Category Archives: Gardening

Secrets of the Swiss Garden…in Bedfordshire: How Shuttleworth’s garden is maturing a year on from £3.6million restoration.

Northamptonshire Gardens

All images copyright Hilary Scott unless stated Swiss Garden, Old Warden, Bedfordshire. All images copyright Hilary Scott unless stated

IT’S a curiosity, that’s for sure. A nine-acre landscaped garden based on a Regency fondness for all things Swiss.

Swiss Garden, between Bedford and Biggleswade, has a ferny grotto, thatched hideaways on handmade hills, a whole load of 150-year-old fake stonework and a meandering stream with precarious humped bridges.

But in recent history – on and off between the end of the Second World War and the recent £3.5million restoration – the Swiss Garden was neglected and all but forgotten, vandalised throughout the ’70s and ’80s and kept just-about intact, thanks to the cash-strapped local councils and determined volunteers.

History

With not so much as a hillock in the flat Bedfordshire landscape with which to create his mountain-style retreat, the wealthy Lord Robert Ongley started his European fantasy almost 200 years ago. He began by making some fake…

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How fast can you build hundreds of new homes? Pretty damn fast actually . . .

Just a quick update to my previous update on the old Cherry Orchard school site in Northampton, which backs onto my allotment. https://scarymotha.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/an-update-to-cherry-orchard-school/

There’s now a whole house just over the wall and people actually living in the ones facing Birchfield Road East. The ones at the Wellingborough Road end, predictably posher-looking, also look finished. Here’s a couple of views from the side…

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I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I think I’ve got it

I haven’t written anything in ages.
I know, I hear you say kind reader, if you’ve been bothering to come back to this site, (which is awfully patient of you).
I have tried.
There are several half-started posts sitting in the drafts box on a variety of topics from neglected regional newspapers to badly behaved children. But none are finished.
Yet I’ve been writing every day for almost 20 years. From local news to gardening and parenting articles, PR guff and copywriting, university lectures and reports, and of course, blogposts.
Ours is a house of writing. Two journalists. No escape.
Articles are written with ruthless efficiency. 1,500 words in a couple of hours? Easy.
But then I stopped.
Firstly too busy. I had a 9,000 word essay to write, which wasn’t journalism and was bloody hard. I’m still not sure it was right.
Then I was too backlogged with the amount unwritten.
More procrastination.
Then I just couldn’t.
Then felt depressed I couldn’t. “Don’t be stupid Hilary, just write a bloody post,” said the voice of my sleepless nights.
Still nothing. Blank screen.
Before the ‘block’ I lost a long term weekly writing contract (this was some months ago), without any real notice, explanation or actual final date.
I suspect it’s had a deeper effect than just the initial anger and disappointment, especially as it was left hanging so I couldn’t offer my services elsewhere.
Whatever the cause, my previous skepticism of writers’ block is cancelled.
It’s taken nine days to write this tiny blog post . . . and it sounds a bit whingey.

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Wall is rebuilt – need ideas about rebuilding garden

Only thing resolved so far is narrow raised beds by the wall for added support.
Kids are 4, 8, 13 & 14. Always argued we need lawn. But is this really best use?

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Look, we’ve nearly got our wall back!

Just a quick post to show progress on the fallen wall this week, thanks to the fast work of Kev the builder and his boys.

From this last weekend . . .

 

To this by Thursday, and that’s before the sunshine moved things on even faster . . .

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The Fallen Wall update – things starting to move

Remember the nightmare of the fallen wall? It’s here if you need a recap. Or search ‘fallen wall’.
Well after much brick cleaning, plant clearing and depression, we’ve got the brickie coming in tomorrow to start the rebuild.
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He came last week and pointed out that the final bricks of ‘the ruin’ needed bringing down to soil level, so Bloke and the neighbours had some work to do over the weekend.
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The plan is to rebuild it slightly shorter than its previous vertiginous height and to abandon the lawn in order to stick in some raised beds on our side, to the same height as the elevated soil level on the neighbours’ side.
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This will involve a complete redesign for me but should at least keep the wall up another 100 years.
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I’m desperate to get this wall rebuilt now. It may not have been much of a summer but you still need that garden to potter about in.
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It’s also going to soak up a couple of grand in cash we don’t really have. But at the moment I’d do pretty much anything to get our privacy back.
More updates as the building
starts . . .

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Sick of chipping away at bricks to recover ruined garden; an update on the fallen wall

THERE’S been very little gardening done by me since April. Not because of the wet weather – which hasn’t helped – but because of the couple of tonnes of brick that landed on our back garden two months ago.

Since the huge wall fell (see details here) we found that the insurance company wouldn’t pay out because it hadn’t been ‘hit by something’ (yeah, thanks for nothing Cooperative Insurance), and that the neighbouring Jesus Army house wasn’t covered either.

This means we do as much as we can ourselves, and then pay £2,000 for a brickie to come and re-build it.

Starting to clear into piles

Every weekend, every free time that Bloke and I had, we’ve been out in the back garden chipping away at piles and piles of Victorian bricks, getting the mortar off each one, sorting them into piles depending on whether they are still whole, and covering everything with yet more sand and dust.

Meanwhile my allotment has been completely neglected – prompting a polite but disappointed call from the allotment committee asking why my plot is such a mess. We’ve managed one trip since then to just strum the worst of it back and stick some beans in. I certainly don’t want it this way, I had high hopes for good crops this year, but have completely missed the window of opportunity because of those damn, damn bricks.

 

Wall foundations intact

We put the majority of the bricks into two big piles and since then have been standing chipping away with chisels and wallpaper scrappers to get rid of the old mortar and leave clean sides. The mortar is like sand, and sometimes comes off easily but mostly needs repeated hitting to dislodge it. It’s boring, mucky, repetitive work.

Pallets filling

 

Bloke and I have filled a pallet and a half now, and the bulk of the piles have been cleaned. Next door did a load in the first couple of weeks but haven’t moved on since then, which is frustrating. Their garden was untouched by the fall, while ours is destroyed and our privacy removed.

The kids can’t play out and are thoroughly bored because our weekends are spent sorting bricks.

The garden has been remarkably resilient. All the plants in the wall-side borders were completely flattened and under bricks for at least a week. However, two large climbing roses have righted themselves, despite no support, and are covered in buds about to bloom.

The raspberries were all broken off at the ground but have thrown up lots of new shoots, so I’ve dug them up and put them in big pots. Also moved to pots are the un-killable hardy geraniums, a hosta, another shrub rose, lots of crocosmia bulbs and three varieties of clematis. Still in the beds next to the wall are several huge ferns which came back from the dead and the climbing hydrangea petiolaris, which is in full bloom. Even the lawn is trying hard to recover, although very patchy and full of weeds.

Surviving border in May

 

The surviving border, which has been neglected because I simply couldn’t get to it to weed, is looking great under the circumstances. But there is a lot of bindweed starting to strangle the foxgloves and delphiniums, and the buttercups, while pretty, are taking over. Ivy on the lower left wall is usually cut right back in May but has been allowed to grow unchecked and is shading the border, making the plants lean for the light.

Once the piles are finished, which should be this week on our side, we need to dismantle the remains of the standing wall, which will require a whole lot more chip, chip, bloody chipping. Then we can get the brickie in, if he’ll still come,  to decide what to do next. The soil on the neighbour’s side is a foot and half higher than on ours and will need digging out and pinning back.

At least the wall seems to have a good foundation. Having expected the bricks to only go down one or two below the soil line on our side, it actually goes down about five bricks deep and even widens at the bottom.

It’s all been a thoroughly depressing process which has really brought me very low over recent weeks. It seems ridiculous to get depressed about a garden but every morning it’s so sad to see the garden in such a state. Allotment guilt is weighing heavy on my mind and I’ve just had to kiss off any chance of actual gardening this year.

Ho hum.

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HotBin continued…

Now after removing slightly sticky compost, just jiggled bottom layer of compost a little, mixed un-composted top layer with few handfuls of bark and refilled.

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Then attached new straps received in post from HotBin HQ which should keep tighter seal.
They are very strong, I’d advise threading first then looping over bin before tightening. I’ve trimmed mine after fixing as they are very long.

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How my garden was obliterated in less than three seconds

IT has taken eight years to develop my shady, urban, child-infested back garden, but it took less than three seconds to destroy it.

At around 1.30am on Sunday, I was woken by what felt like the house shaking. Or was it just a dream? My nocturnal other-half came to bed a few minutes later.

“The wall in the back garden has collapsed,” he muttered, before rolling over and attempting to go to sleep.

That wasn’t going to happen. I was wide awake. I went to peer out of the children’s bedroom window to see what he was talking about. It was too dark.

Downstairs to the window nearest the garden. All I could see was a sheet of the climber hydrangea petiolaris, hanging forlornly in a sheet, not clinging to much at all.

As I peered I could see . . .well, not the garden anymore. Just a sheet of bricks. It was an extraordinary sight. Like an instant patio.

. . . after

To be honest, I cried. Yes, I know it’s just a garden and the fact it happened in the night meant everyone is still alive (it would have killed anyone in the garden, it fell so fast), but after recent nocturnal misadventures, like the car getting squashed and finding a strange drunk man asleep in the dining room, it just feels like we are cursed by bad luck.

Self pity? Yeah, but it took me eight years to build that garden. I write about it as a garden journalist. So no, I don’t feel very laid back about it at all.

The wall was too tall. A Victorian garden wall, bordering the large garden of our neighbouring house’s garden really, all the way around their’s, just one border on ours. It had stood for over 120 years, and yet collapsed in one devastating sheet of bricks, covering the right hand garden border and our entire lawn. A lawn the kids had been playing on just 36 hours earlier.

The following morning it felt unreal to see it. Huge amounts of brickdust covered all the plants and the neighbours’ outside lights, strung presumably on their side, where the ground is a foot or so higher than on ours. Like a horticultural Becher’s Brook.

I couldn’t even start to organise what to do next, as sons needed taking to rugby matches and general life needed to go on as normal.

Bloke spoke to the neighbours the next day. Discussions, apparently, that involved talking to our respective insurance companies. I rang them, they said they’d get back to us. They did, only to tell us the wall wasn’t covered because nothing had hit it, “like a car or something.” Unsurprisingly, getting cross and emailing them the photos didn’t make any difference.

Since then it’s been raining solidly, and each morning when I get up and look out of the window at the missing garden, a little part of my soul wizens. Under all those bricks, somewhere, along with all the other crushed plants, is a snowdrop named ‘Bonnie Scott’, named after my daughter.

What to do next? I can hardly face it.

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Hotbin update

Remember that Hotbin I had delivered at New Year? see here
It’s currently operating at 90 degrees and scoffing just about every thing I can chuck in it.
After a rather slow start, mostly because I thought you had to get the temperature up before putting much in, I took the advice of the manufacturer and started filling it with kitchen waste in earnest.
This happened to coincide with our council deciding to give us all a food waste bin (although our area still has to put out black bin bags, go figure).
So instead of our food waste sitting stinking up the yard, we have been putting about two small worktop binfulls of food waste in the hotbin every couple of days. A load of grass clippings about a fortnight ago also helped, and I’m told chicken pellets also speed things up.
The bin simply devours it. I haven’t actually managed to get it more than half full because each day the level drops. When you consider there are six of us in the house, that’s a lot of food waste.
As well as veg peelings I’ve just started putting cooked food in, and haven’t quite been brave enough to put bones in yet. Maybe this week.
My biggest mistake was to keep looking at the thermometer on the lid, which never rises above 30. Meanwhile, inside the temperature, using the extra thermometer provided, is far hotter, and today showed 95 degrees!
It’s a little smelly, only when you lift the lid and no more than a normal compost heap.
Unlike a normal heap, which just piles up and takes a year or more to break down, and needs a mix of material, the HotBin is right outside the kitchen door, on concrete, in a shady corner. But it’s doing an awesome job.

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