Catching Up During Lockdown

Today I thought I’d share with you the catching up that I’ve been doing during lockdown. We’re all going through a really rough time currently with the COVID-19 situation. Right from the beginning I was determined that I was going to find the positives in a horrible time. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had the odd meltdown! Financially for a good many of us this is a complete nightmare, and it’s a very uncertain time. I haven’t been able to operate as a B&B since lockdown. The weddings booked for this year may have to be postponed which is heartbreaking. Like a good many people, this has left me with time on my hands. But I’m not one to sit around doing nothing….

The Weather

After five months of virtually solid rain it’s been a huge relief to have a change in the weather. From the end of September onwards it rained. And rained. The rain brought with it flooding, both of the fields and the pond. I had to cancel a styled shoot here in the Autumn due to the flooding which was a blow.

Pond flooding onto the lawn
Pond flooding onto the lawn
Pond flooding towards & into the hovels
The ducks and moorhens shouldn’t be able to swim into the hovels!

Just before lockdown happened the booked digger arrived to do some much needed and overdue work. In order to get the level of the pond down to where it should be the overflow ditch needed unblocking. The pond and the overflow ditch are marked on the OS map. This shows that the overflow should take excess water across the fields to the Brooks. Obviously this isn’t going to work if the ditch is blocked!

Digger working
Digger working on the pond area
Tree Stump
Tree stump that was blocking the ditch!
Water flowing in to the ditch
Water is now flowing properly into the ditch

Over the last couple of decades or more, self seeded trees have been falling into the pond and regrowing. In the summer these thirsty trees quickly drained the pond. And in the winter the ones blocking the ditch stopped the excess water flowing away. The tree stump pictured above was one of the culprits! The tree had fallen onto the building doing a great job of flattening it and blocking the bordering ditch. As soon as the ditch was unblocked the water started to flow properly – big relief!

Unexpected Lambs

My neighbour on the farm, Cally, has a small flock of sheep. They graze my fields in the Autumn and Winter. This year they weren’t put to a ram and were not supposed to be having lambs. A tup that she’d bought in hadn’t been castrated properly and at the very end of February unexpected lambing started! It was a freezing cold day with horizontal rain that greeted the first born. Between us Cally and I and her brother managed to clear the barn of heaps of rubbish. Using anything we could find we fashioned a pen and brought the flock in.

Unexpected Lambs in the barn
Sheep and lambs safely under cover

Over the following weeks the lambs came thick and fast with lots of twins, some triplets and even quads! This created extra work for Cally, and I was glad to be able to help her sometimes with the feeding. We are both virtually self isolating, but we still kept a good distance between us.

Towards the end of March most of the flock were ready to go back outside. Which was fun and games! Some of the lambs didn’t get the memo about the change of address and got separated from their mums. Cally’s car doubled as a taxi for the lambs…….

Lamb taxi
Lambs being taxied out to rejoin their mums!

Some of the ewes realised that their lambs weren’t tagging along and tried to get back to them. You’ve heard the expression “looking like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards”. That was my look after I’d fought my way through undergrowth and low trees to push the ewes back to the flock!

New Railings

Before Christmas I had a trench dug and filled with concrete for the new railings I’d ordered. The railings went up before lockdown, but weren’t entirely dog proof. When I say dog, I mean Alice! She’s a little pickle and a very good escape artist. The garden slopes in all sorts of inconvenient ways which made getting the concrete completely level very difficult. Therefore there was a gap under the railings, meaning that the old ugly wooden fence had to stay in place. Having the railings up and still having to see the rotten wooden fence was driving me nuts. So I set to work to make the railings dog proof.

I had a roll of chicken wire in the shed so set about cutting it lengthwise to give me double. This I fixed along the bottom of the railings where she could squeeze through. Then I anchored it with lots of heavy Victorian bricks. These bricks are going to eventually be fixed properly in place as a permanent barrier. The old fence could finally come down. It stayed on the lawn for a while before I got around to moving it. But it’s lovely to see through to the back garden and the beautiful blossom.

Old wooden fence down
The old wooden fence has come down
Chucked the old fence out of the garden
Got sick of the old fence being piled in the middle of the garden, so manoeuvred it out
View from front to back garden
Lovely to see the blossom on the fruit trees in the back garden

Alice has given it a good crack at squeezing through the railings. She did manage to get stuck the other day which was a bit scary to say the least. For both of us! But I think she’s learned her lesson and is giving them a bit of a wide berth now.

Alice looking through railings
Alice is contemplating giving up treats to lose enough weight to squeeze through!

Painting

Another long overdue maintenance job is sorting out the white picket fence at the front of the house. It’s very uneven where self seeded trees have grown and pushed it out of alignment. It’s also been badly weathered over the years. Replacing it isn’t on the cards currently so I’ve been giving it a fresh coat of paint. This should give it a few more years life. I managed to get to the DIY store before lockdown and stocked up on paint. It’s a very painstaking job, but I’m getting there.

Fresh coat of paint on the gate and fence
The gate and picket fence are getting a fresh coat of paint

Tea Garden

I use the term “tea garden” loosely! It’s an area which I have been trying to tidy up for a while with the intention of doing cream teas. It runs between the garden wall and the pond. Having had the area scraped last year I put weed control matting down. That worked to stop the nettles etc from coming back. But that was as far as I’d got. Oh, and then it rained and the pond flooded over the area

I had wanted to put imprinted concrete down, coloured to match the bricks in the wall. This was going to be out of my price range. So the plan then was to use self binding gravel. But along came COVID-19 and I waved goodbye to my income, so that plan was scuppered too. I’d had five bags of pea shingle delivered which I was going to use to landscape the front garden. So, I re-worked my plans. I will put some grass seed down as a temporary fix for the scrubby front garden.

Messy area
“Tea Garden” in waiting
A messy area
A messy collection of bricks and ornate slabs
Area cleared for gravel
Ornate slabs have been used to contain the pea shingle
Shingle down
Pea shingle has been spread on the first area

A lot of blood, sweat and tears has gone into prepping the area for the shingle. Either Ciara or Dennis, I forget which, flipped the extremely heavy table over, smashing the glass top. That took quite a bit of clearing. Then the ornate slabs which I’ve had made for the front garden had to be laid to contain the shingle. Concrete is very very heavy – who knew?! The shingle then had to be shovelled, barrowed and spread. I’m pleased with the result, it’s all starting to look much tidier. Still can’t do cream teas, but getting ready for it!

Cooking

Usually when I have a steady supply of guests I tend not to cook for myself. Bad I know, but if I’ve cooked full English for 7 or 8 people the last thing I want to do is to cook for myself. However, I now have more time on my hands so have no excuse not to!

My neighbour has geese so she has given me the occasional goose egg. As a big fan of Escape to the Chateau I have looked for egg coddlers for a reasonable price. Having failed to find any I have used a large espresso cup – worked a treat!

Coddled goose egg
Goose egg coddled in an espresso cup

Like lots of people I’m using lockdown to clear out the freezer and cupboards. The tin of evaporated milk lurking at the back of a cupboard was crying out to be made into caramel. So I found a recipe for Millionaire’s Shortbread. It was so delicious that I got another couple of tins and made some more. Oops! It helped to fuel my pea shingle moving 😉 But now that I’ve finished moving the shingle I really can’t justify making any more, sadly. But it will be on the cream teas menu, so it counts as research.

Homemade Millionaire's Shortbread
Homemade Millionaire’s Shortbread fuelled my shingle moving

Another item lurking in the larder was a catering tin of anchovies. My grandfather passed on his love of Patum Peperium to me, so it was a no brainer really.

Homemade Patum Peperium
Homemade Patum Peperium having delusions of grandeur in a saved Fortnum’s dish

Something else I really need to make is scones. I do make good ones, but it doesn’t hurt to practise. What cakes etc do you think should be on a tea menu? Leave me a comment below!

Visitors

Like everyone, I’m missing seeing my family and friends. I’m also missing my guests. I have met some really lovely and interesting people over the last couple of years. From forest gardener Rob Handy who visited Knepp on a walking safari to Canadian cellist Vincent Bélanger and many others.

I did however have some guests recently – the Henfield Peacocks visited for a short while. They are I believe escapees from somewhere locally and are reluctant to go home. I was in the sitting room one evening a few weeks ago. Could have sworn that I’d seen a peacock fly past – a strange sight. Thought I was seeing things. Turns out that I wasn’t! They roosted in the tall Chestnut tree by the pond so were very cheap to keep ;-). Then in the morning sunned themselves on the roof of the house before moving on. Didn’t even leave me a tail feather as a tip – rude!

Peacocks roosting
4 Peacocks roosting in the chestnut tree by the pond.
Peacock sunning himself on the roof
Peacock sunning himself on my roof.

Planting

I have removed a lot of rubbishy trees from around and in the pond in the last year. Now I need to do some selective planting. My parents have a lovely Weeping Willow in their garden. Mum took some cuttings for me hoping that they would take root. I brought them home with me the last time I saw her before lockdown. There were 9 split between two fairly small pots so I’ve separated them and all are doing well. They’re ready for being planted strategically to help with water control. One will go at the far end of the pond. The other 8 will go either side of the overflow ditch. They will drink the water and also provide some much needed shade.

Weeping Willow saplings
Weeping Willow saplings waiting to be planted out

I have also been given a rambling rose which I’m delighted with. It was too big for my friend’s garden, but has plenty of space here to ramble to it’s hearts content. I have planted it against the very ugly concrete panels on the front of the barn on the driveway. There are also Algerian Ivy and Virginia Creeper plants there which I’m hoping will really take off this year. The ivy will give evergreen cover and the Virginia Creeper beautiful red leaves in the Autumn. The rose has white flowers which will make a perfect backdrop to any wedding.

Rambling Rose plant
Rambling rose against the concrete panels

 

Take care and stay safe everyone – and don’t forget to leave me your cake suggestions below!

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