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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Busy bees (Mar 1)

We have bees.  Well almost – they’re not quite ours yet.   They belong to the local beekeeper Neil, who came to help with the bees in the walls of the house last summer (see The Bee Man – Jun 16).  He’s put two of his hives in the paddock and when one of these is about to swarm it will provide a new colony for one of our own.


Ed and Mr C got to know Neil through the local monthly Bee Association meetings which they’ve both been diligently attending since the autumn last year.  After reading several books and asking lots of questions they are now raring to go.    I’m a bit apprehensive about the whole bee thing so I’m putting off getting involved until Ed’s become an expert.

Neil put some foliage in front of each hive (you can’t quite see in the pic) to alert the bees to being in a new place as soon as they fly out.   This means they’ll then create a new map of this area instead of relying on all their knowledge about their old location.    Bees are of course super-sophisticated and all my primary school education keeps flooding back – like the “dances” they perform to tell each other where the pollen is.   Ed says a key “dance” is like a figure of 8 – I’m trying to get him to demonstrate but he isn’t willing….

Currently the bees are pretty sleepy as we’re just coming to the end of winter – but towards the end of the spring they’ll be much more active.   So when Ed gets back from his trip it will be swarm-catching time.    Apparently there’s a plan to catch another swarm from the bees that live in the walls of the house.  This is a more complicated arrangement and involves hanging some kind of scented ‘bee-catcher’ in the yew tree close by but I’m not totally clear on how that plan works!

We have 2 new hives on standby…

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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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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…

_MG_9547 meadow

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.