Did The Earth Move For Me? Not Blooming Likely. More A Case Of DIY

All right I confess. I’m a fraud. I call myself a writer, but in reality I move soil.  Year in and year out I move soil. It has become my lot in life – not only on the home front with The Man In My House  Who Keeps Having Ground Moving Notions, but also on my own time up at the allotment. How did this happen? Was this the plan I had for myself?

This time last year we were busy shifting ten tons of gunky green Silurian clay and the junk of builders past, removing a huge and hideous waist-high flower bed outside our back door. We had lived with it for ten years, but finally it had to go. Ground Moving Man, then became Wall and Steps Building Man – using traditional mortar and the old bricks and limestone lying around to place to build a much neater, narrower raised border, and safer steps to the top of the garden. (Our cottage is built into a  bank).  The effort was as momentous, as it was cunning. The Wall and Step Builder had devised a way of dismantling the old steps in tandem with building the new ones so that we always had access to the upper quarters of our small domain, and thence my path to the allotment. Hats off to you, sir!

Here are views of the work as it proceeded.

A wintery before:



During the synchronised step demolition and rebuilding (pretty good work for a retired plant pathologist):



After – a bit heavy on the limestone perhaps, but we had it on site, which is always a bonus when you live on a road where deliveries can be tricky:


Most of the clay spoil and erstwhile builders’ rubble that had been hidden behind the steps and in the bed was barrowed round the front of the house and tipped into a Hippo Bag. This natty item is sent through the post in return for some loot. You fill it with 1.5 tonnes of stuff, and then a truck comes and cranes it away. Ideal for people who live on a busy main road, and have no room for a big skip. We had several of these handy mega bags.

Meanwhile up at the allotment I was dismantling a forty-year old allotmenteers’ spoil heap the size of Everest, and using the substance, which only vaguely resembled compost, to make new raised beds and terraces on my polytunnel plot.  I shifted probably sixty barrow loads, and all with the aim of creating (ultimately) a NO DIG gardening system. I know this may sound mad.

The year before I had started clearing the plot by slicing off the neglected, weed-choked surface and piling the turves into pallet bins in the hopes that one day they would decompose into something usable. This was in no way compatible with the principles of NO DIG, but was my quick and dirty method of checking the buttercup, couch grass, and dandelion infestation. After learning the error of my ways early last spring, I gave it up for covering the remaining uncleared ground in layers of cardboard, and tipping a good six inches of spoil heap soil on the top. He Who Builds Walls and Steps then knocked up a few raised beds. (Those of you who come here often will know all this.)


This year I find that ants have been busy in the horrid heap of weedy turves, and the ensuing soil is usable, so am now repatriating it to the areas whence I cleared it two years earlier. So good on the ants, but more earth moving required.

Meanwhile, the notions of NO DIG, also require the seasonal application of deep layers of compost to the surface of all beds. The only problem with this is making enough compost. You need tons and tons. However, last autumn I made an effort and amassed material in bins and heaps all over my two plots – wherever there was space in fact. And now these need digging out, or at least turning.

NO DIG, it seems, does not mean the end of wielding forks and spades – not by a long chalk. So there we have it – ‘my days’ career’ as a young Kenyan farm wife once described to me her life of endlessly hauling things about.

And back on the home front  this year we have already dug up the front lawn and replanted the bank beside the road. And we have dug up the back lawn and moved more soil so He Who Builds can now branch out into shed construction, though we did at least have two strong young men come and lay the paved concrete slab from which said edifice will arise. I am told it will have a curved roof.

The arrival of the shed will next dictate the remodelling of the back garden flower beds. All of which makes  me feel as if my  life is founded on shifting ground; the strata beneath my feet in perpetual motion and always needing to be somewhere else, and in some other shape. Perhaps one day all the earth in my vicinity will be in the places where we actually want it – no more moving required. Then perhaps I can give up the fraudulent writer posture and finish off a book or two; return to mental heaving and lugging, re-shaping and visualising, create the content and structure exactly as I want it – and all this without heft of spade or putting on my wellies. Perhaps…


copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

60 thoughts on “Did The Earth Move For Me? Not Blooming Likely. More A Case Of DIY

  1. Congratulations, it’s the gardener’s life that reveres nature and works very hard. I understand. It’s a continual work in progress, and again hard work that for me always rewards.

  2. Quite a project, but the result is quite wonderful. Gardening does try to get the best of us, and it takes quite a lot of effort to stay ahead of it

  3. The effort some people will go to for an easy life, Tish! 🙂 🙂 That little stepped area is very nicely done. And some nice photos too. My poppies are almost a ‘has been’. 😦

  4. Hi Tish, I am sure looking at the before and after pictures, that it must feel like you have breathing room outside your door, with the new layout, It must have felt cramped the way it looked with the small narrow side walk path long the home, at least in the picture, it looks like a more wide open space! 🙂
    Your retirement year, you both are sentenced to hard labor in the clay pits! At least when done, you can look back and feel a sense of accomplishment and beautification that you have done, and one day, can sit back and enjoy it all! 🙂

  5. HWBRB and now HWBWAS is such a blessing to have. The new walls and steps look lovely. If only I could borrow him to sort out my Cornish wall which is currently hosting nettles and grass, brambles and other weeds and which I visualise with dancing daffodils in spring and jewel-like fuchsias in summer. Oh, well, it might happen in the next ten years. Your allotment is looking very good, you must put an awful lot of work into it and at the moment I guess you are up there watering every day.

  6. What a massive amount of work but what a beautiful result. I’m thinking you must be in very good shape with all of that moving the yard around. 🙂

    1. Definitely in some sort of shape, Sue. I have to go to my neighbour, Jo, for some shiatsu massage every month – so she can put me back in the right order 🙂

      1. Think it’s heading that way here too. Going to be hotter tomorrow. Phew! And then what I need is a really big thunderstorm to fill the water butts -because that’s the other thing I’m always toiling around with – water.

  7. They say you plan and lay out the garden of your dreams to relax in, and then spend the rest of your life maintaining it!
    Mr G has done a really fine job of those steps and the wall …. er … if he’s free over the next couple of weekends?
    The NO DIG thing does work, and although my veggie patch is nothing compared to your allotment it has saved a lot of tiring backbreaking spading and forking.

    1. That’s great to hear re the ‘no dig’. In time the soil should also build up in fertility too. I’ll send G over with the strawberry consignment, though think I’d need to come too as builder’s assistant 🙂

      1. No probs! You can take home a bunch of my chili plants and bags of lemons too! And I’m sure we can find a cake somewhere for you as well.

      2. That sounds just blissful. Have you tried preserving the lemons with chillies in their own juice. You have to quarter them to the stem end without breaking them, then stuff them full of sea salt (about a tablespoon) and squeeze several into a jar for a week till the juices run. Keep them in the fridge. Then top up the jar with lemon juice. Add a chilli. And maybe add some oil just seal it all. Lemons take about a month to preserve – then they can be chopped up small and added to everything!

      3. No. Never tried this! Sounds quite exotic. I shall mention it to H.T.C. (Her That Cooks – in the spirit of your post!)

        When you say chopped up small, I presume you include the peel?
        Are the lemons used just to flavour or can you eat them afterwards as well like a sort of chutney? Sorry if that sounds like a divvy question, I am not very clued up on this stuff.

      4. Yes absolutely whole lemons – two cuts crosswise down the length of the lemon to the stalk so you can stuff the salt into the space, and then pulling the lemon roughly back together again to put in a jar. I usually do 2 or 3 to a jar. You can be quite rough and stuff them in tightly. Yes you could chop them up like a chutney, say with mint or coriander, or add to a tomato salsa. Or add to rice dishes with chopped herbs. Once tasted you can become addicted.

      5. Good-oh. It’s a great way to use up a lemon glut, and believe me your friends will all be delighted to have a jar – with or without chilli. A sprig of rosemary is another possible additive. This is a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe btw.

      6. Did the lemon thing this morning.
        I need to clarify a few points…
        1 I sterilized a wide neck jar.
        2 Used four fresh lemons ( cut as instructed and filled with sea salt.
        3 Jammed them into the jar.
        4. Added chilis and some fresh rosemary
        5. Added extra juice from four more fresh lemons.

        Sealed jar and put in in the fridge.

        Should the extra juice juice be covering all the lemons or are they okay as is? – (juice at the bottom of jar)

        Celeste asked as when she’s done olives they have to be covered to preserve them in brine apparently.

      7. Technique fine until you got to adding the extra juice and spices. Too soon! The salted lemons need to be in the fridge for around a week before you add the extra juice and spices. This allows them to yield up their own juices, and sort of semi pickles them. After a week you can give them a good squeeze, and THEN fill up the jar with extra juice and add chilli and/or rosemary. And yes the lemons should be completely covered in juice. If they start rising up in the jar out of the liquid you could pour a little olive oil over the top as a sort of seal. Then wait a month before use. I should have written this out properly for you because it’s difficult to follow instructions in a comment box. Am sure you can find a use for the spiced extra lemon juice in the meantime 🙂

      8. Okay, removed all extra juice etc – which will be used for dinner tonight so I’m told, and repacked lemons in jar and back in the fridge…. watch this space!

  8. Wow! That wall! If I had a hat on, I’d take it off to the two of you. As for the gardening, as you said, it’s your “lot” in life. Or in your case, an aLOTtment. Or a lot of work. Or…OK, I’m done.


  9. Thank you. I love to see the pictures of the progress. I also loved the way you referred to your husband: He Who Builds Wall, or He Who Keeps Having Ground Moving Notions… very endearing!

  10. That title is a masterpiece, to say nothing of the stairs and the no-dig paradox. You’ve managed to be a soil-mover who writes beautifully and had me smiling after a disturbed night. Graham is definitely not only AMIASS (a man in a spiffy shirt).

    1. Funny you should mention that, Celestine, because I had forgotten. There was a brief moment aeons ago when I thought I’d take agricultural botany at uni. Stymied by lack of chemistry qualification though, and generally weak sciences aptitude.

  11. I admire the work of stonemasons – it is very hard labor, but the results can be truly stunning. I once took a weeklong stonemasonry class but had a frozen shoulder at the time which made it really hard hammering away. Still, I gathered great respect for the process and now know enough to hire a professional to do any stone-related jobs! That last picture of the snapdragon is just gorgeous. I believe our gardens are a reminder of Paradise, or at least an attempt to get them close to it, don’t you think Tish?

    1. I love that idea, our paradisal gardens. So I believe you are right, Annette. As for engaging in stone masonry with a frozen shoulder, well I take my hat off to you too 🙂 An elemental craft once feels, and thus not surprising it is rooted in centuries of mystique. Dry stone wall building is another such craft.

  12. I really enjoyed your photos.I have been replacing shingle and I got some from the Mountains of Mourne [so it said]I hope it is legal.So far I’ve put down 44 kg!It looks good.
    I was also interested in the lemon recipe.I’ve not done much cooking lately but it is nice to preserve things.I once had 44 lb of tomatoes and made jam from them which kept for 20 years.It tasted like strawberry jam.I use Farmhouse Kitchen by Mary Norwak.Must hint fo it now

      1. Thanks Tish.The jam was easy to make but possibly npt worth it unless you grow a special kind of tomato.You just cook them with no water till soft,Strain to get the skins out abd then boil up with sugar.I saw a recipe for salted lemons on the BBC website.It was only salt,no juice.Might be nice to make a jar.

  13. It’s lovely to see before and after shots, what lovely work! All the hard work gives great satisfaction, even when a visit for shiatsu is in order afterwards.

  14. I am in love with your project! It was a joy to read your post, although I am likely to head out to the yard now and be disappointed when I see my mess is still there. Looking forward to seeing more!

      1. Good advice and motivation. The more I browsed your posts, the more I saw you surround yourself with beautiful things. It’s a lovely motivation.

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