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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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.


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.


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 last cut (Oct 16)

IMG_1786Autumn is setting in and these last dry days have given us one final chance to get all the grass mowed and the lawns in order for winter.

Gracie and I collect 3 buckets of apples from the orchard and then mow the walled garden on the small wheel tractor.   Yes I can now drive a tractor (Ed fixed up the mower attachment and it works brilliantly).  I can also drive a tractor with Gracie sitting on my knee, singing and eating apples and grapes (there’s a tiny vine in the old green house that’s managed to produce a few small sweet clusters without any assistance).   Ed takes care of the paddock and drives.

Then the lawns.  Gracie and I rake leaves while Ed gets back to the never-ending scarifying (see Making Hay – Jun 9).   Various attempts at scarifying have produced so much thatch that it’s an overwhelming amount of work and our many compost pens are overflowing so we’ve downsized our plan with Ed’s recent efforts focussing on the main lawn outside the house.

He’s taken to calling it the croquet lawn which is an admirable aspiration – flat, hard, no moss and well drained.   The ‘croquet lawn’ has now been scarified 3 times and what’s left behind is patchy grass but thankfully no moss.  After a spread of sand (to help with drainage) and some new seed the make-over of the croquet lawn is complete – but it looks a bit naked.    Ed says if the grass doesn’t grow then he’ll have to cover it all in top soil and reseed again.IMG_1811

And as moss is catching –  come the spring, we’ll need to re-start the whole cycle and get to work on the rest of the grass.   Having a good looking lawn it seems requires some serious effort….


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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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Footprints on the lawn…(Apr 21)


We still haven’t unpacked everything yet because there are too many other urgent things to see to. The lawn is one of them and it’s our (Ed’s) first big job. It’s over an acre in all.

It’s mostly moss, apart from the molehills (see Counting Molehills Apr 25) with varying patches of grass poking through. It’s so spongy we leave our footprints behind when we walk on it. This apparently is not a good thing, although I’m not sure I would have realized for quite some time unless someone had pointed it out. Ed says it’s too soft to use for much and gets boggy.

Neither of us have had a lawn since we were kids so it’s taken a fair bit of research to work out what we’re supposed to do. A sure sign of middle-age, Ed’s bed time reading is now The Lawn Expert and The Country House Garden. The moss is essentially caused by the wet (not much we can do about that up here on the West Coast) and can be made worse by overenthusiastic mowing (one to remember) as well as bad drainage (the drain is still to find…). Who knew? Lawns have drains.

To get rid of the moss we have to spray with moss killer, wait for the moss to die and then ‘scarify’ – basically comb out the moss leaving just the grass behind. We then have to re-seed and re-fertilise. An extra bit of machinery for the scarifying bit is already on it’s way with the new mower.

The new mower has also been something of a research project – and suffice to say Ed’s going to have to sell his motorbike to pay for it. I’ve suggested that he wear his helmet and leathers while he’s doing the lawn and he’ll hardly know the difference!

We’ve been keenly awaiting the arrival of the mower as the speed at which the grass grows up here has taken on mythical proportions. Mr C, the farmer, keeps reminding us that we better get on with it otherwise we’ll soon be up to our knees and then it’ll all be too late…  Although as one of our friends recently pointed out; given the lawn is mostly moss we may have nothing to worry about.

One option would be to rip it all up obviously and start again/lay down new turf but that’s way too expensive. So scarifying it is. As Ed’s only here at the weekends for now, we don’t have that much time to get on top of everything but we’re determined to do as much as we can on our own. Mr C and our various new neighbours smile knowingly at the mention of us scarifying – but not to be put off, Ed sprayed the lawn with moss killer today. Working out the ratio of moss killer to water to square foot of lawn using a 15 litre back pack was challenging to say the least – but fingers crossed we got it right. Now while Ed’s away the moss should start to die… if we got the mixture wrong the grass will die too…

Once we get to the actual scarifying bit (in a few weeks) the view from my desk of a sea of green could easily turn into a sea of brown. I think it’s fair to say I’m just a little bit scared….