With the UK battered by one winter storm after another, it has been hard to find time to get out in the garden. If it isn’t peeing down with rain then the ground is still sodden from the last time it was peeing down with rain. We hadn’t been making any progress on finishing the garden. This weekend was different, and I spent a couple of hours moving forward in the extra strip of garden that accompanies this house – since it faces west I have christened it the Sunset Strip.

This is what it looked like when we moved in:

Extra strip

It was an anonymous strip of ground, filled with low maintenance municipal-style shrub planting, largely neglected and not obviously owned by anyone (but we do own it, it’s on the deeds for the house). The occasional person used to chuck their rubbish over the fence (including dog mess they had carefully collected in plastic bags) despite the fact that when doing so they were about 5 metres from my wheelie bin).

The main back garden was our priority for our first year as owners, and to begin with we left the Sunset Strip to look after itself.

Gone!

In spring last year the loan of a chainsaw made it easy to cut down the clump of conifers, and I cut down the remaining shrubs to the ground. We didn’t have the time or energy to dig them all out – we needed the space to move all of the plants out of the main garden so that it could be paved. We laid down an enormous tarp that we happened to have to hand, and set up a plant refugee camp. On hot days we threw the hose over the back fence (this strip of garden is separated from the main one – access is from the road) so that I could water them. It now has two compost bins, which is where the garden and kitchen waste end up.

At the first opportunity we set up a newer refugee camp closer to the house, which is still in place (killing off the front lawn):

Refugee plants in the front garden

It would be nice to find permanent homes for them all this year, but this story is about the Sunset Strip. On Saturday morning I went out and I removed the root balls of the four remaining shrubs. That makes it sound easy. We broke our only garden fork trying to do it last year, but with the soil so wet it was – doable. It involved a spade, my secateurs and plenty of brute force. Some of my muscles still ache, but the root balls have gone into the green waste bin for municipal composting.

Shrub-free Sunset Strip

The ultimate fate of the Sunset Strip remains undecided, but what I do know is that this year I would like it to be a kind of allotment, a stone’s throw from the house, where I can grow some annual crops that a) take up a lot of space and b) can take care of themselves for a few days at a time. We have sourced some cheap raised beds* that will be my birthday present for this year, and we’re working on a plan. I’d like to grow a winter squash or two, and shark’s fin melons; Ryan’s mum has requested potatoes. After a rural childhood she is nostalgic for the taste of homegrown spuds. I don’t blame her one bit.

(*The gas main runs under that strip – I have to leave access to the box for the gas man, and it has a label that insists we ring the gas company before doing any kind of mechanical work in the strip. Raised beds seem like the safest option! Plus, the soil is (I discovered on Saturday morning) mainly heavy clay.)


Stainless steel tea bag replacement gadget

Meanwhile, back in the house, I have continued to ponder the problem of the non-compostable tea bags. I tried using a couple of the infusers we had on hand and they didn’t live up to expectations as a tea bag replacement. They either leaked tea leaves out into the tea, or were impossible to clean. If I’m going to wean myself off tea bags then I need something that is almost as convenient. What I came up with is this stainless steel tea infuser. It is designed to sit inside mugs or tea pots. So far I have only tried using it in mugs, and it is doing a wonderful job! You pop a teaspoon of leaves into the infuser, pop it in the mug, and pour on the boiling water. Steep for your required number of minutes and then remove the infuser and sit it on its little saucer. No leaked leaves, and it’s relatively easy to knock out the leaves, rinse it out and start again. It even makes it easy to re-use the leaves – just leave them sitting on the counter for your next brew, so it’s saving me money as well (the flavour qualities of a second brew are different to the first, which is an interesting thing to investigate). I haven’t tried stretching it to a third cup yet. I am currently working my way through a packet of posh Darjeeling, having put it in the caddy instead of the tea bags.

It’s early days, but it seems like the ideal tool for the job; when there are more people around who want tea, I can wheel out one of the tea pots 🙂