Tuesday, 1 April 2014


Shhhh! The weather has been reasonably dry for nearly a week! Still overcast and with a fair old breeze, but our half acre of mud is beginning to look more like a garden-in-waiting. Perhaps it was the subtle turning of the year as we passed the vernal equinox, but a gentle pressure drove me outside, like a new leaf bud, keen to burst into the Spring air.

It was time to dig.

There's a small patch of earth at the front of the property, maybe 20m by 2m, which looked as if it would be a good place to start. An attainable goal, I reckoned, for muscles that had forgotten what they were for and, conveniently, couldn't remember how back-breakingly achy turning over soil can be.

They soon found out!

We were well aware that the soil we could see would be a thin veneer over what had been, until recently, a building site. Sure enough, I began to unearth plenty of stones, so began to construct a cairn in the corner of the hard standing. The odd breeze block and kerb stone appeared, along with various bits of twisted metal. However, the predominantly, and overwhelmingly, main constituent of this garden is Dock, Rumex obtusifolius. This is a perennial weed with a deep tap root, so a long and uphill struggle (even on the flat bits) awaits me. It's not all bad news, as the leaves of the Dock are a useful tool in the natural First Aid kit against the stings of Common Nettle, Urtica dioica, which often grows in similar habitats.

So far, I have dug about a third of this small area, in short bursts of energy punctuated by vociferous complaints from my back. I have filled about six compost bags with Dock roots and made a decent start on the cairn.

Recently, whilst on the internet, I discovered this photo of the garden, taken by Google Street View in 2009. Apart from realising that our 'new' home has been in existence, almost complete but empty, for five years, the other shock is the sheer amount of Docks present. And then some, allowing for another five years' spread!

The area behind the house is now populated by another four homes.

I wouldn't wish to give the impression that I spend an inordinate amount of time surfing the web, but today I quite coincidentally came across another blog, also written in Orkney, whose subject was Docks, or Dochans as they are known up here. It features some poems written about Dock, although I must admit that my feelings towards this plant haven't quite risen to the heights of rhyming self expression.

For those readers who are sharper than the average nettle sting, the previous blog in that series can be found here.


Katie (Nature ID) said...

Just think, your new home has been patiently waiting for you and the Mrs. for 5 years. What took you so long? I'd love to see a current street view, with updates as the seasons progress. Do you expect nettle will show up as well? I'm glad not to be in your boots planting all those trees, but I'll happily watch from afar. : )

Imperfect and Tense said...

LOL! So it has. What were we thinking? I will try to provide updates through the year, so at least you can experience tree planting by proxy. It's difficult to say whether there are nettles present, as there is no growth above ground. However, from my knowledge of weed roots, I would say, yes, they are present.

Martin said...

Then I would recommend gardening gloves, as I have this faint memory that nettle runners/roots also contain those little spines which irritate the skin..

Interesting the house has been there so long. Some people wouldn't bother pulling out the dock roots, but it is probably worthwhile. The stone collection could form either a rockery section to the garden, or various low walls depending on their sizes.
At some point a tractor-load of farm/horse manure could also do wonders for the quantity of soil and the nutrient content too, but maybe that should wait until it has been dug over once and the debris removed.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Martin. Our early inclinations are for a nutrient-poor area to encourage wild plants, a veg patch that will have the soil conditioned by compost from the local council's recycling scheme and then some fairly dense planting of shrubs to encourage wildlife. Oh, and a pond is a given. At least one, perhaps two!

Martin said...

All sound good. Maybe you could get the locals to assist with the digging in exchange for your skills or knowledge.

Imperfect and Tense said...

LOL! Not sure which particular skill or iota of knowledge that would be. Unless they needed a terrible pun in an awful hurry!

Martin said...

And for a completely useless fact: Pun = "Pooon" when said by a Frenchman trying to speak English. (It usually takes me a minute to figure out what they are saying in this case)

Imperfect and Tense said...

Y'know, I have blithely assumed that your time in France has been one huge episode of 'Allo 'Allo! This probably says more about me than it does the population of France.