Battle lines are drawn

All those years ago, when we first walked the fields that are now the nursery, the most startling thing was the width of the hedgerows. Sometimes as much  as 50 feet wide, solid bramble, and solidly rooted to the ground by Crack Willow, Blackthorn, Sycamore etc. Then, the nasty weeds, dock, stinging nettle, creeping buttercup and the like. Of course, the thing to bear in mind is that back then, the land had lain abandoned for many decades, so we were seeing what could happen across every ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ in the country if it were not for the fact that our natural beauty is one that is carefully and quietly ‘managed’ by our farmers.

It took us a couple of years to fight our way back to the boundary hedges and ditches. To clear a mile and a half of hedgerows, lay down our hard landscaping and paths, erect deer-proof fencing and install irrigation pipes from the wrong side of the road, down through the nursery to the working nursery. Erect our poly tunnels and growing beds and so much more. That was before we even looked at a plant. This was not going to be a ‘get-rich-quick’ process.

Today, I was very sternly reminded that I had ‘Stolen’ 10 acres of land from Nature. And the scary thing is that Nature wants it back. Our deer-fencing was installed 15 feet in from the boundary fences and ditches, but today brambles are cascading over the deer-fences. Nettles are pushing up from under the fences, sycamore and willow seedlings are sprouting from every bit of spare soil. The big problem with all this is that we have 3 acres of gardens where every plant we offer for sale can be seen growing. Gardens where our rare and special shrubs are growing, these are the plants we rely on for cuttings, and these are the beds that are now under attack.

Only remedy is to get between the fences and boundaries armed with a decent hedgecutter and joint the battle. Cut back all the bramble growth that has invaded the gardens, then spray off the weeds beyond the fences. This is a job that cannot be done during the growing season, so it needs to be done NOW! This is the now when all of this year’s stock has to be potted up, all 40,000 plants. The now when the nursery sales tables  need to be cleaned, repaired, disinfected and painted, all 65 tables, the now when we have to clean and prepare our growing beds to take the stock that we’ve not yet potted up. But I have a cunning plan. Electricity!!! We have none of it at the nursery. Our technology hasn’t changed from the late 19th century, but I do have a battery powered hedgetrimmer, so my plan is to charge the machine tonight, use it tomorrow until the battery is empty, then get on with the day job. Charge it tomorrow, then use it Monday and so on until the job is done, (probably Christmas at the rate I’m going).

On the plus side, many of the shrubs we planted 10 years ago are now fantastic specimens. This past Autumn, we carved out 1000 square yards of untouched ground to create our ‘White Garden’ but we needed a special shrub to act as a focal point for late Spring. One of those now fully mature shrubs was just what I needed. Viburnum plicatum ‘Marissii’. Just dig it out of our very heavy clay, and move it to the new garden. It took two days of digging just to get it to a point where we could see movement at the roots. Gosh, I’m getting old!!

Now replanted, I’m sure it is going to look fantastic with the new pond as a backdrop. If you’re passing later in the spring do pop in. Remember, our gardens are open free of charge, so that’s not an invitation to spend money, just an invitation to come and see what we’re doing.

The mystery bird has finally been identified. We have all the usual winter visitors like fieldfares, redwings, siskins and bramblings. We get oddities passing through like the green sandpiper and reed bunting – where are the nearest reeds? probably the levels or coastal fringe. But for a couple of weeks, a small dunnock-like bird has been on our feeders, but certainly not a dunnock. Striped back, straw colour, fairly non-descript – but today, it was joined by another bird. A male Redpoll, and when they were together I could see clearly that my mystery bird is a female Redpoll. Probably common enough for some, but for us at Picket Lane, a very welcome First. That has made my day!!

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