Walking and Observing

Macavity & Rudge

Macavity & Rudge

In the early days we used to walk the boundaries each morning, accompanied by our two cats, Rudge and Macavity.  We would marvel at what we now owned and make plans about the gardens we would create here.

Summer walk with the cats

Summer walk with the cats

Our daily walks were not just territory marking, although there was probably an element of that for us and the cats. They were observational field trips, helping us to acquaint ourselves with the land in all its detail. Getting to know what grew here, what thrived here, how the climate varied from one area to another.

As the autumn progressed and the overgrowth began to die down, on one of these walks we made an exciting discovery.

Macavity & Rudge explore our wood

Macavity & Rudge explore our wood

Our land didn’t end at the thick bank of nettles as we had thought, but continued down through a half acre strip of woodland.

This discovery was made even more exciting when the wood burst into flower in the spring, unexpectedly fulfilling our dream of having our own bluebell wood.

Our bluebell wood

Our bluebell wood

Lichen

Lichen – Evernia prunastri

Every day we discovered something new – a fungus, some lichen, a wild flower, a creature of some sort.

Young fox

Young fox

Whether by instinct or good fortune we found we had chosen land mostly surrounded by an organic livestock farm, and nestled comfortably into the High Weald, an officially designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  The potential for gardening organically and attracting wildlife was therefore already pretty high before we started.

Badger

Badger

Almost from the beginning our late evenings and early mornings were filled with badgers, foxes, bats and owls. A vast improvement on the late night revellers of town living.

After our daily ‘beating the bounds’ we would return to the field armed with tape measures and bamboo canes and gradually mark out the gardens we were to create.

Virtual gardens

Virtual gardens

These virtual gardens were a clear vision to us in our minds’ eyes, but to friends and family they were just an incomprehensible forest of sticks, some leaning at jaunty angles, blown over by the wind, which must have looked like a hopeless dream.

The First Year

First veg 1995 I

Our first veg at Merryweather’s

Our first year at Merryweathers was spent observing the land, extending the house to accommodate my parents and planning the gardens. We even managed to grow a few veg – in a totally unsuitable position, but one of the only areas of the garden not covered  with broken glass or scrap metal.

Sheep2 1994

The sheep – in the field for once!

We also experimented with “renting out” the field to a local farmer to graze his sheep.  I put “renting out” in inverted commas because we never did receive any payment.  We learned later that the farmer in question (who has long since moved away) had a reputation for being unreliable.  During their brief sojourn on our land, one of the sheep died and the rest spent most of their time either eating the bluebells in our wood, escaping into a neighbouring field or getting out into the lane and terrorising the postman.  (On my way to work one morning I passed the postman as he tried to deliver letters to the big house on the hill.  He was pressed against his van, surrounded by a menacing looking gang of sheep.  I knew they were our lodgers by the shifty look in their eyes and I drove by guiltily, hoping the postman wouldn’t make the connection.)

Mainly, though, that first year was dominated by the house-building works.  It was purgatory.  At one point there were builders of some sort or another working in every room in the house.

Macavity eyeing up the loft

Macavity eyeing up the loft

Our two cats, Rudge and Macavity, took to spending much of their time in the loft, huddled around the Aga stovepipe and occasionally appearing at the loft hatch to frighten whichever tradesman happened to be climbing the ladder at the time.

Rudge escaping the builders

Rudge escaping the builders

Outside, piles of builders’ rubble were added to the scrap metal and broken glass we inherited with the property.

Builders' rubble

Builders’ rubble

We spent each evening cleaning up and sifting through the rubble to salvage anything usable.

There is an amazing amount of wastage in the building trade – and probably many other walks of life.  Twenty years on and we are still using wood, bricks, screws, nails and other miscellany rejected by the builders, but invaluable to us.

How it all began..

"..a 5-and-something acre weedy field.."

“..a 5-and-something acre weedy field..”

When we first arrived at Merryweather’s Farm in 1994 it was more or less a blank slate. A 5-and-something acre weedy field, a handful of fruit trees poking their heads up through the nettles near the house, a half-acre wood we didn’t realise we had until we moved in and piles and piles of scrap metal.

..piles of scrap metal

..piles of scrap metal

Twenty years later and what we have is nothing short of miraculous. With no money, very little experience and virtually no help the two of us have transformed our plot into  gardens and woodland which support us, our family and a huge diversity of wildlife. And it looks good too.

The gardens at Merryweathers - no longer a barren field

The gardens at Merryweathers – no longer a barren field

Through this blog we will share with you the the story of the garden’s evolution, the things we have learnt along the way and the day-to-day highs and lows of life over the wiggly hedge. Thank you for joining us on the journey.