Just down the road from where we used to live, a family bought a Leonburger puppy called Oscar. When I saw him in the street, he was always pleased to see me. Being a Leonburger, he grew and grew, remaining as friendly as when a puppy, which could be alarming to his owners when he cleared a 3 foot hedge to say hello to me one day.
Anyway, Oscar's owners decided that he needed more room in the house, so they took up their old patio and built a conservatory for muddy days. The paving slabs went in a skip, and we asked if we could re-use them at the allotment. The owners agreed, so we took several wheelbarrow loads of paving slabs down the road to our allotment. We used them as paths between beds and they served us so well that when we moved we took all the paving with us. Some of it now forms a path in our new garden, with the rest stored at the allotment. This weekend we finally put them to use, creating a paved "apron" around our shed.
A few doors further down from Oscar, a family decided to knock through the wall between their downstairs reception rooms. As we knew them to say hello to as well, we asked if we could take some of the bricks to re-use. They too were happy to let us. Another house was remodelling their kitchen and allowed us to rescue a Belfast sink, in perfect condition which was skip-bound but for us. That now sits in our tiny front garden, hiding the base of the clematis, planted with achillea and Verbena bonariensis.
Over the past few days, some of the bricks have found another new use. Inspired by the Brick Garden in the lovely Carol Klein tv series Life In A Cottage Garden, we have turned them into paving in between the raised beds at the top of the garden. (Just below the deck made from boards their owner let us rescue from their skip!) The soil in the garden is a mix of builders' rubble and clay subsoil, so a whisper of rain can turn it into a Somme like glop. It's no fun hanging out the washing and slipping about, dropping half the clean stuff in the mud. We had tried using layers of woodchip, but that eventually rots down and gets just as slippy. So we perforated the soil, laid a thick layer of sand, then a weed membrane before laying sand for the bricks to sit on. A few gaps have been left, and a few engineering bricks used, which will be planted with thyme, chamomile, sempervivums and a few other low-growing fragrant plants. We've just laid the bricks into sand, so we can move them around if we change out mind, and take them with us should we move house.
A few more bricks have been put to use for a less decorative purpose. Elly the Welly, our once nervous but now exceedingly bumptious Welsummer hen, has taken to digging under the edge of her run, to the point where she can poke her head out the other side. Much as I would love all my girls to be able to free range, it can't be done, as we're both away from the house 10 hours a day, and we have foxes close by. So I've been wedging bricks into the gaps she's made, in the hope that she will be discouraged, or at least slow her tunnelling. Earlier this week, we also saw her catch, kill and eat a mouse. Sheba the cat also saw this event, from the safe vantage point of the shed roof, clearly horrified that the monsters had discovered her mouse vending machine (the hedge by the fence).
We took this past week off as leave with the view to getting started on all the essential Spring garden tasks - seed sowing, final pruning, clearing, digging and bed making. Because of the weather we didn't really get that far, but the sunny hours this weekend have seen us complete tasks that provide a link with past gardens and put us on a literally firmer footing to get on with things over the next few weeks.
However frugal you are, you have to spend some money on gardening materials now & then. I've just had to buy a new bag of vermiculite, and was horrified by the price rise. So when we see items we can see a use for, we ask nicely, emphasising that we will be reusing in a non-profit way, and pointing out that by freeing up space, they may not need to spend money on an extra skip. You get just as much, if not more, operating this way than by furtively skip-diving under cover of darkness.
As mentioned, I was at a local garden centre today. We decided against Crews Hill (what Las Vegas is to casinos, Crews Hill strip is to garden centres) as we suspected it would be manic, instead heading to one tucked away next to the M25. As we were loading up the van, we noticed two Buzzards wheeling in the sky. I'd seen this earlier in the week, north of Ware, but was surprised to see them so close to the urban sprawl of North London. My old college, Capel Manor, has a motto - "where the city meets the coutryside". Seems like that is coming true two junctions west on the M25.