My garden this weekend – 24th November 2013

Darmera peltata fading leaf
Darmera peltata fading leaf

I would like to think that Monty Don would be proud of my compost making abilities but deep down I know that he would despair at my complete lack of organisation and efficiency.  I have good intentions and even got a third compost bin this year with the plan to have an efficient and well organised system where one bin is turned into another thus aerating the compost and producing fine crumbly compost at the end.  However, as ever in my life it seems, my plans and what actually happened bear little in common.


It was all going well until the grand workshop plan come into being and as a result the back lawn was dug up.  This presented us with a large amount of turf and nowhere to really stack it.  Lo and behold an empty compost bin was just sitting there and before I knew it the bin was no longer empty but full of turf.  Because of this unexpected ‘harvest’ all the bins were full by mid summer and with my recent tidying up I have had to resort to using an old dustbin and also making extra piles of material as you can see above.


Emptying compost bins is way down the  list of jobs I want to do of a weekend but I realised on Saturday that I had done all the essential bulb planting and really I should sort the bins out before I created even more chaos.  Amazingly the compost bin full of turfs had completely rotted down into loam.  There were a handful of mossy bits but that is it.  So I spent Saturday afternoon spreading the loam around the borders as a kind of mulch.


The majority of it went on the back border by the top fence.  The slope is quite steep here and the soil is predominantly clay based so a struggle to dig.  I have a rhododendron I want to move here and then I went to develop this area, along with the other bits I have mentioned in recent weeks, for my growing collection of spring bulbs and woodland plants.  Hopefully the thick layer of loam will make this easier for me to do.

Crocus pulchellus 'Zephyr'
Crocus pulchellus ‘Zephyr’

Of course once I  had emptied the bin it was full again with the contents of the dustbin and the extra pile but at least there is some semblance of order – or so I tell myself.

I have spent the last week attending graduation ceremonies at work.  Part of my job is to look after the University’s VIP guests, escorting them to and from Worcester Cathedral.  It can be fascinating and I get to speak to some amazing people including this week a Noble prize winner, a Duke, an Earl and a medieval scholar.  But it can be quite exhausting making small talk, chasing after people, managing senior staff expectations not forgetting two late evenings after two dinners.  Therefore it was hardly surprising that when Sunday dawned grey and with biting winds I retreated inside.  It is strange at this time of year to only see the garden two days a week but I was thrilled to see the  buds on my Crocus pulchellus ‘Zephyr’ beginning to unfurl. My eldest also managed to source me a free supply of bark chip so hopefully next weekend, when I am less weary, I can mulch the front garden which is one of the few things I would really like to do before the really cold weather arrives.

I think from now until the New Year any jobs I do in the garden will be a bonus.

20 Comments Add yours

  1. sueturner31 says:

    Think you deserve a graduation scroll….

  2. Hi Helen, May I satay, as always a lovely honest and heart warming post. Your love for your garden and it’s plants really shine through. May I ask, your 4th picture has a very interesting plant in the top right of the picture, a Fatsia looking plant, can you tell me what it is please.? And how Hardy it is.?

    Take care and all the best.

    1. Of course the spell checker turns say into satay and makes me look like a pillock. :-/

  3. Helen Johnstone says:

    hi June
    it is indeed a Fatsia, no idea what variety as it was cheap and cheerful for Woolworths a good 5 years ago if not longer. It has thrived in the shade with some moisture and is very hardy having been covered in snow and sat in low temperatures for days although I do shake the snow off the leaves as much as possible

    1. Hi Helen, I was going to suggest you call it Fatsia woolworths, but after a bit of research it looks likely to be a variety called Fatsia polycarpa.

      It’s very striking anyhow.

  4. Helen Johnstone says:

    I saw a beautiful variegated one the other day but I already have two Fatsia so three may be too many in my garden

  5. Yvonne Ryan says:

    Unfortunately gardens are like houses they don’t tidy themselves. Fab hot sunny weather but rain NEEDED for gardens. Instead of swimming in pool swam at Omaha with big surf – grand-daughter steadied me a few times. did a complete summersalt (spelling?) underwater and had to swim to top! Wasn’t scared – water lovely but gave up trying to get out past the surf. came out rather puffed and needed a Nana-nap to recover! 75th birthday over weekend so with all the partying, Chicago, grand-son’s band (crowd yelled go Nana) me dancing and singing – I have shown 75 not really old!

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Yvonne
      Happy Birthday, sounds like you had a wonderful time and as for turning somersaults under water you are much braver than me!

  6. rusty duck says:

    Your garden sounds and looks to be on quite a slope. Hauling yourself, and tools, up and down saps the energy more than anything. Like you, my soil is also heavy so working it in winter is virtually impossible. That crocus is lovely, I must remember it.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi RD
      It is quite a slope but not as steep as my last garden so I am always surprised when people comment on the slope!

  7. Am impressed you tackled compost after your busy week, however stimulating the company of the bigwigs! Am even more impressed that you have loam so quickly, I have piled turf lifted from creating beds in a corner, grass to grass, earth to earth, just like “they” say in the books, and all it is doing is growing. A lot.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Janet

      I have stacked it before and wondered why as like yours it just grew. I do sprinkle compost activator on my compost bins so maybe that helped plus it is pretty shady there so no real sun to encourage growth.

  8. Ah, glad it is not just me then, I shall try a tarp over the pile, assuming I can find enough rocks to weigh it down with. My compost bins are all full, as is the green bin, and there is a stack of stuff waiting for room in one or the other.

  9. Cathy says:

    I can’t imagine emptying compost bins is high on anyone’s list of favourite jobs, Helen, although spreading the compost about once the bins have been emptied and knowing what it began as is quite a satisfying feeling! So sorry you are restricted in the time you can get into your garden just now – I missed Weds completely last week and really regretted not managing even a brisk walk-through in the dusk. Glad you’ve got that job out of the way though and hope you survive your enforced socialising.

  10. I’m not sure dealing with the compost bins is a favourite with anyone, especially at this time of year when the sofa can seem like a much more tempting prospect. Let’s hope we get some bright sunny days to lure us outside.

  11. Rick says:

    Let me take you back to a time when compost was made by stacking turves and allowing them to rot down, the resulting material was then mixed with the requisite sand or grit and then steam sterilised. The next step was to add the suitable fertilizer combination to achieve the appropriate J.I. compost. This is the way that many growers produced their potting and seed composts until the market became big enough, with the addition of the amateur market, to support centralised bulk production. The only problem with putting turf in a compost bin is that the temperature achieved by the minimal organic matter available is not sufficient to kill of all the nasties which is better achieved when composting a larger percentage of green material.

  12. Lyn says:

    Like you, I am often disorganised over composting, although my intentions are good. I have three large compost bins made from pallets. The first is currently full to the brim and needs to be turned into the second. But the second is half full of finished compost. This is supposed to be in the third, but it’s completely full of garden rubbish. I console myself with the knowledge that if I leave it long enough, it will turn into compost, even if it’s not a proper system.

  13. On the plot we just pile all plant waste into our makeshift compost bays. It does get moved from one bin to the next and in so doing sort of gets turned but no layering etc and we do end up with a heap of well rotted compost.

  14. hillwards says:

    Hi Helen, I think you’ve done well given all the changes to keep up the composting – and the loam is rather a bonus. That reminds me, we stacked up some turves in the spring when we cleared the area in front of the shed for more fruit and veg; I wonder if we too have loam now. Our composting happens rather haphazardly; we have two piles, one is in use while we leave the other to rot down by itself. After a year we dig it out, riddling out the big lumps to go on the live heap, which then becomes the heap we leave alone… It seems to work well for us, producing good compost once a year without excessive attention from us.

  15. allotmentmum says:

    I’ve been putting off sorting compost bins for ages – thanks for the reminder. I’ve also been putting off starting seeds for over-wintering and fear I may now be too late ….

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