What a strange year!

2020 has been a year like no other. A couple of months of normality to start the year off then it was all change. As this is the last blog entry of the year, I thought I would reflect on a few things I have done over the last year, some of which have been affected by the pandemic.

When the first lockdown started in March, everything in the gardens were starting to put on new growth.  During this time, I came into work for one day a week, watering the pot plants and cutting the grass in the main areas that needed to be kept tidy.  There were things that I really wanted to do, like weeding some of the areas I had spent so much time clearing ready for plants, but that wasn’t an option.  Although I would rather have been in work, it was nice walking down the country lanes around where I live and around work, especially as the weather was so nice.  And playing on the Xbox (which I bought at the start of lockdown and haven’t used since May!).  I know that I wasn’t the only person enjoying the great outdoors at this time. Hopefully people have become more aware of the benefits of spending time outside surrounded by nature. If the lockdown hasn’t done this then nothing will!

 

As I had a lot less time to look after the grounds during the spring, we decided to leave more areas to go wild. The plan has always been to do this, we just needed to decide where and how to incorporate these areas into the communal spaces. In the areas we have left there have been many different types of wildflowers including Birds Foot Trefoil, Clover, Yarrow and even Ragged Robin, which I haven’t seen grow at Clayhill before.

   

Allowing more areas to grow wild will have benefited the wildlife here, and we now have a better idea of where we plan on letting nature take over going forward. In October I cut back most of the long grass and flowers, leaving a couple of areas so there are still spaces for the remaining wildlife to shelter over winter. As the areas of grasses and wildflowers are large we decided to purchase a petrol scythe to make this job much quicker and easier. Next year I will be cutting the grass and flowers earlier, probably around the end of August/start of September next year when the grass is much drier.  This will certainly make it easier as I have struggled to cut through it when it’s soaking wet. After clearing the grass, I sowed some Yellow Rattle, which is a semi-parasitic annual flower. When Yellow Rattle grows it feeds off the nutrients in the roots of nearby grasses, this then weakens the thick grasses allowing wildflowers to grow more successfully.  We really want to increase the amount of wildflowers we have here and this should be a good way to get that going.

This year would have been the second year that we have grown our own cut flowers. As the business was forced to close and there wouldn’t be anyone here to enjoy them it just wasn’t worth the effort and cost. We are planning on building a new greenhouse which will make it much easier to grow cut flowers from seed. At the moment I’m using the old greenhouse which has a few windowpanes missing, so it’s less than ideal! We have two areas of cut flower beds. One directly outside the chicken shed and the other close by. The one closest to the chicken shed gets quite a battering from the wind so I have planted some native hedging as a wind break. This is establishing nicely so should do a good job of protecting the plants behind. The same can’t be said for the copper beech hedging that I planted next to it.  The soil they are planted in is heavy clay and I really don’t think they like it! The dahlias that are in the other flower beds have carried on as normal because I don’t lift and store them over the winter. It’s advised to dig up and store them if they might sit in waterlogged soil or if we experience very cold winters, but that doesn’t really happen here so I will leave them. They have survived through the last two years OK. However, I have learned that I need to support them a bit better, there were a few stems that were blown over in some high winds that we experienced in the summer.

The final thing I want to talk about is compost. The compost bins are made from old pallets and are in the walled garden. We have a chipper/shredder here, so we can process the cuttings and compost almost everything that I cut back. This ensures a good mix of green waste and carbon waste from the woodier plants. These compost bins have only been operational for a couple of years and the results are very good. The waste has been breaking down nicely and there are plenty of beneficial mini beasts making it their home. Along with waste from the gardens we also compost fruit and vegetable waste from the business and anything else that is compostable. I turn the bays over every couple of months so there is always one bin ready for new cuttings and waste. And so the cycle continues.

So that’s all for this month’s blog. Next month I will be writing about the progress I have made in the workshop garden.

Until then – Happy Holidays!

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