A Castle in the Sky

In March 2013, after years of talking about it we eventually sell up and move out of the city with our 2 year old, Gracie. We both grew up in the countryside and this is what we want for our daughter. So we swap a 2 bed flat in London for a small country pile on the west coast of Scotland that needs a lot of work. I've done a bit of interior design and my partner, Ed has a good knowledge of the outdoors – but we're on a tight budget and we've both got a lot to learn. It's a life time's project and this is a record of our adventure…


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Sweet summer (Jun 22)

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Our first strawberry patch is yielding a bumper harvest.   Ed planted 4 long rows last year  – Gracie loves strawberries!  – and they’re doing extremely well.    They taste deliciously sweet but we’ve more than we can eat and pick – and if we don’t get to them in time the heavy fruit at the bottom starts to rot where the berries touch the damp soil.

Straw is the answer, according to Ed’s dad, which is why many people think they’re called ‘straw’berries.  Although it’s more likely that the name comes from ‘strew’ or ‘spread around’ to describe how the wild plant’s tendrils grow – and named long before strawberries were cultivated.   As the straw needs to go down just as the flowers finish, we’ll have to wait till next summer to give it a try.

 

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This year’s veg; successes and failures… (Aug 16)

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After last year’s club root disaster (see Club foot! Aug 24, 2013 ) Ed bought resistant strains and this year brilliantly all the brassicas have come through.

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The onions were kept in pots too long before they were planted out so ours didn’t do well at all.  Luckily we are sharing everything and Mr C planted his out at the right time…

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We’ve had a glut of courgettes (we have 3 kinds) and tomatoes – they just keep on coming.   So I’ve been making batches of soup to freeze and tried my hand at ketchup as it uses up nearly a kilo of tomatoes per bottle (it turned out a bit runny for ketchup – I blame the sieve – so I’m calling it relish).

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We’ve discovered that runner beans and peas need to be picked at just the right time – otherwise the beans are stringy and the peas go powdery.

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We have curly kale and cavalo nero – the curly kale tastes a bit earthy but the cavalo nero is delicious.

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We also have house stores.  We pulled up all the beetroot which are now buried in a bucket of sand –  and all the carrots which are now buried in a box of compost.   All the potatoes – we have 2 kinds  – are sorted and in sacks for the winter.

We have more lettuces and parsley than we know what to do with.  The spinach is now coming through, as are the leeks – and the parsnips will be next.     It’s been a bumper year and now we know what grows really well the next skill to master is ‘succession’ – so we have year-round veg.

 

 


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The tumble-down sheds (Aug 3)

We are putting my nephews to good use while they are here.  They’re working through a list of jobs with Ed that I’ve been compiling for some time.  There’s always a list.

Today it’s clearing out the tumble-down sheds behind the walled garden.  They’re full of junk; cages, bins, broken furniture, bits of old wood and metal.

The long term plan is to use them as potting sheds and garden storage but before we get that far, the back wall will need some attention – particularly above the corrugated roof (see the dark holes in the photos).    Like a lot of work here we just have to keep our fingers crossed that the hole/leak/crack doesn’t get too much worse before we get round to fixing it / can afford to do it…

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The sheds are already quite beautiful  – but in time we intend to add salvaged windows, doors and make-shift skylights;  a collection of different pieces that we’ll pick up whenever we can from local salvage yards.

For now though the boys are helping us to move things on and because they’re involved I can see that their connection to the place gets stronger with each visit.    They are becoming part of the shape of things here.   Slow progress I’m discovering has its own kind of rewards.


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Uncovering the secrets of the walled garden (Jul 16)

When we first moved here just thinking about the amount of work that needed doing to the walled garden was overwhelming.  See – The Walled Garden (Easter Weekend – Mar 30, 2013).     The old vegetable patches hadn’t been tended for years, the green house was filthy and many of the glass planes broken, the orchard looked like it had never been pruned and that winter, before we arrived, the north wall had been seriously damaged in a storm.

Below – the back of the north wall. The repairs were meant to have been carried out by the previous owners…

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 Nearly all the garden was rough grass

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April – and Ed gets started on one of the 2 overgrown vegetable patches…

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The unloved orchard surrounded by mole hills

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Despite the daunting task ahead, we were smitten – and one step at a time, our secret garden is starting to bloom.   Ed has worked a year of magic on it and walking up the winding path to the garden door is now more exciting than ever as there’s such a treat in store…

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We now have 4 impressive plots of burgeoning green; fruit as well as vegetable patches.   This is our main veggie patch

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The green house has had a total make-over and is currently the happy home to 5 tomato vines

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At long last the north wall has been properly fixed with stone and lime mortar; a massive job that the previous owners eventually paid for…

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The moles hills have also gone, the apple trees have been fed and pruned, and the meadow patches are underway – and there’s so much more to come; hedges and paths, flower borders and a DIY summer house, restored railings and replacing a section of ancient tumble-down wall with old barn doors as gates (the search is on…).   It’s a vision of loveliness.   We are one year in and it’s already taking shape.


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Wildflower meadow patch update (Jul 5)

Hot off the plane from our holiday… I go straight up to the walled garden to check on the progress of our wildflower patch.    Visions of poppies and cornflowers dance in my head – but I’m sad to say  it’s not good news.

Something – mouse? rabbit? dog? –  has dug up nearly all of my lovingly planted seed beds.  Now just 3 out of the 18 perfectly formed little plots remain. Oh dear…

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“That’s gardening for you!” is Ed’s reaction which is wonderfully encouraging.

He’s suggesting that I plant some knapweed (thistle family) seedlings he’s been nurturing in the greenhouse instead – but right now I haven’t the heart.   I’m downing all tools while I reconsider my fledgling gardening career.