Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Tales from the Old Rectory... badgers.

One day last year, I arrived at work to find the Client distraught, and large holes scraped in the lawn. She said it had started four or five days earlier (I only go there once a week), and they had no idea what was causing the damage - obviously it was some form of wild life, but it was considerably bigger than any previous squirrel damage. And it's a walled garden. Tall walls. All the way round.

I set off on a quick survey of the garden, and found two separate piles of animal poo - not small and currant-like from rabbits, but not squishy and disgusting like dog or cat poo either, in fact they looked somewhat like a pile of nuts. Now, the previous year, elsewhere in the same village, I'd seen this: there are badgers down by the ford, and for some weeks they had taken a fancy to trespassing on one of my other gardens, doing the same sort of damage and leaving the same latrine piles.

But it's a walled garden!

Had either of the gates been left open, I asked? No - the big solid gate between the outhouses is permanently bolted and padlocked, and the metal gate, which is my access, is always locked up at night.

OK, I said, they must be getting in somewhere, I will go and find the weak spot. Not as hard as it sounds - it's a two-acre garden, but the walls are high, so unless the badgers are good climbers, or have learned to pole-vault, there can't be many places where they can get in.

All was solid until I came to the Gate bed. 

Ah... the Gate Bed.

So-called because there used to be a gateway to the former tied cottage next door, presumably for the convenience of the gardener. It had an old solid wooden gate across it, and some sheet metal on the other side, but oh look! There it was, a wide, shallow scrape under the wood, where some large animal had clearly squeezed underneath.

Pausing only to do the Badger dance, I rushed off to tell the Client that I had identified the culprit,  had located the weak point, and would suggest that they block it securely in the middle of the day, ensuring that no badgers were trapped inside the garden, then replace the gate. I further suggested that they should reinforce the threshold to prevent any more digging.

Next week, I arrived to find this:

Lovely, isn't it? Looks just like a door, but it isn't: after digging out and laying four rows of bricks as a badger-proof threshold, the Client's husband had nailed some planks over the hole, then added hinges, a thumb-latch and a bolt. All completely fake. It does not open.

But doesn't it look great!

It's attention to detail that makes the difference, and instead of merely blocking the hole, he took the trouble to add a few props and turn it into a feature, making the Gate bed worthy of the name.

And the badgers never came back.

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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

It's nearly snowdrop time!

Ah, that lovely moment when the snowdrops start to poke their little noses out of the soil.. makes it all worthwhile, and gives us hope that spring is not far away.

Completely wrong, of course - we have the worst of the winter yet to come - but it's a nice thought.

Today was far too wet to be working: not only has it been raining intermittently all day, but it's been raining constantly for the past few weeks, and the soil is completely waterlogged.

Walking on the flower beds is a bad idea when it's this wet: it compacts the soil horribly, not to mention the black muddy footprints on the lawn, which most of my clients object to.

(OK, that last sentence should be "to which my clients, most understandably, object." but there's only so far you can go towards proper grammar before encountering the brick walls of "stilted" and "boring".)

So today I have been working in my porch, which is covered from the rain, but open to all the wind and cold... but it's better than sitting indoors all day. It will soon be time to get the snowdrops out for sale, so I took the chance to get on with cleaning them up, in preparation.

They sit underneath my auricular theatre through the summer, to simulate them being under thickly leaved woodland trees, and they do accumulate a layer of dead leaves and the occasional weed. This year, as it's been so damp and miserable, they have also accumulated a layer of moss, which is a bit disgraceful - I can only excuse myself by saying that it has been a bad year for moss and liverworts.

Here is one of the trays - as you can see, I grow them in small 3½" pots - and hello, what's that one on the left?

They are not snowdrops!

Somehow a pot of something else has found its way into the snowdrop section, oops. Probably I had one odd pot left, and one odd space in a snowdrop tray, and put the two together without bothering to label the infiltrator, on the (perfectly reasonable) grounds that I would spot it as soon as they started growing, and I don't sell any of them until they are either flowering, or about to flower.

The first job is to carefully tease out the debris of dead leaves, then to carefully lift out the mat of moss, without damaging any of the buds.

Then I can top them up with a fresh layer of compost "nuts",  and they are now ready for sale, in a couple more weeks' time.

This year I will be selling Snowdrops, single and double: tulips, dwarf Red Riding Hood and the fabulous Queen of Night black ones, plus some daffodils - some frilly ones, and some of my favourite dwarf Tete a Tete.

Although I might hang on to the latter - I read in the horticultural news recently that the nurseries will not be selling them after this year. Apparently they are too much of a success, as they come back year in year out, reliable, beautiful, and increasing themselves every year. Nurseries don't want that, it seems: they want bulbs that flower superbly the first year, but deteriorate thereafter, so that we have to go back and buy more every year.

Tete a Tete is, it seems, a victim of its own success.  So I might hold on to the ones I have!