The Saga of the Snowdrops

How Far Have We Come?

My Wwoofing blog posts are few and far between as that is the nature of my Wwoofing /gardening project.  The Wwoof visits have to fit around the availability of the accommodation and in rhythm with the growing seasons.  Spring and Autumn. Luckily Ane’s visit in Summer last year and the dormant Autumn and Winter season had left the garden as I left it last year.

Kate applied to visit in March enthusiastic for spinning and dyeing.  Using the “Immediate Availability” posting on the Wwoof web site I tried to gather together a 1 week working party.  However the list of jobs was “bitty” and involved mostly clearing and tidying, so I was cautious about hosting too many willing bodies with not enough to keep everybody meaningfully occupied.  I generated quite a few enquiries but mostly for the wrong dates, so Kate and I created a working party of 2 for a week on some perhaps surprising projects.

Preparing for the Hen House

Next to the raised-bed garden is that area at the back of every garden which gets neglected.  It housed a shed at one time which fell down and blew away, but the hard standing was still good, if a bit mossy.  The wooden crate that housed the old plant pots was rotting away and the flower arch which once held the climbing rose was bent out of shape.

Whilst Kate transplanted the snowdrops to protect them from the planned chicken run I finished the edges of the raised beds in efficient Italian Wwoofer style learnt last year (no more tape measures, brackets and screws but a good dose of ratch in the shed, chop it up and shove it in).  Hey presto a functional path and raised beds that will hold lots of cardboard and horse manure.

BUT who would have thought there were 3 wheel barrows of snow drops.  I had estimated about 10 clumps.  By the end of day 2 we had re-planted 25meters of snowdrops and 12kg of daffodil bulbs, which will make a great display along the whole wall and provide heaps of yellow dye from the heads next year.

Shit Shovelling

Every Wwoofer to the Wild Wool Barn has the privilege of gathering bulky manure.  Sorry it’s just a fact of organic gardening!  We spent a fun morning firstly in the co-op topping up the stores (there was a Coronavirus epidemic to plan for and shelves empty of toilet paper to view in disbelief) 1 bag full of shopping was all we could purchase (no panic buying here) as it had to be carried on the passenger/Wwoofer’s lap.  The back of the car would be full of smelly stuff.

Last year I found the manure gathering exhausting.  Not sure it was worth all the effort I mildly resented doing it and certainly did not enjoy it. However in Storm Ciara in February one of my beds was exposed when the plastic lifted to reveal a beautiful bed of fine soil.  I am now so excited to plant and can really see the point of the bulky manure…but a gardener must be patient.

Day 3 finished with piling on the cardboard accumulated over 6 months, topping it off with the manure, and covering the layers with the plastic.  One more bed had now been conditioned to mature over this winter.  2 more to go.


Heath Robinson building

Kate’s final day and an exciting build.  Using everything we could scrounge from the sheds, we built a cold frame. I just love learning from the Wwoofers’ experience. The frame was made from old roof beams and Celtex-type insulation left form the barn conversion and windows removed from the house 20 years ago (so glad to see the back of them!) and kept for this purpose.  Oh! and parts of an old loom – how appropriate!  Katie suggested the  insulation would reflect the heat and keep the plants warm. So now I can’t wait to plant but with snow on the ground this week it just feels tiny bit too early.

Of course it sounds like we worked outside all the time

But don’t forget this is the Lake District and it rained, was windy and sub-zero most of the week.  We also combed wool, made some posters for the Workshop, played Risk (Captain America Version and Dungeons), shared lots of tips for dye plants and enjoyed some lovely family meals.

Progress and Success in 12 Months

So from this time last year with ground that was just a weed bed and having no gardening experience whatsoever the Wild Wool Dye Plant Garden now has:

A Cold Frame

7 Raised beds with conditioned or conditioning soil

12kg of Daffodils  planted ready for spring 2021

Woad plants in their 1st and 2nd year (not many plants but it is a start and the seeds are as important as the leaves)

Madder in pots going into year 3 some ready for harvesting

Weld plants  – just a few but with the knowledge that they should not be covered when germinating

Alkanet – identified by Katie

Flower beds full of perennials and other Dye plants like Coreopsis and Genista Tinctora bought at Wool Fest last year

A stack of experiences and memories from hosting our Wwoofing friends.


Oh! and we have a Wwoofing family booked to visit in June when those pesky weeds return and we are ready to build the dyeing kitchen.

We have come a long way already and look forward to the plants growing and providing brilliant colour to dye the Ennerdale wool.

Weeds will Grow

Summer in the Garden 2019

Spring seemed a long time behind us when Ane from Denmark turned up.  I had not intended to host Wwoofers in the summer months as that was peak season for our accommodation business, which is also used to house Wwoofers off-season, but Ane was so enthusiastic about the textile aspect of the project, being a spinner herself I could not say no and already I was learning that despite the huge strides we had made in  the weeds just will not wait! In a scene reminiscent of the red weed in War of the Worlds, the bind weed had invaded the whole garden, sneaking out anywhere the plastic let in the light, except where the Rhubarb was growing.  In the delightful Wwoofing way I had learned to love Ane took on those weeds with enthusiasm and determination until they all had been defeated.

Inevitably  August is the rainy season in Cumbria, so Ane spent many happy hours in the studio combing and carding wool.  She also drunk in the view of the Ennerdale Water and encouraged me to spin al fresco and revisit the view it is sometimes easy to take for granted. There was just one fly in the ointment, or should I say “wasp” in the Rhubarb.  The 3 huge plants were buzzing and crawling with a whole nest/colony. Never one to back down from a challenge I used the opportunity to try my hand at making a wasp trap or 10.  Initially I thought I had made the holes too large as the wasps seemed to just fly in and feed on the sugar/jam/honey and fly out again…..3 days later……

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