Yet again I didn't blog for millenia! I have been too busy knitting, doing laundry, giving the cat his medication......and gardening(again) It has been a day of several weather types, it's like they are all trying to compete for some sort of award. This morning, Snow even put in an appearance, then Rain showed its ugly face, but Blue Skies finally chased them both away. Nevertheless I still ended up with boots so absolutely caked with thick loamy mud that I could barely lift my feet!!
Anyway...I've had a fairly good week considering my friend Seasonally Affective Disorder has come to stay (uninvited as per usual) However, this year I have a Secret Weapon at my disposal, thanks to Fiona who is researching S.A.D. as part of her PhD. AROINT THEE, you SAD knave!! (Notice how I have immediately made S.A.D. male in gender? Funny, that....)
So...the garden....I suppose you have to be a glutton for punishment and not to mention pretty mad to choose to work outdoors in November. But the fact is, as soon as you are through that gate you enter some kind of parallel universe where everyone is really lovely,it is impossible to be in a bad mood and the sun always shines! Well, two out of three ain't bad, but it sure feels like the sun always shining and like the sky is always a perfect shade of blue. The garden is hidden behind a set of gates along the little road to the side of the house. When you enter, you have a big wall to the left and a stone building to the right, so there is no hint of what's to come. As you get to the end of the wall to your right there is an archway and suddenly you are at the top of a short set of steps.To either side of the steps are stone-walled flower beds which have been carefully planned so that there are always flowering plants, as well as lavender and heathers, and several small varieties of fruit bush. These stone walls continue along the length of the garden on one side of a stone path which leads all the way up to the top of the garden. On the other side of the wall, down the steps, is the bottom part of the garden. It has two polythene tunnels (usuallyknown as 'polytunnels') running the width of the garden. At the very far side are some compost bins and a storage area with huts and a shed. Between those and the path, running along parallel to the road,with its back wall forming the boundary that the gates sit in, is a small building which houses a lounge,small kitchen and a shower room. Between the building and the sheds are several vegetable patches with Things Growing in them.
At this time of year there really isn't much going on - the polytunnels are almost empty; in one, we removed the last of the beans a few weeks ago and took down the frames. There is nothing in there apart from some black polythene from the timber yard,put down over the soil to deter weeds and keep the little creatures who live in the soil from freezing. In the next polytunnel there are still a few courgettes and beetroot but they are 'finished' pretty much. That polytunnel also serves as a kind of shed; there is a workbench where the vegetables have been weighed and boxed for transport during the growing season, and where the hens' food is mixed. The hens themselves are housed behind the polytunnel; there are eight of them altogether. They are as free range as it is possible to allow them, given that there are foxes around. They have a rather natty wooden he house,which has a space underneath for them to shelter, a kind of ramp leading to their front 'door', and the inside is warm and dry with straw that is later removed and made into compost. Round the back of the hen house is a long hinged cover at about chest height. Lift this lid and you will find a long box divided into sections and lined with straw...if you are really lucky you might even find freshly laid - and still warm! - eggs, and these are taken out and placed in a box to be collected later by whoever has asked for eggs that week. The hens live a fairly carefree existence, pottering about in their enclosure, sitting in the hen house and clucking. They are fed on a mix of pellets, carrot scrapings and chopped up greens etc. Yes, hens do eat vegetables!
Walking around the side of the polytunel, past the henhouse, back towards the stone path, is a long single-storey wooden building. This is a self-build project completed couple of years ago, known as the Garden Rooms. It houses four small one-roomed bedsit style 'studios', a conference room with kitchen, and the offices of the Horticulture Project (Known as NE4 VEG) The studios are lived in by homeless men: recovering alcoholics and/or drug addicts. These small rooms have their own front doors leading out onto shared verandah which overlooks the garden. It's a kind of half-way house, as is the main house normally but at the minute the main house is undergoing major renovation work, so only the Garden rooms are currently occupied. Men can stay here for up to two years with support to gain qualifications and training, before moving out, hopefully to a more long-term accommodation.
Going along past the Garden rooms and back onto the stone path, you walk past the door to the conference room, then up onto a lawn. To the right is a small wooden decking area leading to the door of the Project's offices. Past that, over by the far wall, is a wild area and a small pond. at the very end of the garden is a long greenhouse - this has a heating system - and in between are two long vegetable patches and - separated from that by a stone wall with flower beds - a wooden seating area.
The main thing that strikes you, walking around, is that you could almost be in the middle of the countryside. It's very peaceful, with no traffic sounds or loud radios etc. Everywhere you look there are signs of Nature doing her work, just going about her business. Even when it's raining it doesn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits. It's like: it's raining - so what? It's only water and the sky will brighten again; it always does.
The only thing I feel sad about is that the hostel is men-only and so homeless women cannot benefit from the project. As I piled whole woody cauliflower plants on the ground and hacked them to pieces with my spade it occurred to me exactly why these guys find it all so therapeutic! and the food - cooked by the resident chef - isn't bad either!