The new deer fenced area was meant to be housing a few cows this week. The aim being to work the ground over a bit in preparation for mapping out some terracing with the Japanese village. However as the young cows were introduced to the lower gate, they rushed through the field and straight out the top gate that had been mysteriously opened - presumably the night before. There then ensued a lengthy and unsuccessful cow chase reminding me of the incredible irritation factor of livestock. Today John the farmer finally got them back into the field (there is no connection with the deer problem below).
The garden has taken a battering this week - as the spring shoots start to emerge the red deer start to move down the hill to pick off the green shoots, unfortunately that means coming through the garden and giving it a quick denuding as they pass. Worst victim has been a tree that was evidently the exact right height for belly scratching. I think it is just one deer that has been working us over, and it's one of the biggest I’ve ever seen (I haven’t actually seen it just prints) - I was convinced it was a cow! The Forestry could shoot it but are unwilling as it will be worth several hundred pounds to a sportsman seeking a good head, the hunters generally come from Germany, I always think it must be a bit strange for them shooting a stag between the mountain bikers and walkers.
Attended a farm auction at the weekend, a spectacular gathering of farmers, there were pick-ups and land rovers for miles parked up along the lanes. The massed body of people dressed in wellies and overalls was a phenomenal sight, very uniform, a specialised group that you rarely see on mass. The auction covered everything from the most dilapadated sheds and piles of timber to quad bikes and tractors. We bought some odds and ends, rag rugs and pottery (very tasteful).
...from the bracken!
Though it's taken so-o-o-o much longer than we expected to create, we are dead proud of this new experimental garden made on a shoestring - the Lawson Park Kitchen Garden. Its a southwest facing sloped site, some 50m x80m in size, that's around a quarter of an acre I guess.
The raised timber beds are mostly 4m x 4m (except of the large fruit bed), we would have liked them smaller for access but were stopped by the volume of materials we'd have needed. Paths are a generous 1.5 m wide, meaning great access, and finished in ungraded slate chippings, free locally.
Here's what I'll be trialling in the site this year, so far just celeriac, lettuce, broadbeans and tomatoes are sown in the unheated polytunnel:
Broad bean ‘ Green Windsor’
Dwarf french bean ‘ Purple Queen’
Runner bean ‘Czar’
Shungiku Chop Suey greens
Tomato Adine Cornue (in tunnel)
Parsley ‘Italian Giant’
Beetroot ‘Barabietola di Chioggia’
Leaf beet ‘Oriole’
Chinese cabbage ‘Nikko F1’
Broccoli Purple Sprouting Early
Corn salad ‘Louviers’
Squash ‘Blue Kuri’
Kale Dwarf green Curled
Courgette Partenon F1
Cucumber ‘Marketmore’ (in tunnel)
Lettuce ‘Rubens Red Cos’
Potatoes Red Duke Of York, Premiere, Maris Bard, Epicure and Orla
Each weekend is now being spent finishing the planting of a new mixed hedge(row) round the new kitchen garden which is around 60m x 40m in size. Up here we have to disregard the textbooks and plant regardless of the effects of the last few months of rain (or we'd never plant anything) meaning trenches like the Somme and a lot of sliding around and swearing into the mud as the mountain bikers fly past us on Sunday afternoons.
The site of the front of the hedge is exposed, full of rock, and very steep - this due to a paper miscalculation meaning that the raised bed grid of the garden took up rather too much room and pushed the perimeter forward. So to cap off the misery of planting into this we need to assemble some kind of narrow path to facilitate the occasional trim alongside it. The quantity of bracken in this area has led us to not only hand dig its tough black roots out, but also make the decision to plant the hedging into woven landscaping mulch fabric. The woven stuff frays very easily and I don't like working with it as much as the other softer unwoven kind, but I'm told its better. Cutting and fitting round the twiggy plants is slow and tedious work, and of course the whole lot needs a bark or gravel mulch to finish - but in the long run the hedge will get away faster and provide the much needed windbreak the vegetable beds need.
The hedge is trenches with wellrotted manure and the plant mix FYI is based on the most vigorous plants in the two very successful hedges so far planted here - one in 2001, now 6' high and one in 2005, now 4' high. Its around 40% hazel with the rest made up of beech, holly, swedish whitebeam, sloe, guelder rose, cherry plum and amelenchier ovalis (this last for the plain reason I managed to grow dozens from seed) with the odd fuchsia for glamour.
As with the rest of the garden we pray the deer have tastier hors d'oeuvres elsewhere as there's no fencing....
A long overdue online welcome to George Watson, a former head gardener who has been working for us part-time since early summer. Left pretty much alone during the driest season for eons (even here) George managed to keep most of the hundreds of young plants in pots alive and has taken on all manner of jobs we had managed to postpone indefinitely. Sadly we say goodbye to him for the winter, but he lead a team of volunteers (thanks Jamie, Aiko, Lisa & Simon) this weekend in a blaze of walling and woodland clearance. Haste ye back!
Gardening as I do in some wet mountains, I was particularly appreciative of Kylemore Abbey in Connemara (Ireland) which I recently visited. Now a school and nun community, the recently restored 6 acre walled kitchen garden is awe-inspiring both in and outside its walls. The scale is vast, built originally by some nuts Victorian gentry who only occasionally visited, and it included dozens of glasshouses for wet weather walking, pineapple beds and lots of now-restored island beds of gaudy bedding. All framed by the most romantically gloomy mountains.
Have a look at www.kylemoreabbey.com/garden.asp for more...
Whilst I have left Lawson Park in the safe hands of our new gardener George, I’ve been spending three weeks in rural north-west Japan, on an arts project within the Echigo Tsumari Triennale exhibition. It’s really the first time I’ve been outside of Europe to a place with so much horticultural novelty. To the European eye, one of the most painful things to witness here is the regular maintenance of mountain paths, which requires hacking down overgrown acers and other rare-to-us trees by the dozen.
Our village, Toge, produces Japan’s finest rice, apparently due to abundant summer rain and heavy winter snow which stays put for months. And boy can it rain – and coming from someone who lives in the Lake District and was brought up on the west coast of Scotland, that’s saying something.
The land below the velvety forests is steeply terraced, with small-ish, spring fed rice paddies divided by ditches and banks of verdant wild undergrowth. On closer inspection this undergrowth is made up of some recognisable plants: macleaya cordata (plume poppy), aruncus diocus, various small bamboos, a kind of carex grass, vines and the occasional orange lily. Further afield one drives past what look like Madonna lilies also growing wild – large stems of showy white blooms. Morning glory, blue hydrangea, phlox, rudbeckia and daisy-like coreopsis seem common on the fringes of gardens, as are various crocosmia and species gladioli – I’m not sure if these are native or not.
Gardens here rarely have dividing boundaries, and lack many of the characteristics one associates with Japanese gardens traditionally: it’s a farming community and I guess they have no time for fiddly bonsai. However, each house has a rectangular or sometimes corner-shaped pond right by it, usually filled with waterlilies and carp.
Highly productive vegetable gardens are sited on level areas close to every house - there are few areas of useful land unused – even small triangles of ground by roads are filled with vegetables. The soil seems to be clay subsoil with sandy topsoil. The dominant crops are aubergines and cucumbers though there are many unfamiliar shoots and stems in between that I would like to identify.
Maintenance-wise, the fight against weeds must be a depressing task: horsetail and others grow inches per day and only the tomatoes and aubergines are mulched with plastic. I expect the banks between terraces are allowed to grow wild to prevent subsidence, and much of the leafy growth is eaten too. I was curious as to why the weeding I have seen is done by just removing the top growth with a machete, and I suspect it’s both for eating and because root removal would encourage land subsidence in the next heavy downpour. Composting seems not to happen here and I am curious as to why, as I’d expect the humid heat to enable very fast decay. The only top dressing I have noticed looked a lot like dried rice husks sprinkled around young plants – as I haven’t seen any snail or slugs I’m not sure what this does.
By our house and in the most appallingly wet conditions, a noted Japanese landscape architect has designed and installed a rather bizarre garden which marries European-style flower-planting with Japanese hard landscaping. Some noteable features include chicken-wire gabions filled with pebbles as pond-banks, heavily charred hardwood as a building and water feature material (I’ve read this is believed to preserve the timber), and a high stacked log wall. The quality of the materials is very high, and they are used very simply, however the workmanship of the installation is rather poor - this might be because it’s a ‘show garden’, but there’s a real sense that it could all slip off down the hillside during the next downpour.
This, dear reader, is destined THIS YEAR to become a new kitchen garden! It's an area around 60m x 40m, gently sloping south west and previously smothered in bracken. Our produce will be grown in raised beds with imported topsoil , and we are optimistically layering cardboard between what remains of the bracken and the topsoil to attempt an organic eradication of the pest....Watch this space for news on whether that works....
Since this photo was taken, the lucky beehives have received their own levelled off area (though their honeycomb shaped shed remains as yet unfinished though tres rustique) and two massive compost bins have been installed. However, a bizarre local famine of the planned larch poles means we will be sadly using more 'finished' planks to make the beds, though this will no doubt give the are a more stylish appearance.
What was it the contractor said when gazing down at it ?
"It's never gonna be Kew Gardens, is it?"
Au contraire, mate!