Not only did we survive the hottest driest summer (in our books anyway), with fairly few casualties, but it is that stimulating time of planting winter crops, making cuttings, opening up a few new areas, all framed by the changing colours and maybe the promise of rain.
Four of our young fruit trees at Dreamland died over the harsh summer. It sounds horrific, and it is – that number should be 0, but considering we’ve nursed more than 250 young fruit trees through the summer (and introduced bees, ducks and chooks at the same time), I’m ok with that, especially considering I’ve learnt a lot about how and how not to use drip irrigation around young trees. I’ve also learnt that planting bare root trees in our area also requires very special attention.
So I got pretty excited when Beach Tree Nursery had a 30% sale on everything. Not only could I plant new trees – I just love it – but at a bargain price too! Last year autumn I got two cherries and two apricots from them which did exceptionally well. The one apricot even served us with a handful of delicious fruit this year. (Yes, I know you’re supposed to remove them in order to give the tree more growing energy, but that’s really hard to do…) So at Dreamland, I replaced a cherry, a pear (we put in a beautiful Buerre Bosc) and a sugar plum.
We’ll talk about Homeland in a later post; that’s another story all together…
We’ve been keeping our eyes open for more than a year now for a suitable tree to plant right next to the pond. We need a lot of shade there – not only to reduce evaporation, but also to provide shade for the ducks over summer. But we didn’t want to plant any old tree there, not even a good fruit tree.
So during the same sale, Jane took me for a walkabout through the nursery. She has such a deep and broad wealth of plant information. Like, no, you can’t plant a nut next to the pond, because the fruits may affect the fish adversely when they drop in the water and decompose. I must have taken an hour of Jane’s time, but I learnt so much. So, she pointed me to a particular “flowering plum” (Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’). It has a 4m wide spread, the most beautiful burgundy foliage, it flowers profusely and earlier than all the other fruits (kick-start the bee season!) and it bears small plums that are great for making jams. A great multi-function tree, and its different colour would make a great feature too.
Barry, our big Coronation Sussex rooster, was working alongside me all the time. No cricket or a spider gets away. Our ground is so hard, I have to drill the holes with a post digger. When I use the digger, Barry moves a few meters away and as soon as I’m done, he’s back.
We pre-ordered 50 French lavender (Lavendula grosso) for a (huge!) project at Homeland. I hope it is the right type, but through the translation, that is what we gathered they use in Provence for Lavender oils. But of course, eager beaver ordered them way too early. So instead of risking them losing their lives in the greenhouse, I’m liberally using some of them to create a beautiful feature alongside a path running right through the centre of Dreamland.
So in the process, I cleared one more of those areas that have been covered in weed mat for over a year. Of course Barry was there to pick up the bugs. Together with the lavender in went two big strong currents (also from the sale) and I sowed a patch of Borage and Alyssum carpet snow. Bee food. Honey. Yum.
Up to now, we’ve really had to coax the young ducks to use the pond. However, while I was working on Lavender lane I saw out of the corner of my eye the ducks waddling to the pond and having a blast of a swim, playing and frolicking around. It is such a privilege to have such beautiful animals around and it’s so much fun working with them all around.
Autumn bee food
This happened a previous time too – whenever I work with Jane at Beach Tree Nursery, I walk out of the nursery with way more plants and for totally different areas than I initially planned for. But it’s not because she’s a good sales person – it’s because she has such good plant knowledge and can apply it so well to a sketch of a location. (I literally drew a diagram on the ground with layout, North, sun, shade, wind – a quick little sector base map. Who says you need a board or paper? That’s exactly what Rowe Morrow taught us in our Permaculture Teacher Training course a while ago.)
So for a very dry half-day shaded location I got Salvia “purple spires”, two types of Sedum (the one is telephium “autumn joy”, the other one is white…), Euphorbia martinii and Euphorbia dulcis “cameleon”, which are all good for bees and which all flower into autumn. What was so amazing is that I also learnt how to propagate all of them (each one differently, at a different time of the year). So although I bought about 8 plants I didn’t plan for, I ended up planting 14, and through the seasons I can replicate and/or vary that beautiful layered lay-out all along a 50m stretch and in the process hide a dead metal fence and create beautiful bee food.
Now all we need is rain!