Tuesday, 24 February 2015

woodland garden

I told you we were getting closer to finishing our development work in the woodland garden. Well, the planting has happened. Or is happening - as you'd expect there's still lots to do.
.... before

Japanese acers and bamboos are in their new positions: they will give this area a distinctive feel as the growing season moves on. The acers should be sensational in fiery autumn leaf. Our commitment to wildlife is remembered as native birch, hollies and yews have been planted: these latter two are very much in the 'micro-plant' category as they've been collected as self-sown seedlings or grown as cuttings from local bushes. The holly 'hedge' I've planted consists of plants no taller than 2" and should make something around the same time I get my centenary birthday telegram.

'It's a hedge Jill, but not as we know it...'

The part of the Woodland Garden we've been planting leads through into (what will become) the green lane border of herbaceous perennials. Some pretty, tough perennials are called for to cope with shade and our sandy soil .... stachys byzantium; leucanthemum superbum (Shasta Dasies); Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’; anemone japonica 'September Charm' and veronica longifolia are planted in groups. Geraniums, as usual, play a part with phaeum variegatum, nodosum and cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ in there. All of these have the kind of simple flowers that insects will love - especially as the afternoon sun brings warmth and light to this area. And an ornamental grass - deschampsia cespitosa is planted in a drift.

The soil has been dressed with our own compost and a thin mulch of chippings finishes the bed off.

and after ... just wait till it's in flower

Our use of logs makes this a really distinctive part of the wider Cordwood gardens. The Tree Council tell us that 80% of woodland wildlife depends directly or indirectly upon rotting wood: saprozylic organisms (those that depend upon decaying wood) are our main focus. We already have wood pigeons, stock doves, great spotted woodpeckers, wrens, robins, song thrushes, coal, great and blue tits busily feeding on the woodland invertebrates. Wood mice, hedgehogs and moles thrive on the opportunities they find in the Woodland Garden. As well as grey squirrels. Grrrr.

And these become food for our visiting sparrow hawks and kestrels. A pair of kestrels has been lurking suspiciously around our large open fronted nest boxes.

Distinctively Carlyle I guess - especially as during the latter part of my former career I was considered dead wood. 
Also distinctive is the compulsive labelling and listing of all the plants.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Jill is great on the wacker .....

Pain and pleasure.

Begun in November, the long and winding road that is the completion of the drives to our bungalows is in view. The man with the chequered flag is about to give it a shake. And gosh, there's a palpable sense of achievement and relief as we approach the final straight. But  the voice in my headphones tells me we're not quite there. A bit of gravelling here. Fence panelling there. A bit of compaction. And the knotty technical problems that go with making the drive gates work...Then we can get on with the planting (always the best bit).
Drive gates drive Dave to tablets

The drive gates are proving a challenge to our friend Dave. So much so that I gave him paracetamol with his coffee and then had to discretely check the exhaust pipe to his van when he retired there in despair. He was ok. Just wrestling with a technical difficulty.

Jill using wacker........
But, we're almost there.

On Friday our Dave completed the tegula blockwork that separates the drive and the lane. Gravel board drive edging is almost done.

But there was pain with the pleasure. My back hurt so much last Sunday that I couldn't bend to dress myself after a bath. Oh, the indignity.

To take your mind away from that image, here's a few photos of us at work, before the big climax. 

Speaking of which, and ever wishing to be topical (as Fifty Shades of Grey plays to full houses around the country) here's a photo of my wife using a wacker*.

*Builders' term for a Compactor.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

finishing the woodland garden is so close I can almost taste it ...

I don't have to excuse my failure to write anything since the middle of January. But find myself doing so anyway...

Let's put to one side the never-ending work on the drive...

We were asked to talk to Papplewick Garden Club about our home and gardens. Well, one thing leads to another. Reorganisation of photo library for one thing. Wrestling with the spiteful Apple 'Keynote' presentation tool. Was another. Making the old iPad work through the Bestwood WI digital projector as well.
Hours of my life sucked away.
But our talk was well received and that was reward enough. We've invited the club's members to join us for a summer evening tour of Cordwood.

So, now time to get back to the job in hand - developing our lovely Woodland Garden. And I'm so close to finishing the job I can almost taste it ..... decaying wood with a hint of fungus and an aftertaste of conifer chippings.

The first and second phases of the Woodland Garden saw us create log-edged wood chip paths. Native and ornamental hazel and elder were added to cornus, cotoneaster, ornamental holly, rhododendron and camellias as a shrub layer with a gorgeous dusting of snowdrops at this time of year.

So how to prevent the final half of the Woodland Garden from being a predictable 'more of the same'?

hazel and Japanese maple
We decided to create a large clearing that could act as a bonfire area and be a meeting place with seats.  So, bring on screens of sawn logs and beech hedging. And to change the planting 'feel' we've used the Japanese Maples that have been growing on patiently these past years and will be adding bamboos too.

Lots of logs, ground cover, mulch, climbers - we're talking a great woodland habitat for the song thrushes, wrens, robins, coal tits, chaffinches and stock doves that I keep disturbing!!

More work to do, oh yes. And now want to get it ready for the good people of Papplewick...

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

man with arms like string attempts to dig own grave ...

A drive up-date has been requested by my reader...

as darkness descends, the yellow brick road extends ..
Gosh, we worked hard up to Christmas. It was the typical team effort for which I am massively grateful. But when the white stuff came down our holiday plans were snowed under.

But hey ho, the work continued after the snow cleared and I can proudly report that we are now fully gravelled. Well, not properly fully. Almost fully. You can still click your ruby slippers on the yellow brick road but not all the way.

We have stopped just before the entrance and now await Colin the bricklayer to join us at the weekend to build us couple of Ancaster stone walls before gates and fence panels can be erected.

team effort
The plan is to use the unused building stone left over from the building work in walls on either side of our drive gates. These walls require footings, so there's an opportunity for the man with arms of string to make a meal of a job that would take someone with the full male chromosone quotient very little time at all. Over three hours for the 1.5m long, 750mm wide and 600mm deep hole. Dave looked at the hole and said simply 'One hour tops'. I'm not in this for what our American cousins would call 'positive strokes'. Good job really. On her way to the shops, Jill (knowing too well my physical inadequacies) told me very firmly to 'Go in - you look tired' as I laboured. I told her that the beauty of this activity was that, should I keel over, she'd just need to kick the soil over me on her return. I carried on. And contemplated leaving my fluorescent jacket just visible in the bottom of the finished hole after I went in and before she returned. One of us thought that would have been funny.

Anyway, Roger and I finished the holes on Sunday and Jill and Judith continued their life of ease and high glamour by barrowing bricks, shovelling spoil and mattocking further holes.

And today, the concrete was poured into our footings and covered in case of frost.

Now, we await Colin.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

helping willow tits

Our Willow Tit (Poecile montana) in trouble. The RSPB tells us that it is our most rapidly declining resident bird.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) tells us: Willow Tits have been in decline since the mid 1970s, and have become locally extinct in an ever-growing number of former haunts. 

decline in Willow Tit population
Never common, its population has fallen to such an extent that all breeding records must now be sent to the Rare Breeding Birds Panel.

Nottinghamshire Birdwatchers Annual Report 2012 only recorded birds in 24 locations. The report goes on to say that if the rate of decline continues Willow Tits may become extinct in the county within ten years.

The reasons for the catastrophic decline are unclear, but the RSPB has identified that 'Woods that have retained breeding Willow tits have damp soils, lower tree canopy cover and higher cover in the mid shrub layer and have more species indicative of scrub and wet woodland e.g. hawthorn, elder, willow and alder'.

But in Wigan, Lancs, they have been able to halt the decline. BBC Countryfile featured the work of Lancashire Wildlife Trust and interviewed Mark Champion, 
LWT  Wigan Projects Manager.

In a nutshell, the success of the Wigan project was attributed to providing the correct habitat. And providing nest sites. 

The Willow Tit is unique amongst our native tits in being the only species that excavates its nest hole from decaying wood. Most other tits make use of existing holes for their nests.

'Hmmm' I thought as I walked in Nottinghamshire's Leen Valley over the Christmas period. 'Surely some of this damp woodland can support Willow Tits?'

So, I contacted Mark Champion. 'What can I do to help local Willow Tits, if any still survive?' Mark replied immediately.

He began by telling me that there are populations of willow tits associated with the Coalfield areas of the county especially those areas adjacent to the Derbyshire and Yorkshire post-industrial areas. 

'Post-industrial' or brownfield sites that have open water can be favoured by Willow Tits.

Mark suggested that I began by surveying the habitat looking for damp scrub woodlands, especially those containing crack and grey willow, this is the habitat used by the willow tit, then survey using a tape lure of willow tits. Play the tape twice and move on - in spring willow tits will answer immediately. 

Our friend Andy had told us before we watched the Countryfile programme of the technique of securing rotting birch logs vertically to trees and drilling a 25mm starter hole for birds to excavate. Mark expanded on this technique by suggesting use of 4ft log zip tied to the existing trees at a density of 1 per 100m2.

Mark told me that damp willow woodland adjacent to shallow standing water, with a complex understory is required as the birds feed low down and are specialists in this habitat, He said that bramble and hazel within the willow scrub seem to perform the role of producing adequate complexity.

In Marks report 'Willow Tit Woodland Creation Habitat project' he says: 'In Britain, the Willow Tit is resident and highly sedentary; of 114 ringing recoveries 89 were within 5km of the original ringing site and only 4 were from distances greater than 20km'. 
If we are lucky enough to find Willow Tits, they are likely to be birds resident in that area. In which case, we may be able to support their breeding...

So, here's the plan:
  1. On Monday, eight of us intend to meet up at our place and look at the local OS map for possible areas along the Leen valley, initially between the Mill Ponds and Papplewick.
  2. I hope that we can arm ourselves with 'tape lures' of Willow Tit calls. This will be tough as the calls must be heard 70m from the tape player.
  3. We will then survey our chosen sites.
  4. And then meet up for lunch to see whether we've located any local populations and/or found suitable habitat.
  5. And plan from there.
We may fall flat on our faces. But it will prove interesting trying - and may help our endangered Willow Tits.

Monday, 22 December 2014

the yellow brick road ....

Imagine a man sentenced to eternal community payback. Every waking day he's shovelling, barrowing, straining in some way. All he needs is a calico suit marked with arrows. And a ball and chain. Speaking of whom, Jill feels as tired as I do at the end of our second week of drive development. I know that Judith and Roger do too.

But blimey, some great people weighed in too.

Let me just hit you with a roll of honour here:
Pete and Jan (for cake)...

But, you've guessed it, my star of the week is son Dave. Bless him. I got a nice face full of diesel when pumping fuel into the digger thanks to him. Comedy gold moment - is the diesel pump still working? I'll look. Yes. Exfoliating face scrub. But apart from that, he's been great.

We had originally ordered our gravel from a local builders' merchants but after they'd taken my money I managed to winkle out of them the facts that:
  1. the quarry was currently closed
  2. they could not guarantee delivery within any foreseeable timescale.
But then Roger found more suppliers and the missus phoned around until she found one that would deliver before Christmas.

So now we are string lining between kerb edges and the boy is teasing out the ground levels with the digger bucket to accept 40mm of our gravel. We are using the road roller then raking and pushing the gravel into place.

One third of the drive is now covered but heaps of work ahead in the next days getting levels right before we wend our way down what will look like the yellow brick road to the end of the drive, where our journey will be complete.

And, in a real sense this part of the Cordwood journey will then be nearly complete. It started with four over-faced optimists and six acres of neglect and will reach the point where we've created two beautiful eco-homes serviced by a shared drive and with real gates. But that little part will have to wait until the New Year.

So, for now hurrah!! - the Great British Rake Off has begun. Join us on this lap of the journey. Volunteers welcome. No experience or ruby slippers necessary.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

phoebe's border - it's official

A vortex of activity. Roger, Linda, Judith and Jill laying gravel boards to edge the drive; Tony on roller; Trev on dumper; and Dave on digger. Spitting with rain and December dark.
Then a little eighteen month old ray of sunshine arrives with her granny: Phoebe has come to see us.

And she's brought us a present: a sign to name her border.

It will be lovely to record her progress and the progress of the border named in her honour.

Thanks Phoebe: thanks granny!

Monday, 15 December 2014

concrete progress

Last week was the end of a hectic week that saw all kerb edging concreted in. A great team effort!

But not without its wobbles. 

the final kerb edging goes in
We wished that Professor Brian Cox could have joined us on Thursday as we defied the laws of Newtonian science. We ensured that we had a gap of 250mm from the string to the roadstone base in our trenches (or tracks). We then compacted the roadstone with a 'wacker' ... and found that instead of compressing the roadstone down, we had somehow managed to elevate the levels. The gap was now 200mm. Our David looked on ruefully as it took four of us to accomplish in a morning what he then accomplished in half an hour.

Our concrete delivery arrived on Friday morning but after much effort to coax the concrete from the lorry we had to send it back. It transpired that there was a computer problem that had affected the concrete manufacture process. Hmmm. Those pesky North Korean hackers at it again?

completed kerb edging 
But a second 4 cubic metres was delivered and kerb edging was completed thanks to Becca and Judith joining the team. We have gravel board edging to look forward to over the weekend and following week.
But in spite of this progress, we had disappointing news. The gravel we had chosen for topping the surface of the drive was sourced from a closed quarry! No idea when it would be reopened. If the gravel comes, it comes in February. Not the news I wanted at the end of an exhausting week.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

drive: edging forward

Day three of our drive project completed.
Mum and dad make royal visit to point at Jill

And on target. By now expected to ache, be irritable and ready for bed as soon as the six o'clock news begins on Radio 4. All targets met! Wife too, is also ticking those targets off: after a day concreting she'd expected to be as stiff as a board - which she is but which is also convenient because I have thermal underclothing to iron. It's chilly out there.

Wooden gravelboard drive edging was put in yesterday by Trev, Jill and Linda. Hard, hard work! Poor Trev developed a new injury to medical science, that of 'hammer hand' after a day spent hammering wooden spikes into the ground to support the gravel boards. Dave operated the digger and I spent the afternoon shaking like a jelly as I operated the sit-on roller with it set to 'vibrate' to flatten out the rough roadstone. Whaaaat ffuunn.

And I find it all about as stressful as impending OFSTED inspection at times because I always seem to become the gopher. (Go for this, go for that). Example: Tuesday morning and we're changing buckets on the digger. I undo the large bucket with the ratchet spanner, we remove the bucket, replace it with the trenching bucket. And the ratchet spanner has vanished. How does that happen? Nowhere. After fruitless searching I remember that Jill had brought us tea. And after a 200 yard round trudge I discover that she has put the ratchet spanner in the utility room. Hmmm. And the day of searching for things begins with me flying about like a human pinball. Where's the tape? No, not the tape measure, the sticky tape. You stand there, I'll find it.

And, of course, the Carlyle's make life ten times more difficult for themselves by beginning a hectic day by making industrial quantities of squash soup, some of which is intended for the Notts Refugee Forum. Thanks to Pete and Jan for collecting it in a lightning visit to deliver cake. Bless you!!!
This photo demonstrates how much taller I am than my son

Three cubic metres of concrete were delivered this morning. Concrete kerb edgings have now been laid around all of the Goldcrest drive edges. And looking great!

But hard lessons learned too. I wrote down my son's assertion as we were planning the job. He said 'There will be no barrowing whatsoever'. I wrote it down.

The reality was somewhat different. Actually I spent all day pushing wheelbarrows full of concrete up a slope then shovelling it out. I'm not bitter.

Tomorrow we'll be prepping the ground for our Friday concrete delivery. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

The new drive work begins: and they're off!!

And they're off!!

Dave on digger with drive extending into the distance.
Work on our drive began this morning.

Last weekend we'd set out the drive with metal stakes and levelled them to ensure that the roadstone beneath the gravel would direct rainwater where we wanted it to go.

Over the coming two weeks we hope to put in concrete or wooden edging and then to gravel the drive.
Nephew Matt gets levels right
The second phase will be to construct the gates, wall and fencing that lead into the new drive. 

Materials and plant have been ordered.

And, shovelled, lump hammered, diggered and dumpered we began.

And it's a family affair. We couldn't afford the quote we'd been given and so we chose to do the work ourselves, led by son Dave.

Today and tomorrow we want to get the ground prepared to receive the concrete and wooden edging. Wednesday to Friday will be concrete edging days. The beginning of the following week will be given over to wooden gravel board edging. And then gravelling.

I was pretty tired after day one!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

the grand entrance...

Each visitor to Cordwood has to heave open the ugly rusting, metal gate, avoiding its malevolent barbed wire topping and then heave the gate back closed again after they have driven through.
our first walk down the drive in August 2008

Huge intake of breath moment similar to the one before you dive into the deep end - and now time to put in new gates, concrete or wooden edgings along both sides of the 250m of drive, get levels and 'falls' right and finally to gravel. This will hurt.

We'd asked for a quote. I'd told Jill to prepare herself. She has developed a habit of gasping involuntarily whenever any price is mentioned. Intake of breath followed by an exclamation  - 'How much?'
work on 'the grand entrance' begins..
In Poundland. Intake of breath  - 'How much?'

Prepare yourself for the quote I said and reminded her of the figure we should have in our minds. I read her the estimate. And it was a tad lower than I'd predicted. No gasp.
Then I realised I was only on page 3 of 8. When we got to page 8 and its grand total we both gasped. 
'How much?'

Then, like a white knight on his steed rides in son Dave who visited us, looked at the job and pronounced it 'do-able' and he'd got two weeks before Christmas to do the work in. His dad and Uncle Roger (and any other fools who volunteer) would be his 'lads'.

I must say, all dad-like how impressed I was with his use of the theodolite in calculating levels from the architects' drawing. Mighty proud.

So now, I'm making spreadsheets and preparing to order. Cousin Sue gave me the idea of installing a turnstile for paying visitors!! Hmmm. eBay?

And we've already made a start. Yesterday dear friends Trev and Linda helped us to remove hawthorns and tidy the horse chestnut at the end of the drive. 

It really will be a grand entrance...

Friday, 21 November 2014

phoebe's border

That's it. Phoebe's border is ready for plants.
log wall with recycled plastic drain pipes for decoration!

We've dug over and then added more soil to raise the level. 

Then we covered the area with a thick mulch of chippings now that the ground beneath is weed free and good and moist.

Today we built a log wall that will separate this border from the kitchen garden and re-used old plastic drains to give a funky see-through effect. I see it as the log wall equivalent of the old string vests. And just like my old string vests it won't last forever, that is part of its charm.

I love this kind of ephemeral art. The logs should provide a home for invertebrates, mammals and birds.
We are quite pleased with our efforts.

The wall will be cloaked with climbers.

We've ordered the shrubs which should be with us within ten days:
 Viburnum tinus variegata
Viburnum plicatum tomentosum 'Mariesii' 
Sambuccus 'Black Lace' *
Clematis 'Huldine'*
Cotoneaster Rothschildeanus
Berberis Julianae
Eleagnus ebbingii
Rosa mermaid*
Hedera Alg Ravensholt*
Hydrangea seemanii*
*Some of these will be used in other planting schemes in the garden. 

We are now waiting on our tree fellers to take boughs off some of the horse chestnuts. And then it will be planting time! The best bit!!

No longer will Phoebe see it and exclaim 'Rubbish!'

Monday, 17 November 2014

'phoebe's border'

It was little Phoebe who made us aware of it.

She'd come to see us, a little two year old with Jos, her granny. As the car arrived in front of the house she looked across and summed it up  - 'Rubbish'.

And she was spot on. To suppress the weeds we had covered the ground with black plastic weighted with logs, pallets and old timber. Our collection of cardboard and newspaper was piled into open wooden crates. Wood that was waiting to be used in the kitchen garden was stacked ready. But Phoebe was exactly right - it looked like a junk yard.

And now that the Himalayan birch have been planted the time has come for us to develop what we'll forever think of as 'Phoebe's border'.

The area is 4m wide by 14m long. I'm digging it over and will then try and get some organic matter in before putting a mulch of chippings on. The soil in this border is very sandy.

This border will stand in contrast to the meadow I wrote about last time. It will be a mix of beautiful ornamental shrubs and some of Jill's favourite herbaceous perennials and grasses. Visitors will be greeted by a smokebush (Cotinus 'Flame') which is described by Bluebell Nursery as having 'dark green leaves which turn stunning shades of bright orange, red and yellow in autumn before falling. In the summer large panicles of smoke-like dark pink flowers appear which stand out well against the green foliage'. That should grab visitors' attention before their eyes move to the birch and front garden planting. We are sourcing the shrubs that will stand at the back of the border at the moment. Our own collection of herbaceous perennials and grasses will grow in front.

I'm sure Phoebe will be proud of it as it grows.

Friday, 14 November 2014

our own wildflower meadow

Flower meadows have been disappearing rapidly in our countryside. At the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust fiftieth birthday celebration we pledged to create a wildflower meadow crescent that would frame the gardens of our two bungalows. Great for us and even better for wildlife.

We scalped away the tarmac surface of the old service road that served this former mushroom farm site. Perversely, we left the unpromising substrate because wildflower seeds do best in soil that lacks fertility. We scattered a ragbag of wild and cultivated flower seeds and were rewarded with a lovely display of poppies, marigolds and phlox this summer. Now I've scythed and then mowed to take away the end of season growth. This removes fertility from the soil and gives less vigorous flowers a fighting chance against thuggish grasses. In the days of long ago and far away farmers would release their grazing animals onto their meadows to feed on the autumn grass. In doing so the animals would 'poach' the grassland (make muddy patches with their hooves) and this would create spaces where wildflower seeds could germinate. 
It would take more money and decades than I have to create an authentic wildflower meadow. But that doesn't stop our ambition so we collect and are given wildflower seeds which we scatter as we develop the meadow areas. The seed of cowslip, marsh fritillary and cammassia (recent gifts from Linda and from Ann) have been scattered in the 'poached' muddy, waterlogged area - we hope the little seeds will love these conditions and go on to thrive.

Around the meadow will be planted lots of glorious prairie perennials and ornamental grasses. These will provide overwinter shelter and plenty of seeds for birds and animals.
Great for us - and even better
for wildlife.

For now, the meadow will have a well-earned rest until spring arrives. Can't wait!!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

a giant leap for Carlylekind....

Huge cheering erupted today when the landscaping at the front of our home took a huge step forward: 'one giant leap for Carlylekind'.
These past months and years we've been slogging away through clay and rocks; transplanting hundreds of our own-grown small plants, planting hundreds of spring bulbs and shovelling tonnes of bark mulch.

And today we planted the eleven Himalayan birch 'Jaquemontii' that complete the landscaping work on the north side of our home - the side that visitors will see first.

Simple planting schemes usually work best. So we have underplanted the main birch bank with drifts of ivy, sweet violets and bergenia cordifolia.

The beds nearest our front door are planted on a pink and blue theme and include hydrangeas,  Japanese anemones and some of Jill's favourite grasses. Catmint and dwarf persicaria are there too. And I've sculpted a small pond that will be hidden away to help wildlife.

This has been a long and exhausting journey. And work remains to be done. But just now we're just enjoying the moment.

Let your roots grow while the soil is warm little plants, rest over winter and grow beautifully in the spring.