant a necessary rake up of leaves from the meadow copse paths, these being dumped on the compost, and then the tyre garden central path. Once again this job morphed into another when I hand-weeded both of the narrow border beds to the side of the central path, mainly for grass seedlings, but the odd Alchemilla and willowherb as well. Worth doing whilst all the bulb shoots are small.

3 Goldoni earth scoops of scalpings for track pothole filling finished off our our afternoon. 2 days later, an unexpected dry hour allowed some mainly grass and ivy hand weeding through areas of the copse – always very easy to do at this time of the year, after all the rain.

A whole day of snowdrop potting up, using our own mixed compost. About 180 pots done in a day. William spends a whole day of raking up leaves from the lower cae efail field into big bags, where Zelkova and oak leaves take forever to rot down. Often I hoover them up with the lawnmower, but last autumn it was just too wet. A useful resource for compost/mulching in due course.

Some short sessions of grass and ivy weeding in the copse, and along the cobbled path in front of the house with my skewer, and in a rare respite from the rain, another stint on hedge laying at the top of the upper hay meadow, where I notice the badger has returned with massive damage – the first time it’s ever done damage this late in the winter. Wee marking is needed asap. Start to replace some massive divots, a tedious job!

All the rain meant that less than a week after our pothole filling, we were back on it again! Sometimes winter rain damage and vehicle traffic can wreak havoc in just a few days. Leave it, and in another week it’ll take 3 times as much stone to fill the holes.

Only 1 bee hive (the hay shed) has shown any activity, and this on a day of a little sunshine, a North westerly wind, and perceived temperatures of just 4 degrees C. At least we still have some honey bees alive! I never feed or treat the on-site bees.

De-fuzz the silver birch, mid-croquet lawn border for the first time, as well as several trees in the meadow copse, and more hand weeding of the cobbles.

__

January – Week 3:

Begin the day with the regular winter daily task of bringing in a firewood basket, lighting/resurrecting the wood burner, and every 3 days or so a barrow full of 4 bags of wood pellets for the biomass stove.

At last a sunny, chilly January day on the 16th. I continue with another session of laying the top boundary hedge, and nearly make it to the shepherd’s hut. We really need to finish this and clear the debris before the fragile spring bulb shoots begin to emerge in this top part of the meadow.

Later I finish replacing the badger divots. I cheer myself by thinking how fortunate I am to be working outside with such fabulous views on a wonderful chilly sunny (at last) January day. And am pleased to note that so far my efforts with wee distributed from the watering can around the likely entry trail point by Glyn’s gate, and liberally spread around the damaged turf area have put off the badger’s return.

I make time for some photography in the afternoon, and a Thought Box moment timed to perfection to catch the sinking sun shining through a yew-framed window.

The following day with William here, we press on and I manage to finish the hedge laying, and William saws up most of the brash into usable logs, down to 1-inch size, in a hard morning’s work. Snow is forecast for the afternoon, so we stop. The first flurry arrives around 2.30 pm. By evening we have a significant covering.

Some snowdrops arrive the following day, which need planting a.s.a.p. I sweep the snow off the PV panels for the first time, and Fiona and I clear both the yard and the first steep section of our track. We know from past experiences that allowing snow to build up, then freeze can make access in and out impossible.  And forecasts frequently change within hours so can be unreliable. This is exhausting work in the cold, or at least it is now!

Fiona works on fixing lichen fragments to our surplus “Ripples” ring offcuts, for a new mobile idea I’ve just had.

Fiona is also now in daily hay-feeding mode for our ewes in the lower meadows, which is where we try to store most of our hay in the lower shed. Overnight, after a period of melting up until 10 pm, more hail falls and we have another hard frost.

The following day everything is melded snow, ice, and hail. It takes me an hour to clear the PV panels, the worst I’ve ever known, and frankly, I’m knackered after doing this. The yard/paths stay almost unchanged all day. No chance of getting out, even if we wanted to. But lots of fabulous light, which is a relief after the recent gloom.

January – Week 4: 

With a very slow thaw continuing well into this week, there’s little chance for outside work. We finish modifying the lichen mobile, and I end up writing a very long blog post including both a video of this in action, and of foraging honey bees from the hay shed hive, whilst there’s still thick ice, and minus 7 temperatures registered on the croquet lawn.

Finally on Wednesday, 10 days after it all fell, temperatures warmed slightly, and we had light rain all day, and that did the trick. It’s fascinating to see the last parts of the garden lose their snow after a really cold spell like this – presumably the coldest. I scatter accumulated sacks of wood ash from the stoves across the upper sections of the top hay meadow. By the end of the day, only the cleared piles of snow in the yard remained. I was amazed to find one hive apparently being robbed out at 6 degrees C in the drizzle, and light winds on January 25th. Is this a record early date for witnessing such a thing, I wonder? Plus the better news of signs of life in the Swedish butter churn hive, which following on from its maternal hive of origin, which had pushed out 3 swarms last year, so would have been left very weakened.

William and I had a good day clearing brash into piles ready for burning if we can just get a few dry days and some wind next week. We carry up some replacement fencing posts and dump them by ones that are wobbling in the breeze. This is a necessary regular annual chore to keep the fencing in good order. W. does an excellent job collecting molehills to top off the new growing/propagation beds above the Amelanchier. Exhausted by my morning’s efforts, I potter with finishing hand weeding the cobbled path in front of the house, and tidying up the barn, for potential garden visitors from next week.

With garden visitors potentially visiting in just over a week, it’s time for some final tidying. In the main barn. Sweeping the leaves and debris from the path behind the yard, aided with our small Makita Li-ion blower.

Cutting back the Verbena rigida stems and tidying up the edges of the washing spiral designs. Hand weeding the top of this area.

I finish the week by making a cover for our hay feeder based on 4 hurdles.

A bit more tidying of brash in the top field and a serious session of hand weeding and tidying of both the lower tyre garden and the rose bed. It’s always surprising just how many willowherb seedlings are at quite an advanced stage of growth.

A final tidy-up of dead stems around the terrace garden. In particular, Aquilegia stems are easy to pull out this late in the season, but the dead stems of Euphorbia cyparissias always have to be traced back to their base. They’d probably rot eventually but detract from the Ophiopogon and emerging snowdrops.

Cut back the final ferns at the base of the rose bed slope.

February – Week 1:

Dig out the old rotten timbers from the dais on the croquet lawn and enlarge the trench for new sleeper retainers. Spend some time before lunch shifting trays of pots with seedlings in and then some videoing of snowdrops and honey bees – their first visit of the year today on January 30th. Finish the day with more pot sorting and pot up some more snowdrops for sale/moving.

Chainsaw up replacement sleepers for the dais. Re-locate. Tidy up the Wisteria bed. Move more pots and seedlings up to the new Amelanchier beds. Tidy the Giant Miscanthus leaves and molehill mountain plant debris. Shift more molehill soil to cover the mountain. Pot up more snowdrops/leucojums. Cut back strawberry leaves, and weed out remaining veg beds. W. tidies up sheep feeder hay wastage in the bottom fields, adding it to the big pile.