Little and often

Every year, there comes that point in the year when the garden starts to wake up and I think “uh-oh, I didn’t get as much done in the winter as I intended to”.  Our garden is very definitely a spring garden at the moment, with all of the bursts of colour happening as the garden comes back to life.

It wasn’t always like that – when we first moved here, I very carefully planned it so that there would be colour throughout the year, but plants have died and others have outgrown their space and not been moved and now the focus is in the early part of the year.  I’ve been intending to change that for quite a few years but somehow, each year has slipped past and I’ve not done as much as I thought it would.

This year, I really need to get a grip of this garden.  It’s a fabulous space, one of the reasons that we bought the house, and I am tired of feeling sad when I look at the overgrown borders and the invasion of ivy and brambles that have come through the fence from next door.

There’s a saying that “insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results” and I think that’s where I’ve been going wrong.  Every year, I start with the borders closest to the house and then other things get in the way and I don’t get much further down the garden – but in actual fact, when you stand at the door, what you look at is the furthest point of the garden, not what’s closest to the house.  This year, I have decided to start at the furthest point.

The furthest point is where my compost bins are.  It’s not a pretty sight at the moment.  Wheelbarrows, an old sand pit tray that the dog uses as a paddling pool in the summer, last year’s Christmas tree (yes, it really is – I planned to move it but …) and my compost bins.

I almost can’t believe I’m showing you this!

Still, ten minutes later with a few things moved so that I can see what I’m looking at, even in this terrible photo things are looking better … just.

Another part of my “garden insanity” has been to try to block out whole days to work in the garden.  Aside from this being more difficult than I thought, my husband pointed out that nobody goes for a full day work-out in the gym and that’s pretty much what I was trying to do in the garden.  It was no wonder I was pooped by lunch time!

Instead, I’ve been spending shorter amounts of time – up to two hours, which is easier now it’s staying light longer – and stopping before I feel the need to lie down in a darkened room for the rest of the day.  I’ve been ripping up great armfuls of ivy, brambles and nettles (yes, I do know that butterflies like nettles but there would need to be plague-like proportions of butterflies to want to land on the amount that were growing at the bottom of our garden) and it’s been surprisingly therapeutic.  Decluttering in the garden is far easier than decluttering in the house!

I’ve had some feathered friends to keep me company too.  A pair of robins very quickly spotted that there was something tasty to be discovered and were soon darting in and out of where I was clearing up.

The bottom of the garden became Bonfire Central as I was able to get rid of all the garden rubbish that couldn’t go in the compost bin.  I do like a nice bonfire, although it does mean that I always go back into the house smelling like a kipper.

As the days went past, the robins got braver and I didn’t need to use the zoom on my camera.  I should have warned you about the robin-fest that was going on in this post! 🙂

And at last, after a few days’ work, my utility/compost area looks fit for use again.  There used to be a trellis with a climbing Akebia quinata to screen the bins from the house but it eventually fell down in one of the winter storms.  The Akebia (it’s that green mound to the right) is still alive so I’ll build something for it to climb up so that it doesn’t start to trail across the ground like the ivy did.  The two bins to the left at the back of this photo are my worm composting bins, the others are general composting bins and more plant pots than I knew I had.

Is it me, or does this photo look a bit fuzzy?  I must have moved the camera when I was taking it!

My Dad kept very successful worm bins for years but I could never quite get the environment right, but after reading Donna’s post about her worm compost bins, I felt that it was the right time to give it another go.  Worm composting, or vermiculture, is a great way to use food waste without putting in the general waste bin.  A lot of ours goes into the dog, especially vegetables, but I do try to limit what he’s eating (he’s a proper food dustbin!) so that he doesn’t become the size of a house.  It can be surprising how much you throw away even when you think that you’re quite frugal with food!

You can buy worm bins in various styles but my Dad (who knew about these things) always used a converted dustbin and that’s the type that I have as he built it for me.  It’s got air holes in the lid and drainage holes at the bottom, there’s a layer of gravel for drainage and a sloping wooden insert to stop it getting waterlogged.  The idea is that you keep the compost in the bin with the worms and then empty it a couple of times a year.  It’s a very simple design and there’s no way to collect the “worm tea” liquid, but it works very successfully.

Prior to using this one, I bought myself a Can-o-Worms tower as we had limited space in the house we lived in then and I thought it would look smarter outside the back door.  The idea with this one is that the worms eat the food waste and fill each layer with compost then work their way upwards to the next level so that you can keep re-filling the trays and keep the worms happy.  In reality, mine turned into a stinking mess that was full of flies, no matter what I did to it, and even with expert Dad help.  This one has a tap so that you can drain the “worm tea” off but I often found it clogged with dead worms that had decided to go down the drain rather than up the tower.  It was not nice!

Dad made me the dustbin worm bin and the Can-O-Worms got banished to the bottom of the garden when we moved.  If I’d been any good at decluttering then, I’d probably have thrown it away but it was expensive and I always thought I might be able to get it to work one day.

When I came to look, there was some compost in the bottom of the dustbin, although the worms have long gone.  It’s not bad compost, actually, so that will go into the borders and I’ll start again from scratch with new worms.  I’ve decided to start the Can-O-Worms bin again as well, to see if I can manage to get some compost from it this time.  You can still buy Can-O-Worms composters but I suspect there are better models on the market these days if you don’t want to use a dustbin.  I’m just not good at throwing things away, even if they don’t work very well.  Insanity is … 🙂

I’ll leave you with this photo of the new inhabitants of my worm bins, dug up from a nearby horse muck heap as I was far too impatient (and tight) to buy worms when they’re free for a bit of effort.  They’re still brandlings (composting worms), they just come with their own horse muck bed 🙂  I made sure to keep the bin lids tightly closed now that I know there are robins around – and keeping the lids on also makes sure that nothing else (perhaps with a tail …) tries to help itself to the contents of the bin.

I’ll keep you posted – and you can keep me accountable – and this year, the garden will finally return to how I want it to look!

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9 Responses

  1. happy hooker says:

    Nice to know I'm not the only one guilty of just sorting the same bits of the garden. My compost bins need sorting/moving, and one day soon time/energy/weather will align and I'll get it done! Good luck with the worm composter. xx

  2. Lazy Days & Sundays says:

    we have quite a big garden Christine that looks more like a paddock than a garden but I am slowly working my way around it planting the odd bit and piece to try and make it more garden than paddock. D is the opposite to your husband he thinks I should be out there from dawn till dusk where as I prefer to do small spurts so that I can plan as I go rather than buying a whole heap of plants that then need to be planted before the sun goes down. 2 years on with have a small flower garden at the side of the house but there is still so much more to and some days it just feels a little overwhelming but I'm sure by the time we decide to upsticks and down size it will be a little better than a paddock.


  3. Caroline says:

    Well when you've got to grips with yours, feel free to pop round! The area round my compost bin is just as bad as yours. I dread digging it out because it will make it even messier. Thankfully I do have a garden helper who was communing with our resident robin this morning in the sunshine. I'm ashamed to say my input was confined to baking ginger cake and supplying coffee with only half an hour of light weeding.

  4. Jan Maier says:

    I was interested to notice that your robins look a good bit different from robins here in the U.S. I think yours are cuter.

  5. selina says:

    beautiful robins! they probably have a nest near by too. i get lots of magpies after the mowing has been done, searching for disturbed bugs.
    good luck with the worm farms
    thanx for sharing

  6. Josephine says:

    I love your robin pictures! English robins are so different from US robins. Seeing your birds makes me think of The Secret Garden (book). Our robins are just now starting to be plentiful. It’s been a cold, wet March, and all the growing things here are behind schedule. As is my garden, but that’s nothing unusual.

  7. Lisa Holmes says:

    I am also a "Hurl-myself-at-the-garden-for-hours-crawl-back-indoors-as-a-broken-wreck" type of gardener. I now actually try and plan achievable tasks, so I feel I've done a good job, rather than gone ten rounds with Frank Bruno! Sometimes I even stick to my plan…..hehe x

  8. Unknown says:

    Brilliant post Christine – as always – but the sentiments really resonated with me as I has exactly the same problems as you, with a large garden & a scattergun approach. I have 3 – yes 3 – compost bins, a defunct wormery & at least another 4 compost heaps made by an old chap who I employed occasionally to help out. DH is not an outdoorsy person & refers to the plants as 'that green stuff' – although he has discovered a new-found interest in killing things – handy if you have lots of weeds/moss/etc. This year I am approaching the garden in a concentrated way & for a couple of hours like you suggest, seems to be working much better. Lots of chopping down to do though, which DH will do with his chainsaw (!) And I love a bonfire, too – have an incinerator in the rough ground at the back as well…happy days. Good luck.

  9. Heather says:

    I am a huge fan of the wormery! My bin is the one you have shown and it does work well! Love your robins they might be looking for somewhere to nest! All that tidying up might have put them off!����

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