Monday, 25 April 2011

16 x 16

Our back garden is 16 x 16 feet. I admit that it’s bigger than a balcony (such as the New York space where the resourceful and knowledgeable Marie has a veg garden), but by most standards it’s a small back garden and it’s only in the last couple of years that we’ve considered trying to grow food out there.

This week I have been busy getting it sorted out for the growing season. Quite a number of things had died during the severe winter and as I worked my way round I discovered a good number of the pots had succumbed to frost and fell apart in my hands. A lot of my time was spent picking rose chafer grubs out of last year’s compost so that they didn’t end up in any of the raised beds. I’ve got hundreds of the ruddy things, but have remembered that Hannah’s neighbour keeps chickens, so I shall be making him a gift of them later in the week!

The enjoyable part has been planting up potato bags, potting on and planting out seedlings and being able to sit out for meals, cups of coffee and reading in the extraordinarily lovely spring weather we’ve been having.

I’m so pleased with what I’ve achieved this week that I’d like to give you a little tour!

Out of the back door and turn left.

Here is our herb garden – all in containers at the moment, though I was thinking today that I could create a small raised bed along that short stretch of wall. At the moment there’s oregano (two different types), rosemary, parsley, celery leaf, french sorrel, several mints, sage. I want some more thyme, which was one of the winter casualties and I’ve got basil and coriander germinating indoors.

Next bags of potatoes – Arran pilot. Yield isn’t fantastic from these bags, but I love tipping them out and digging out a meal later in the year.

On the wall is our salad bar. In here are some mixed spicy salad sown a couple of weeks ago and some sulky looking lollo rosso, which was bought as plugs and may or may not survive. The gravelly looking stuff is a crushed ceramic product supposed to deter slugs, which is necessary as the radishes that were growing in the left hand part of this guttering pipe have all been munched. There are three of these pipes, but the seeds in the next one up have only just gone in and I’ll be sowing the top one next weekend.

Round the corner along the left hand fence. This is the raised bed that our lovely growzones friends helped us to build two years ago. In here I have just planted out some dwarf beans. We’ve loved watching these grow this week. Last weekend they were just breaking the surface in a seed tray and now they’re big enough to take their chances out in the big wide world! I sowed peas along the fence and one or two of them are just beginning to appear. The plants in pots are chilli peppers.

The chard has overwintered.

Next we get to the gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes, which I have underplanted with garlic. (And more of the dwarf beans in pots).

Round the corner again to the back fence which is now well covered with trachelospermum and honesuckle as well as an invasion of clematis Montana from the garden the other side. There’s a bald patch in this bed which never seems to sustain anything and is the spot where we had the root of a eucalyptus tree ground out a few years ago. One day we’ll have to dig out properly and start again, but at the moment I’m enjoying the wild acid green of the euphorbia and looking forward to the lavender flowering.

This recess needs some action soon I think. At the moment it tends to be the place where things get put (dumped). Like the big bin that I collect kitchen and garden waste in for Stu’s compost heap and pots that are not currently in use. As it’s the view from the back door I’d prefer it to look a bit more attractive, so I’m thinking of taming some of that honeysuckle around a mini pergola and putting a seat in there permanently. Anyway, that’s for another day.

Round the corner again to the fence on the right hand side of the garden. This is in shade for more than half the day.

First we have rhubarb – planted last year, so probably nothing to pick this year.

On the fence is the espalier apple tree planted last autumn. It has just finished flowering and was absolutely covered in blossom, so I’m hoping that quite a few of the little nodules will plump up and ripen. Next to it is a climbing rose. I hope that these can co-exist and grow together attractively without killing each other. No sign of buds on the rose yet.

Just breaking the surface in this bed are some broad beans. I'm looking forward to seeing these grow as I chose a variety with unusual dark red flowers.

In front of the bed (and the first thing you see from the back door) is another gathering of containers. Allium, peony, lilies (out of shot). Sadly missing from this group is the camellia which appeared to survive the winter and was heavy with buds, but then just gave up the ghost and turned brown. I assume it was a delayed reaction to frost, but could also have been lack of water.

Here is the business end of the garden – the worm bin and the store. And here we are back at the door again.

This is how the back of the house looks from where my little pergola will be.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

retirement musings

I’m a little nervous about posting this as I don’t usually go in for so much self-indulgent rambling online, but writing it has been helpful to me and it’s not offensive to anyone, so I’m going for it. I should warn you that if you are easily irritated by other people’s navel-gazing, you really shouldn’t read any more! # It’s a year since I retired. Fortunately the kind enquiry “how’s retirement?” is beginning to dwindle, because I’m afraid the answer still has to be “I have no idea”! To be honest I don’t think I have adjusted yet, though as my daughter no. 3 wisely remarked when I voiced this thought a couple of weeks ago “What would that adjustment look like?” Well quite! # There have been some very surprising things. My job was moderately enjoyable and I did it reasonably well, but it was never what you would call a “career”. Yet I find that my image of myself was more shaped by my working identity than I realised. I worked from home as the part-time Finance Manager for a firm of architects, so I was used to being home alone and planning my time and getting to the end of a day and feeling that something had been achieved. There’s no longer an external discipline to make that happen.

Before I retired I did a lot of thinking about it, making lists of hopes and fears (which look remarkably similar to the ones Steve has enumerated in his thoughts on retirement). I think my biggest fear was of “drifting” – I’d always envisaged retirement as my opportunity to get on with the things that work prevented me from doing. I wanted to do more textile work and more “art” and above all I wanted to discover whatever it is that will really motivate me and make me feel alive. After a while I realised that like all of life’s major changes – marriage, parenthood, bereavement – no amount of planning and anticipation prepares you for the emotional journey of the real thing; you just have to do it. This fear has definitely been realised! I know myself well enough to know that given the chance I do just drift. I have always found it hard to motivate myself and I get easily distracted, rushing on to the next task before the first one has been completed (which is why I’ve always had such an untidy desk and the kitchen always looks as if the scullery maid’s on holiday). This would be fine if I actually enjoyed the drifting, but so often time is just frittered away on the computer. (I’ve given up solitaire for Lent which has been a great discipline, but I haven’t managed to bring my need to “just check my emails and have a quick look at facebook” under control.) I think to myself that I would like to go and visit the Museum and Art Gallery in Cardiff (a modest train journey) or to go to the British Museum (rather further, more planning required), but the days pass and I still haven’t done them. I haven’t done a great deal in the way of textile work either – and certainly no “art”. So, surprise, surprise – it wasn’t work stopping me from doing those things; it was me. Lack of drive, lack of commitment, these are the things I’ve always berated myself for, so why should I change just because I’ve retired?


Another thing which has surprised me is that retirement has felt more like an ending than I thought it would. Our move to Bristol, retiring at sixty – these were things that were supposed to mean that retirement would be a new start with lots of lovely things to look forward to, rather than an end. Over the past year there have been several episodes when I have felt I was balanced on the edge of falling into depression. This has both alarmed me (I really don’t want to go there again) and made me angry with myself – it seems so self-indulgent; my life is fine, I have people I love, who love me, I have things to do and things to look forward to, I am not without value – there is nothing to be unhappy about. And yet, and yet... I have come to the shocked conclusion that although it’s not something I believe with the conscious, rational part of me there is a deep subconscious part that has absorbed the prevailing world view that work and economic value are the things that make us worthwhile.


I recently heard an older woman say that she would love to see the northern lights and my inner-meanie said to me “Well that’s not going to happen, is it? She’s too old and she can’t afford it.” And then I felt ashamed and wondered when I started thinking that older people couldn’t have dreams which would never be fulfilled. I suppose a lot of life is about managing expectation – having dreams, but not being unrealistic. Over the years there are many things that we realise we can’t have or do because of money or circumstance or ability and as we get older more of the dreams of our youth have to go on the “never going to happen” pile. So has there been anything good about the past year? Yes, of course, lots of things. I went on a wonderful retreat/reading week at Sheldon, Steve and I enjoyed a brief holiday in Wales and lots of days out during his summer holidays last year. We have seen friends and enjoyed time with family. My days aren't spent entirely aimlessly because I look after our grand-daughters one day a week; I do Stu’s book-keeping, I’m treasurer of Malago WI, we have a weekly meal and discussion of faith issues with a group of friends, I’ve joined a community choir, I read and knit relentlessly and I have done some quilt-making. So actually life is full and rich, it just needs a bit more focus. # Coincidentally, while I have been drafting this post our great friend Si posted a link on facebook to a talk/blog post called Steal like an Artist. There’s some real practical wisdom in there and I am particularly attracted by the advice not to wait until you “know yourself” before you start doing the things you want to do and by the suggestion that you should project the image of the thing you want to be in order to become it. I had a conversation with someone yesterday who asked me if friday is my day off. When I said that I am retired she expressed surprise because “you always look busy and organised”. In the subsequent “what did you do when you were working” exchange she confessed that she had thought I was a psychologist! (I have absolutely no idea why and neither did she seem to). I’m obviously projecting some kind of efficient but empathetic image, which is a comfort I suppose! # I think it’s time I dusted down and resurrected my Fifty before Sixty manifesto and think about a new set of goals and targets. I need to dream some new dreams and make some of them come true. # PS. Blogger is having some serious problems with paragraph spacing at the moment (as others have observed). This is my third attempt at getting paragraphs where I want them to be and I don't hold out that much hope for it being right even now.