Lots to see

It’s brightening up and we’re ready for our visitors this afternoon.

There is loads of colour and although we should be calling it summer there is a wonderful spring feeling here with the blossom and a chorus of bird song.

Here are some photos taken moments ago to give you a taste.

Looking forward to seeing you!

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Fantastic display from the pocket handkerchief tree

Davidia, May 2010
The Davidia's 'handkerchiefs'

This Spring is proving a great opportunity to see some plants at their very best. The longer, harder, colder winter we experienced this year has seen some plants look happier than they have done in years. The apple blossom for instance and the handkerchief tree or Davidia involuctrata.

This tree had never produced a ‘handkerchief’ until 5 years ago, and while it has got better each year, this year it is putting on a fantastic display.

The Davidia in full spring glory. May 2010. Known as the Handkerchief or Dove tree.
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The annual chip completed.

Chipping down several tonnes of garden waste

There is a great sigh of relief this time of year when we finally complete the chipping up of the compost.

For five years we have been storing and then chipping our garden waste instead of burning it. This seemed kinder to the environment but I have no proof, calculations or evidence this is true.

However there was an economic case, especially if we took the long view because we are able to reuse the green waste and cut down the amount of compost, top soil and fertilizer we buy. We have seen the beds looking more ‘voluptuous’ (if you are allowed to use such a word to describe a pile of mud), easier to work and with fewer weeds.

Significant factors to consider when chipping include:

  • Getting a decent chipper. If you don’t raise a sweat feeding your chipper (and I don’t mean unblocking it) then get a different one. We need two or three fit people to keep the Bandit 65XP fully busy.
  • Sort your waste. Chippers don’t like soil. They can take green material but only if woody material is going through with it. So if you choose to pile your garden cuttings and pruning for a later chipping session then separate out the waste so you can blend it appropriately through the machine making the use of your time quick and efficient.
  • Turn regularly or two year cycle. If you can turn your chippings regularly and keep them damp a finely chipped large pile of several tonnes will compost suitably in a year. If you can’t turn regularly then it will take longer and it is worth trying a two year cycle for which obviously you will need twice the space.

This year we undertook a heavy cutting back of the laurels to encourage some thicker growth. This created a lot of extra waste which we decided to chip straight into a trailer to go back on the ground under the laurels. This relieved us of having to find more space for composting but will also prevent unwanted growth among the laurels while they thicken up again.

It is difficult to quantify exactly how much we chipped this year but we had the machine running for two and half days and put in excess of 45 man hours behind it. It’s a good feeling when its done!

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Sennicotts Garden opening for the NGS on 9th May 2010

National Garden's Scheme Opening 2009
Visitors enjoying Sennicotts gardens in May 2009

The gardens at Sennicotts near Chichester in West Sussex will be open to the public for the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) on

Sunday 9th May 2010

from 2-6pm

Tickets are available on the gate and cost £4 per adult (100% of which will go to the NGS charity).

Teas will be on sale with excellent homemade cake, and all of the proceeds will also go to the NGS charity.

Children are welcome and tickets are free for under 18s.

We look forward to seeing you at 2pm.

To find out more check the NGS Yellow Book or follow the link here

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New flowers on the protea

Our 15th Protea - still going and flowering again

In 2003 we acquired a selection of 15 Proteas, King Proteas and Lucadendrons. Sadly, despite following the advice, we systematically lost 14 plants over a period of two years.

However just before we killed the 15th plant we worked out the right soil, temp and watering mix and we have managed to keep one Protea going. Naturally we are quite fond of this lovely plant and of course it connects us with its wonderful floral kingdom home of South Africa.

Each year it rewards us with a couple of flowers and this year we were actually brave enough to cut the first one for the house – and take a picture of it!

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Deer frustrations

We have a real deer problem in the garden. Every time we plant something in the garden, outside the walled garden, no sooner is it established than the deer either eat it, smash it or fatally mark it.

This time it has been the cypress trees. As usual, they have been allowed to establish themselves for a few years. Then all of a sudden this winter the deer have decided to smash them to bits. Ripping all the bark and lower branches off one by one and each night finding a way to do a bit more damage.

Before Christmas I put up a security light hoping to scare them away. But it has made no difference and they have continued their destruction and have even got closer to the buildings.

Does anyone know how to stop deer destroying your garden?

We have tried every kind of smell and chemical to deter them but it really hasn’t made any difference that we can see.

The local pest control guy says the only thing to do is shoot them but down here it is too flat and populated for anyone to do this safely – although I wish our neighbouring farmers on the Downs would do their bit.

I am trying something new this evening. I have tied all the trees together with fishing line and then put some runs in the bushes where the deer push through to make their way around the garden.

The idea is that an unknown obstacle and one that can’t be seen might just give them a proper fright. It is safe because if they get tangled up the line will break easily but not before giving the bushes nearby a good shake.

I feel the benefit of something that can’t be seen is that the deer can’t jump it so easily which they have done with the high barbed wire fences we put up.

I’ll try and report back on progress and I hope this isn’t simply that I have tripped myself up ten times with my own hidden wires!

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Not so fantastic Mr Fox

The kids came back last night reporting they had seen a fox in the garden near the chickens. We put this down to imagination until this morning it was seen again hiding in the barn right outside the chicken run presumably waiting for us to let the chickens out (which we do most days).

We knew we had lost one chicken already but with only a wing to go on it was difficult to know when or how.

All credit to the fox which seemed happy to play the waiting game for one of our scrawny chickens but I’m afraid we couldn’t see a way of accommodating a fox with a taste for chicken so it sadly had to be escorted off the property.

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Campaign to give a tax break for domestic PAYE employers.

Before I go any further I need to acknowledge that this is not an issue facing the majority of the population. However if addressed, I believe it could bring benefits to the wider society.

Listed Buildings need labour intensive care.

This concerns the issue of private individuals becoming employers to help them in private affairs and in particular maintaining privately owned Listed Buildings.

Currently the owner of the Listed building or garden earns income on which they pay Income Tax at various rates. If they choose to employ someone to help maintain the building or garden (domestic staff) they then have to pay those employees out of net income (that is left after tax has been paid), and then undertake the same Pay As You Earn administration (collecting the income tax from that employee and paying the employers share of the National Insurance) as would any other employer.

Here’s the issue: any employer running a business is able to set their employment costs against their income to reduce their tax, so why can’t owners of Listed Buildings or for that matter employers of domestic staff (nannies etc), whose employees are paid through the PAYE scheme get some sort of tax relief on their income for doing so.

It would be easy to administer because HMRC has records of both the employers and employees tax affairs. It should only work where employees are paid through PAYE. There are loads of benefits:

  1. This would encourage employment by making it more affordable for private individuals to employ staff in domestic, childcare, gardening, and property maintenance jobs.
  2. It would encourage employers to pay staff currently paid cash in hand into the PAYE system and probably increase tax revenues.
  3. It would be easy to administer as HMRC has all the records it needs to cross check claims by private employers.
  4. By encouraging individuals to employ domestic staff it would free up their time and encourage them to spend in the local economy.
  5. Owners of our heritage would be able to employ sufficient help to make it possible and desirable to open their properties/gardens on an occasional basis to the public.
  6. With more manpower employed in upkeep our heritage stock would be kept in a better state of repair.

There is a reason for mentioning the listed building element. Presumably the main case against such tax relief is that it lines the pockets of the already wealthy and is an unfair tax break. The Listed Building element addresses this. Owners of Listed Buildings provide a service of national benefit by maintaining the Nation’s Cultural Heritage. While they often get the benefit of living in attractive properties they are essentially unpaid private guardians, restricted in what they can do to reduce the costly maintenance of their properties because as a Nation we want them to preserve our past. As they get little or no financial assistance for this role and their properties usually require the most labour intensive form of upkeep it would appear not that unfair to assist them in the labour element of looking after our heritage.

And this is the shift in thinking proposed. To see this role in the same light as small businesses. To see the owners of these Listed Buildings as operating in the business of maintaining our heritage. So just as every other business in the country gets a tax break for encouraging employment and employing individuals to help it go about its business, then these private individuals should be given similar treatment and some form of reduction in their income tax liability where that income is going towards the employment of individuals to assist them in the maintenance of our Heritage.

Your comments would be appreciated in this debate.

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