Everything in the garden got delayed by three months, partly due to rain, but mostly due to a dishonest landscaping contractor, who took the job, told me he'd arrive in 6 weeks time and get it done in a day, and after the 6 weeks was up he kept promising to turn up and do it, without ever actually doing so. This meant that the railway sleeper foundations for the new location of the Chookingham palace weren't laid, so the henhouse didn't get moved, so the plants that should have been planted where the henhouse was standing didn't get planted.
I ended up sawing through the railway sleepers myself, at the rate of one or two per week. Only to find that I couldn't shift the full length sleepers on my own well enough to get them into the exact right place. Further delays of a few weeks, and then Carl took pity and came round to help.
When he was holding the sleeper it hardly weighed anything at all at my end, and it dawned on me that my "help" was completely superfluous, which was strangely annoying. Once the foundation was in place I did manage to join them together myself. If you're ever faced with the job of building stuff out of railway sleepers go for FastenMaster TimberLok screws. Don't faff about with those rusty iron pegs and drilling holes, trust me, I'm not a carpenter.
With help from both Anita and Carl, Chookingham palace was lugged across to the new foundations, just a fortnight before everyone was due to arrive for my half centuary celebrations.
Instead of luxurious flowerbeds bursting with colourful flowers there was a chicken scritched, muddy wasteland, dotted with straggly potbound annuals. Even the bits of garden that got planted on time were looking bare and pathetic, thanks to the relentless monsoon and lack of sunshine. The wooden arch was still in pieces on the patio, and the weather was abysmal.
I didn't have the dosh to arrange to rent somewhere indoors for the birthday celebrations. The original plan was for everyone to come along on a 5 hour pony trek across the Gower, stopping for lunch at a pub along the way. That got cancelled just a few weeks in advance, and replaced by the idea of a walk through Oxwich bay nature reserve, followed by a picnic on the beach. So naturally the day dawned grey and dismal, with scattered showers. There were massive delays on the M4, so that guests arriving from Hampshire and London were delayed by several hours. Meanwhile, those who did arrive in time were glad of the reprieve, the weather conditions not making us feel we were missing anything by postponing our al fresco feast. After a couple of hours of waiting politely for everyone to arrive we gave up, and fell upon the picnic dips, patés and quiches, all jammed shoulder to shoulder in my tiny living room. It was jummy, and much more convenient than having to cart everything for miles along a beach!
By the time the last couple of guests arrived the rain had stopped, and a watery sun kept peeping out from behind the clouds. We gave the late arrivals time to scoff a few crumbs, and then piled into our cars and headed for Oxwich bay, and the walk through the nature reserve. Some people may have found the sedate pace at which we proceeded to be a bit slow, but I thoroughly enjoyed being the one to set the pace, rather than the poor frazzled person at the end who has to keep scuttling on little fat legs to catch up. Along the way people kept asking me the name of plants I had never seen in my life before. The only one I did recognise was sea holly, the nature reserve is crammed with rare plants, I have since invested in a little booklet about coastal plants in Wales.
By the time we left the nature reserve and headed towards the beach the sun was warm, and some of the young'uns went for a swim. I hadn't brought my swimming togs, quite reasonably not expecting the weather to improve that much. Amazingly the next day was sunny too, the warmest day in a couple of months, and we spent the entire day frolicking in the surf at Llangennith. The waves were really excellent, the nieces were so impressed that they resolved to come and visit their old auntie whenever the opportunity arose. Everyone seemed to have a good time that weekend, at least I know I did! I was too busy having fun to bother about the garden looking like a building site, and the wooden arch still being in pieces on the patio.
The arch was way too heavy for me to raise it alone. I've ordered some climbing roses, to be delivered in November, and was starting to worry about ever getting the arch up in time. One of the neighbours volunteered to help, and we finally got it in place on Monday.
I have been feeling mean, keeping the hens locked up in Chookingham palace when they do so want to get out and destroy everything in sight and terrorise the neighbours. As a compromise I constructed a 2 sq metre henitentiary for them to scritch in, with a compost bin to attract creepy crawlies, and a net roof to stop them escaping, and set about building a connecting walkway, so that they could get from Chookingham palace to the henitentiary whenever they wanted. I built it in segments, and incorporated a devilishly cunning bit with a hinged lid in the roof, that can be closed off with two plywood portcullises, and comes in handy for catching hens without having to chase them round the garden. It doesn't look exactly prefect, but I'm jolly proud of it all the same, and the chickens are dead chuffed to have extra space to explore.
If you squint so as not to see the wrecked lawn and strewn debris there are some very nice things going on in the garden now. The dahlias are doing their thing, with a bit of help from their friends.
The climbers have finally started to climb now that they've seen a bit of encouragement from the sun.
Some of them were well worth the long wait.
Best of all, this year there are two little fruits on each of the feijoa bushes, fattning nicely.