“In The Bleak Mid-Winter”

Just when you thought it was safe to go out into the garden, along comes… “The Beast from the East”!

This time last year I was cutting my lawn for the first time. That’s not going to be happening for a while this year. On what is officially the start of meteorological spring, it is blinking freezing and blowing a gale. The Christmas carol “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” comes to mind…

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

It is certainly not a day to be spending long in the garden and I have received many pitiful looks at work today. I actually haven’t been outdoors too much, instead I’ve been making some new tabletops to replace some rotten old ones. I did, however, venture out to fill up all of our bird feeders. I wouldn’t like to be one of our feathered friends on a day like today.

Despite the weather I did still manage to find some beauty in the gardens.

Wintery scene outside Woodview

Wintery scene outside ‘Woodview’

Some flowers have appeared and are probably regretting coming out early.

Snow covered Daffodil

Snow covered Daffodil

This beautiful crocus appeared a couple of weeks ago, adding a bit of colour to one of the flower beds near the hospice entrance.

Crocus

The dogwoods have been looking resplendent, whilst much of the rest of the garden is looking a bit tired and dull. I’m so glad that last spring I hacked them right back in order to renovate them after years of neglect.

Dogwoods

My final picture is of a frosty bulrush, although it should actually be known as “reedmace”. I love bulrushes! I’m not quite sure why I like them so much, but I think it goes all the way back to Moses! When I was Christened I was given a Children’s Bible, and one of my favourite stories was of Moses being placed in a basket in the bulrushes in order to escape the tyrany of the Egyptian Pharoah. There was an accompanying picture, which is probably why I liked the story, showing Moses in the bulrushes (reedmace). They don’t actually have reedmace in Egypt, instead they have Scirpus Lacustris, which is a true bulrush and which looks very different. Anyway, what I call bulrushes were mistakenly in the picture of Moses! I then remember seeing bulrushes (reedmace) in real life and being fascinated by their unusual velvety look , a bit like a sausage on a stick. They are not terribly pretty for much of the year, and they can be invasive if not well managed, but I like them anyway!

A Bulrush

A Bulrush by the pond

This winter hasn’t been easy, what with Dad dying and then getting the nasty cold/flu bug that’s been going around. It seems to be going on for a long time. And for gardeners, there isn’t much to do during this period, so I haven’t been going into work as much. I have realised that the lack of work and exercise, the cold, dark days, and the bereavement, has left me feeling a bit low. So it has been good for me to pick up my camera and to look around the gardens at work for something to blog about.

And fingers crossed soon I’ll be able to sing “Spring is Here” by Frank Sinatra.

Wildlife at the Hospice

One of the joys of working as a gardener, especially in a large garden, is that you get to see a lot of wildlife. In the twelve months that I have been working at the hospice, I have seen frogs, newts, kingfishers and herons (probably why the fish seem to have disappearded), moorhens, buzzards, pheasants and roe deer, to name just a few.

I saw the pheasants today. They are regular visitors to the hospice garden, in the search for food. We have numerous bird feeders outside the patients rooms, which give a huge amount of pleasure to the patients and their families. When you are stuck inside due to ill health it can be very frustrating. Watching the birds feeding outside your bedroom window is very relaxing and therapeutic. We get various tits and finches feeding from the bird stations. They’re messy eaters, leaving seed all over the flower beds. Some of these germinate into various grasses and other plants (yes I know we should probably pay more and get the stuff that won’t germinate), but a lot of the seed on the ground is eaten by the pheasants, or grey squirrels. Earlier in the year, there were only two pheasants. But they had chicks, and now there are five. This afternoon they were all present, hunting for seed for well over an hour. At one point I noticed them chilling out, the male on the ground and two of the now big chicks stood on a picnic table. I had to get my camera from my campervan for a photoshoot, and luckily they were still there on my return.

Pheasants

The hospice is situated next to Amberswood Common , which is 160 hectares of former open cast mines and landfill sites. It is now a nature reserve and is a mix of woodland, grasslands and marshes. There are also ponds of various sizes, known as the Wigan Flashes. Amberswood is home to much wildlife, including the rare Willow Tit. Wigan is home to 10% of the UK’s willow tit population. A patient said that they had seen one in the garden earlier in the year, but I cannot confirm that. Something I can confirm though is the presence of roe deer, because I saw them just before Christmas last year. I like to think that it was Ruddolf and friends checking out the hospice. They were very nervous, but I did manage to get a very poor photo of one of them.

Deer

Patients regularly see the deer in the gardens very early in the morning, before I arrive at work. Occassionally the patients come up to me to tell me of their sighting. They are always very excited, and rightly so.

It is important that we encourage wildlife to our gardens. At the hospice we are developing a new area in the garden, which is going to be called The Amberswood Garden. It looks out onto the common and is going to consist of mainly wildflowers. These will hopefully encourage many insects and other wildlife.

In just over two weeks time we are opening our gardens to the public. So if anyone would like to visit, you’d be more than welcome. They are open on Sunday 10th September 10am – 4pm. It would be lovely to see you then. In the meantime, I have a lot of weeding to do!

Dark Clouds Overhead…

Sometimes it feels that there are dark clouds all around us, both physically and metaphorically.

Last week there were many dark clouds around. In fact it rained for much of the week and was surprisingly cold for the end of June. As a gardener a week of rain is very frustrating and a bit depressing. However, sometimes you just have to don your waterproofs and just get on with the work at hand. At least you don’t have to do any watering.

At a hospice there are often metaphorical dark clouds overhead. At its core, hospices care for people who are terminally ill. For patients and family and friends this can be a very difficult and scary time. Approaching the end of life can be frightening, with fears over pain or other symptoms, or the pain of losing someone so close to you. It isn’t an easy time. But hospices are here to help, and what an amazing job they do. There are specialists who can help control the physical symptoms, but there is also space for psychological, social and spiritual care as well.

I believe that this is where the gardens are an important place for patients and their families and friends. The gardens give space for people to escape to. They are a place to think and reflect, somewhere to relax and a somewhere to marvel at the beauty of our world. And it is this that motivates me to work hard and try to create a special place.

This last week there has been a big change in the raised beds at the front of the hospice. The bulbs are pretty much over, so it is time for the bedding plants to go in. I contacted Moss Bank Nurseries to see if they could provide some plants for us. And boy did they come up trumps, donating about 70 or 80 trays of plants. On top of this, Wigan Council provided a load of geraniums and marigolds. (Incidentally, I adore the smell of marigolds… it is right up there with bacon!!) So for the rest of the week I was planting them up, with some help from my friendly volunteers. I am delighted with the results, and believe that they help to lift the spirits of those visiting the hospice.

Raised beds at front of hospice

Gazanias

A big thank you to Moss Bank Nurseries and Wigan Council for donating th plants. There were another couple of little rays of sunshine amongst the dark clouds this last week. Firstly, a member of staff came to find me to tell me that they had seen a kingfisher by the side of the pond. I adore kingfishers and always see them as glimse of something better to come, especially when times are difficult. Secondly, I spotted a moorhen with their chick on one of our ponds. It was a lovely sight.

Moorhen and Chick

Moorhen Chick

So despite there being dark clouds around us, there is usually something that can cheer us up a bit and give us hope, something to lighten up the darkness.

I’m off on holiday to Croatia tomorrow. I really hope that there are no dark clouds there! Till next time, take care and look out for something beautiful whenever you can.

A Day With Some Volunteers

A month ago I wrote about how excited I was that I was going to be working with 6 volunteers. Unfortunately, due to illness, they had to cancel. They re-booked to come today. Like last time the weather was fabulous, so we were able to get on with painting the planters that I had hoped to do last time. And what a difference the “Red Cossack” paint has made.

Dan, Paul and Barry

Dan, Paul and Barry after painting the planters

We also had time to paint the Chines Bridge that was kindly donated to the Hospice by The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. The bridge has made a real difference to the gardens by adding a focal point around the ponds.

Painting Chinese Bridge

Painting the Chinese Bridge

I want to thank Dan, Paul and Barry, who work for The Dept for Works and Pensions, for their help today and for their company. They seemed to enjoy themselves, getting away from their computers and helping others (especially me!). CHEERS!

I’ve had some lovely times at work recently, although it was rather wet earlier this week. The rain was much needed though by the plants and it has saved me doing any more watering. The downside of the rain is that the weeds have gone a bit mental. Why is it that they seem to grow twice as fast as the plants you want to be growing? This could become a blog all about weeds, but don’t worry –  it won’t! However, weeding does take up a lot of my time. This week I have been tackling cleavers and bittercress, as well as the ongoing battle with the horsetail. Both cleavers and bittercress have interesting methods of dispersal. Cleavers, or as I prefer to call it – “Sticky Willy”, is every child’s favourite weed. It’s the one which sticks to anything and everything, so the challenge is to stick it to your friends without them noticing. By being so sticky, the seeds get moved around. Bittercress on the other hand is much more conspicuous, but seems to get everywhere. Luckily it is easy to pull up. But as you do so, any seed heads that have formed, explode sending seeds in all directions. So as a gardener, the aim is to remove the weeds before they go to seed.

There have been some lovely flowers in the garden this week. Interestingly many of them are pink or purple. Here are a few that have taken my eye this week.

Cornflower and Bee

Mountain Cornflower and Bee

Aqualegia

Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata ‘Black Barlow’

Candelabra Primula

Primula Pulverulenta

I am very excited about next week. I have been given a ticket to attend Chelsea Flower Show on Tuesday. I can’t wait. I’ll let you know next week how I get on. Until then, God Bless.