Sunday, 21 October 2012

'Garlic and sapphires in the mud...'

The past few days,after a very welcome blast of Swaledale, have been occupied in taking down the redundant coldframes, and starting to construct a raised bed to contain some of our stock plants that will get swamped as the shrubs in the borders get even larger.As it will lie alongside the path to the house, and, if we ever open the nursery,will be the first thing a visitor would see, we have decided to make a proper job of it, and build it using green oak sleepers rather than recycled boards.Unfortunately, these weigh a ton, and I have to use the forks on the tractor to move them into position:heavy rain and the action of the four wheel drive have created a fine sea of mud.

Once I get all the sleepers in place we will fork over the ground, mixing in ballast for drainage.I then plan to import a peat free compost and topsoil mix to add to the farmyard manure that we already have in stock. having done all that, Elizabeth will be able to plant the subjects languishing in pots by the back door.

The cattle are still out at grass, but the gateways are muddy, and I'll have to get them in.Before that,I will order a load of chalk for the yard floors, and spend a day replacing broken boards.

Work in progress

Sunday, 7 October 2012

'...Garden and trees,heel over into darkness...'

Not quite as grim as this Northumbrian lament may imply, but it has been rather wet, just under two inches in the first week of October.Strangely and worryingly, the soil just below the surface is still dry. I n my last post I bemoaned the hardness of the seedbed:the grass mix was drilled, and the wildflower seeds were broadcast. Heavy rain the day after drilling-fortunately the grass seed didn't drown, and there's now a distinct velvety sheen. Not sure about the flowers though:patience will be a virtue in this case.

The animals are still outside,though the gateways are suffering from the wet. There's still a lot of grass about, though we'll soon start feeding some hay.Plant sales are more or less over for the season,although it is the best time of year to plant  perennials people don't seem keen to get out into the garden this time of year.

We've ordered another small polytunnel to house more stock overwinter, and I've spent time dismantling redundant coldframes and building more layingout beds with the salvaged timber. My next job is to build a large stockbed where the coldframes were to maintain our stockplants, which are in danger of being swamped in the garden borders.


Saturday, 15 September 2012

Harrowing clods

A bit more freshness in the air, the dog has woken up, and we are busy establishing a couple of patches of pollen and nectar for the Higher Level Stewardship agreement. Where we are putting them is an odd shaped nucket of the Middle Field, all short work and heavy clay. In the past we had a game cover mix which wasn't highly successful.The rest of the field-the long straight runs -has been ploughed and manured , and will be reseeded with the Great Omenden Farm ryegrass and clover mixture. We've started to work the ground down, but despite all the summer rain, it is very hard, and is drying up rapidly.
Once I achieve a seed bed, we will broadcast a bagfull of "brushings", kindly given us by a neighbour from one of his established wild flower meadows. We will follow this by overseeding with a proprietary wildflower mix next spring. I hope to post on the performance of these patches, as it is a major departure for us.

A view of the Middle Field:the pollen and nectar plots will be in the foreground.
This is real clay, Monty Don!

The unusual summer has proved trying for the Nursery, and sales are down , though we had an excellent day at Sussex Prairies a couple of weeks ago, and are looking forward to a good day at Denbies tomorrow.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Phlomis russeliana

Phlomis, sounds like some lovelorn swain from sixteenth century English lyric poetry. I can't find a reference though, and I can't face the Faerie Queen. A man's plant, we find:on our stall, the husbands make a beeline for it, but the wives are not impressed. A bit like Telekia speciosa.We like it, however, and it certainly likes our heavy clay.It has been here for years, and this year a swathe runs along a Bethersden Marble path through the middle of the big bed.

To the left of the Phlomis lurks a very uneven path.

As well as vibrant, refreshing yellow whorls at this time of year, the seed heads add structure to the garden in duller months. Bees make use of the flowers, and I would think seed eating birds and insects would enjoy the plant during the winter.

Everywhere is saturated now; I ran across the middle field with the tractor and trailer putting up an electric fence,marking the ground, but luckily not sinking in.The cattle enjoyed the change, having not been in this field before,at least officially.I spent a wet morning with our Natural England advisor, going over our Higher Level Stewardship Scheme application.After ten years, the grassland at
Riverhall is beginning to look more like a traditional haymeadow:we found hayrattle in the Waypost field, which was originally in an arable rotation. Vigorous grasses are declining, being replaced by crested dogstail and sweet vernal.
On Sunday, we will be in St Mary's churchyard in Sandwich with our plants, supporting the opening of the "Little Gardens of Sandwich".Lets hope it doesn't rain!

Friday, 25 May 2012

'Some garden of broken stones and aquilegias...'

Not many stones of any description here, apart from some broken slabs of Bethersden Marble, but we have aquilegias coming out of our boots.Over the years, we've bought packets and packets of seeds of scented cultivars for the nursery, only to find in most cases that the resultant plants weren't scented or of much interest at all. Some of those that we didn't sell were planted out in the front garden, and now we have an infinite variety of form and colour. We plan to mark and save some of the more interesting ones-yes, some are smelly, but we know that what flowers in a couple of years will be different again, with a tendency to turn a rather insipid pink.

The recent hot weather, a real treat after what seemed to be weeks of cold and damp,has made things jump.Each day is greener and bluer: I heard a distant turtle dove the other day.I'll be meeting our Natural England advisor next month regarding our Higher Level Stewardship application , and plan to see if we can support this scarce but iconic summer visitor. We already have high hedges and the odd plant of fumitory, which is a major food source.


Thursday, 17 May 2012

Lunaria rediviva

Lunaria annua, Honesty, is an old favourite in the flower beds and growing in hedge bottoms about the farm. The perennial species, L rediviva seems equally accommodating, growing with us in an east facing bed just in front of the house wall-not the easiest position. To date, it hasn't seeded itself around, and in fact the seeds that we sowed this year are still to germinate, despite spells in the refrigerator. Perhaps when we  have commissioned our new propagation  arrangements we will be able to take cuttings.

The plant has a good cabbage solidity with a pronounced scent on the lilac spectrum:later in the season the lozenge shaped seed pods provide  further interest. Our bought it, mail order, from Cally Gardens.

We've attended plenty of plant sales this month, but a combination of unseasonably cold and wet weather and the recession has depressed demand. Mind you, to stand in the sun (when shining!) in a beautiful garden is a good way to pass a Sunday.

The cattle are making an awful mess of the gateways,so we will have to roll the ruts when things finally dry up:some of the worst areas will probably need harrowing and reseeding later in the year.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

How fearful and dizzy 'tis to cast one's eyes so low!

I’ve never had a good head for heights, but the contractors who were repairing the barn roof took me up in their cherry picker so I could take a few photos o.f the farm and nursery.This was a few days ago:now the fields are stodged up by the cattle, who are most disconsolate. We’ll have to start feeding hay for a while until the grass gets ahead of them-what’s needed are warm nights!

The famous nursery
A view of distant kine
 The nightingale has been singing for a week now: I think that I’ve heard about four individuals either on the farm or on neighbouring ground. We do hear the cuckoo, but rarely; a couple of swallows were about the yard today. April and May are busy months for plant sales, unfortunately the grim weather and financial uncertainty mean that fewer people are in a spending frame of mind. Today we were at a Gardening for the Disabled Trust event up the road in Woodchurch, and at the weekend we will be at Horsmonden Farmers Market on Friday, at the wonderful Saltwood Castle, (in aid of the NSPCC), on Saturday, at Denbies near Dorking on Sunday, and at Belmont spring fair near Faversham on Bank Holiday Monday.In between at that, we’ll be hard at it pricking out and potting on, and keeping the farm running smoothly.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean

After the early warm days of March we are in the depths of Blackthorn Winter ,but still terribly dry. We turned the cattle out on Thursday, really out of desperation as we had been buying in hay and straw for too long:not a great deal of grass, but at least they have got the sun on their backs!

This venerable peach is growing outside our potting shed:released from  a concrete path and ruinous wall,it is having a new lease of life.
 On Good Friday we were greeted by three lifesize Crosses as we arrived on the Heath for Horsmonden Farmers Market: apparently the godly folk of that parish re-enact the Crucifixion each year.Our space being at the foot of the Cross, I felt a certain fear that we would be turfed out by a vengeful Saviour, especially as we hadn’t brought our prize specimens of Hyssopus. It was all remarkably jolly, and was featured on the BBC Southeast News that evening.

 Plant sales are increasing in frequency: next Sunday we will be at Godinton House, just off the A20 near Ashford at the Kent Plant Heritage fair. In the Nursery we’ve been busy potting on and tidying up- a bit too dry for divisions at the moment.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

We're on The Heath!

We will be selling our plants at Horsmonden Farmers’ Market this Friday, and fortnightly there after. On Saturday, we will be at the Bulb Event at Smallhythe Place. Last Sunday we opened our account at the Kent Hardy Plant Society’s indoor sale at Lenham:good to see old , familiar faces, and some good business was done. Calving is proceeding well, and I’ve survived two whole days without any wheat products.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The ritual uncovering

Last week we took down the polythene sheeting that had been flapping about the laying –out beds since the late autumn. After the short and sweet arctic blast of the week before last subtropical warmth is forecast for the rest of this week , and indeed some long awaited rain. Emboldened by the condition of the over wintered stock, we went on to take down the bubble wrap in the polytunnel and the lids of the cold frames. As the week progressed , the warmer it got:at 6.55am on the school run the thermometer registered 10 Centigrade, and during the afternoon I put on the airconditioning in the tractor as I rolled The Pinnocks. The cattle would love to go out-the ground is probably dry enough in places, but of course the grass hasn’t really got going. Talk of drought and hosepipe bans is very worrying:we have already run out of hay and are having to buy it in. A dry spring will lead to another thin hay crop.Using a clover based system I’m loath to use too much artificial Nitrogen, but I fear I’ll have to in order to kick start the crop. We do have the IBCs installed last year to store roof water, but it needs to rain to keep ‘em full!

Lonicera fragrantissima has been flowering well and scenting the garden these past grey days.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Bread and Cheese

On Tuesday I declared Bread and Cheese, seemingly weeks before the proper time, and on a hedge not usually noted for being early. For the last few years,I’ve found a hawthorn at the northeast corner of Spratts to be the earliest on the farm. I suppose I should record these phenomena,but sometimes life is too busy. I don’t know if this is solely a Kent or even a family thing, but for as long as I can remember I have solemnly eaten the first open buds of hawthorn, while imagining that they taste of bread and cheese. They don’t , as far as I can tell. Meanwhile, the hedges are getting their biennual tidy up, and we have made the first steps in our application for Higher Level Environmental Stewardship for the fields that we will keep at Riverhall. The plan is that we will build on the work done over the last ten years:nutrient levels should be sufficiently depleted to enable wild flower seeds to grow without too much competition. We would probably spray-off strips after haymaking, lightly surface cultivate, then broadcast the seed, before we ring roll and let the cattle puddle the seeds in.
Bread and Cheese on a January Hedge.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Carried on the winter air

In a break from seed ordering, I wandered down through the garden to the postbox by the gate. I've a notoriously poor sense of smell but the air was laden with scent,I think from the venerable Viburnam x bodnantense 'Dawn'that my parents planted by the pond back in the early 1960's,which has been flowering for weeks during this mild winter. Over the next few days I plan to note what is flowering (and smelling) in the garden and report it here.
The venerable Dawn

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Caught in the Sun

After the storms of the New Year, we’ve enjoyed a period of mild and calm weather, although office related chores have kept me inside more than I would wish . Since the bullocks came in finally on Christmas Eve, the grass has continued to grow, and the fields are still firm under foot. Good for getting about, but I’m worried about water shortages later in the season. However, an early turnout would be good, as we don’t have unlimited supplies of hay and straw. Most days we open the polytunnel doors for a few hours, as we don’t want rots and moulds to set in. Some of the seeds that we sowed last spring, now consigned to a spell in the shade house, are beginning to show signs of life:today I saw allium like threads of green in a tray of Nectaroscordum siculum. We are a cold garden, but things are moving, and the Winter Aconites have been flowering more or less since the end of the first week of the year, though only really opening fully in sunshine. Yesterday there was a devastating fire at a farm about five miles to our west: under the black hammerhead of smoke a buzzard soared in the January sunlight.
Eranthis hyemalis