Here are a few pictures of how we're shaping up this year.
The first is a general overview of the main ornamental borders nearest the house. We recently overhauled these as the herbaceous planting was overgrown and also in recent years the boggy back border had dried out as I improved the soil, so plants like gunneras were actually getting a but limp in summer.
So this year its a little more slimline, with a wider path thanks to George, and some new plants like eremurus (an experiment in this windy wet place...) but generally a reduced pallette, as this is what i'm trying to do throughout to give the garden more coherence. The back hedgerow is now lush and dense after just 5 years, and gives us much needed shelter from the regular mountain-bikers on the track.
The second is really just showing off - I'm finding the new raised bed kitchen garden utterly compelling. Its like being a child again, looking after these squares of geometric little vegetable rows. These broadbeans were sown in the tunnel mid-Feb. and doing really well outside now.
The third image is the woodland garden, so-called despite there being no mature trees yet. We started to mow round existing hummocks of native grasses and heather and what's evolving is a really unusual space. Again I'm trying to reduce the plant palette, use repeated groups and keep it generally colour-free.
Day 2 was wet but bearable and the work pace furious again – with this troop we could scalp the site in a week. I have now noticed that using equipment is the principle joy. There is an antipathy for the spade, I didn’t see one of the village pick one up for a moment, or a hand saw.
Principle achievements were felling timber and clearing fallen trees. The afternoon we managed to ‘plant’ mushrooms (in logs) and build a new and rather substantial bridge. There was little time wasted on aesthetics, just practical decisions about longevity and usability.
Toge men folk arrived for battle/work on Monday morning at 8am having twiddled their fingers for 2 hours waiting for us all to get ready, and then they were off, no stopping them chainsaws whirling. I started off with a chainsaw but was quickly overridden and my saw handed to a man more able, 72 but more able for sure I’ve never seen my saw work so well, the vorpal blade. The only difficult thing was getting them to stop, a moment of turned back and another tree crashed to the ground, they certainly do enjoy confirming the sound of a tree falling. The day was foul, driving rain which does tend to slow you down a bit, by lunch time everyone was soaked – Yasura-san explained that now he felt alive again. For lunch they all changed into my clothes, a bizarre sight the checked and tartan land army. As the weather worsened I called the afternoon session of and the village slept.
I whisk the Toge women off to the Lilliput Lane factory at Penrith after they express a desire to develop our prototype model of a Toge house. It was made by a LL sculptor, but the company remains rather disinterested in the project. The women would like to cast the commissioned mould and paint the models themselves, a kind of bootleg Lilliput Lane production, so the chance of an informative tour of the factory offers some useful insights for them.
The company allow me to film the visit and tour, and don’t flinch at the copious notes Mitsuko-san takes at every stage.
It’s great to spend time with the village, and artist Junko-san (who we met in Toge) again. Junko doesn’t do small-talk. In the car she leans over to me and says “Are Beatrix Potter and Harry Potter related?”
I say, tentatively, “Conceptually….yes. But actually, no.”
Shortly after the village arrived they explained that they were sad to miss the bracken season in Japan – we showed them the hills covered in bracken shoots which everyone would be very happy for them to pick. Their sadness lifted as they began to plan how they could carry it home. Michgo-san suggested she might move to the Lake District and set up a business exporting bracken to Japan.
Friday night at midnight 6 of the villagers from Toge arrived in Coniston along with Jamie and Aiko Goodenough and Junko an artist that was working in toge. To keep up with events check into the blog at http://adamsutherland.typepad.com/grizedale_arts/
Upcoming events include fish and chips in Keswick, selling at the Coniston car boot sale (homemade slippers, pickles and things), Terracing, mushroom logs, pruning and planting a bonzai forest, Chefs masterclass in edible weeds, Japanese cafe and a whole lot more
Very glad to see the return of George - garden buster. Of course Karen and I had worked ourselves stupid trying to get the garden in a good state before he came back and actually I am now desperate to get a few more vital things finished before the Japanese visit – to avoid the humiliation of them thinking I am a bit lazy – this farming thing is tough re peer pressure, no escaping the reality of what you have and haven’t done, (unlike art which is much more of a fudge).
Despite spending 12 hour days (weekends) in heavy labour in the garden Karen still feels I need additional stomach flattening exercise in the gym – which I truly hate. I can’t stand all that waste of energy, just seeing people exercising to no useful purpose – to arguably look better. The gym is like a receptacle constantly filled with wasted energy, thousands of hours that could have been put to a useful purpose – maybe rather than calories burnt those machines could show numbers of spades lifted, walls walled, weeds weeded, nails nailed.
The other interesting thing in the gym is the sight of an exercise class, entirely filled with in-shape women that clearly think they look more or less ok, like relatively good looking. Obviously these are the functional people of the area, happy enough to exercise, confident enough to wear a leotard – Karen tells me they are extremely shy in the changing room, changing in the showers and generally dicking around playing towel curtains, clogging the system up and making me wait an age, and as Karen says ‘who the f... is looking’.
On Friday Grizedale hosted a lunch for some Chinese Artists who were taking part in the Liverpool Tate show that had opened the night before. The artists were the most interested people to ever visit the site, gripped by the plants, food, collections and other - particularly - land related stuff. None spoke English but their interest and excitement was very visible. They were accompanied by Zhang Whey from Vitamin, sadly we had to little time to talk about the forthcoming Grizedale troop residency in Nanling planned for November 2007 (see Alistair’s China blog entry)
I cooked a whole turbot for lunch but left the bones and the head in the kitchen as is the British fashion. I found the artists gathered round it talking excitedly, they were worried the best bits of the dinner were going to end up in the bin –throughout lunch I could tell they were thinking of the lost delights of the cheeks, jaws and eyes (bones are a Chinese culinary obsession).
Tom Trevor from Arnofini also came along and was interested in discussing Lawson Park as a venue for an art project involving growing tea, something to do with import-export colonialism, sounds a bit like international agri conceptualism, but hey people seem to like that stuff. An interesting addition to our patchwork approach to land use and curation, anyone can do whatever.
An interesting away day was had by myself and some local ladies recently, at Acorn Bank near Penrith on the Northern Fruit Group's Apple Grafting Workshop. I enjoyed watching the elderly working with sharp knives and a devil-may-care attitude (see picture) as they showed us young 'uns the joys of creating apple trees from sticks, wax and plastic ribbons. My creation - 'Ashmeads Kernel' on M25 (thats a rootstock number not a motorway) - is recovering in the polytunnel.
One of my formative gardening memories is the successful raising of a 'Golden Delicious' (misnomer if ever I heard one) seedling from a pip in my back garden, a tree which was still there some 15 years later when the house was sold, and though I have as yet no orchard here, I long for this most fundamental of horticultural delights. I now have the technology, if not the space, to populate it with the rare and quirky of the apple world, forms selected by the fantastically perverse Northern Fruit Group, a club dedicated to growing fruit where it doesn't want to be grown, saving rare and wild weather-proof varieties for future generations, who better bloody well be grateful, what with the number of sliced thumbs this grafting must be causing.
A second trip was to the northern french town of Hesdin, where my partner's mother's garden had spent last summer turning into Sleeping Beauty's Forest, with added ground elder. We spend 5 long, 'dur', days labouring against every perennial weed known to man and wrestling some very energetic roses into submission. The French neighbours' curtains twitched as Adam flailed behind their shared walls, swearing prolifically as another thorn wedged itself into his head, and the local garden centre offered us shares in the company due to the quantity of mulch we bought.
Speaking of which, what gerden centres! Baby chicks, rat traps, log splitters, small agricultural machinery - these meccas put ours to shame, though bizarrely the only mulch you can buy baged up is large bark chips from maritime pines, rather municipal in appearance by probably very long lasting. We used them over a long border of membrane which I wrestled under the brutal roses in a desperate attempt to control the weeds.