Restoration Diary – 4 Weeks In … The Garden

With no rain this week, a fair degree
of actual gardening work was able to be done
(as opposed to removing bricks, concrete,
and other ‘building-type’ debris;
along with the horrific amounts of rampant Hedera
that has been mentioned previously.)

My first ‘paid’ gardening job was in 1966,
at the Botanic Gardens in Belfast:
where my grandpa, a senior gardener,
taught me that there was only one thing needed
to have lush, full plants …

I have followed his advice for over 50 years,
and once again – as when living in Ireland, Scotland, and Italy –
have demonstrated the integrity of those ‘old methods’
which run so contrary to the chemical dumping-ground mentality
that is advocated in the modern age.

The soil in this particular part of the world is,
very observably, almost pure Sand which is
(as noted previously) bereft of any life:

Not a single worm was seen during the past three weeks
of digging out the first eight feet of the garden.

Unable to get ready access to well-rotted horse manure
(my grandpa’s constant admonition to me, for any garden),
the addition of cow manure during week two,
not only transformed the soil from rust-coloured tan
to deep brown (see below)

but brought – to the same section of earth,
two weeks later – the gardener’s best friend …

Rich, friable soil attracted the attention and presence
(wherever they had been hiding) of worms
to a portion of soil where there had previously been
no trace whatsoever.

Completely enclosed by a six-foot chainlink fence
hidden amongst a collection of shrubs and cedars,
the garden has (as one faces the house)
a gate to the right of the house,
and a second gate to the left …

In order to systematically
work through the entire garden,
I chose to begin right at the left-side gate
and work through the main garden,
finishing at the corresponding gate on the right.

Hoping to complete the project by April,
good progress was made this past week –
forming a Walking Path; digging, enriching,
and cleaning the beds; removing and relocating existing shrubs;
and planting the first 12 of the 78 shade plants
that we brought with us to this house …

A far cry from the mess that greeted us three weeks ago …

… which was horrible to pull, dig, coax, and untangle
from the soil and shrubs that were left to fend for themselves
in this portion of the garden.

A wonderful surprise was found – initially obscured
and choked by the strangling Ivy:

a variegated Pieris with an almost Bonsai-like
twisting of branches, which we subsequently cleared
and re-cut after the Bonsai style …

A very pleasant discovery indeed !

By 3:00 o’clock, however, the air begins to chill notably.
After checking that the fish’s pond heater is on,
it was time to stop for the day,
and sit down for a meal and several cups of tea.

At some point, we shall have to figure out
how to work the ‘BluRay’ machine
in order to see the ‘All Creatures Great and Small’
discs that we ordered. But for now, tea, a book,
and an early night are sufficient for us
to close the week …

The garden, and any further surprises, await
(all being well) … in the week to come.

P Livingstone
10th December, ’17

Restoration Diary … Hardest Part Finished

Week Three … With cleaning, repairing, and painting
in the 1920 house now completed, should there be anyone
who shares my interest in old houses,
a few photos to show the house as it looks now …

 

After basins of constantly changed, piping hot water
and Dettol disinfectant,
filling nail holes and sanding rough areas as we found them,
a fresh coat of paint seemed to cheer the place up immensely.

Anything that was original wood
received a generous coat of Danish Oil.

The actual “Nanny’s Kitchen” is upstairs: this would have been her part of the house …

There are two larger rooms –
the smaller, we understand to have been the nanny’s bedroom;
the other is simply a large extra room …

These we will get to later on, all being well.  For now, back downstairs …

The kitchen is one of two modern additions: the other being the office attached to the sitting room.

 

This was the nastiest part of the whole house …

Every inch of wall space was festooned with horrible, rough planks that served as shelves … nails and screws protruded everywhere, and a full day was required to clear the walls.

Four carloads (right to the roof) of debris –
wrapped in a tarpaulin, were taken to the local dump.

A laundry room and large, finished basement room
completes the lowest floor.

Scrubbed and with the debris now removed,
the garage is clean enough, and spacious enough,
to house the two little Toyota cars
that we bought during our first week here.

The hardest part now finished, any subsequent dry days
will allow us into the garden, which awaits …

PL,  3rd December, ’17

Restoration Diary – Week 2 … Into the Garden

On Day 11 – finally – A chance to look at the Garden.

Under a dark, grey sky, with everything absolutely soaked,
the first efforts in the garden have involved
pulling back the mass of Hedera that blankets
the ground almost entirely.

Beneath the tangled mass, the sandy soil is carefully dug
and turned around the roots systems of dying cedar hedging
that are trying to find nourishment
from soil … that has none.

There are no worms to be found
in any portions of the garden that a shovel has turned.

The property is completely enclosed
by a six-foot chain-link fence
with locking gates to front and rear:
complete security, yet one that lets
the garden be seen by passers-by.
It has been a genuine pleasure to speak to those
who stop for a bit of a chat.

After removing weeds and Ivy,
horse manure has been forked in, and the first
ferns and hostas were set in place today.

Ferns Polystichum munitum along with the beautiful,
red-stemmed Athyrium japonica
moved into their new home along with two
hosta ‘Blue Mammoth’, Hosta ‘Blue Blush’,
and a delicate Athyrium felix-femina ‘Tatting Fern’.

The first 16 feet has been cleared, forked over,
composted, and planted.

Evidently recognised for the ‘soft touch’ that I am,
I was joined today by two very large Grey Squirrels
that have taken to sitting on the covered porch,
ands staring until breakfast is set out for them,
the Chickadees, and a small assembly of black-headed Junkos.

The fish have been spending the week
in a child’s paddling pool, which has been regularly
filled to overflowing from the heavy rain
that characterizes winter here on the Pacific coast.

Today, they got a much-deserved home …

 

‘Bone-cold’ from 4 hours spent working
in the 5-degree temperature and persistent rain,
the trimming of the liner, general tidying up,
and addition of rocks to the pond surround
will have to wait for a day or two.

At least – like us, the fish now have
somewhere nice to live.

P Livingstone
21st November, ’17

Restoration Project: House and Garden

On Saturday the 10th of November,
we moved into a large house that would have
been instantly described (where I grew up)
as a “British Colonial House”.

Built in 1920, it is very much in keeping
with British ‘Residences’ seen in photographs
and documentaries on places like Kenya
and India, in the 1930’s.

When first walking through it with the realtor,
I was overwhelmed with the constant notion
that I was in an historical house that was
open to the public or, part of some museum-type
“Heritage House”.

It certainly did not seem like a house in which
we might possibly be able to actually live.

Although my principle interest lay in the
Japanese Garden, I confess to being
equally fascinated with the dark wood
and glass door-knobs; the ornate windows
and ‘old’ style layout, which transported me
back to my childhood.

We brought to the new house,  ninety four
5-gallon pots of select ferns, hostas, and other perennials
which I look forward to planting in the new garden.

The first week, however, will be given over to
cleaning every floor, wall, and window-sill;
having the heavy carpet in the stairs and hallways
chemically cleaned; and filling nail-holes, dents,
and imperfections in the walls prior to sanding
and re-painting.

Whilst hoping that there may be one or two folk
who might be interested in a series of bi-weekly pictorials
summarising the work in the garden …

… I thought to present a few photographs of the house

(as it was on the day we received the keys,
and again, as the cleaning and painting is completed
in each room)

in the unlikely event that there might be anyone
visiting this Internet site who would share my
fascination with the history of old houses such as this.

Land around the house itself had been
– some years ago – sold
and a development of “Over 55” townhouses built
in a square around it, to form a community
of like-minded, peace-loving folk.

The private garden, subsequently, is completely enclosed
by a six-foot high chain link fence which is
successfully hidden from view amidst the cedar hedging,
Acer trees, and various shrubs of the garden itself.

Complete security in a community of folk who – like us –
desire a quiet and peaceful life.

Whilst (for me) the garden will be the principle project
– trees and shrubs ‘browning up’ from lack of adequate water;
soil that appears lifeless and barren; and beautiful plants
that require a great deal of pruning and ‘medical’ care,

it is anticipation that will have to wait
until the house has had a thorough ‘going over’.

For any visitor who might share my interest
in historical houses, a few photographs
have been presented above.

Our current home sees us located on the Pacific Coast
of Canada, which, in winter, means Rain –
– and a great deal of it.

While no real gardening can begin until March,
the fish will need a pond; and I do hope
to move a few plants from their pots,
into garden soil over the next month or so.

Having absolutely no interest in entertaining
those who regularly arrive here, take one look,
and leave again without the civility of an “hello”,
thoughts and photographs over the next few months
will simply be placed for the one or two folk
who would like to ‘join me’ in the garden project.

For interested and congenial visitors,
I shall do my best to provide photographs
along the way.

P Livingstone

Cultivating Compassion … Roses and the Garden

This Internet site exists only because
I care enough about people
to make an effort to reason
with those who will not give me the time of day.

Perhaps that makes me gullible: providing
entertainment and amusement – ‘a bit of a laugh’
for those

(barring the moral support and ‘likes’
of a friend from Britain whose presence
provides silent encouragement to try ‘one more time’)

who come here
and leave again without a word.

It is the price, I suppose,
for having a tender heart and a moral conscience.

The greatest shock – and only “benefit” (?) –
of the Internet, for me, has been to reveal
not merely the depravity
of the modern human race in general,
but the selfishness of people on the whole.

Multitudes who cannot even spell properly,
and are without even the sense of responsibility
– the integrity – to ‘check their work’,

have the audacity to dispense “advice”
on the Internet,

to those who are without the capacity to think
to discern – that something
is manifestly wrong with their ‘teacher’.

Ignorance, error, and apathy abound:
and no one cares.

The very nature of GARDENING requires
conscientious thought; instils attention to detail,
and teaches patience.

It obliges the gardener
to pause long enough … to think.

And in an age that is characterised
by wholesale Ignorance and the blind pursuit
of constant entertainment,
the ability to think is something
that is DESPERATELY needed.

The human race into which I was born and raised
has long since been replaced.

Where I have spent my life being … grateful
to those who have corrected my error,
this is an age in which
anything more challenging than

“You’re perfect, just the way you are”

is regarded as an “insult”.

It interferes, I suppose,
with the Luciferian religion of “Self Esteem”
– the arrogant veneration of … “Me”.

I believe that the GARDEN is a wonderful way
to cultivate Compassion, Tenderness,
the Humility to learn, and a sense of
what-was-once-known-as Personal Responsibility.

Roses are a wonderful way
to develop an interest in gardening.

The consistent appeal throughout this Internet site
has been that, for any conscientious person
to break this perverse obsession in modern humanity
of needing to spend every waking opportunity
either

staring into the electronic screen
of some technological toy;

or seeking attention
through some form of vanity possession,

he or she must either exercise the mind
through the reading of quality books,

or exercise mind, body, and senses
by appreciating and caring for the natural world
– most notably, animals that suffer the neglect,
brutality, and apathy of human beings.

Gardening, I have endeavoured to suggest,
will cultivate empathy, care,
and halt the modern propensity
to exist like a machine.

( It will also, of course, provide a peaceful setting
in which to sit and enjoy that quality book. )

Whether you live in a British Country Cottage;
or Tokyo Flat; or Modern Urban Townhouse –
Roses

will transform any balcony, patio, or garden
into a visually beautiful, fragrantly scented
setting that will

calm the nerves,
arouse an empathetic mind, and
foster an outside interest that will counter
both laziness, and the modern fixation
of being connected to a machine.

Whether in a garden or suitable container,
all the rose requires is friable, nutrient-laden soil,
at least four hours of sunshine,
and a gallon (a 4-litre milk jug)
of water applied to the base of the rose
every 3 days, if there has been no rainfall.

Newly-planted roses will need water
every other day – a great way
to develop the habit of responsible care.

“How can I love anyone if I don’t love myself?”

has been the perverse mantra
of self esteem humanism
that has been trumpeted throughout the nations
since about 1990:

The answer is simple:

Removing that obscene “Me First” mindset
will allow its former adherents
to actually experience
Compassion, Self-LESS-ness, and Responsibility –

(qualities which were not only instilled,
but expected – demanded – in us as children
in the 1960’s);

as well as provide the experience of thinking
Less of ME … and More of Others.

Sunshine, gentle Watering, and healthy Soil:

Have the resolve to provide these things,
and place them where they are not ‘bullied’
by neighbouring plants (3 feet of separation is fine)
or harsh weather …

and you can grow roses.

To offer your roses a little extra treat,
consider an application of Rose Food
at the end of March; a week later,
apply a 3-inch cover of mulch
in order to deter weeds.

Applications are available for ‘rust’ and mildew;
while Aphids can be sprayed off with a blast of water.

Cutting back spent flowers will not only
maintain the visible beauty of the plant,
but will facilitate that ‘hobbyist’ element
of fine-tuning, caring for, and presenting
your collection to visitors.

Caring for plants ( that offer no tangible love in return )
will make it a simple matter to extend compassion
and care to animals,
as well as kind and deserving people.

The more you do,
the more pleasurable, and natural,
kindness becomes.

Whether in a large garden
or diminutive balcony, ROSES
offer so much more than visual beauty
and fragrant aroma …

… they can stimulate qualities in your life
that are so tragically lacking in the world today.

Care for a garden,
Care for a rose,
and set a moral example

to all who see you.

P Livingstone

Relocating … and Back to Work

After eight years of living in relative isolation
at the foot of a mountain,
we have sold home and property,
to relocate to a more urban locale.

No longer isolated by distance,
it is a pleasure indeed to not only
once again serve as a working gardener
to folk having an interest in “old fashioned” gardening.

Beginning the task of preparing the approximately 200 pots of select ferns, hostas, and other perennials that will be joining us in relocating to a new house and garden …

Friend, Mentor, grandpa: John Hall
at work in the Botanic Gardens, Belfast, c.1960.

A kind and gentle man,
I never once saw him leave the house
without his pocket watch in his waistcoat,
and New Testament in his jacket pocket.

He impressed upon me the importance of knowing
more about soil than specific plants;
was a friend to every animal in the garden;
and limited his services to people
who wanted to spend time caring for their garden,
rather than sitting staring into a television set.

I miss him very much and think of him
every time I feel and smell the rich aroma
of soft, friable garden soil.

The house that we have purchased is
(what we would regard where I was raised as)
a 1920 British Colonial House –
now re-roofed and with new siding,
and situated at the centre of an ‘over 55’ private development.

Internet satellite view:

The garden of the Old House (centre left)
lies in the middle of the photograph;
the seniors’ homes backing on to it
provide shelter from winter winds;
whilst the canopy of trees screen the heat of the sun.

The garden had clearly been laid to a Japanese-style,
fully enclosed by sturdy steel-link fencing
and covered by a virtual umbrella of Acer trees

but – with a very disparate range of shrubs
punctuated by the odd fern, it shows signs
of having been left to fend for itself
over the last few years:

the soil is very dry and lacking in nutrients;
cedar hedging trees next to the perimeter fencing
have turned brown from lack of sufficient water;
and the plants desperately in need of moisture,
pruning, and organic nutrients.

I look forward to starting at one corner,
placing 4″x4″ garden ties to establish clear planting beds;
digging up the few ferns, hosts, and shrubs,
and bringing the whole thing to life once again.

Soil will have to be double-dug;
well-rotted horse manure forked in;
trees and shrubs gently cut back as appropriate
in order to take strain off the root system
in springtime 2018.

For the few visitors who appreciated
the progress of our previous garden in 2012,
the intention is to present a ‘pictorial diary’
in the following months which will highlight
the effort of transforming this garden,.

Having been taught by a gardener who, in turn,
learned his skills from Edwardian gardeners,
it has always been evident that my methods of gardening
are decidedly contrary to what has been
presented in gardening television and magazines
over the past thirty years or so …

… which seems to make for a lack of congeniality
from folk who adopt the modern mindset
of ‘fast and easy’, “low maintenance” laziness.

Still, there may be one or two folk
who find their way here,
who would appreciate joining me
for this particular garden project.

There has, most noticeably, been a tremendous push
to have gardens turned into dumping grounds for chemicals
as a way to facilitate a ‘quick fix’.

I still cannot fathom the advice dispensed
from countless television gardening programmes
and garden centre ‘experts’ since the early 1990’s –

– when planting a shrub or tree,
place a handful of Bone Meal in the planting hole.

Certainly, the Bone Meal may provide
a steroid-like ‘boost’ … in the beginning, but

Bone Meal destroys Mycorrhizal fungi –
the bacteria which encourages a plant’s roots
to take in water from the soil.

By destroying the naturally-occurring bacteria,
the benefits which produce a robust plant
are effectively hindered, if not destroyed
for the long term.

I do not own a television and, indeed,
have not so much as seen one in over a decade;
however, I have been assured
by several viewers of British gardening programmes,
that the current advice on the BBC
is to no longer to buy Bone Meal,

but to … buy (!!!)
COMMERCIAL Mycorrhizal Fungi …
and sprinkle THAT in the planting hole !

From twenty years of telling people
to spend money
buying a commercial powder
which destroys essential bacteria in soil,

to another twenty years (?) of telling people
to spend money
buying a Commercial powder
to add to the natural bacteria
that are already in the soil.

And because it is “on the TV”, people do it,
and repeat the ‘advice’ to others.

Gardening – is understanding
what a specific plant requires,
and then providing it
with a good home in your garden.

And when your garden is healthy,
animals will show their appreciation
by offering you their company …

The foundation of gardening is Empathy –
the capacity to recognise what a plant needs to be happy;

and Propensity – the Desire to actually be IN the garden,
and working amongst the plants, birds, and animals
that abound there.

 

Can I encourage people to leave staring into a screen,
and immerse themselves, instead,
in the sights and scents of the garden?

Perhaps not. But conscience – from having been alive
long enough to see the state to which humanity has fallen –
obliges me to try.

People spend thousands of pounds, euros, dollars,
on mind-dissolving DVD’s, television, and computers,
yet view the garden as an ‘expense’.
Gardening is Not about spending money.

Yes, of course, you pay the nurseryman
for providing you with a beautiful addition
to your garden: that is only fair and proper.

But after the initial expense
of procuring … A Few … needful tools,
your biggest acquisition should be
well-rotted horse manure from an amenable stable-owner
or compost from your own compost bins.

Even the application of commercially bought
mushroom manure or other ‘organic matter’
is a once-a-year event.

With the extreme exception of Equisetum
or Convolvulus (pernicious weeds invading usually
from neighbouring pasture or wasteland),
there is No need to buy chemicals.

Adding anything manufactured by man to a garden,
is not only (ultimately) detrimental to the garden,
it is an utter waste of money.

A bit of energetic work and the garden
will more than take care of itself
as far as the growth of flowers and shrubs
is concerned.

You Do NOT need to spend money.
You Do need to expend Energy and develop Interest
in an ‘old fashioned’ concept once known as
“physical exercise”.

Cultivating Interest … ?
Choose a theme for the garden:

an herbal garden of ‘old world’ medicines;
a shade garden;
a rose garden;
a garden built around a pond –

imagine a theme; cultivate an interest;
and enjoy the pleasure of seeing the garden
respond to your care and attention.

Gardening will shape your body;
sharpen your mind;
and stimulate both empathy and patience.

It WILL make you a better, more caring,
and tender-hearted human being.

P Livingstone