12 Nov MAKING THE NURSERY
There were many things I had planned for my physical fitness in the year ahead. Cycling from Land’s End to John O Groat’s climbing Ben Nevis, but then came Brent Eleigh. I have worked in many gardens over the years and here at BE I find myself referring back to the first garden I ever worked in as a trainee gardener. The Head Gardener and his assistant were formidable characters and both had an army background. They taught me about discipline and resilience and pace, and of the importance of maintaining tools. Each day we would wash the tools, oil them and hang them back on their peg no matter how busy. That way, each weapon was to hand, in the same place. Essential on a mission such as this.
Thank goodness I love a challenge. BE and I were made for each other. I was attacking the glasshouse and ‘attack’ is the only phrase for it. It’s no coincidence that both Adrian and I run. Hardcore gardening on a restoration project such as this requires every physical and mental resource. Today began, perhaps the most important part of the operation. The restoration of the nursery. Here we will tend all the seedlings and then harden them off in cold frames ready for planting outdoors. Others will be grown as micro herbs and harvested just after their true leaves show for the maximum flavour punch.
In the nursery stinging nettles almost as tall as me and other assorted weeds had been lounging around and enjoying the benign environment of the glasshouse. I even found a parsnip growing horizontally in old soil on the benches!
In chef’s terms it’s like having to cook in a kitchen without a stove or any work surfaces. There will be heat under the benches and lighting so that seeds germinate, even when the temperature is below zero. But we don’t have that yet. First everything has to be cleared out. I won’t risk any pests or diseases infecting my seedlings and want to be as organic as possible, so the initial approach has to be ruthless. All the old soil has to be removed, new benches installed and every inch scrubbed clean.
Each day I am perfecting a BE technique entitled ‘visor.’ This involves looking at one area only and focussing 100% on that. Actually it’s lucky that the phone reception is really intermittent around the estate. It means that many I have to deal with the plethora of missed calls all in one fell swoop.
The highlight was finding that the ‘lights’ or vents work. I turned the handle, expecting nothing, but hey presto, smooth action and the glass was open to the sky.
Every day my ears ring with my oldest son, Benjy’s words ‘If you don’t know where to start, just start.’ He is in Cornwall studying horticulture and following my project with amusement. Last night, while I was trailing an excessive amount of mud around an unfortunate supermarket he gave me advice via mobile phone on creating the perfect planting plan – he got a distinction for his. Yet sometimes both he and new seedlings seem so far away.
As day turned to dusk I surveyed my progress. It looked OK, but something wasn’t right. In the glasshouse next door I found a geranium. Benjy’s favourite. It had a single red bloom, poppy scarlet the colour of hope, passion and pride. I placed in on the workbench, a growing symbol and as the sun set the bricks of the walled garden flushed red. Goodnight.