After eight months of hard graft we have had a slight change of tack work-wise to take advantage of the improving weather and approaching summer.
It started with an improvement to the approach to Grove Farm itself - a new cast aluminium sign. A symbolic and visual improvement of the entrance to our driveway , giving a sense that things will be changing for the better with the investment of effort and attention to details.
It was only when it was up that I thought it looked just a little bit "National Trust"-ish which is no bad thing I suppose.
An email from the manufacturer said they "liked the quality pillar" which sort of summed up what I was trying to achieve in a strangely amusing way.
More importantly it now means delivery drivers can find us !
The woodland to the right side of the pillar was originally marked on maps as "Fancy Grove Woods" . Since the 1950's , about two hectares of woodland had been removed to create fields more than halving the woodland in size . Not only that, but many of the larger more mature trees within the surviving woodland have either died or been cut down. Unfortunately there has been no obvious recent planned replanting so there is little in the way of the "Fancy" left. The woods nearer the castle certainly contain a more impressive selection of different trees and we intend to plant some new stock at some point in the next few years.
The lack of recent woodland management has meant that the rhododendrons are quickly monopolising the area. Although this is proving very beautiful, (at the moment they are all coming into flower), their beauty hides the fact that the woodland is effectively dying underneath them. The rhodo's crowd out the native plants light , absorb their nutrients and effectively 'poison' the soil to all but other rhodo's.
I'm not sure of the variant names but there appear to be at least three distinct colours - this lurid reddish pink type; the standard purple R~ Ponticum and a white variety as well.
As soon as we had finished rebuilding the end of the big shed I was keen that we did some woodland work to re-invigorate our enthusiasm for what was "the grove" rather than "the farm" part of "Grove Farm".
So first the barn... (being re-built - not further dismantled !)
then starting to recover the soil next to it...
April has now planted sunflowers and a pumpkin and squash patch on the above spot.
The topsoil had been buried for many decades under the old silo shed and concrete so we're not expecting much from it this year. The wall in the lower corner of above photo is probably part of an original building from 1807 that we uncovered and will retain.
Remember it used to look like this ...
The pumpkin patch would be immediately behind this shed where the grain silos once stood. The newly discovered wall was under that concrete slab wall in the above photo !
The great pile of manure has been supplied by "the beasts" that are helping in their own way to revitalise the place in a sustainable way. I suspect theres been many hundreds of tonnes of manure shovelled by former inhabitants here over two centuries so it is starting to feel more like a walled garden than a derelict scrapyard.
The mules have also been giving Willow some entertainment although she has already upgraded her aspirations by discussing with our neighbours six year old daughter on going half shares on the pony !
(Maybe I'll fill the fields up with trees instead ! Quickly !)
Another interesting discovery was this white glass bottle I found lying in plain view under a rhodo bush in the wood.
Some internet sleuthing revealed it is an Edwardian tooth powder container , design registered in 1884 so certainly over 100 years old. This was quite exciting , until I found another for sale on eBay for £3.25 ! It sort of lost its "treasure" aura after that !
Another found gem in the woods is the most mature rhododendron tree by the entrance from walled field into the woodland track to the castle. I'm intending chopping down all the purple rhodo's over the next few years since they are classed as an invasive non-native plant and there is some modest funding available to help remove it. It will be no mean task I suspect and my funding (if I get it) will be spent on sharp tools, beer and food to supply a hungry volunteer workforce.
Is that enough to encourage you down for a days hacking on a sunny day ?
Yes, you !
Originally the walk through the door above into the woods was almost impassable. With a few days work (to get a sense of the difficulties that may lay ahead) we have cleared a small area of the rhodo's and cherry laurels which had grown into an impressive impenetrable mess. The last one in that area is about to meet the chainsaw in photo below !
It now looks like this ... (CTRL+ click to enlarge further in new window)
This has opened a completely new area for the kids to play and I've been busily distracting myself entertaining the kids using my Boy Scout knowledge of camps, pioneering and knot tying !
I almost impressed myself with my creativity... give that ex-Scout a badge Skip !
In fact this recent "work" has been perhaps the most enjoyable part of being at Grove Farm so far. I suspect its because it truly fits with the real reason that we moved here.
The building work can be satisfying and the restoration work is important from a historical perspective, but most importantly it is becoming a fantastic place for the kids to grow up and supply a wealth of positive memories for us all in the years to come.
So it turns out there really is treasure in the woods ,
"these are my jewels"...
and it looks like the pirates have found them !