Hello old friend! I’m so sorry not to have been in touch over the last year….no real excuse apart from being extremely busy, as you’ll find out….

First, I have heard from my friend Les, that you and Lise have moved in with him and his family. That’s a massive relief, as I know how anxious you were getting about your ability to cope at home with both you and Lise’s health taking a turn for the worse. It’s really good of Les and his wife Rose to take you under their wing and I’m sure you can repay them in part with your expert horticultural advice, as I know Rose in particular continues to develop their lovely garden.

For me and Deborah it’s been a very significant year on many fronts. Right at the beginning we visited our daughter, son-in -law and grand daughter in Australia (including a rather special weekend in Hobart, Tasmania, attending the Australian Open Tennis and 20/20 cricket match between Australia and India at the Melbourne Cricket Ground), and then had three weeks touring New Zealand, which was, as you might imagine, a very memorable experience, including plenty of fascinating gardens, parks and historical places..and lots of very welcoming people. I was even singled out to become an honorary ‘Chief’ at a Maori cultural centre, taking part in the ceremonial ‘Haka’ and even scarier eye to eye farewell with some of the young performers!

Coming home to a very mild February in Britain (it was around the same temperature as we had experienced in the South Island of New Zealand) was rather disconcerting… we had somehow missed winter completely. A couple of months on and we had a very pleasant break in Scotland (to celebrate our friends John and Ann’s 40th wedding anniversary), which included a stay in Stirling, a visit to see the Falkirk Wheel and Kelpies, and a stop over in Whitby…

….and this was followed shortly after with a week in Devon with our ex college chums (including John and Ann)…

After this we jumped straight back into things and after a spell of judging for the Green Flag award, over the next couple of months started to prepare the garden for its first charity opening in five years; with some paid help to finally get some of the woodland and other borders as free of weeds as we could! So, June arrived and we had a very successful afternoon, raising about £800 for the local Church repairs and improvements project and the ‘Healing Gardens’ project I’m involved with ; you may recall that this involves creating or improving some of the gardens and open spaces alongside psychiatric inpatient wards?

Once the open garden was out of the way, I turned my attention to ‘that shed’ which has been on the cards for several years. Firming up my design I set to it and over about four weeks of steady work created what’s been christened the ‘Surf shack’…not quite a ‘man cave’ but certainly a very welcome addition to the kitchen garden, with racks for tools and other garden equipment, so that I’ve also been able to tidy up the garage which served as the temporary store of all the garden stuff. The shed is solid; mainly made from recycled floor boards and some of the old shed, and with a wooden shingle roof, I think I can say it adds a rather picturesque feature to the place, and I can’t wait to get in there in the next couple of months to get some seedlings going; my electrician friend, Ian, will shortly be wiring it up too so that will mean lights, and electrical points for things like propagators etc.

Though I was pleased with the result, the effort of building the thing (with minimal help in terms of lugging walls, roof etc. around) resulted in my arthritis flaring up (both hips) and several weeks of pain and sleeplessness, before some medication and rest finally seem to have stabilised things a bit. And spending much of august at the Aylsham Roman dig probably didn’t do much to improve things…

I’m still not fully fit, as the left hip in particular begins to nag at me after a couple of hours work outside or a couple of miles of walking. So my work in the garden since the summer has been restricted, but I’ve just about managed to keep leaves cleared and pruning and hedge cutting done on time.

The other big development has been my involvement in a new project – The Papillon Project, which is led by the amazing Matt Willer, and is all about helping high Schools create and maintain allotments to grow food sustainably, using re and upcycling and creating projects which provide a focal point for the wider community to get involved. I was honoured to be asked by Matt to become a Trustee of the new Charitable company he’s set up, and have since become Chair of the Trustees. We had a wonderful launch event November (attended by around 200 people). The project is well on the way to becoming a registered charity, and has already worked in 3 Schools with another three to begin in January. You can read all about it at www.thepapillonproject.com.

On the back of this I’ve finally, with my colleague Carlyn Kilpatrick, got round to initiating an exploratory meeting for a ‘Green Care Hub’ for Norfolk– the idea of a network to bring together the wide range of people, projects and organisations in some ways using gardening, nature, animal care etc. to promote physical and mental well being. We have a meeting planned for the middle of February where the idea will be discussed and hopefully developed into something that will help to support and promote this sort of activity across the County.

So, you can see that even though my practical ‘hands on’ gardening activity has been curtailed a bit (but I’m still managing a few hours each week as a volunteer at Blickling Hall); I’m managing to contribute in other ways! I’m also planning another charity garden opening on 21st June; this time to benefit the church project and the Papillon Project (we have also been promised a charity opening of the Bishop of Norwich’s garden on 12th July to benefit the latter!).

I’m also pleased to say that the work I’ve been doing on grant applications for the Church Project has come to a head; we have raised over £30,000 from a range of sources and this has gone towards an even bigger application for £250,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, on which we hope to hear a favourable outcome next March. If we are successful this will mean that not only can we attend to some urgent repairs, but we will be able to install disabled access, toilet, kitchen servery, heating and lighting and other improvements and a range of ‘Heritage Activities’ to tell the fascinating stories of Haveringland’s church, village, airfield etc. In short, the church will be transformed. You can find out more here.

Well old friend, I hope that you’ve found this little ‘catch up’ of 2019 of interest, and can see that things are still happening on the gardening front with me.

I do wish you and Lise all the best for 2020 and hope that you enjoy that lovely garden you now have access to but don’t need to worry about; no doubt Les and Rose are taking very good care of you both (I have an image of Les bringing you both gin and tonics on their sunny pergola-framed terrace)!

with much love and friendship,

Old School Gardener