Waiting For Snow

It has been a terribly long wait since The Priory had snow enough to show and tell: a five-year wait.  The Beast from the East didn’t bring huge amounts of snow to my corner of Sussex; but if we were spared the havoc meted out to parts of the Kingdom, we had sufficient for me to lose several day’s pay.  But on Wednesday morning the skies cleared and keen to see The Priory wearing her rare cloak, Jim and I braved the roads to drive the half hour from our home, left the car on the road and walked down the drive.

Snow over the Priory (1)

A four-by-four might have coped with this icy slope the day before,

Snow over the Priory (2)

but I know from bitter experience that an ordinary car might not.  An hour of side-sliding and back-sliding in my own car, with spinning wheels under a pall of burning rubber, tends to stick in the mind.  As do memories of The Priory’s owner’s car marooned down below for several days.

Snow over the Priory (3)

Looking back up the drive

At -3.5ºC it was bitterly cold for Sussex,

Snow over the Priory (4)

but as I emerged from the wood and gazed down over The Priory a lazy, northerly sent the temperature way down further still, to well below my boots.  (In Yorkshire an icy, cut to the bone wind is called a Lazy Wind.  Too lazy to go round you, it passes straight through).

Snow over the Priory (5)

There was precious little warmth from bright sun above Margaret’s fields.

Snow over the Priory (21)

In the gardens, the snow wasn’t as deep as I’d hoped for nor the trees as smothered.  But it was exciting to see the place under a decent mantle again; with gusts of wind whipping up flurries to quickly bury footprints.

Snow over the Priory (6)

Unsurprisingly, the east pond was frozen;

Snow over the Priory (22)

icicles clung from greenhouse guttering;

Snow over the Priory (7)

and naked oak branches were picked out beautifully by white dusting;

Snow over the Priory (15)

their undersides lit up by reflection from the snow.

Snow over the Priory (8)

I set out on a well trod, anti-clockwise circle of the grounds,

Snow over the Priory (9)

and crossed the footbridge for a good view of the house.  I wondered momentarily whether the ice was thick enough for me to walk across … but nah.  I wasn’t feeling quite brave nor foolish enough to try.

Snow over the Priory (10)

As I stood focusing my camera on some pollarded willow still in need of pollarding, a mandarin duck shot out noisily from under the bridge beneath my feet.  Being of a jumpy disposition, I jumped (and possibly squealed) and only just avoided slipping forward and testing my walking on ice quandary.

Snow over the Priory (11)

Across the meadow now, with a few sorry-looking daffodils poking through into the sunlight.

Snow over the Priory (12)

I crossed the second footbridge in the footsteps of a couple of foxes who hadn’t bothered to skirt the vegetable beds.  Lazy foxes, like the wind.  No matter, garlic and onions have yet to emerge.

Snow over the Priory (13)

And so to the west pond with Despondent upended on its bank.  She’s lain there since a house-guest recently paddled out on to the water for an adventure.  He was underwhelmed by the experience, I think, and even more so after needing a hand from a forelock-tugging-gardener to regain the shore.

Snow over the Priory (14)

February Gold narcissi have let me down again.  Were they renamed March Gold, I need never be disappointed.  But here February Gold always flower in March.  Or rather, once – once! – in nine years have they done what they promise and started their show in the very last days of the second month.  March Gold would be a truer name or Very Occasionally But Let’s Be Honest Hardly Ever Really February Gold.

Snow over the Priory (16)

I’ve pruned the apple trees already, so that happy task is done for another year – but it irks me that I missed the little twig top right.  Why is the inconsequential so stupidly annoying?  Or is that the stupid are annoyed by the inconsequential?  (No need to answer the second point).

Long tailed tit

From the trees, I hang five bird-feeders.  I waited for birds to come and feed despite my proximity.  As I could no longer feel my feet, I couldn’t wait long but then one fidgety long-tailed tit did so – before he and his gang bobbed away in that curious, charming, undulating flight.


Up by the greenhouse is a sixth feeder.  My caged robin has fattened up handsomely and I really ought to fish him out and stick him under a pie crust.   But he will be sweeter yet after another few days.

Snow over the Priory (17)

Looking back – Margaret’s fenced pond with the greenhouses behind

With little gardening to be done on a day like today, Jim and I set out southwards, uphill to Margaret’s farm.

Snow over the Priory (18)

We passed a small flock of her sheep … whose interest in us evaporated at our obvious deficiency in hay or sheep-nuts.

Snow over the Priory (19)

More sheep watched us hopefully as we approached the yard, on our way to coffee in the Aga-warm kitchen.


But first we loitered by the barn where, snug under cover, stood Margaret’s new ram.  He’s an imposing, fearless chap and I like him enormously.  He’s wearing a raddle – a huge crayon, if you like, that indelibly paints the back of any ewe he has attended to.  He’s probably rather proud of leaving his mark of love on the flock.  The flock, I imagine, less so.

Margaret’s animals almost always bear fine, resolute names.  There were her rams Digby and the mighty Cyril.  Her bulls – Lawyer, Picton, Envoy, Emblem and Wellington.  (I’ll gloss over poor Petal’s name.  Bless him.).  So what do you think the new ram might be called?

Beowulf would suit.

As would Thor, Maximus, Horatio or Achilles.


But you’d be wrong.

Hi, Kevin.

Greyer Hair, Whiter Finger

One good thing about growing older is ….. nope, I’m struggling.  One thing about growing older is that the physical graft of professional, full-time gardening becomes harder.  An obvious insight but one I mention nevertheless as it has become increasingly noticeable during my working day.  My back aches more than it used to, my joints do too; I feel the heat more, I feel the cold more; and certain jobs about the garden tire me out more.

Compost Bins

Take mowing for instance.  From early spring to late autumn, Jim and I mow all the grass at The Priory once a week.  It takes us the best part of a day and that day’s clippings fill one of the seven large compost bins.  Full bins need regular turning to make space for the following week; and emptying bins this size with a pitch-fork is sweaty work, if a good cardiovascular work-out.  In almost ten years, mowing hasn’t become easier.  I used to do it all by myself, but halving the work with Jim doesn’t feel like halving the effort.  That’s middle age for you.

Some years, Sussex summers are hot and dry enough to crisp the lawns and virtually stop growth.  Hessian lawns might be unsightly, but any excuse for a pause to mowing is a blessed relief, and I breathe a little, silent whoop of joy.  But this year, frequent warm rain encouraged the grass to grow long all summer … right through to the end of November.  And I breathed a little, silent boo.  Now in December The Priory’s grass needs cutting again but the ground is too wet for the walk-behind mowers or the ride-on.  Whoop, whoop.

September Lawn

Just 2 or 3 days after mowing at The ‘Forge – September 2017

The lawns at The Old Forge have similarly grown enthusiastically but here on thin, free-draining chalk-soil the growth isn’t as rampant; and I’ve had the odd week when I could skip mowing altogether.

Cutting Holm Oak (3)

But it’s not as if a break from the mower allows me to put my feet up and file my nails; it simply gives me the chance to tackle other pressing jobs – such as clipping various shrubs like, a few weeks ago, this holm oak.

Cutting Holm Oak (2)

It’s quite an easy, thoughtful job, which I enjoy and doesn’t take very long;

Cutting Holm Oak (1)

but it’s only one of many shrubs and hedges in need of a trim.

Holm Oak Hedge

Two lines of overlapping holm oak form a hedge which I also cut; as well as, amongst others, forty yards of mixed hedging.  But these are toddler jobs, inconsequential jobs compared to those at The Priory.

Clipped Mixed Hedging (2)

The really, really, really big cutting jobs in my year are The Priory’s beech hedge and the mixed hedge.

Clipped Mixed Hedging (3)

Running alongside the drive, the latter is about three hundred yards long and its annual cut is a task I’ve undertaken since 2011.  Jim and my friend Nick help but even with three of us – wielding hedge-trimmers, raking and transporting all the cuttings to the bonfire – it’s a solid two-day job; after we’ve completed various other bits of mixed hedging on the estate too.  The petrol trimmers are heavy machines and all three of us are wiped out by home-time.

Clipped Mixed Hedging (4)

Only this year we didn’t cut it.

Clipped Mixed Hedging (5)

This year I hired a contractor;

Clipped Mixed Hedging (1)

and he did a good, neat job.

Clipped Beech Hedge

Ben, the contractor, and his brother then moved on to the 2nd mammoth hedge – the beech, which half-encircles the garden.

Beech Hedge Arches (2)

He made a good job of this as well, even if he wasn’t as overly obsessed and fixated on arches and angles as me.  I’m quite an overly obsessed and fixated person, you see.

Beech Hedge Arches (1)

I asked him to leave the shoots on the right of the new beech arch as part of its ongoing formation.  The arch is almost complete.  Every year, I recite, “The arch is almost complete,” like a sad, muttered mantra.  But one year, it will be complete.  Or almost complete.

Having cut these two hedges for so long, not doing so this year seemed wrong somehow and left a hole in my working calendar.  They are part and parcel of my job and an annual event when, for a few days, every other task in the garden is set aside; with a very satisfying, slap-on-the-back, final result.

So why did I hire a contractor?  Vibration white finger is why, also known as hand-arm vibration syndrome.  Over the past year, the occasional tingling and numbness I’ve felt in my fingers after using power machinery has become constant in my left hand, quietly noticeable whilst reading, watching telly or driving.

There’s really no need for condolences, chocolates or flowers, though it’s kind of you to offer.  My fingers are rarely painful and the condition’s intensity ebbs and flows.  Often, I’m barely aware of it.  There isn’t much I can do about it other than limit the time I spend using petrol power tools to prevent it becoming worse.  With new, non-vibrating battery technology, VWF will hopefully cease to be a problem for gardeners and ground-workers.

Yew Hedging (3)

The tulip tree – featured in my previous post – in its green coat

I can’t give up using all the tools in my arsenal, of course, however tingly my hand.  But I have learnt to limit my use of the chain-saw, the strimmer and hedge-cutters to forty-five minutes a day.  Which explains why I hired a contractor for the very long, labour intensive mixed and beech hedges.

Yew Hedging (1)

I still do some hedge-cutting: the small ones, like those at The Old Forge and this yew hedge at The Priory.  But these are relative tiddlers and are done and dusted within an hour, keeping the vibration to a minimum.

Autumn is peak strimming season and most days, I use the strimmer to clear away old, long grass – if only in those 45 minute bursts.  And, unlike last year, I haven’t strimmed a single wasp nest … which made me extraordinarily happy.

Hedge Clippings

As Ben cut The Priory hedges he piled the off-cuts in an old nissan hut, keeping them bone dry for when Jim and I could light a bonfire.

Bonfire (3)

There was so much waste that it took us two days, on and off, to burn it all.

Bonfire (1)

Jim’s pumpkin guerilla planting in the compost bins

So, I was a small cog in cutting The Priory’s hedging after all – if only in a peripheral, non-vibrating kind of way.

Still had to have a doze when I got home though.TheSave