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The boat laboured in the heavy seas. The crew had been at sea for many months and provisions and morale were low. They feared that they may never reach land again. Up in the crows-nest the young lad searched the horizon once more. All of a sudden he saw the glimmer of a shape in the distance – he rubbed his eyes to make sure that they were not deceiving him – but his eyes were telling the truth, there ahead lay the faint yet beautiful sight of the familiar white cliffs. With a loud cry he uttered: ‘land ahoy’ and the crew gave one almighty cry of relief.

Forgive me for indulging in such melodramatics but so many gardeners feel this way at this time of year. The winter months seem so drawn out and the first month of the year passes so slowly. Every day we venture out into the gardens hoping to catch a glimpse of new life, a bud bulging here or a bulb nose poking out there.

Soon the garden journalists will wax lyrically of the harbingers of spring and there will be no stopping the relentless march of the seasons. For now though the merest glimpse of life in our seemingly dead garden will bring hope to our winter weary hearts.

 

tree planting (1)

 

I have no formal qualifications in horticulture and so I offer this description of planting a fruit tree with fear and trepidation. I am sure that someone will write in and tell me that I have done it all wrong. My only defence is that there are many ways of planting a tree and most of the trees I have planted over the years have grown on to be happy and fruitful so I must be getting something right.

The photo above was taken a few weeks ago when I prepared the holes for planting a few fruit trees. A fair amount of compost and blood fish and bone was added and a few rocks removed. I prefer preparing the holes in advance so that there is not so much of a panic when the trees arrive by post. It also allows the soil level to settle down and find its own level. Digging the holes certainly warmed me up on that snowy day!

 

tree planting-1

 

The Ashmead Kernel apple tree was laid out ready. there was not much of a wind but I stlll covered the roots up. The roots were still quite damp but I dipped them in the pond for good luck.

 

 

tree planting-1-1

Room was made for the root system and then good soil was replaced, teasing the soil between the gaps of the roots, carefully making sure that no air pockets were left. Then I stood on the soil to stomp everything down. I use a bamboo cane to make sure the soil is at the right level, just covering where the top root protrudes from the stem. This should leave the graft union sticking up in the air by about three inches.

A sturdy stake is then hammered in with a lump hammer. The ties were shorter than I usually use and so I had to bring the stake nearer to the tree than I would have liked. If I rattle the top of the tree and see that there is little movement at the base of the tree then I know that I have staked it well. The stake is then cut to size with a bow saw taking real care that I do not damage the tree itself. Some trees need one tie and some need two. The vital thing is to make sure the tree does not rub against the stake.

 

All that needs to be done then is to put the spiral rabbit protector on, sprinkle a layer of compost on top to make it pretty and offer up a prayer to the heavens.

The weather has been cold but sunny this week and has cheered everyone up no end. Even grumpy George has half-a-grumpy smile on his face these days!

 

tree sculpture

natural sculpture….

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The weather remains warm but dull grey. It seems an age since we last saw a glimmer of sunshine. The garden birds sing, though not of love but of petty jealousies.

The usually solitary crow tends to join up with others in the winter months. Twenty of them are flying overhead, almost hovering hawk-like in the gusty wind whilst all the time haggling at each other.

Great vigilance is needed when it comes to trees on an estate of this size. A fine specimen of a sweet chestnut grows against the edge of a field where two horses are left to graze from time to time. Unknown to me they have been reaching over and nibbling the bark causing a fair amount of damage. A couple of posts and a strand or two of wire is enough to keep them back. The tree will recover but this is not a good testimony to my husbandry.

Ivy is constantly trying to grow up into the heights of the trees. Turn your head for just a moment and the tenacious climber has made its way up. Naturalists would all want to swing me from the nearest branch for saying this but I have an instinctive hatred of ivy growing in trees.

I understand that ivy is paradise when it comes to overwintering insects and the berries make a fine food. But I feel that the branches of the tree suffer enough in the winter storms without having to cope with the extra weight of an ivy clambering all over it. Furthermore I love the sight of naked bark rather than being clothed with the rather dull ivy green

Theories abound regarding the staking of young trees. These days I prefer the method of hammering in a stake at an angle of forty-five degrees and using a flexible tie to secure the tree.

tree stake

The idea holds that if you do not stake a tree then it will blow over in the gusty breeze. But on the other hand, if you stake it too rigidly the top will blow in the wind and transmit vibrations down to the roots and cause damage there. Lightly securing the tree is the answer.

The witch hazel chooses to flower at this time of year in defiance of this dull wintry weather. Why it chooses to flower now is a mystery to me. No doubt there is a perfectly rational botanical reason that sadly eludes me. I guess there must be an insect out there that enjoys feeding at this time of year.

On this sad day I would rather be curled up by the fire with a good book and a mug of Irish cocoa. I have no choice though but to venture out into the drizzle to earn a living.

God sent the ravens to feed Elijah when he most needed it and perhaps the witch hazel has been sent to lighten up my hour and my mood and remind me that good days are just around the corner.

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hornbeam

 

Hello and welcome. My garden journal is published on Friday or Saturday and you can read my latest post by scrolling down. The Wednesday Hotchpotch is an eclectic blend of articles about the southwest of England, features of artists and artisans, experiments in frugal living, random photographs and anything else that catches my eye. I hope you enjoy it!

 

hornbeam leafThe hornbeam is one of my favourite trees. Some folk feel that the beech is more delicate and refined but I love the deeply veined leaves of the hornbeam with their sumptuous deep brown colour at this time of year.

The wood is as tough as they come. It was used in days gone by to make yokes for oxen hence the name since the yoke was placed behind the horns of the beast. It was also used to make butcher’s blocks and gear pegs for traditional windmills.

 

Charcoal from this wood produces a heat strong enough to smelt iron and would have been used in ancient times for the production of iron implements.

The hornbeam is a favourite of the hawfinch who feast on the nuts in the autumn and winter.

The hornbeam takes readily to pollarding. The harvest of faggots of wood was prized by London bakers for its long steady burning qualities.

In traditional medicine the leaves are used to treat feelings of exhaustion and tiredness that come before an effort has even been made.

But for me, the deeply textured leaves at this time of year win hands down every-time. They remind me of posh hand-made crisps!

 

hornbeam leaf1

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