Garden Update (May 2017)

It’s been a long time since I posted about the garden. This is the last photo of the back garden I showed you, back in January 2015:Braemore garden

This is the same view today (sorry about the blurry photo):IMG_20170529_125244

Some of this is simply the difference between January and May, but most of the difference is down to hard work and planting! Today I did some more planting, and I think I am more or less sorted for the summer. My courgettes are getting on nicely, in the back and along the side of the house.


Today I planted out broccoli seedlings in the front and in various places out back.


You’ll see that in the front bed, I’ve also got some beet ‘spinach’ and a couple of tomato plants that are really doing well. I’ve also got strawberries in another raised bed in the front, and some raspberry canes against the fence. Today was the first strawberry harvest of the season. They were delicious.IMG_20170529_123208

On the patio, I planted some flowers in this old sink, to replace the ganzanias I planted a month back which were eaten by molluscs. These are geraniums, petunias and begonias, plus one ganzania (I live in hope) and a tomato – all from Portslade Church’s plant sale. I’m ready with my gloves and head torch to do a slug patrol after dark – I’m very reluctant to use pellets – it’s their garden too. I’m also trying another fuschia, in the hope that this one will survive the winter unlike its predecessor. I love fuschias.IMG_20170529_125258

The wire caging is to keep the fox from digging up the plants. There’s plenty of soil for him (I think he’s a him) to dig up in the wild corner of the garden, near the laurel bush under which he likes to take a nap. IMG_20170529_125629

I enjoy pottering in the garden, but what I really like to do is sit on the swing seat. I extended the roof a couple of years ago, sIMG_20170529_125656o I can sit there even when it’s raining. It has a great view (see below: oak, hawthorn, hazel, rowan, hydrangea, laurel, camelia, budleia, apple, pittosporum and next door’s silver birch, as well as grass I let grow tall, as grass should), and it’s tucked away from sight. I bring a coffee out here early every morning and have a little time thinking, praying and watching the birds on the feeder. It’s my favourite place at other times, too, for reading or just sitting. Because what’s the point of a garden if you don’t sit and do nothing except enjoy it?IMG_20170529_125133


Front Gardening

This is only the second front garden I’ve had.  In the last house, the back was so large I just kept the front as lawn.  Here, though, the back is small and quite shaded; also I want to leave enough space out there so that the tent can be put up to dry if we have to bring it home wet.  So I’ve decided to put some vegetable beds in the front garden instead.  Here’s a photo of progress so far:

Front veg beds

The frames are old ones we brought with us, the rear one being made of old floor joists.  I’m a fan of ‘no dig’ gardening, on the basis that the soil is a living complex of fungi and other important beings that are better left undisturbed … plus it’s less work.  So I put down a layer of cardboard to cover the grass, then added the compost and some manure.  Then the seedlings went in: sugar snap peas, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and strawberries.  A surface mulch of straw should help with moisture retention.  In front I’ve planted a couple of rosemary bushes and some dwarf sunflower seeds.

The first night, a fox (probably) dug everything up.  I was really annoyed.  I thought, “What makes the fox think she can just dig where she likes?”  Then I thought, “What makes me think I can just install raised beds where I like?”  Still – I’ve put a sheet of wire mesh across the rear bed, about 6 inches above the soil.  The front bed frame was a kit and had a kind of square poly-tunnel over it. The plastic rotted but I’ve used the frame and covered it with chicken wire.  So far, that’s kept the animals away and the re-planted seedlings seem to be recovering.

One bonus of gardening in front of the house is that, while I was working, I had loads of short conversations with passers-by.  It seems that vegetables make people happy.

Blank sheet garden

This is our new back garden:

Braemore garden

It’s a bit of a dump, isn’t it?  The builders have trodden a lot of the grass into the soil, which seems to be a heavy clay, heavily compacted, very muddy.  If you’ve seen my previous gardening posts, (e.g. Garden, from 2012) you’ll see that this new garden is a fraction of the size of the old one, and really quite boring.

It’s actually quite exciting.  It’s like a blank sheet of paper.  I have ideas and dreams, and because it’s much smaller, I might manage to realise them here.  I’m thinking … wildflowers and veggies … a small pond for amphibians and maybe fish (maybe it will help drain the soil?) … an apple tree trained up the south-facing fence … a hedge of hawthorn, hazel & maybe holly to mask the compost bins and feed the birds …  the possibilities are endless in a blank sheet garden.

Except it’s not exactly blank.  That’s some sort of oak tree, there at the back, and something’s been living in that compost bin.  There’s a laurel bush and some sort of evergreen, broad-leafed tree and a magnificent yucca-type thing, and who knows what’s dormant in the soil, waiting for spring, amongst all the chilled invertebrates? I’m not too hopeful about garden birds, being about 100 yards from the sea, but I’ve already seen a robin and some blackbirds.  It’s not blank – it’s full of life.  And, just like the old garden, or any piece of land I might inhabit, it’s not mine.

Farewell garden, and I thank you

The long-running saga of our house move is drawing towards a conclusion. It looks likely that we’ll be moving just before Christmas (not very good timing for a minister, but there you go).

I have completed my checklist of gardening tasks, and can now report that the garden is ready for the move. I have:
– dismantled and sold the trampoline
– dismantled the swing seat
– drained and disconnected the water butts
– dismantled my hermitage in the shed and tidied the shed
– emptied a compost bin and put it out for the rain to wash, along with another that was already empty
– weaned the birds off their reliance on me and dismantled the feeders
– taken up the frames of two of the raised beds (the other has been empty all year – in the Spring we thought we’d be moving in July, so I haven’t grown any veg this year)
– pruned everything that should be pruned at this time of year, except for 2 rose bushes who’ve been fooled by the mild November and are still in bloom
– pulled ivy off the fences

I nearly didn’t do the ivy. Normally that’s a mid-winter job, when there isn’t so much else to do. But I expect my old churches will rent the house out, and it’s not the sort of job a tenant is likely to do, and the ivy wrecks the fences. The neighbours on both sides of the garden are very fond of ivy and it grows like mad in these shady, mature gardens.

Clearing ivy was the first job I ever did in this garden. At the time, we were living in temporary accommodation 10 miles the far side of the city from our churches and schools, and it was truly dreadful. We had been there 4 months and while some work had been done to this house over the autumn, weeks went by with nothing happening at all. We were desperate to move. In January, I thought, ‘Someone needs to be working on that house.’ So I came in on my days off and pulled up ivy. It had spread across half the garden and up all the trees and I spent several days just reeling in armfuls of the stuff. So it felt quite fitting this weekend that my last task in the garden was the same as my first.

I will miss this garden. It’s been a place of learning, of wonder, of restoration, of healing, of prayer, of fun, of food (grown and eaten), of company and of solitude. Our new garden will be very different, and no doubt I will tell you all about it in due course. But for now, farewell garden, and I thank you.

Autumn weeds

Hogweeds (cow parsley?)  tend to take over the wildlife reserve that is the end of the garden.  In the spring, I cut them down twice, but they were very determined and kept growing back, so I let them be.  In the summer, the flowers were visited by lots of different insects.

While enjoying my early morning coffee down there today, it struck me how beautiful these weeds look when they’re dead.

Hogweed 2

They provide a lovely brown contrast to the greens everywhere else.  They also provide good anchor points for spider webs.  The spiders are busy spinning all over the garden at the moment.  I like the idea of the spiders using these dead stalks for catching the flies that, a couple of months ago, fed on the flowers that grew on the same stalks.

Hogweed 1

What a shame it would be to cut them down.

I love gardening.



I spent a happy day in the garden, pruning shrubs and doing a bit of general tidying.  Here’s one of my big fuchsias before:

Fuschia before


And after:

Fuschia after


They love a good prune! I wasn’t as severe as usual. I normally wait for the leaves to drop, but this winter’s been so mild that most of the fuchsias stayed in leaf, and now the spring leaves are bursting out.

In fact, spring seemed to be bursting out all over on this sunny February day.  Some of the daffodils are out, and the crocuses have been in flower for a few weeks.  A bumble bee was enjoying this crocus:

Bee in crocus


The dogwoods are next on the pruning schedule.  Not long now.

Cornus and crocus


My day in the garden was tinged with some sadness, as this will be my last spring in it.  A change of job means a change of house, even though my new church is only in Brighton and is nearer this house than the one we have to move to.  I hope that whoever succeeds me in Hove and in this garden learns to understand it. In particular, I hope s/he doesn’t chop down my trees and continues to let it be semi-wild. For example, those brambly log piles are home to all sorts of animal life, including frogs and newts. Hey ho – it’s not my garden. However much time and energy and planting I’ve invested in it, I was only a participant in nature, and that silver birch and that liquidambar were never going to mature in my time here.  But – it’s hard to be pruned.



Winter flowers

Here in southern England, we’re not really having winter, just a rainy season. In the relatively mild temperatures, several plants in the garden are waking up early.

This elder is coming into leaf (in mid-January!):

Elder leaf

Are plants like children? If they don’t get enough sleep, will they be crabby and crotchety all the rest of the year? How will that affect the rest of us?

Here are some pictures of snowdrops, crocus, jasmine and miscellaneous pretty purple flower. The jasmine should be in flower now, but I think the others are early.




Jasmine 2


Purple weed


It is lovely to have something in bloom in the depths of January, regardless of whether or not it should be.


Keyhole Garden

I have just come to the end of over seven years ministry with three churches in Hove and Portslade. Amongst the generous leaving gifts were some virtual gifts through Oxfam and Send A Cow: 2 rabbits, a goat, water harvesting, mixed fruit trees, a ‘Magic Muck Kit’, mosquito nets, safe water and 2 keyhole gardens.

I love the idea of these keyhole gardens. At some point, we are going to be moving to a house with a considerably smaller garden, where I’m going to have to be much more creative to make good use of the space. I’m feeling inspired about building a keyhole garden, complete with a little thatched roof.

Here’s a link to Send A Cow’s video showing how the keyhole garden is built.

I think the goats look pretty good, too, but don’t tell Mrs Mabbsonsea.

Leave the leaves

This is what an autumn lawn should look like:

Leafy lawn


It’s not a very good photo, but you get the idea. The leaves are supposed to lie under the tree, rot down with the help of the fungi and bugs that eat them, and then enrich the soil to feed the tree. The blackbirds flick through the leaves to eat some of the bugs. A man in wellies kicks through the leaves just for the fun of it. If you rake them up, none of this good, life-giving stuff can happen. A lawn rake is a tool of the devil, and don’t get me started on motorised leaf blowers. Leave the leaves alone! Everyone is happier when things are left the way they should be.