Spring 2020 – Fresh from skiing we had less than a week, a quiet, tense one, before the industry closed in March and we joined many others in enforced seclusion. This caused the postponement of the kitchen refurbishment at the 11th hour as we faced an uncertain future. To fill the long hours we spent time in the garden, discovering more projects as we worked and really got to know the space.

  

There are always jobs to be done, a new one was the lawn and acquiring a mower. This led us to see different areas of the garden up close and debating how to develop the space. First up was attacking the wilder areas, the nettle and Butter-ber forests that spring up at the fringes. Mowing proved very effective revealing old rubbish and masonry, poisoned areas and felled trees. Peter, a kind neighbour persuaded Penny to develop a flower border by the fence to the pond. This had crept along a few feet and been planted, we were encouraged to extend it to halfway then all along, A month of heavy labour ensued as half the excavation was of stones, large and small, often cunningly interleaved to resist removal. Peter donated plants and others were acquired to fill the border with colourful life.

 

A personal project had been the completion of another log-pile to clear up the untidy heap of lumber by the river. Another slog followed by the hunt for and chopping of kindling to fill the cavernous space as it had been over-built.

The pond needing a clean to remove the build-up of algae to allow the oxyginators to flourish. To use some of the rocks aquatic bridges were created to allow the movement of amphibians and more planting of the banks for wildlife cover.

The mowing led to the clearing of the old and newly cleared areas in the wilderness. A ruthless removal of interlopers ensued, leaving spring flowering ground cover to flourish in a sea of blue flowers. We decided to encourage grass and wild flowers there and cleared the surface of woodchips. As we did the idea of a shady border by the boundary with the Mill and screen of mature trees took hold. With another immense effort over many weeks a deep trench from the river to the car-park was excavated with the by now familiar mass of heavy rock and not the good sort, although much of that was used as a morale booster during the hot, sweaty work in the blazing sun of a tremendous spring through the trusty ear-buds. By now we had several mini-mountains of stones but what to do? A few encircled the artichokes, the masonry was piled up on some hardcore discovered in the weeds. I decided to build or rather re-build the old boundary wall with the Mill that had obviously collapsed. A crash course in dry stone walling followed, they fall over, a lot, until you do it properly. To show the extent of this it was only finished in late July from an April start as the kitchen chimney was re-deployed, requiring considerable re-building. Yes, as lockdown eased we tried to guess when we would re-open and re-commissioned the kitchen refurbishment on 22nd June. The Government showing a sense of humour then announced we could re-open despite the still high infection rates, numbers eh, pesky things. With little else to do but continue we set a hopeful date of 6th August crossed our fingers that all would go well. Never easy in such an old building with an absence of right angles and the loss of a key project manager the week before we started. I was advised to give up my wall, yes, I know, stubborn and probably stupid but it got under my skin and through five pairs of gloves.

A desire for roses followed, neighbour envy, two more beds were needed, by the entrance, not too bad to do and by the border to Gladstone Cottage by the new fence, which was far less friendly with more rock to be rolled. To use this I decided upon a rockery, handily nearby as the wheel-barrow was suffering. Weeks of effort again until the trench extended from gate to the end of the fence. Three old power or telephone poles lay near the end and presented a problem. Too big to move and not burnable. The solution came with the rescue of our things from storage in Scotland and down to Chippy where we could get at it. The chainsaw surfaced and we were able to halve and haul them to form a border. With yet more compost from North Oxfordshire Topsoil, their enormous white bags a familiar site around the village as many tuned to gardens for release, the beds were filled and three roses now join the fun. 

A final bed, I know, madness, was needed to border the car park by Manor Cottage as the attempts at a meadow failed. Much easier digging and Penny slaved away to get a raft of native plants to give the space colour and interest. My interest in less sterile wild gardening developed, having never gardened before but now regular Gardener’s World watchers. A wild area of meadow was defined by the trees that border the car park and another to protect the orchard of tender fruit trees. They along with our planting of bee, bug and bird friendly plants will hopefully bring life and diversity to a less plain space at the expense of a more natural look. Something many of us adopted over the quiet months. 

It was a lot of work, years of projects but we all spend more time outside now so let’s have something interesting and hopefully nice to look at when there. It feels like a very long time since our doors were open to all. We hope you’ll pop in and have a nosey.

Next time some reflections on the kitchen, running late now so fingers crossed for the 6th. The final word is for those in the village and elsewhere who were so supportive, friendly, compassionate and generous during this continuing time of struggle for whatever normality is nowadays. To them, to all we met on our expeditions, all unfailingly polite and considerate – Thank you.