Wednesday, 30 May 2012

God of the Garden (ahem!)


Last summer my husband's big project was building a pizza oven in our garden. By the time December came, the gloom of winter was already hanging heavily and he felt in need of another project. Which is why, on Boxing day, when the earth was cold and heavy he dug his spade into the ground and began the huge task of levelling our garden. He told me yesterday that he can still remember stamping the spade into the earth for the first time and feeling utterly overwhelmed by how many times of doing this he knew must follow.


Our garden had always sloped peculiarly across our plot of land and this sloping horizon felt discombobulating and so he decided to level it between Christmas and New Year. The children helped a little each day, once my father called over and spent an afternoon digging, but mostly we glimpsed this shovelling through the windows from the warmth of inside, as this bleak lone figure dug and shovelled, saving every earth worm that he came across in the process. It was the kind of work I can imagine being given to convicts, although this one had the luxury of working his way through Desert Island Discs podcasts as he dug. It was meant to be just that, a simple levelling task, but somehow as he dug our plans became grander and eventually took in most of the garden.


By February, we began to go on jaunts to reclamation yards in search of oak sleepers with which to edge the garden and create raised areas and for paving blocks for new patios and paths. These yards are frosty, odd places at that time of year and it was hard to imagine the things in them as part of a summer garden, but I think even so, we loved these outings and our heads bubbled with ideas and excitement.


A lorry came soon after and craned twenty-five oak sleepers to the front of our driveway. Just carrying them around to the back of the house was back-breaking. We wondered at how one cuts an oak sleeper to size. We considered buying a chainsaw, but didn't want to spend the money on something we'd never use again, so he cut each one to size with a hand-saw.


We decided to create a second, sunken patio around the pizza oven. More digging and then creating two sets of steps from sleepers and paving blocks. Two tonnes of hardcore and sand were dropped on the front of the driveway and then three pallets of paving blocks, at which point a friend came to the rescue, delivering an old wheelbarrow which we could use to get it all to the back of the house. The hardcore and sand formed the base to the patio and path and then the paving blocks were put into place. If the digging had been tiresome and back-breaking, the tamping down of paving blocks was even more mind-numbing. The tamping to make them perfectly level (I was all for a haphazard English cottage garden at this point, but my husband was wielding a spirit level) seemed to go on forever and my husband bought a second mallet so that we could tamp simultaneously.


One weekend in amongst all this was spent constructing a greenhouse, a birthday gift from my husband's mother, and from then on the monotony of garden work was broken up by learning how to grow vegetables, discovering what to plant when and enjoying picking packets of seeds from this couple's website (and some low-level bickering over how many chilli plants a family of four needs, when only one member of the family eats chillies. Having consulted a friend on the matter I think that the need to grow hot vegetables is a man thing). The greenhouse is raised at the back of the garden and we marked out a garden path leading down to it with my daughter's colourful knitting wool.



As we worked on the garden each weekend our little boy took advantage of this barren mud garden and built traps for bugs, made obstacle courses from garden canes, set up see-saws with planks of wood and dug holes just for the joy of digging holes. It was the kind of industry that comes out of complete boredom and lack of entertainment. I have so many photos of him from this time, in fact it's been difficult to find garden-in-progress photos that don't include the children as they generally grubbed around us for almost the entire time. Once the path had been put in place my father gave the children rides in the wheelbarrow and hurtled them up and down it to shrieks of delight. Again, I have so many photos: it seemed the whole time as though I was collecting memories for the pot.


And finally, it is finished. Last week the grass was laid. This is the only thing that my husband didn't do himself.


Or I'd thought it was finished. I arrived home yesterday to find that my husband was digging up the buddleia on the left of this photo as he thought around a logic problem with his work: this means more planting and the painting of a window frame that the buddleia had obscured.

Before

After

To either side of the trellis that arches over the step I've planted a rose and a clematis, which hopefully in a month or so will be starting to cover the frame.


The path turns toward the greenhouse at the end of the garden, flanked by raised vegetable beds (which have been covered in netted frames in the battle my husband is forced to wage against our cats in an effort to protect his vegetables). A garden bench will eventually take the place of the grow bags on the right.


My husband used left-over bricks to create a zig-zagging path that goes behind the greenhouse to a hide-out for the children.



And last week we made a rockery beneath the trees in the hope that thirstless alpines might be the thing to thrive in this dry, shady spot.


Since the grass was laid it has been sunny every day. We have sat and drunk tea on the patio each morning and excitedly looked for signs of new growth in the greenhouse before we start work. In our lunch hour we have lain in the garden or played quoits. And there has been a lot of football after school. It feels like such a calm, tranquil place to be now that all of the hard work is done.



We also obsessively check on the growth of the laurels at the end of the garden. They are the slowest growing plants in the entire world. I bought them four years ago from an independent nursery who told me that not many people know it, but laurels grow as fast as Leylandii, but don't incite the same fear in neighbours. I don't believe this is true. But they have finally grown a foot in the last month and we are feeling excited about the day when our garden feels entirely secluded.


And finally last weekend, my husband lit a fire in the pizza oven for the first time this year and we enjoyed stone baked pizzas for dinner.



It is an odd thing to be with someone from when you are very young. I met my husband at university seventeen years ago - he liked blowing smoke rings, listening to obscure bands, and not washing very often.  I remember pouring shampoo onto his head as he ate one evening so that he would be forced to wash it off. His big draw was that - as I told his mother at the time - he had cheek bones to die for. He was also the kindest person I'd ever met, who could make me laugh until my stomach ached (actually my sister is both of these things too. I think I may have found a male version of her in these ways). It comes as a complete surprise to me when he does things like single-handedly landscapes our garden, because they're not a part of the character of the person I first met, but are new bits that present themselves little-by-little each year and take me completely by surprise in the best kind of way.

Our friend Ben teases me that I make my husband sound like a God when I write about him here. I think I probably do...but that's only because I think that he sort of is (although it should be said, to appease Ben, that my husband has a GREAT many faults and short-comings that are too numerous to be listed here). But really, our friend Ben reads my sewing blog, brings home-made cheese cake when he visits, has carved toys for our children, and hand-makes truffles for our birthdays, so I think he may be throwing stones from a greenhouse.

Florence x

46 comments:

  1. I love the way you described discovering new facets to your husbands character and think you are both blessed to have found each other at such a young age.I hope that you continue to grow in love for one another and blossom like your beautiful new garden.

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  2. What a fabulous post and amazing transformation!!! The garden look fabulous and I'm just a little bit envious of your greenhouse - we're hoping to move soon so haven't done much planting this year and I'm missing picking lettuce for our lunch each day. Hope you get lots of sunshine to enjoy the garden and all your hubbie's hard work x

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    1. Oh no, it's an odd rootless time when you know you're moving, isn't it. I hope you set things up again quickly after your move. x

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  3. Wow!!! That is amazing and looks so beautiful. Well done to you both and enjoy your gorgeous space xx

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  4. Wow - that is so beautiful! And it was accomplished so quickly too. I'm sure you'll enjoy it for years to come. :)

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  5. Wow, what a transformation!! Looks beautiful!!

    I know exactly what you mean about your hubby, as myself & Mr G have been together since we were 15, growing up together is the best....

    Now hankering after a pizza oven!!

    S x

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  6. What a lovely post and wow what a transformation! Your garden is just beautiful, a wonderful haven for you and your family. Your husband did a great job. PS Very envious of the pizza oven!

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  7. Wow Florence, what a beautiful space you guys have!!! I'm so envious of your pizza oven )and that awesome greenhouse!!!!)! We have a beehive oven inside (the original oven of the house) but I would love one outside to use in the summer. I'm so glad you will be able to enjoy your garden all summer.

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    1. Gosh, that sounds amazing! How old is your house?

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  8. Not from your greenhouse I hope. Such a lot of work but it looks fantastic. Thanks for sharing such inspiring pictures and such a lovely story.

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  9. Oh my goodness what a transformation. Your husband could easily give up his day job and become a landscape gardener. You write so beautifully about him that the love shines through. I too have been blessed with a special man and we have been married now for 42 years, although I know in my heart that we are still only 25.

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    1. Oh thank you! Yes, I think we are both probably still 25 too :)

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  10. The garden is lovely. The nurseryman was partly right - laurel does grow like leylandii, but as our neighbour has let his grow to 20plus feet and it's knocked down our fence, people ought to fear it. We're smarting under a four fiqure quote to replace the fence and a hedge obscuring a lovely view.

    I met my husband when I was 18 and he was 20 - he had hair down to his shoulders and was stick thin. He's become more conventional over time and he sometimes drives me mad but we've struggled on for 42 yrs so there must be someting in it (could live without his mother though :-{)x

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    1. Jee, I know this is the last thing you want to hear when it sounds like your situation is incredibly irritating, but I can't tell you how delighted I was to read your comment about excessive laurel growth! I like to think that, as our neighbours are only in possession of a view of our house, that we are probably doing them as much of a favour as ourselves by hoping to grow something tall, but if we had a nice view I'd probably consider it differently.

      Loved hearing about you and your husband and also the mustachioed emoticon! x

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  11. A truly memorable post. I love the past and present states of the garden that you have captured so beautifully, twinned with the past and present reflections on your dear husband. I should think you will enjoy the fruits (and flowers!) of your labours in the garden all the more because it was created with such thought and love. Thank you for sharing, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

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    1. I'm really pleased you enjoyed reading - thank you for your lovely comment. x

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  12. I love your new garden and I am in awe of your green lawn! It's funny you say your husband seems the female version of your sister. I often think the same about mine. It's so great you've been together for so long...it's not easy to find your soul mate at such a young age. I've been thinking of your pizza oven last weekend when I baked my own pizza. I simply used the same bricks as for the oven in my regular oven and the result was very good...except for some fiddling you have to do to get the pizzas in and out.

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    1. My husband wanted to put bricks in the oven before he built the pizza oven too. Unfotunately, I wouldn't let him as I was worried they'd be too heavy - that's good to know that it does work (and I'm assuming that if the bottom of your oven had warped you'd have said so, so also good to know it would have been fine).

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  13. enjoyed reading your blog today. Lovely garden.

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  14. I just wanted to take a moment and tell you that your garden is stunning. What a labor of love!
    ~Natalie

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  15. Your garden is beautiful! What a wonderful place for your family to hang out! My husband is very much like one of my sisters, too-- good at everything, articulate, much quieter than me! Funny how that works!

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    1. I think we have that the same - both my husband and sister are good at virtually everything they turn their hands to. I am more of a one-trick pony.

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    2. I think we have that much the same - my husband and sister are good at virtually everything they turn their hands to. I'm more of a one-trick pony :)

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  16. Your garden is amazing! What a talented husband. Does he want to do my garden next?

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  17. O my your garden is absolutely gorgeous. I agree with Ben, he is a god because there is no way on earth that my husband would do that unless of course i said he could have the lawn as a practice area for golf, then i think he would be out there morning, noon and night. Enjoy watching your garden grow x

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  18. Wow what a wonderful post - very inspiring x

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  19. What everyone else said - stunning transformation and fabulous post. But why do none of the pictures feature these cheekbones to die for?

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  20. Wow, what a difference! The garden looks great. ps. Try lily of the valley for shady areas.

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  21. Now that is some garden! I have a fella who likes ironing and I'm often asked if he's for hire. I could swop you some laundry hours for some gardening hours ;D

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  22. I have major garden envy right now! It looks gorgeous - bet you'll enjoy spending time in it this summer.

    And cutting those sleepers with a hand-saw? Go Mr Teacakes!

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  23. What a lovely post!The garden is great and the pizza looks good too.

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  24. My favourite part of this was the shampoo subterfuge tale, but WOW - that's some serious gardening! So glad you found the Real Seed Catalogue. Did you get any of the Cherokee Trail Of Tears beans? I grew some a few years ago and they converted Boyfriend to green beans.

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    1. No, I don't think so...I will forward your question on to him and he will no doubt note it down for next year! He adores that seed company though - they have such wonderfully-sourced, interesting things, don't they. x

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  25. Wow, that garden looks great! And I really had to laugh: I had the chili discussion with my guy, too. That really has to be a guy thing ;)

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  26. Thank you so much for all your lovely, lovely comments. x

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  27. What a difference! It looks lovely now.

    I had to laugh at you pouring shampoo on his head!

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  28. what a fabulous transformation. ! watch for the laurel though if it ever grows enough to need clipping, it gives off cyanide when you trim it!

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  29. Well, now I feel bad for not doing some weeding around here...

    It looks stunning.

    Ben does have a point, mind. Perhaps you could list a few of those faults for those of married to someone who has yet to surprise us with landscaping talents...

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  30. Wow what a stunning transformation and so much hard work! May you have many, many happy hours in your garden. X

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  32. Stunning garden! Great post!

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  33. Wow what a stupendous result - I am so pleased for you that all the hard work has had such a fabulous outcome and the pizza oven is surely the icing on the cake - nothing better than this for weekend dinners. It is lovely that you will be able to relax and roam around your garden and potter in the greenhouse for many many years to come.
    Very well done
    P.S. love your blog
    Cilla Rule

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  34. Wow. Your man is clearly some kind of machine! It looks beautiful. x

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  35. What a great job your man has done - a keeper for sure! It's so lovely to see what great results can be achieved, well done. Lovely blog too.....

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x