Tag Archives: compost

Earthy thoughts

I’ ve been thinking a lot about death over the last few days. In a really healthy positive way I rush to assure everyone, especially any friends picking up their car keys with an intervention on their minds.

N started it on a school morning when she assured Ida it was never too late to say goodbye but then corrected herself to the more likely one that sometimes it was. I teased her about the fact we were on the way to G’ma’s for lunch. As I walked there peering into all the lovely spring (monied) gardens along Escourt Road I thought a bit about the big D.

It’s a subject I’ve already wrapped my grey cells around. As I’m sure we all have. After all, it’s one of the BIG ones. I was particularly thinking about it in reference to my G’ma as we were on the way there. She’s recently, well in the last couple of years, made more and more oblique D references. At gift times she says things like, “Oh don’t waste your money dear, I’ll not get much use from that”. She’s started trying to distribute treasures. Last year she insisted I take an early edition of the complete Edward Lear which I adore and learnt to read from as a child. “I want to make sure it doesn’t go astray” I caught her labelling the back of pictures last summer with their ideal destinations after, you know..

She expresses her gladness at my other Granny’s death in 2005. It was suddenly, at home. “It’s what anyone would prefer darling” . When she broke her hip she was desperate to return home, horrified at the thought of a convalescence stop-gap. At the funeral of a friend she wonders wistfully if anyone will miss her.

What I’m mainly thinking about is how we, her family, her nearest and dearest deal with this. Basically we turn it aside, deflect with humour or bluffly refuse the conversational gambit. We say, “oh don’t be silly, don’t talk like that, it’ll never happen”

Well clearly it will. It’s like the elephant in the room, we’re all squeezing around it. Being polite.

Not this winter just past but the one before Steve and I wrote our wills. I wanted everything to be sorted and clear for the kids. We rearranged everything so all the utilities were paid through our joint account and in both our names. I wrote a series of letters for the kids for the future and some for my parents and my sister. We sat down over a series of painful evenings and talked about funerals and stuff I wanted in the kids future, the things I felt were crucial that maybe we hadn’t talked through yet. And it was awful and dreadful and fucking unbearably sad. It was also freeing and liberating, reassuring and comforting. It left me able to just concentrate on my treatment and healing. I loved Steve passionately for being kind, rational and able to hold my hand and listen and plan without putting his head in the sand.

When Ida and I reach the house she’s in the front garden feeding the birds. After the usual flurry of hello hugs and coatshedding I lean on the kitchen counter while she makes coffee and muse a bit aloud on all this D stuff. She adds her sugar and fixes me with a beady look, “is the cancer back darling?” “No I was thinking more about your death G’ma” She throws back her head and laughs. We take the drinks into the garden and I do a bit of weeding while she reminds me of when Zeph was four and at the family tea party she told him how old she was in an attempt to impress him. He looked her up and down very seriously then said into an expectant silence “Well why aren’t you dead yet?” and the room broke out into urgent distraction chatter.

I say how much I love her and how I fully expect to howl and wail at her funeral and be the total opposite of stiff upper lipped. She tells me how leaving the house her and Grandpa built together would be like losing him all over again. That she worries about my darling emotionally inarticulate Dad, her son. We talk about funerals. She is very scathing about Alex’s probable preference for a wicker coffin. We laugh a lot. I cry a bit on the way home. That night I read this post on  Dovetailrats

 I think a lot about Japan. I think a lot about a friend from my past who died last Sunday. I think about souls and electric sparks. About reincarnation and circles and journeying towards destinations. I think about compost and love and poetry, chromosomes and children. About how change is frightening and how you have to practise embracing it.

Whilst internal cog turning I wipe quite a lot of mould off the house (this is an ongoing task. It will never be over, it’s like the Forth bridge, as soon as I finish a bit it starts reforming…) We do gardening;

This is a very lovely ornamental dead nettle with lovely “minnow” narcissus coming up through it. Lots of forget-me-nots that I’ve managed not to mistake for chickweed and uproot this year. I painted a table that had mouldered in the damp conservatory over winter;

I would have done a before pic of table only I thought it may put you off (if all the death stuff hasn’t.. ) Those are the gifted slabs awaiting sand. (Small internal jig of joy) This is our beautiful cat, Mittens;

I cook a roast dinner and potter around. I count my blessings. I seem to have reached an internal conclusion and feel brighter, clearer, happier. Definitely earthier. I resolve to make sure I do no more deflecting but am open and brave and light hearted instead.

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our muddy patch

Shot of a swinging Zeph taken by me standing on the bindweed hump at the end of the garden looking down at a Pa Larkin style junkyard paradise if I ever saw one. Now, this is quite brave of me because I do love a browse through  the garden style blogs. And they all are either very beautiful or deeply productive and even squinting, these pictures don’t look like that. It is the most unforgiving season, my garden is at its most lovely in the blowsy overgrown summer when the harsh lines of play apparatus are softened by climbers and even the bindweed  makes the place look green and lush.

However in the spirit of full disclosure and to combat my natural urge for the aforementioned aspirational self editing:

This is the pile of buddleia I hacked off the tree in December – looking back I think I must have been slightly unbalanced and was driven out into a glowering grey day by all the usual festive pressure to try to exhaust myself with some sawing and tree wrestling. I love the old buddleia but want it to be a bit more shrubby than huge gnarly tree. All this effort left me with an enormous branch pile that I have been sighing at.

In fly lady style I’ve decided to just fill my green bin fortnightly until the logpile corner has been reduced to its usual size. This is the corner behind the compostbin  that gets left for nettles and bindweed to do its own thing. I disturbed a couple of mice and two frogs/toads during my labours today so it’s clearly wildlife rich. I also had to shake all the hibernating ladybirds back onto it from the clippings being shoved into the bin. Poor ladybirds, so rudely disturbed.

This is what needs filling..

In front of the compost bin are our toad abodes. Just two flowerpots half sunk into the earth. The snail shells you can see are the cast-offs from the three enormous toads who were to be found here reliably under the hollyhocks all last summer. I have plenty of snails for them.

Ah my lovely compost – whoop whoop. I am a rubbish, fair weather composter. I know, I am ashamed of this but still even doing it a bit half cocked still gets you good compost. This winter all our food scraps have been going into the food waste bin. Partly we are daunted by the sea of mud to be negotiated to get down to the compost bin, more of this later.

These are my hazel trees and the beginning of my hedgerow bit – they’re grown from seed and cuttings and I’m very pleased they have survived the bindweed surge of late summer. Now they’re big enough to survive most things I think but I’m still planning to lessen the weeds in this corner by growing squashes and pumpkins on the bank in front of them.

I hope this will work. The soil is really rich and I’ve spread some more compost under the weed mat thing (really cheap from Wilkinsons..I used  it really successfully last year having exhausted my supply of old carpet.) The end of the garden gets quite a lot of sun, hopefully having felled most of the tree should help. Must get a saw and saw off the rest of the trunk so the shrub can spring up straight.

This is the eucalyptus tree that was here when we moved in. I suspect it desperately needs topping and the roots snake across the entire garden. It has buckled the paving and concrete in front of the door and contributed to the mud sea and every time it’s windy I fear for the ukrainian church next door but I still love it and the sloughing swooshing sound it adds to our lives. When Zeph was about three he was convinced it would tempt koala bears to our garden and every time we went out we would have to check its branches.

This is the rhubarb Hattie kindly gave us from her mums supply. I’ve been meaning to plant it out for the last, god can it be two?, years. We still get loads of rhubarb from it in the bucket but I think this is the year I’ll release it. Probably onto the weedy bank, surely rhubarb can withstand bindweed?

Brave cheerful bulbs – we are all very cheered by their optimistic green shoots. It seems like such an act of faith burying those dull wizened things in the cold earth on windy autumn days. I think the kids thought I was indulging in one of my manic phases but have been enormously gratified today by seeking out the evidence of our treasure burying last year. Of course we have no idea what we planted. They’ll have been something lovely I know.

This is the pergola my Mum and Dad gave me for my birthday last year, sadly at the foot of it is the previously alluded to mud expanse.

We just don’t have the cash for even a few slabs and there’s a limit to what I can scavenge out of skips with the pushchair… My, lovely, sister-in-law has mentioned she has some spare slabs but the wheels move slowly. I feel optimistic… In the background you can see the tiny bit of mosaic Zeph and I did last summer. We want to  cover the whole wall under the pergola with mosaic but now know how much broken china that is. Luckily I’m woefully clumsy so the stockpile is growing.                         

I just wanted to say – we love our garden. Shabby and muddy and unorganised as it is we love hanging out in it..and getting muddy ourselves…and planting stuff and seeing it grow. Or not. I obsessively watch gardening programmes, read blogs and lust over Alys Fowlers plot or Hidcotes’ knot gardens but you mustn’t let that intimidate you from enjoying what you have or can manage to sustain. Ida doesn’t. That’s my verbena she’s just dug up. Ho hum.

Garden dreaming

I’ve been thinking about the garden today. It’s looking pretty gloomy since the snow melted and in desperate need of some sorting around. I’ve gone back into an old album and loaded some pictures from last summer. Just to feel more cheerful about it all.  As you can see – I am by no means a tidy or overtly organised gardener. I’ve also had to learn a few hard lessons about how able I am to sustain garden projects. My first year in this house with its small garden, which seemed so exciting after the flat, I planted hundreds of seedlings in excitement and most of them perished without being fruitful.  Which left me feeling pretty downhearted about myself. The trick is to pick a few hardy, resilient heavy cropping plants and if possible put them into the ground (consistent pot watering is one of my biggest fails). We’re pretty successful with potatoes but I break the pot rule by usually growing them in containers of some sort…this year we had tyres, two rolled down empty compost bags (start rolled down and slowly roll up as you earth and a couple of defunct hessian shopping bags. They were mostly salad types, Charlottes, Pink Fir and a lovely red type ( no idea what they were as were a kind donation from my mother) and fed us all summer really. I do them in pots as our garden is so small and VERY slug filled and because the kids like it and are competitive – labelling bags etc and totting up the total grown, also they seem to survive the haphazard watering.

Beans are pretty successful as well, as long as I can guard them from the slugs until they’re big enough to resist a bit of nibbling. I had about a 70% fail rate last year and have been saving and baking eggshells since – I plan to bank the stuff round my tender seedlings this year!  We usually do french beans as no-one really loves runner beans.

All squash seem to do well with very little input – they do go crazy and take over but I love this Bongleweed effect and think they look luscious and jungley. They also store brilliantly so glutting isn’t a problem as long as you sort out whether you’re growing winter or summer ones. I am completely inspired by my friend Erika (see my blogroll link to Real Allotments) and her growing-squash-through-carpet method and plan to have another patch this year. Courgettes are a similar winner and the more you cut the more they crop – win, win.

I’m going to do better with tomatoes and peas this year I think…. I always try to do tomatoes but they never do well…and the few pea plants that survive are always stripped of peas by a combination of pigeons and my sneaky children – if I could just get a few more to survive I could maybe cook with them…  

Also fruit trees/ bushes are a brilliant investment. Regular crops for very little effort and there’s room for an apple tree, a fan trained plum and a crab apple even in my titchy patch. I’d like a quince this year. Hmmm plant day dreaming – always better now,  before the bindweed has begun its menacing  advance.

Even daydreaming about growing stuff is soul soothing. I don’t feel conflicted about this stuff because my garden is deeply un little woman. Following my darling hippy mums’ example I avoid rows, don’t dig or spray, compost everything and freely mix flowers with vegetables and edibles. It looks (to me) beautifully messy and abundant and is packed with wildlife…including slugs, and feeds us despite my hit and miss approach. I have the usual array of unbeautiful donated and freegled kids toys (including a battered trampoline which is the pride of Z’s heart) but I think they look fine surrounded and covered with plants – my best beans last year grew up the netting of the trampoline cage. I side with Pa Larkin who thought his junkyard the most perfect piece of England in the spring.

Going to continue my new-start-roll  by washing up before bed again…not too challenging as we had toast for tea. Ha!