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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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.


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Wild flower meadow patch (May 31 weekend)

We dream of a wild flower meadow in the paddock (see last year’s The Paddock  – May 20) but as this is going to take some time, I’m getting started on a beginner’s patch in the walled garden instead.

Last year we let a lot of the grass grow unchecked – partly to cut down mowing duties and partly to see what would happen.  Unlike the paddock the walled garden has no brambles, docks or nettles to deal with – so we left 3 sections of grass to grow wild this year.   It’s a daily treat to open the garden door and see the pretty long stems swaying in the wind.

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Now all we need is flowers…

So I’ve taken on one patch as my first real garden project.  I’ve been keen to take ownership of something outside, but so far the house has taken priority.  I’m also not naturally green-fingered but I’m keen to improve so I’m hoping this will kick-start me into action.

This weekend was my last chance to get going as we are away for most of June and then it will be too late to plant seeds.

I picked out blue cornflowers and red poppies (both grow wild here) from the packets Ed bought me for my birthday last year.  He also found a strange implement in the gardening shed which looks like it might have been used for cutting holes in a golf course – it has a tall handle that sits on a hollow cylinder about 5 inches wide and 3 inches deep and as you twist the handle bar it cuts out round sections of earth.   Armed with this and a bucket of soil and compost – I planted 18 random holes in amongst the grass – it seemed like a fitting number.

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It’s a bit of an experiment.  A more fool proof method might have been to plough up the earth and spread seeds mixed with sand (the gardening programmes I’m watching with Ed are starting to have the desired effect) – but the golf course version requires much less effort.   Soon after we get home we should see if it’s paid off .  If it has, then this could also be the answer to turning our 2 acre paddock into a meadow – as well as the beginning of my gardening career…

 


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The paddock cont’d (Jul 18)

Ed’s concerned about the paddock.    The docks, nettles and brambles (a recent discovery) are all really hard to get rid of once they take hold and are turning the paddock into impenetrable bush.  If we don’t cut them back our plan for a wild flower meadow will never come to anything.

We’ve been discussing getting a couple of goats (Ed had them when he was growing up)  or finding someone with a shetland pony (we’ve seen some in a field near here and I’ve been asking around) but we still haven’t managed to sort anything out.  So in desperation Ed started on it this morning with the strimmer.

It was looking like an extremely long day  – the paddock is 2 acres – when Mr C turned up like a knight in a shining tractor.  It took him, his tractor and his mower less than an hour to do the whole lot.  We owe him dinner.

While we don’t have any animals and I’m sure Mr C has better things to do, we need to find another solution.  A new tractor is out of the question so Ed’s now intent on trying to fix the mower attachment for the mini-tractor that the previous owners left us.   It’s rusting away in the grass – and looks like it’s been there for years.   It seems he can turn his hand to anything as he’s already re-modelled the rotting trailer (also abandoned in the grass) so hopefully he can work some magic on the mower too…


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The paddock (May 20)

We’ve been mulling over what to do with the paddock and while we mulled, wild flowers started to grow.    Wherever we ended up we’d always hoped to have a wild flower meadow so we decided not to mow the paddock and see what happened.   Already we’ve had bluebells, birds-eyes, campions, wild primrose, herb robert and pignut – and around a dozen more flowers we’ve still to identify…

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But as the flowers have grown the grass has grown too and now it’s taking over, along with the nettles and docks.    A bit of research tells us that wild flower meadows come up in fields that are left to grow where animals have been grazing.     We have rich soil here (you can tell by looking at it and lots of nettles are also a sign apparently) which is great for grass and veg’ but not so good for wild flowers.   If we put animals in there they would take a lot of the nutrients out of the soil by eating the grass – and at the same time create a good bed for next year’s flowers by churning up the ground.

So animals sound like the answer.   Oh if it was that simple.  Much of the fence needs to be fixed and there are rhododendrons creeping over the sides which are poisonous to horses, sheep and cattle.  As always here, nothing is ever straight forward.   An alternative would be getting in a JCB to take off the top layer of soil in the paddock which is way out of our budget.

So if we want a meadow next year, we’ll have to fix the fence, prune the rhododendrons (which are running rampant everywhere but that’s a whole other story) and then find some animals before the end of summer.  As there are other more pressing jobs to get done, it looks like our wild flower meadow is going to have to wait.