Sunday, January 25, 2009


Weeks go  by and nothing notable happens up here in Herefordshire, then it all happens at once. On Thursday we had three people working here: our new WRAG trainee, Advolly, Andrew the hedging guy and Will, our occasional creative-handman. Will was laying herringbone paths in the salad/cutting garden, so we can walk and kneel and generally fiddle about with lettuce seedlings and suchlike, without getting covered in mud.

Andrew’s hedging was mostly just cutting back to get some more light on the bottom of the wildflower (not)meadow, some hedge-laying but also selective cutting back which is a technique I just invented. Problem is with mixed country hedges is that if you don’t cut or lay them they turn into trees/shrubs – they make great windbreaks but they develop gaps lower down, so folks on the public footpath can peer into our garden and basically cease being  a hedge. But…. if you cut or lay the lot, the wind will come howling into our garden (we are near the top of a hill), so I thought , why not cut out about 20% of the contents and let them regenerate, and then repeat next year, and start a rolling programme of cutting back and regenerating.

Then Advolly the WRAG. Stands for Women Returning to Amenity Gardening – I think it grew out of the wartime landgirl thing, a trainee scheme for women making midlife career changes. Advolly is serious mud-stained glam, Zimbabwean-heritage, and hair in African cornbraids but otherwise as English as you can get, especially her incredible enthusiasm for plants and garden history. It’s a great thing having such an enthusiastic and high-powered trainee, makes you sharpen up about why you do things and how you explain them.

Oh, the guys from Southern Solar were fixing the solar-thermal hot water system which gives us fee hot H2O from April to October. Then a guy turns up we have never seen before, with weird tattoos all over his face, and an in-yer-face style which alternates with the synaptic gaps of someone who has over-indulged in LSD at some stage in what looks like a very colourful career, announcing that he is going to build a shed in the woods which overlook us (he owns a strip, but that is another story), and possibly a recording studio (will this be the world’s first wood-powered recording studio?) The only way he can get his kit up there is by hiring a local agricultural contractor who drives it up there in the bucket of a Manitou (a huge 4x4 ag . vehicle , for those of you who think that farming is all about organic lambs bouncing about in fields of bright green grass). In doing so the public footpath is turned into the most horrific quagmire.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cold, innit?

Pardon me for sounding middle-aged but a whole generation of gardeners have grown up in Britain who have never experienced a ‘proper’ winter since they started gardening. Anyone younger than me basically. I had started a nursery business in 1986 and that was a jolly cold winter – it wiped out 75% of the exotic plantlife on Tresco in the Scillies, good news for me as it turned out, as I was selling them replacement South African and Australian exotica for years after.

So many gardeners under the age of fifty simply have not gardened at a time when there would be a frost night after night, and a mild spell would be a thankful break rather than the norm. This winter, when there seems to have been a frost every morning for more than a month now, seems exceptional – in fact it is quite normal, pre-global warming. The weather will now come as a nasty shock to the growers of ‘hardy’ bananas, agaves and acacias. But most of them at least know the risks of the game and will take appropriate measures to protect their treasures. More worrying is the whole generation of garden professionals who have no memory of a hard winter, the designers who plant their clients’ gardens with tender species, the wholesalers who sell truckloads of untrialled new Lavendula stoechas varieties or the garden centre managers who sell Cyclamen persicum as bedding plants.

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