Gardening Journal – Entry 21

Sunday 9 January 2022

And just like that, a new year is here! So much has happened this week; I took down a Christmas tree, got a brilliant new job and have been given a Sensory Garden border to work on in one of the gardens I volunteer for.

Tuesday 4 January

Today was exactly what I had anticipated on my first day of work in 2021: utter chaos. It started out fairly normally with a quick wander around my sites to look for any glaring issues and to get to grips with the work that needs doing this week. 

This week is all about the final leaf clearance, weeding and mulching; all typical January jobs. After cutting the dead out of a stunning Prunus shrub (and getting tiny pink petals all over myself) I got to work on clearing some leaves out of a border. 

Then I received a call from an unknown number and was told that a job I was previously rejected for was mine if I wanted it. I did and do! So in the next month, I’ll be a botanical gardener! Almost exactly two years since I started this new career, I’ve landed myself a job working for the oldest botanical garden in London! I don’t know when this feeling of surreality will go away, but I’m enjoying it for now!

Wednesday 5 January 

I started the day with pond maintenance. The bulk of the aquatic work I do involves leaf clearance and litter picking. Fortunately for me, today we cleared the leaves from the side of the lakes. Typically, I enjoy getting into my waders and hopping into the water; it feels like an adventure, every time. However, on mornings like this when it’s still dark at 8am and only three degrees, I am very grateful not to be sloshing through the icy water. 

In fact, in February of last year, I found myself using a rake to smash through sheets of ice that had formed on top of the water. We had started the annual cutting back of reeds on the sunken beds in the middle of the lakes. While it was frigidly cold in the water, I had a wonderful time collecting the floating reeds from the top of the water and passing them to the people on the bank. 

You may be wondering why such an emphasis is put on removing leaves and reeds from the water. Lakes and ponds in the wild manage fine without careful dredging and leaf removal, don’t they? However, there is a very delicate balance that occurs in the water and it is important to maintain it. When plant matter breaks down in the water, this decomposition necessitates oxygen. When this happens to a handful of leaves in a large pond, it isn’t an issue. However, when nearby deciduous trees defoliate en masse in autumn and winter, a huge volume of organic matter could simultaneously decompose in the water, thus deoxygenating the water enough to render it inhospitable for other organisms in the habitat, including fish, plants and important bacteria. On top of that, when the water in a pond becomes too nutrient heavy following the addition of organic matter, disruptive and invasive organisms can thrive. And even more importantly, artificial water courses involve pumps which can easily be clogged by decaying plant matter falling to the bottom of the water. 

Managing an aquatic space is by no means my area of expertise, however, I love learning new techniques and going for a wander about. Sometimes when I’m creeping through the overgrown reeds, hunting for litter, I do feel like a crocodile could be swimming up behind me. But when I turn around, it’s always the same pair of ducks, probably laughing at my inefficient waddling through the water.

Later on in the day, we waved goodbye to the festive season and took down the Christmas tree. I say took down – we dismantled it. In order to reduce the waste that comes with growing, harvesting, displaying and disposing of christmas trees, we use an artificial tree that can be reused year after year. It consists of a scaffolding-like upside down cone shape on which clumps of branches are attached. Each clump has its own isolated circuit of fairy lights, which helps to prevent a total blackout when only one clump is faulty. 

Considering the scale of the job, we made quick work of it and had dismantled the tree entirely within an hour. I then spent the next half hour meticulously easing apart the wires into neatly wound bundles for next year. Putting up a Christmas tree is stressful enough without having to untangle 50m of wire! 

Today has been a perfect example of why I love what I do. I got involved in unexpected tasks, saw an immediate difference in the work I was doing and me and my muscles are more than ready to get home and curl up on the sofa. 

Thursday 6 January

Today started with me scraping ice off my bike seat and furiously pedaling to work and the warmth of our mess room. Freezing days like today are always a bit of a challenge, as you have to keep moving to stay warm and some tasks just don’t fit the bill. This morning I found myself crouching (thankfully on a foam pad) and weeding some neglected tree pits. By the time I headed back in for my break, I couldn’t feel my toes. Fortunately. I invested in some waterproof, fleece-lined gloves intended for handling ice and snow. While they are a little overkill for gardening, they have kept my fingers perfectly warm, even in the harshest weather. After sweeping up a mountain of fallen leaves and packing up, the day was pretty much over and I hopped on my de-iced bike and cycled home.

Friday 7 January

This is the first Friday of the year and I was more than ready for it to come. Waking up at 5am isn’t ever easy but the cold weather and dark afternoons make getting out of bed even less appealing. However, it’s a small price to pay to work outdoors with plants every day. 

Today was all about finishing off the tasks I started yesterday. I cleared all the tree pits first thing and swept up (what I hope are) the last fallen leaves until autumn. 

We always finish half an hour early on Fridays and while you wouldn’t think thirty minutes would make a difference, the day always flies by. I can’t deny that I’m looking forward to the weekend, which is going to start with celebratory new job drinks with Kyle at an art deco pub and finish with a border maintenance workshop/ volunteering session at Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses on Sunday. 

Sunday 9 January

Today was the first Border Workshop session of the year at the Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses. We started off by sharing some planting plans we had put together over the Christmas break for a border called the Seating Circle. It is a place used by volunteers and visiting schools as a starting point and a spot to have tea and a biscuit to warm up on cool wintery days like today. My planting plan is below and uses the Piet Oudolph drawing style of ‘blobs’ to mark out the positioning of the plants. Typically, designs are drawn up using circles to delineate the location and ultimate spread. However, I find this more effective and realistic, as it demonstrates the way plants actually grow. They spread into each other and fill in the spaces around them. It is also particularly effective when demonstrating planting in drifts, which I am particularly fond of.

After that, I led the work on the sensory garden, which is a border championing plants that please all the senses: sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. We replaced a plant support that had fallen apart with a new woven Salix structure. It was quite a tight fit, but after some pruning of diseased, damaged and dead, we managed to make it fit. We finished the border with some leaf removal, weeding and sweeping. 

At the end of the session, I was offered a chance to work more closely on the border and support the current curator in her work maintaining, designing and planting it up. Over the next few months, I will be choosing a few new plants to fill in two gaps that have developed in the bed and working on bringing it up to a really great standard. I can’t wait!

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