Sunday 29 December 2013

Landscaping complete, let the growing commence

After finally deciding on the final layout for my back garden and sourcing a landscaper to do the hard landscaping work, I now have a new look! First the 'before':

March 2013: when we moved in (the plants/compost bins from previous house)

October 2013: 1st borders dug and planted in summer, prior to landscaping work

Now the 'after':
December 2013: Landscaping complete

I'm really pleased with the new design. When I say design, I really mean permaculture design, as it designed within that context. That means for me, the function of the space, comes first, rather than trying to make it immediately beautiful. I wrote more about how I came to making decisions on the final layout early November. Here is some area's of the new layout in more detail.

Looking towards the conservatory, on the left is part of the shady border, at the bottom (next to the shale) the new Cornus bed, and I've extended the herb border (with obelisk) to take a bit more advantage of the light
Cornus, Herb & Strawberry borders

I'm planning on growing French beans, and peas, up the obelisk, with my Aster to go in the middle of the obelisk. The Aster is autumn flowering, so my idea is that by the time the beans and peas are finished, I can remove them and let the aster have more space. It will be interesting to see if that works like I see it in my head! For the moment I've also added Crocus Pulchellus and Iris Reticulara J.S. Dijt around the outside of the obelisk. Closest to the conservatory is the Strawberry border where I've planted Crocus Sativus for autumn flowering and harvesting.

Then come the new long vegetable beds. Soil will be going into these beds early January. To the right is the rest of the shady border, where I've also planted the Morello Cherry - not easy to see just yet!

Long vegetable beds

I decided to turn all the paths into the area to shale rather than grass. Mowing around the vegetable beds is annoying, I know from previous experience (!) and I also wanted to keep mowing maintenance to a minimum. I think as vegetables and plants in the borders grow, it should be less in your face as it is now.

At the back behind the garage, is the new retaining wall. This is to stop the soil from falling up against the garage, and also allow access to store some garden items out of the way until needed. An area has been paved in readiness for when I can afford to put in a large rainwater collection tank. The garage roof is a really large area and currently has guttering and downpipes with the water just washing away.

Retaining wall and paths to compost bins and future water tank

This is also where the compost bins are situated. The new path means no more getting muddy when walking household scraps to the compost bins. Yay. The soil area next to the compost bins is where the Greengage is being planted.

Next up is the new pergola. It's small, as I don't have a lot of space, and a simple bespoke style as none of the pergola kits that you can get would have fitted in. I'll be growing a dessert grape vine up the pergola and the idea is that over time it will create a better sense of personal space, instead of just seeing the neighbours conservatory. It will also be nice to sit under it in spring to autumn. I'm thinking about adding some fragrant clematis or other climber to help add to it's attraction as a place to rest.


To the right of the pergola, the Damson will be placed, along with bluebells and pulmonaria to grow underneath it.

I did a lot of thinking about whether to keep some grass or not. During the summer, this area gets more shade than the rest of the garden and I found myself sitting there reading and relaxing. That decided it, I should keep some grass in the garden. Over time I'll probably add more spring bulbs into the grass to add further colour.
Grass area, for sitting and reading upon  :-)

There was a lot of angst (for me) and discussion with Nick, my landscaper, over the placing of the stepping stones. We need to be able to get from the conservatory to the drive way, and to the side garage door (behind the herb border) without getting wet or muddy. I didn't want to lay a full path of shale as in the other areas of the garden, as I felt this would start taking over too much. So the paving stones are the compromise. I think they stand out a bit at the moment, but should embed themselves in over time. And as plants in the borders are added and grow, they should be less noticeable.

The Cornus Border now has the cornus planted! I'm very fond of the dark red cornus stems so went for the darker stemmed Cornus alba 'Kesselringii' in the middle, with the light red Cornus alba 'Elegantissima' on each side of it.

Cornus border

They have been under planted with Crocus Cream Beauty, which I thought would be a nice contrast to the red stems of the cornus, and Muscari Latifolium.

I also planted more bulbs over the last few days in the Shady Border, including Fritillaria Melagris and Uva Vulpis, Crocus Sieberi Firefly, Scilla Nutans (or Hyacinthoides non-scripta, Bluebells seem to have two names) and Anemone Blanda Blue and Nemorosa. In the Herb Border I've also added Allium Atropurpureum. I'll be adding more hardy perennials, some of which are already on order from the Hardy Plant Society, and shrubs to the flower borders in future.

Overview of garden from study window

It's wonderful to have the hard landscaping complete. I now feel I can really focus on the growing in the coming year.

* * * * *

I've done a landscaping photo essay, giving a quick overview of each stage of the process. My landscaper was Nick Howlett of Howlett Garden Services, with the assistance of his sons Harry and Ben. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Nick's services. As much as I tried to incorporate everything I wanted into my design, and as much as the landscaper can then plan for the work, things will always crop up that are unexpected, or that need to be reconsidered once work starts.

Landscaper Nick Howlett, with his sons Harry (left) and Ben (right).

I was very impressed with the thought Nick paid to his work. Whether it was working out the best way to build the retaining wall so it suited the site (which had all kinds of levels going any which way), to thinking to add the little details to the top of the pergola, Nick thought through everything carefully and the work was finished to a most pleasing attention to detail. Once I've saved up some more funds, I'll be getting Nick and his sons to work on my front garden re-design!

Landscaping photo essay

Landscaping photo essay

For the really keen(!), as much as for my future reference, this is a photo essay giving a step-by-step guide to how the landscaping was done.

Removing the old grass

Rotovating the soil which was heavily compacted, heavy clay

Raking in sand to improve drainage

Digging out soil from the garage wall

Adding paving stones for future water collection tank

Laying out flower bed borders

New turf in

Building starts on the retaining wall, using sleepers

Working out retaining wall and the levels

Creating path to compost bins and water tank area

Laying shale path to compost area

Measuring and laying out raised vegetable beds, taking in ground level changes

The first kitchen garden path going down

Work starts on bespoke pergola

The rest of the kitchen garden paths are laid

Working out the place for the stepping stones to the driveway and garage door

Landscaping work complete

Landscaping work done by Howlett Garden Services, Sheffield, who I thoroughly recommend. For fuller recommendation, see post (scroll to bottom): Landscaping complete, let the growing commence.

Thursday 26 December 2013

Winter light on sculpture: a winter visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Kevin & I decided to make the most of the amazingly beautiful winter weather today and enjoy it, because tomorrow the bad weather hits again. We have been meaning to visit Yorkshire Sculpture Park since we moved to Sheffield and it turned out that visiting in the middle winter is a most excellent idea.

Below are some photos from that part of the park we visited today. I forgot my camera so these pictures were all taken with my phone camera. Some of them haven't turned out too badly and I think show that Yorkshire Sculpture Park is well worth a visit.

Molecule Man, Joanthan Borofsky

Wonderful detail against the blue winter sky

The Family of Man, Barbara Hepworth. Born in nearby Wakefield.

The Family of Man, detail. I loved the texture of the surface and the
way the light moved over and around it.

Nature is of course, an artwork in itself

The Ha Ha, Ha Ha bridge. Ha ha! By Brian Fell

Sculptures are fun too! (forgot to get the artist name, sorry)

There was also a lovely plant-themed art and poetry installation in a greenhouse by Alec Finlay called Propagator. This was fun, but also each poem was quite evocative of the plant it was describing.

i.e. Thrift:

Milk Thistle

Valerian and Honesty

I probably would have added the plants themselves, but I guess that might take away from the poetry since it's also about the context in which the plants grow. Clearly I'm not an artist.

Inside one of the galleries was striking print-making art by Angie Lewin, such as the piece below on driftwood. We really loved the way she captured the 'living deadness of plants' (as I call it) and would have loved to take a couple of prints home. Maybe one day...

Screen shot from Angie Lewin: A Natural Line section of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park website

This post only a small sample of what you can see at the sculpture park. We didn't get to see much of it because with ME I get tired very quickly, despite frequent rests and hot chocolates.

There is still lots to see, not in the least sculptures by Henry Moore and Antony Gormley, and the current exhibition: Amar Kanwar: The Sovereign Forest + Other Stories, that we must get to before it ends on 2nd February 2014. We plan to visit again and again, taking in a different area of the park each time. I also suspect that visiting throughout the year in different seasons, will cast a different light on the sculptures.

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is now on our 'must show' list of places to take friends to when they visit us in Sheffield.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Gardening with ME

This post, although in the context of gardening, is a bit more personal as it is about my health and may not be what you expect from Gwenfar's Garden per se. For me, it was important to think through and write. I'll get back to writing directly about gardening next time :)

* * * * *
Back in the summer, after months of tests (and so many tests...) and waiting, I was formally diagnosed with ME. In many ways the diagnosis was a relief as it finally gave some explanation for how unwell I’ve been feeling for the couple of years. In fact it also explains why I was struggling so much with my lottie last year when I was still living in Oxford.

ME is Myalgic Encephalopathy is also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Every person with ME may experience variations of the predominant symptoms (listed here), the ones I get are: extreme fatigue after physical or mental activity, ongoing muscle pain throughout the body, brain fog, that is, problems with concentration and short-term memory loss, and problems with (ironically) sleep.

These symptoms have a massive impact on day-to-day activities and I'm fortunate that our move to Sheffield means I don't need to undertake paid work for at least the next year or so. I also have the moderate, rather than severe form of ME which means I'm not confined to bed most of the time, just some of the time.

The diagnosis has both positive and negative impacts. Positively, it gives me an explanation and a starting point for working out how to get well again. It gives me a named illness rather than thinking it was all in my head; it’s good to know there is actually something wrong with me and that I was not just being lazy or not trying hard enough. It also means I know that with time, I should get better again.

On the negative side, it’s made me realise that I’m still trying to do too much which can only make the symptoms and illness worse. Of all the psychological problems that arise from having ME, trying to get my mind to stop wanting to ‘do things’ all the time is the most difficult. And even more difficult is when it comes to having to reduce doing something I love very, very much. Gardening.

Thankfully, I don't need to give up gardening. In fact the specialist I saw said it is important for people with ME to try and continue if they can, to do things they love as although this can bring on fatigue, it also gives positive benefits such as an emotional sense of well-being, which is also important if I want to get over ME. But it does mean that I do need to change how, and how much, I garden.

For now, no more all weekend in the garden for me. No more even half days. Rather, to start with, if I am to manage it right, I might be able to garden at the most, for a couple of hours a week. But as giving up gardening is not an option (what would be the point in living?), I'm holding on tight and am going to try and stay pretty damn positive about the two hours a week I can spend gardening!

At least I am able to do some gardening, even if only 30 minutes a day. Some people with ME couldn’t do this much. But it is hard as I want to do so much more. I’m probably not the only gardener that has looked at what I have done, and seen all the things I haven’t done. So changing this mindset is going to be difficult. I’m going to have to focus on what I have done and feel good about that and not berate myself for what still needs doing in the garden. I have to learn how to garden differently. Like with everything else you do with ME, I have to pace myself. (Pacing is a key treatment for people with ME and one I am already finding is helping me.)

I've been giving a lot of thought over the last few months on how I might change the way I garden. One of the benefits of moving to a house with a smaller garden here in Sheffield, is that I have less space in which to garden. Conversely, one of the motivations behind the new design for my back garden is to try and maximise growing space for fruit, vegetables and perennials, but limit how much work I need to do in order to do this. It is why I decided to spend my whole garden budget on getting in a Landscaper to do the work. Getting the hard landscaping done all at once, including building the vegetable beds, means that the really hard work that I simply am unable to undertake, is handed over to someone with the knowledge and physical ability to do the work. When he finishes (hopefully by mid-December), the main tasks left for me will be the actual growing. Which I have to admit, is the best bit anyway!

And it's those tasks that I have work out how to do differently. I've decided that I need to break down every gardening task into lots and lots of micro-tasks or sub-tasks. This might seem really obvious to others reading this, but to me, I'm used to having a task and doing the whole thing all at once. To not stop until it is finished, over several hours or a weekend if need be.

For example, one big task I have at the moment is to finish planting the bulbs. In the past I would have spent one weekend in Autumn or Winter planting several hundred bulbs. I cannot do that now. If I did, well it would be unlikely I would be able to finish without collapsing and even if I did finish, I would then have to spend the next two to three weeks in bed recovering. So instead, the whole task of 'planting bulbs' is going to be divided into several sub-tasks that I'll do over a few weeks.

On one day I'll spend one hour planting, say, the bulbs just in the herb border. And that hour won't be 10am-11am. It will be 10am-12pm, gardening for 15 minutes, resting for 15 minutes, then gardening for another 15 minutes, resting, etc. The idea is not only to break the larger 'planting bulbs' task up into smaller tasks, but when I'm doing it, to do it slowly, with lots of breaks, (preventative rests the specialist called it) so that I don't exhaust myself. At the end of the two hours, the sub-task will be completed, giving me a sense of achievement, I will have enjoyed myself doing it, and most importantly, I won't be exhausted from having undertaken the task. And I'll do the same when I come to plant the next lot of bulbs, maybe in a few days or a week's time.

Ahh, but how are you going to make yourself stop and take that 15 minutes break? Believe it or not, I'm going to set an alarm. My mobile has a useful alarm that is also very quickly (within seconds) quite annoying. I place it in another part of the garden so that I am forced to have to stop what I'm doing, and to get up to go and turn it off. And that action of course 'reminds me' that I have to take a break and pace myself.

I practised this the other day when I was doing a bit of clearing in order for the garden to be ready for when my landscape man comes to start work. I had some plants that needed cutting down and dug up, so I broke each one into a 'sub-task'. I did some gardening, alarm, rested, did some more etc. And I was pleasantly surprised by two things. One, I got all the work I wanted to get done over the period of two hours, and two, I enjoyed myself and wasn't exhausted at the end. Success!

Having a positive experience is helping me think about how I will manage other gardening tasks, such as sowing seeds. Sowing seeds may not be physically the hardest job. But what you don't realise until you have ME is how exhausting it can be using 'mental energy' (the brain thinking process stuff!). And sowing seeds requires quite a bit of mental energy. You have to think about mixing your compost right for specific seeds, carefully sow them as per their individual requirements, etc. So again I have to break things down. I used to sow masses of seeds all in one day. Now I'll break them down into sub-tasks and do them over a few days, say one hour at a time that is further broken down into task, break, task, break.

What's occurred to me as I've been thinking about how to garden with ME, is how much sense pacing yourself makes, whether you have ME or not. It's about changing your behaviour from a kind of all or nothing, boom and bust cycle, to one in which you manage your daily life in a way that doesn't exhaust you and in which you can achieve the things that you want to without running yourself into the ground.

Of course, pacing appears easy but it isn't. Behaviour change is really really hard. Until now, I've always worked on a task until it's complete, whether gardening or in paid work. I pushed myself regardless and then crashed later. It's possibly one of the reasons I now have ME (my theory anyway). For me it is psychologically very difficult to start something then stop part way through and walk away and pick it up another day. This is why, for me, breaking down my gardening tasks into to sub-tasks that I can complete over a period of time, is really important. Each sub-task is an 'achievement' that I have completed and can tick off my to do list. This addresses my psychological needs (a sense of achievement), practical needs (completing tasks) and it is a physically healthier way to work whilst I have ME; and I can see it generally makes sense to continue to use when I become well again.

At the end of the day it's quite simple really. I have ME. I don't want to give up gardening. So here's me, gardening with ME.