Monday, 30 December 2019

In a Vase on Monday - The last of the Decade

Cathy who collects us all under her wing found an extra post necessary and if a friend with a broken bone can find a way to post, I felt that at the last minute I too ought to make an effort:


to at least take a picture of the alliums that are like large wands or maybe large indoor fireworks.

The day promised some sunshine so we have spent most of the day out, with a picnic on the coast after a walk along Bream Down which is a high limestone promontory jutting out into the sea.  With wonderful views out to sea and along the coast.


No plant was picked but many admired...



May the New Year and decade me kind to you all....with my very best wishes.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Six on Saturday - 28 December 2019 - The Garden is but A Stage - OH YES IT IS

A special SOS linked to the great PROP agator A'GENT'...who shelters other artists who love to contribute to his weekly reviews of things gardening. Mind you he has a few problems with one of his stars needing her roots seeing to.  Through his billboard you can see what other shows have been put on by other troups for our entertainment this week.

(1) "THE GARDEN IS BUT A STAGE"

Earlier this year John Massey explained this to Stasher known to us under a secret name but I shall use Director just this time.  Over the Christmas period she has been exploring its meaning , as she reviews posts from the past year. If there is a suitable  interval a quick drink in the circle is often called for.




OH YES IT IS!  I hear you all think..."Yes, this garden is  her stage".  We can read her thoughts.  She doesn't really have to talk to us out loud, not even a theatrical'whisper shout' or'shouting whisper' is needed, however the fact that she talks to us (plants) means she cares.  The Director not only moves us around, but has planned a succession of plants popping up according to their season.

(2) PERFORMANCE

We are all put through our paces and depending on her sometimes vicarious attitude to our performance, we may be shifted either to the open ground, or to another position or be moved up to some other pot, for instance few months ago I had the chance to have this great 'vintage' pot.  I dare not mention the worst outcome.....yours to guess: the compost heap, but I do know that since I have now been cherished for a number of years, its the others who have to keep up appearances!



Both Beth the corydallis and Mariesii the Viburnum with her pretty pleated skirts leaves have been moved  to spend the 'Winter Season' gathering their strength for early performances in the Spring.  They have a permanent position with their toes roots freed from the constraint of this fine corset pot.  But darlings, don't take 'permanent' to heart: the Director just moves us around: Absolutely no peace for us, OH NO THERE ISN'T!

(3) MELODRAMA

I have certainly spied this taking place: how she goes on.  Sometimes I just want to turn away whilst she composes herself. You should have seen the tears and  cussing as she chopped at  Bridie..well she was young, the bride that is...the Director is not and should know better.  Poor Bridie hadn't yet got her roots established and she was just stressed, she had the jitters. The weather has been against us all this year, with hot sun, lack of water, and then rain, rain, rain..But really, the Director ought to reign in her feelings....given an hour or two she was full of regrets.  Maybe the Bride will recover, only time will tell.  This is a 'promotion' photograph before she was brutally disfigured.



(4) TABLEAU

Each season a few of us are posed around the garden to form a Tableau, which to us non french speakers translates as 'temporary pictures'.  My native language being Japanese I would love it if she could be persuaded in the coming year to maybe think along the lines of posing plants from similar regions together.  She does often get enchanted by matters oriental, so I think the seed idea may be taking root, and I may yet have another staring role coming my way.


(5) ENTERTAINMENT


For sure the garden has been a great source of entertainment for the Director, it is her play thing, so much so, she devotes a large chunk of her time to it.  Music is supplied in the form of bird song, with occasional  night time solos or duets from some owls. The Director does have a 'Partner'.  Stage whisper: "him with the size 11s and the dangerous proclivity to chop at things when the Director is elsewhere".  We do love him really, after all he helped with the stage design and construction.

Even to the extent of 'publicity photos and write ups on something called Six on Saturday, she never stands still and is always looking to fine tune the Theater...OH YES SHE IS......

(6) SURPRISE

The garden is full of surprises...so much so that the Director herself can emit a little whoop of delight and applaud as actors, from previous seasons, who had been put on garden leave, and were 'resting',  pop out from places she had forgotten about.  We don't always come out on cue, something to do with 'climate change'? The Director has taken to marking the stage floor soil  surface with directions labels. The 'corps de ballet': those beautiful little snowdrops, and other early flowering bulbs,  are waiting in the wings  for their turn to surprise us all during the Spring Ballet Season which is nearly upon us.

Now I am going to surprise you all: 'The Reveal itself being a great theatrical ruse'...




Kōyamaki , also known as Scidopitys Verticillata Scidopity which is my Botanical name International Stage Name,  have been 'The voice of this SOS Christmas Pantomime'.  

A few months ago, I was 'potted up' into that fine blue pot featured earlier and for a short time, I hope not for long, have been placed 'front of house', and in my opinion ignominiously decorated.... 

Seriously I thought I was being made to live up to my name of Umbrella Pine.  Just because people think the way my needles are arranged in whorls like the spokes of an umbrella, enough is enough: Will someone please ask the effects people to turn off the rain effects .

I may be a solitary species in my genus and family,  at home in the cloud forests of Japan, but I am not so superior as to be secretly honoured to take part  in  the festive fun, and have enjoyed the Limelight......


Therefore ladies and gentlemen, boys, girls and gardeners, I hope you have enjoyed the Pantomime staged specially this Christmas for you.

Tell your friends about it, and please leave messages of appreciation below, much appreciated I am sure. OH YES IT IS....




Thursday, 26 December 2019

Mystery Christmas Gift

Beautifully made out of wood, attractively packaged in brown paper with pretty string, smooth and silky, heavy....suggestions of what to use this for in the comments below please.  (Update: Acacia Wood)



Other treasured Christmassy things included a Christmas Tree Box made with a group of friends led by Kay, and a Gingerbread Biscuit brooch a present from a previous Christmas from Izzi.  Around this time of year I attach it to one of my hats. 

In addition to this a great nibble made by Veronica and Izzi nicely presented in a new Kilner storage jar were Italian Taralli, and another jar of home made sweet delicacies of fudge, and chocolates.


Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Sweet Pastry and Christmas Mincemeat Pies

Going back a few years my most favoured flour supplier was Shipton Mill where we loved to pick up our order, and later when we moved, I found a baking buddy and shared a 'post free' delivery on account of the bulk order.  Now relocated further south, I get 8Kg bags from our local shop: The Good Earth, of stone ground organic flour from Stoates and Sons and I like to pick up different types of flours on my travels, as well.

Yeasted bread is my thing, however I am a little nervous of pastry.  I do however have a periodic bulk making of mincemeat, usually for stuffing jacket apples.  I remembered reading Clive Mellum's unusual technique for making pastry in 'My Life in Baking 50 years on'.  "Impossible to overwork this", "It will be short and pliable even after the second mix"...he is telling the truth!

I shall never be daunted when making pastry again and will write a few extra tips down on the recipe page in the book.  This lot was made yesterday and are ready for a quick warm up and a dusting of icing sugar tomorrow. 


Sunday, 22 December 2019

Christmas 2019

As I approach the big day I try to understand the roller coaster of thoughts and emotions I go through.  Last year I went through some pointers to help me through the 'dark days' in a better frame of mind.  So much is put out there about what people have or don't have, we are urged to buy more and more, send out cards, consume more, etc.

For a couple of years I thought each time of reducing the Christmas Cards I send.  As I went through the address book, I felt I had to send some, but then felt bad as I opted to just think about friends but not send cards.  On receipt of cards first I think about the person, then battle with the 'guilt' if I have not sent one.  I am not a person with a check list working out who has not sent me a card, so if you have not sent one, thanks for that.  I have boxes of cards received in previous years in the attic: cards I could not throw out: pretty cards, hand made cards, cards from special friends etc.

This year I happened to make a handmade card at our November WI meeting when we had a speaker who had brought a whole lot of material to make cards and we were each expected to make one.  This one involved lots of sticking and cutting out several layers to give a raised effect for these two children on their sleight.   Only one very special family was due to receive it...it was given over yesterday.






What I do love to do is to bake and should anyone drop round whilst there is some left, they will be offered a slice of Stolen baked as per Andrew Whitley's recipe except for the addition of dried cherries with the all the fruit soaked in some of my remaining special Rum.



Happy Christmas to all my fellow bloggers who come and read my posts and also to my much loved family and friends scattered around the World.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Visit to the American Museum in Bath

The Prop mentioned a visit to the American Museum in his post on Saturday,  which got me scrolling through my blog to find my notes and pictures from my visit early this year at the start of July.  I must have been because we were out and about so much as well as working on the house, I found that the pictures were still 'in the can', and no notes taken.

Our WI went out to the Museum on our summer outing and were taken round the garden by Head Gardener Andrew Cannell. I remember it as being really hot and sunny.  Here are some of the pictures, I took notes, but have yet to retrieve them.  They had laid on special attractions as part of the 4th of July festivities with a music outdoors...













The Kaffe Fassett Exhibition as well as the Museum's own collection is housed seperately to the main Mansion.  Having visited several times a couple of decades ago, I find it a wonderful day out, and now the garden is nearly redeveloped look forward to visiting it again maybe next year, when some of the planting will have become most established.

In a Vase on Monday - All is calm

Who said it had to be a vase?  Cathy is leading us, with a Christmassy theme beyond a vase, and I shall be dipping in to see what other arrangements, and musings are being shared.

The Christmas Tree is up, decorations complete....

In a Vase on Monday is a calm affair.  We have had rain, rain and winds, but the Monday is calm, damp and cold.


Fuchsia Hawkshead surving the few odd days of frost and dank weather, sitting in a pretty bowl on a wood trivet from Angela Morley bought yesterday during our visit to Cider/Art Open Day.  This round table has now been moved to the corner of the conservatory, and will be used to gather some of plants...so the arrangement is moved to


the centre of our large table where we sit for our meals in the conservatory, now joined by a pretty leaf from Geranium clarkei 'Kashmir Purple'.

One of the books we read and talked about at book club lastweek was  Turbulence by David Szalay.  Yes I would recommend this.  Very clever structure and an insight into people's lives, almost like a series of short stories liked with a clever device.  Ironic that the title is the opposite of calm, something that I have just realised.



The main book has such a long waiting list at the library that I did not get it in time: The Salt Path.  I found everyone's views about facets of the book interesting, but have decided to pass on this and carry on with the next book: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.



Sunday, 15 December 2019

Cider in Somerset



On the outskirts of Shepton Mallet is a magnificent Victorian series of buildings which originally housed The Anglo-Bavarian Brewery from 1860s.  Now called The Anglo Trading Estate, they house a number of local businesses.  A few weeks ago I heard from a fellow 'French Conversation' member that there was to be an open day of art and cider tasting.

Today we went to meet  Martin Berkeley, owner of Pilton Cider and tasted some of the special ciders he makes.



These are your 'top drawer' ciders and made with such knowledge and care.  We were looking for something special for our Christmas Day and will be able to celebrate with a local speciality.  

Angela Morley who has many talents was using the space to exhibit some of her works...and whereas Mr S took in details of ciders, my attention was caught by her ceramics, and sculptures informed by her great training and interest in plants and design.



A few bits came home with us small bits...but wouldn't those huge basket sculptures look wonderful in some large garden?


Saturday, 14 December 2019

Six on Saturday - 14 December 2019

We are on the cusp, the year is nearly over and soon we shall be able to look forward to daylight lengthening again, that is for those of us in the northern hemisphere.  This is the time of the year I feel at my lowest.  The light levels have been very low with heavy low clouds.

During less wet spells,  I have to get out for a little fresh air, maybe watch a few birds, and look for anything of interest in the garden, keeping as ever to the path and stepping stones.

It was a bit tough choosing a suitable six but if the Propagator and a few others say join us...then its up to me to decided whether I join them, or just peer into their gardening minds.  I shall be off to do that of course at : https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/12/14/six-on-saturday-14-12-2019/



One:

It is the low time too for many of the plants in the garden.  Androsace sarmentosa Watkinsii is looking quite different with its outer leaves deteriorating and its central cluster 'pouting', all the better I think to shed all the rain. Its newer leaves are smaller and tightly packed together, and being covered with short white hairs remind me of the cobweb houseleeks: Sempervivum arachnoideum .  The older leaves are turning bronze and will rot off before the newer leaves expand, with the plant changing character once more in readiness for flowering, and thereafter making more runners.


Androsace sarmentosa Watkinsii winter phase



Two:

This is the first winter for the Cyclamen coum in the Conservatory bed.  I have some of my specials coums coming up already with the flower stems poised at soil level.  In the meantime their patterned leaves stand out. Next week I shall carefully remove some of the leaves shed from other shrubs and locate and rewrite any labels that have deteriorated.  I use black labels with silver pen, and they are not always easy to locate.


Pure White Albino Cyclamen coum George Bisson


Pewter leaved Cyclamen coum 'Tilebarn Elizabeth'


Cyclamen coum Album


Three:

My one outdoor watering can is destined for the metal recycling bin.  Its has worked for me over several gardens and many years: leaks have been sprouting and the bracing has become detached.  I must remember to keep the rose back as it is nice and fine.





Four:

The shed shelf is currently hosting three interesting pots in which 'volunteer' ferns where planted.  The ferns just 'appeared' in my last garden.  Maybe one of our SOS fern specialists will be able to identify this probably native fern.  The pots found and given to me by Penny.  




Five:

Some colour from early flowering red 'heritage' polyanthus, divided and moved just a few months ago, this was is an 'unnamed' variety bought from The Vyne.  I put up some pictures of this on my very first post of SOS, when it was flowering its socks off in March this year.  Sadly the silver laced polyanthus flowers seems to have the best tasting flowers for a nibbling creature as yet unseen.




Six:

This week has continued with  failed calls and  frustrating emails regarding the little problem I mentioned  last week.  Thanks for the feedback and support last Saturday from fellow SOSs, it has helped me to keep on and find a resolution. After Jim's valued confirmation of my suspicions regarding the Blackberry, my sleuthing led to the company who controls the  rights of propagation and their Technical Consultant was able to supply photographs as evidence, which I forwarded to Chris Bowers. The MEIOSIS site also gives a list of licensed propagators which I shall consult and use when ordering a replacement.  CB have now refunded me.  I now need to banish any bad feelings, and approach new orders with other growers and nurseries with confidence.





Saturday, 7 December 2019

Six on Saturday - 7 December 2019 -Answers and Question

This weekly post is linking in with The Propagator who gathers a few similarly enthusiatic plant and gardening bods.  I spied a good close up of a thorny stem for example.

My answer to planting more trees this week, as we are all being urged to do, has been to plant fruit trees in the garden.  I love fruit trees on several counts, visually at blossom time as bees visit and pollinate fruit when it also gives me the hope for fruit later in the season.  Last week I was inspired by another Six on Saturday contributor and finalised my choice of trees which I had been pondering throughout the summer.

I poured through the online catalogue of Chris Bowers as they are suppliers of Supercolumn Trees. using M27 rootstock  The garden is small, but that is not stopping me from fitting in more fruit.  The upright/columnar type plants, will take up less space and give that vertical element I am looking for. The order arrived amazingly quickly, and were planted out the same day.

Supercolumn Pear Beth takes the place of Euphorbia


One
Pear Beth

"The texture of the fruits, with their white melting flesh and excellent flavour, has assured Beth of outstanding popularity. A very regular and heavy cropper. "

The Euphorbia was past its best, and was ditched.  A well rooted cutting taken Spring 2018 is now planted up in the front garden.

                 
Pear Concorde - Supercolumn
Two Pear Concorde

We had Concorde in our last garden.  It was a magnificent pear we both found to our taste.  It is also a 'pollination partner' for Beth.  The Pears are in the borders fairly close to the sitting circle on the same line and one each side.

Three 
Apple Scrumptious

We grew this one in our previous garden too, and it was one of Mr S's favourite, so much so that when I bought Apple D'Arcy Spice, he was most disappointed. 


Apples Sunset and Scrumptious in 'Potager'

Four 
Apple Sunset

Scrumptious is an apple which can be eaten straight from the tree, so to prolong the season I felt  that Sunset would store quite well, and is similar to cox but is easier to grow.

Julian, a great gardener in Kenilworth, used to bring me bags of a delicious apple called Crispin, a good tasting dual purpose apple. That is on my list for when I get round to planting a row of cordon's against the house wall.

Five 
Karaka Black Blackerry?

"A re-introduction to our range and an extremely popular newcomer owing to it's 6-8 week cropping period. Karaka Black produces long, cylindrical, shiny dark black fruits which have a wonderful aromatic true blackberry flavour. Very heavy yielding, out cropping Sylvan and Waldo in trials. Bred in New Zealand, the plant habit is only moderately vigorous and, although spiny, is less so than most thorny cultivars. A spacing of 5-6' between plants is ample. Can be grown as a trailing plant or traditionally, along posts and wires. Reliable, very productive, packed with flavour and with an extraprdinarily long picking period, Karaka Black is a top rate new variety."

This description is taken straight off Chris Bowers' website. Of all the above plants in the delivery,  this is one that I had a question about, and mailed the company with photograph, as I did not feel that the plant looked very much like a blackberry:




From me to Chris Bowers

Tried to call but message box was full

Four trees and Karaka Blackberry received. Transaction 128500188

The query is about the Blackberry.  

The plant I received has leaves that do not resemble that of a blackberry or any of the Karaka plants I have seen on line.  Could there have been a mix up with the labeling?  If this cannot be guaranteed as being Karaka, please send me a replacement. 


Please let me know. 

Answer from Chris Bowers 

Thanks for your message.
The plant you received is typical of our Kotata stock and we haven't had any queries regarding this before, however you are welcome to return the plant as per our t&c's.
Regards
Robert.

My second email 

Hello Robert

Four trees and Karaka Blackberry received. Transaction 128500188

Further to my earlier querry you kindly replied promptly that



"The plant you received is typical of our Kotata stock and we haven't had any queries regarding this before, however you are welcome to return the plant as per our t&c's."

However I ordered a Karaka Blackberry, the vine you sent does have the Karaka label, see below. Can you confirm that this is the growth typical of the plant I should have received?

To date no response.  I am trying to be kind, realising that they are having a big rush, that they are probably up to their knees in mud...I'll plant the 'blackberry' and see what it grows into.

Question: Will this plant produce the lovely long fruits of Blackberry Karaka I hope for?

Six

Aeonium success

This summer my Aeonium Velour grew to about the maximum size I could cope with.  It was just not worth overwintering it one more season.  Many of the side shoots were taken off.  Three individual shoots were planted and have now taken.  The very top piece with its several side shoots just stood in a vase for a couple of weeks.  Instead of throwing it away, I thought I would try and see if it would take.  I how have a well rooted multi side branched plant ready to  bring on and have as my main specimen of Aeonium Velour next year.  This time I shall turn it regularly to help with a balanced form.



Aeonium Velour spending winter on a windowsill

A couple of frosts this week, and I am discovering well protected areas of the garden.  The jays continue to collect all the fallen acorns....



Monday, 2 December 2019

In a Vase on Monday - First Hard Frost

I've let myself off today.  Early on it was obvious that there had been the first hard frost, even without stirring, I knew this as I could hear a windscreen being scrapped of ice.  Sunrise was colourful, and as we sat having our breakfast the colours were being reflected off the tessellated  icy surface of the birdbath.  First time this year there has been frost in the back garden, and still it has not reached under the shelter of the Oak.



Ever since the summer an arrangement of Quaking Grass: Briza Maxima, in a cloisonne vase, has been floating around the house.  For the moment it is in the dining room and at last it has its place on IAVOM.



The reflection is of a Wild Australian Cockatoo.  I bought a pair of prints some time ago and love the saying on the leaves:



This is an extract from the The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.

I could be going down the garden path later, instead I am working on my socks the pattern is called Garden Path Socks!  This isn't the first time I've knitted this pattern.



After reading some Musings by Alan Titchmarsh

 I am still waiting for my Book-club's next read for December to arrive, and during that wet weather felt in need of a little escape, and found a novel by Alan on the shelves.  I have enjoyed both books.  With the Grand Tour, it got me looking up old photographs from our first Grand Tour of Italy over 25 years ago, and then checking out places Mr Gandy visited on the internet...I enjoyed this 'no air miles' holiday.


I wonder what Cathy will have posted this week...off we go: yes it is something small and sweet, and also linked into Cathy's post are comments and contributions from myself and many others.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Six on Saturday - 30 November 2019

The propagator who planted the seed of this weekly gathering of plant lovers has thankfully a brief post, unlike mine.  This week I have a resume of the development of the back garden with particular reference to the gravel garden over three years....

"Your use of gravel makes everything stand out. Is it hard to work with on that scale?"  Since Lorna asked this question last week, I could use pointers as part of my SOS this week.  

One -Layout end of November 2019

Yes everything seems to stand out well.  With the backdrop of the evergreen oak, we chose pale coloured local  stone to help with light conditions in the garden, and form a contrast to plants.  It also helps with access and drainage.  The rotary washing line fits in a pipe buried under the circular slate stone in the area closer to the house.  

The area 15cm beyond this grey stone is my true gravel garden area where I am planting bulbs and other low growing plants that will thrive in these conditions without watering etc.  Apart from the veggie area which is bordered by chives along one edge of the gravel garden, I aim not to do any watering except for newly planted items  or plants in pots anywhere in the garden.  

All the cardboard has been absorbed, as I found out when I started to plant into the gravel garden this summer.  When planting small plants or bulbs the gravel is moved well aside from the planting hole,  a hole just large enough to accommodate the bulb or plant is made and a little bone-meal in scattered at the bottom and a little soil tumbled in before planting. The soil is leveled and the plant watered in, then the grit is swept back round the plant.   Seeds such as the Eryngium Silver Ghost were just scattered on the surface of the gravel early this year, worked their own way down through the gravel and seedlings emerged within a few weeks.

On a very modest scale as can be seen here, we did it slowly the easy way all by hand and we did it all ourselves.  If you let your mouse hover over the pictures you will get an idea of dates,




Two - There was lawn

This is what the garden looked like in June 2017 when the builders had just finished the conservatory and the grass just starting to recover.  We moved the position of furniture several times, sat in different areas etc. We knew that we didn't wanted any grass/lawn in either front or back gardens.  


Hot Summer 2017 - Conservatory completed



Three - The waiting game as plans are hatched

For the  winter of 2017/2018 having bought the seating area stones, the outer slabs of the seating circle acted as stepping stones through the grass.  The circle was temporarily sited, but eventually moved in the final plan onto a properly prepared level area.   I just had to get some of my plants into the ground, which had been been in the main untouched since the house was built.  More compost than I can imagine went to topdress the soil, and much cardboard was used underneath to smother the weeds.




Four  To dig or not to dig - conserving and moving soil

No soil from digging out the gravel area between the conservatory and from under the new shed left the garden, as it was used to adjust levels towards Gooseberry Corner.  The land sloped down towards the right quite steeply and moving barrowloads left a more gentle slope.

In this picture Mr S is fixing the edges on top of the turf.  I had also been reading up about the no dig gardening system.  Under the paths with the stepping stones we used a plastic weed controlling membrane.  In hindsight I wished we had not used this, cardboard from packing cases would have been quite sufficient.  Of course, being able to call out instructions from an upstairs window is a great advantage.  We often had days without going further, and looking at the layout and adjusting curves and the width of the path and position of the stepping stones.


Five  Gravel Garden Area 

For a person who loves plants the aim is to have as much growing space as possible.  However we thought a gravel area would give that flat area across which to enjoy views of the Acer bed were needed, and be reasonably free of plants to walk across to get to the 'Potager'.  We always have a smile when I say this out loud...it is a tiny patch for growing a few things for the kitchen, but since it is in full view from the conservatory like to keep it looking nice.

We had gravel areas and no lawn in our previous garden but not a specific planned gravel garden for planting into.

For the gravel area which I wanted to plant into, the grass which had been burnt dry, and the ground fried up hard as terre battue, was covered with a good double layer of cardboard.  All of this was saved from  our delivery of  bathroom fittings, kitchen cupboards etc..It was held down with stones waiting for the delivery of finer grade of stone than the one used on the paths.  CRS our local buidlers' merchants sent a lorry with a long arm and the large cubic metre bags were lifted over the back fence...and we moved barrow loads using an already battered wheelbarrow kindly lent to us by neighbours.  The difference in gravel size does add some interest and a good foil for some of my geology specimens.


Testing out the new seating area

At least a seating area for us to sit and chat during my sister's visit



Planting areas without gravel were topped with compost, and I started to pray for rain.



Six - Planting in the gravel garden 

2019 has been the year of planting into the gravel garden.  2020 will see a variety of bulbs emerging.

In conclusion this was a very effective way of preparing the garden.  When planting I can see that the ground in the beds and under the gravel is in excellent condition.  We have an army of worms, beetles and other creatures who have taken down the compost, we have had no compaction issues, and the drainage even with the heavy rain has worked well.  As I am the gardener the digging in the conventional way would have meant delay and frustration as on this clay soil it is often too wet or too hard and dry to be able work it.