Thursday, October 27, 2011

Unusual Autumn

Its been a strange Autumn this year, generally quite warm and also quite dry, we haven't yet had much in the way of Autumn colour although a quick cold snap, when it comes may well change that.

The weather has also allowed us to push the pond on further than we may have otherwise expected, but even that is now giving me an interesting dilemma, What to do next?

I had worked out quite carefully a project plan to ensure that, whilst working in a relatively confined space, various stages of the build happened in the right order, and in a way that allowed further work to progress over winter.

My main plan for October had been to build the wooden framed filter house, the idea being that even if it was cold then we wouldn't be worried about concrete setting, and that I could do quite a lot of work even if the weather was damp. Well that particular idea has gone out of the window as we have been able to keep building with blocks. Last weekend we were able to start the third raised bed, and have built the steps to what will eventually become the decked seating area next to the pond.

The order of works originally had the third bed being built next year - after the filter house. So we had placed the reclaimed roof tiles (an Ebay bargain!) in the area the bed would eventually occupy. Although it would be nice to get the bed finished, I really dont fancy moving all the roof tiles. Even if we did decide to move them im not sure where I would store them without moving them too far away or in an inconvenient place. 

The latest forecast has another good weekend on the horizon and so Mark and I have been wondering what the next part of the job should be. I think it will probably be to start constructing the filter house, although a couple of other ideas might make more sense.

The good weather has given our schedule a boost but at the same time thrown the project plan out of the window, so much so that I'm now reworking the order of jobs to take account of what we have managed to fit in this Autumn that we didn't expect to do. It's a good dilemma to have but still gives me a little bit of a headache.

One decision we have to make is whether to have a small ornamental water feature next to the decked area, which would encroach into the 3rd raised bed. At the moment we haven't made our minds up totally but as Mark has been showing me lots of pictures and ideas of what he thinks would look nice, I suspect he has made our 'minds' up already!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Fatsia japonica 'Variegata'

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Stash in the Attic

Buy the right item in the wrong season and you get the best value for your money.

And that certainly is true on a lot of things including items for the garden! I've been stock piling several spring essentials recently, whilst it is still early autumn and I've been able to take advantage of the autumn sales. It's this time of the year when many shops need to free up valuable retail space for the winter season (mostly Christmas related items) and get rid of out of season products via massive price reductions, and that includes lots of garden related items. 

Stash in the Attic! Just a tiny fraction of what is now stored in our loft.

I must admit it feels a bit strange buying spring gardening products at this time of the year but with 50% to 75% price reductions, they are too good a deal to pass on. So I've been buying several sacks of pelleted chicken manure, boxes of various fertilisers, plant tonics, and miscellaneous chemicals; all in preparation for spring next year. Strange as it may feel buying these items now, I certainly reap the rewards come spring when most of the items I need are on hand for a tiny fraction of their usual cost.

Several sacks of pelleted chicken manure, in waterproof bags and now safely stored in the shed to ensure they remain dry
Sulphate of Iron, one of the tonics I stockpile on as I need loads of it in the spring to encourage lush, green foliage on our potted bamboos. Some types of bamboos don't always do well in a pot long term and is prone to chlorosis (yellowing of the leaves). By giving them generous doses of this tonic I manage to counteract this.

It's a cycle I've been following for the past few years; I buy spring items in the autumn and winter items (like frost fleece, garden furniture covers, etc.) in the spring and the savings I get are huge. Planning, preparation, and timing are essential and you must be aware when exactly certain shops do their reductions as some items fly off the shelves much quicker than others once prices have been reduced.

Provado Vine Weevil Killer 2, one of the first things to fly off the shelves once prices are reduced. It's rather pricey so at 50% off or more it is worth snapping up several for future use. Most of the time I use the biological control for vine weevil grubs, Nemasys Nematodes which is more cost effective and is specific to vine weevil but it's use is temperature dependent and is difficult to get hold of in winter. For potted plants overwintered indoors requiring treatment in the winter or early spring this is a handy option.
Other things worth checking out this time of the year are garden furniture, outdoor barbecues, and garden accessories where you can definitely get the best deals. Not to mention the all important plant sales!

When buying off season, storage is the main consideration. Before you stock pile make sure you have the space to store these items according to their requirements, to keep them in their best condition until they are ready to be used. A second consideration is making sure that the items will store well and keep for quite some time, and not have a limited shelf life. Chemicals and tonics tend to keep for a long time as long as they are kept in a cool, dry, and frost free place. Fertilisers keep well too as long as they are stored in a dry place.

Most of the items I need for spring I have already. All I need now is spring!


Monday, October 17, 2011

The Pond Build Continues...

We have been blessed with a very mild autumn so far this year, and have taken full advantage to push forward with the pond build. As Mark blogged about previously, we were able to get the pond base completed a couple of weeks ago. Something we had hoped to achieve, but knew that poor weather would have delayed us.

Since then we have completed the second raised bed, subject to the final pond height as it shares one wall with the pond itself. Last weekend we cut and laid the stone copings and also rendered the walls.

This week we had another delivery of materials, and we were able to press on with building the walls of the pond. To ensure the walls are strong enough to withstand the pressure of the water, and also so that they don't get damaged by winter we are using dense concrete blocks. With so many to shift (and they are very heavy), we use a sack barrow and shift a few at a time.We tend to have our own jobs on the build, so whilst I was unloading the blocks from the front garden, then wheeling them round the back, Mark was waiting to unload and stack them at the other end. With this routine we shifted another 100 or so blocks quite quickly.

After shifting so many blocks it was then Marks turn to move materials, and he loaded up sand to barrow round the back to mix for the mortar. Working together we got all the blocks laid and only have about 30 left at the front from our last delivery.
The final result for the weekend and the pond is really taking shape!
At the end of the afternoon Mark decided to paint the wall that was rendered the previous week. But with it being mid October the light started to fade, rather than leave a job half finished I was despatched to set up a temporary light for him to work by.

Now that's dedication!


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fine Disarray

Our top patio is a bit of a jumble at the moment with lots of pots scattered around as we start preparing for the coming cold months ahead. I have been grouping some of the plants, mainly based on where they will be going during the winter, so it will be easier once we get into full swing of shifting these tender/borderline hardy plants under cover.

I don't mind though, in fact I quite like the way this 'temporary display' looks as I get the chance to see some of these plants more individually, and in a different angle too, and enjoy this short, rather avant garde arrangement of plants. A fine disarray me thinks!

One of the plants I'm especially fond of at the moment is this Aloe plicatilis, which is one of the first plants I brought back from our very first trip down to Cornwall many years ago. It was a small, unbranched specimen back then with a perfectly symmetrical appearance that looked like a menorah. Since then it has grown slowly to what is now a multi-headed plant. A special thing about this particular plant is how unfussy it has been when it comes to being overwintered. I have been putting it every winter indoors, in a room that doesn't get any sunlight all winter and is only illuminated by artificial lights and it sails through fine, just making sure I keep it on the dry side. Most aloes detest the lack of winter sun and will die even if kept in a warm spot, but so far this has been an exception. It has stunted it's growth though but that's a good thing as it remains a more manageable size. I might be kinder to it this winter and put in a sunny spot for a change.

More, more, more! Another batch of building materials came in on Friday. This is our sixth delivery from this company this year (they have to be staggered as there's nowhere to put them all in one go) and they know exactly where to put things now with very little supervision. Quite fun to watch though as they unload the pallets!

Also, whilst doing a bit of cutting back on another part of the garden I noticed that one of the leaves I took off a Trachycarpus fortunei is '360 degrees'. Now this phenomenon is a rarity and highly desirable, but only really if all of the leaves of that palm exhibit the same trait, not just one or two like this palm had. Oh well, the leaf was in the way so it had to go.

Here you go, just a little snippet on what we've been doing so far garden wise. Winter preparation continues and I'll blog about it along the way. In reality, there's not much to do compared to how it has been in previous winters, and that's a good thing, and preparation is generally very relaxed this time around. 


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Autumn Buzz

Spring seems to have come in early this year and summer came in so late, albeit a short one too, and now it's autumn and the signs of this season are undeniably everywhere now. Leaves of several deciduous trees and shrubs are already changing colours whilst some have already shed their leaves with nothing left now but just bare stems and branches.

This particular Aloe polyphylla has done incredibly well this year. I re-potted it last spring (whilst watching Prince Will and Kate's wedding on TV) and it was a generous sized pot for it's size back then, with a two inch gap between the rim of the pot and the tip of the spines all around. It obviously appreciated being over potted and now it is much bigger than the pot and is around 16'' in diameter. Now with having so many bamboos in the garden it is inevitable that nearly all of the succulents we display here gather leaf litter on their crown at any point, but this aloe seems to have avoided it all along. One time I said to myself 'Autumn will be here once I see a red leaf falling onto it's crown'. And that's exactly what I found this morning and taken a photo of.

Agave attenuata - a tiny plant we bought back from Madeira, now it's starting to form a trunk
So what happened between spring and summer then if the latter came in so late here? Well, a long 'spring' I suppose, and I can't even remember a single sultry evening on the supposed to be 'summer' here until for a few days in early October. And now the warm spell is over the weather definitely feels autumnal now.

Cussonia spicata - gorgeous foliage but has to be overwintered indoors
It's a tricky time of the year especially if you're in the middle of a big project like we are. We prepared the garden as you would in the spring and come summer time it was pretty much able to fend for itself, with some routine maintenance of course, whilst we concentrated on our project. Now that autumn is here we have to primarily shift our attention again to the garden as we prepare it for the coming winter months.

Cassia marilandica - the hardy Cassia that comes back from the ground every spring (shame this photo turned out blurred!)
There's so much to do but nothing daunting enough to cause stress and nothing that we're unfamiliar with any more. Autumn is the messiest of the four seasons so it's mainly loads of tidying up in the coming weeks then putting up necessary protection on certain plants for the coming winter.

Dahlia 'Twyning's After Eight' - blooming away till the first frosts
One special thing that I do enjoy this time around is that I get to spend some time inspecting individual plants as I prepare them for winter, giving them a once over and assessing what sort of extra care that they'll need next year, or simply appreciating their beauty and how they have done so well in the past months.

And another thing, certain plants look their best and flower during autumn and I look forward to seeing them in this period every year, like toad lilies which I absolutely love for both its flowers and foliage. This one in particular is my favourite, Tricyrtis lasciocarpa.

Tricyrtis lasciocarpa
So, I've got lots more random musings to come up in the next few weeks as we prepare our garden for another winter. Meanwhile I shall relish myself (and you, our blog readers) with the beautiful flowers of Kniphofia thompsonii flowering for the first time in our (new) garden.

Kniphofia thompsonii


Sunday, October 09, 2011

Avenue Fisheries Visit

We are fortunate to live close to Avenue Fisheries, a large Koi dealer. We took a morning off from building our pond to have a look at some fantastic fish. Avenue is a long established dealer in Koi, they select only from the best Japanese breeders and keep their fish in great conditions. The majority of the fish we currently have in our existing pond came from Avenue, as its one of our favourite dealers.

A selection of Koi in the main show pond.

A pair of Black Australian swans at home on a natural pond at Avenue.

In many of the tanks the Koi swarmed over to where we were hoping for some food!

We are looking forward to completing our pond and having the space to allow our fish to reach their full potential!

Avenue Fisheries

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sweet Determination

What a gloriously sunny and warm late September and early October it has been here, I was certainly not expecting it but it is definitely a welcome surprise!

The Blue (and green) border enjoying some October sun. This bed is still 'unfinished' and mainly planted for establishment, 
hence the stakes and wires on some of the plants. It's also largely unmulched, hopefully we'll get that done in the next few weeks.
When a forecast for an unseasonably warm spell was announced last week I immediately thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to finish the concrete base of the koi pond. As I wasn’t expecting such warmth at this time of the year we made an impromptu decision to go ahead and made plans about ten days ago in preparation for this huge task, by making enquiries for the delivery of ready mixed cement and looking at equipment hire. First, we left it too late to order some ready mixed cement to be delivered so that’s out of the equation, but equipment hire of a cement mixer is still fine so at least we can avail of that.

But what I wasn’t counting on was Gaz catching the flu, and a bad one too.

So what am I supposed to do now?  Having such fine stretch of days and miss out on the golden opportunity to do something important was too much to bear. Mind you, I wasn’t expecting that we’ll have the base fully laid till next year so the thought of having it done this year will be a fantastic bonus.

So last weekend, with Gaz feeling under the weather but strong enough to do some light work, I just told him that we’ll do as much as we can without pushing ourselves to the limit. I didn’t want to tire him out, and I was fine myself so I told him to stay within the pond (which is under a shade) and leave all the hard work to me. I will do all of the shovelling, dry mixing, wheel barrowing, wet mixing, bucketing, and all he needed to do was stay in the hole so I can pass the concrete mix, half a bucket at a time, to him to pour it on the hole and do the levelling.

I decided to ditch hiring the cement mixer as in our situation it would have made very little difference in easing off the work burden and would just be a waste of time. Doing it all manually would just be as efficient in this case 

And so we did this, all of last and this weekend. And we finished it Sunday afternoon.

As I stood from a corner looking at the finished base, Gaz, being the ‘maths’ person that he is told me, ‘Considering the ballast, cement, and water you shifted, you just hand mixed four tonnes of concrete.’

Four tonnes, oh my goodness! Until a week ago it has never, ever crossed my mind that I would end up hand mixing all the concrete to make the base of this pond. I had always thought we’ll get it delivered ready mixed and pumped in situ, or at least use a cement mixer. But hand mixed….

All through out I never thought of figures and the total amount of what I’m shifting, just pleased to see the base slowly building up to the desired level, and finishing it in two weekends would exceed my expectations (which we did). So I was genuinely astounded when I heard the total figures. I guess I’m a lot stronger that I thought, considering I’m not exactly a big person either.

‘You’re a determined one aren’t you?’ Gaz told me last Sunday evening, recovering already from his illness. Yes I am, always have been and a personal character I cherish within me.

My body is very achy now, and my hands are sore. I’ll rest on my laurels for a few days to give my body a chance to recover but after that I can get cracking with the rest of the built again. At least Gaz has recovered now and we can have a fairer division of manual labour again, hehe! For now I’m just glad the base is done, it’s a fabulous personal bonus :-)