Sunday, 20 August 2017


It is Sunday and so appropriate that the sun is shining, yet, as I look up the garden from our bedroom window, there is a half moon white in the blue morning sky. I missed looking for the Perseid meteor shower - went to bed. Wood pigeons, farmers' bane, strut about under the feeders and fly off in a cacophony of wings at the slightest disturbance. The sunflower seeds have been eaten again - we must have fat tits in the garden whether blue, great, coal or long-tailed.

I have finally repaired the broken extended pond rake - well, a lawn rake with a broom handle gaffer taped to it to make it longer. Then I drag a lot of the crowfoot from the water and either dump it in the ditch or by the side of the pond so creepy crawlies can survive.


We finally have butterflies in the garden other than the whites - red admiral, peacock, small tortoiseshell, gatekeeper etc. I have decided not to deadhead the buddleia - there is just too much of it.

My sister H and her other half N have been here on their way to other relatives and a birthday party involving the Settle to Carlisle railway. Walking around then garden and looking through someone else's eyes I see so many things I ought to do.

I did manage to knock off the last two greengages from the top of the tree. R said they were good and juicy. The ones you buy in the shops are very green but ours were left until slightly yellowish and much riper (and sweeter).

Autumn is threatening to arrive albeit in mid August. There are hips on the roses and berries on the rowan, roses are into their second flush, damsons have darkened and harvesting is approaching.

Even the hypericum is in berry under the big sycamore - a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness - though the mist is mainly drizzle.

The house can be full of flowers at this time of year, even a small vase has a rose, pinks, sweet peas, ammi, cosmos and so on.

Some years ago we bought a shrubby clematis from the now defunct garden centre at Muncaster castle - I think this is Clematis heracleifolia davidiana or Tube Clematis - I think. It is fairly rampant on the dry banking.

And the rain is doing the Hydrangea Annabel no favours as it huge flowerhead bend to the ground under the weight of water.

Finally home from the new wonderful grandchild via Herefordshire.  Back to the garden.
But the leaves on some of the chestnuts are turning - already!

Friday, 11 August 2017


It is so wet the grass on the lower lawn is becoming scarce. I have a window of two days (it is Wednesday) to try and cut what grass there is (and chew up the turf). And it is not warm - 20C seems like something from long ago.
So Global Warming is a joke here - milder, cooler and wetter. At least the rhubarb likes it.

R heard a thud and I went out to find a stunned wren that had flown into a window. I placed it on the log pile to recover and it soon flew off. Such a tiny bird weighing nothing and sitting in the cup of my palm. It does have disproportionally big feet though.

Nothing to do with gardening but how strange dreams can be - from where do some of them come? (Well, I know, inside my cranium but . . . ) Last night I dreamed that I was in Tashkent on a small farm (no I've never been there) researching a link in ancestry between my ex senior partner's wife and Salman Rushdie! I know I had read about him in a Simon Armitage book two night's earlier - the bit about Margaret Drabble giving him sanctuary when the Fatwa was after him but why the connection to S?

Keeping up the wildlife theme R and I were trudging across the soggy lawn by the bottom hedge when she stopped and pointed. Only ten feet away was a young rabbit munching away totally unconcerned that we we there - cheek!

To move on - we have courgettes - which seem to suddenly become small marrows before I harvest them - and the Bramley apple tree is laden with fruit. We do have damsons but not a bumper crop.

They say there can be much in a name but this rose - Rhapsody in Blue - is now in its second flush - yet blue? Wishful thinking there? No doubt some bright spark will insert a gene into a rose and create all sorts of strange colours.

Other garden news - the agapanthus is doing well and the new white one thriving.

 The opium poppies are now starting to cast seed but I leave them to do just that, and I like the dried heads as an extra feature of the garden.

 I have dragged a lot of weed and algae and crowfoot out of the pond to give some open water but. of course, got spattered with mud much to R's tut-tutting. Soon it will be wading time to reduce the water lily somewhat.

Occasionally a little magic creeps into one's life. I have been standing outside the house with my brother-in-law N watching 15 or so house martins whirling about above our heads repeatedly visiting one of the nests and chattering loudly.

Time for coffee.

Saturday, 5 August 2017


The Kaffir lily (Clivia miniata) (aka boslelie, forest lily, kaffre lily, thong lily) on the stairs has just finished flowering for the second time this year. There are offspring scattered about the house (they need potting on) and always remind me of a patient called Lizzie  Ainscow who gave me a plant many years ago.
In the same way I have my mother's Easter cactus in front of me now and on the banking is the tree peony she loved.

The cheap gladioli are flowering and have been cut for the house - trouble is rather a lot of them are brown! Well, reddish brown and R is not amused.
We have had our first white chard and though R loves the leaves, the stems got a bit of a thumbs down - texture interesting, flavour zero.

The apples are doing well and we have a few pears, we have our first greengages from the tree our daughter and son-in-law gave us. 

Whilst recently basking in the cloudy skies of Wales (not all the time)(but not the 44C of the Med.)(more like 18 to 20C) there was time for mucking about balancing stones, stacking stones in towers and making headstones.

Various hydrangeas are doing well and heavy with flowers, the Annabelle on the right best by the house door.

The variegated horseradish has been splendid, lighting up and area by the veg and fruit where all seems very green. In a way it is getting too big but I don't mind - let it thrive.

Having said that there are plants that I wish would not thrive. I can tolerate the wild angelica which pops up all over the place but the big hogweed has nasty sap that blisters so is low down on my list of loved wild plants. (I have been got by it in the past). One curiosity is that we do not have duckweed in our pond but in the big green dustbin I keep full of water by the veg beds (don't tell the council) it has appeared. Now how did it get in there, shut, lid down? 

A vote for the red clambering rose, name forgotten, going up the holly in the bottom hedge - given to us by PJR when we moved in it is now giving a great show.

There are some colour combinations in the garden that I do not think work and here is a classic combination of white and orange - something will have to move (one day).

R weeds on, chops back and so on. I mow and prune and stuff and the list of things-to-do gets ever longer. 
Pressure is building to get in a little man to do work, resistance is almost faltering, but not quite yet.

Friday, 28 July 2017


It its a tough life moulting one's feathers like this jay but to then get caught in the squirrel trap AGAIN! is just too much.

Back from a holiday in Pembrokeshire and this morning I am greeted at the back of the house by a half eaten young rabbit. The local cat has struck again I think. In fact the only thing on the garden camera is a rabbit - perhaps a posthumous movie?

The weeds are enormous - only taken a week - and there is much work to do. Everything in the garden seems to be growing at a amazing rate (except the eucryphia which looks a bit weary.)

First day and trimmed bay hedge using secateurs not shears. The old raspberry canes have been removed, R has dead headed the roses and cut some rhubarb. The roses and raspberries have been fed with pelleted hen manure. I took some cuttings from the bay trimmings.
Last of the black currants made into a compote. (Great with ice cream or greek yogurt.)

The 'senecio' (brachyglottis) on the banking is over and clipped. R dead heading. I have cut and tidied the stream where it runs through the lawn and scythed part of the upper garden where R had noticed some pretty white flowers in the tangle - bindweed!
Tuesday and desperate rush to mow lawn before several days of wet grass, spitting as I went. R tidied rhubarb and weeded, I cleared around strangled fig on the banking. The rhubarb is looking good.
Then a bit of lightning and torrential rain, in fact so wet even the squirrels are trying to find shelter - this one clinging under the shed roof overlap. (Having stuffed itself with my peanuts before.)

The veg beds looks good, a bit of chard, beetroot, carrots and broad beans. I talked with PB about this and the conclusion is, no digging, a layer of compost and I covered the bed with black pond liner to exclude light, keep the soil drier and warmer.
I shall do that again this winter though if we get the go-ahead for a house extension I may have to fill the space with herbaceous plants moved to allow the builder access.
Plants like the agapanthus and orange day lilies.

The cut plants, especially the red alstromerias, have been splendid. I did a vase with them, crososmia Lucifer (very red) and acanthus (Bear's Breeches) shown here. Unfortunately the acanthus is viciously prickly, a nasty piece of work and I am still pulling out spines.

The buddleias have been bursting with flower and feeding bumble bees, not seen any honey bees and the butterflies are few. We have had the usual whites plus an occasional small tortoiseshell, red admiral and fritillary but nothing like most years - very disappointing.

Just back from the private preview of the Lake Artists Exhibition in Grasmere. (Brother looking well but stressed (President now)). We deliberately avoided Ambleside - a madhouse in the school holidays - and went via Red Bank, back via the west of the Rothay. Both narrow roads peppered with walkers (fun with a silent hybrid car) but little traffic - do not go into the Lake District in July/August now if we can help it - 20 million visitors a year and now a World Heritage Site.

Home, cup of tea and another look at the pic of new grandson born on the 26th

Saturday, 22 July 2017


My daughter gave me the book by Michael Pollan for my birthday. The first name that I came across was that of Montagu Don as a member of the Editorial Advisory Board - this in 1996.

It made me think of what gave me my love/hate relationship with gardening, the love of the garden and the despair when pests and weeds take over. (I get round the latter a bit by having wild areas).

I have a watercolour on the stairs by my mother's father of the rose garden at his house in Liverpool at St Anne's Mount, Aigburth. These were painted between the wars and you can see biplanes in the top one. When they sold up - around 1936, they built houses on the garden. He was a keen gardener and later, when he lived in Bowness, kept bees. My mother also gardened and I remember as a boy mowing the lawns and raking the gravel at our house in Coniston. So, I suppose, something was passed on.
I am not a meticulous gardener - too many weeds, too lazy probably, and like things that self seed, like surprises when a plant appears in the wrong place even if it does not work. And I am pretty useless with fruit and veg - I try but . . .
Blackcurrants and plums are ok and easy but somethings eats most everything else. This year the blackbirds had most of the redcurrants and the strawberries were a disaster. I sowed chard and only two seeds germinated!

So why try and take our land of nearly two acres (0.8 hectare) and make a garden?

When we first saw the site it just asked to be shaped and planted. I took favourite plants with us and carefully made a bed in which they were temporarily housed - very temporarily as the builder plonked his concrete blocks and stuff on the top - so we lost the lot.

My sister-in-law gave me six or seven damson suckers and these do well (when the spring frost does not get to the blossom) and gifts of plants have helped immensely. We are still waiting for the Davidia to sport its handkerchiefs.

Now everything is so big, trees need pruning, in the winter ash branches crash down from eighty feet up, seedlings are out of control. Once we lived in an open site but now it increasingly looks like a clearing in the forest!

But I quite like that - we have created paths, dug a pond, made veg and fruit beds (still cannot work out why the raspberries are good this year but the strawberries are rubbish) and gaze up at the eucalyptus R put in as a four foot sapling, cricking our necks.

It is good to get down to things like gardening, in fact have just had to pop out to kitchen and get the bread going. As I use our 45 year old Kenwood chef with dough hook I wait till R goes out as it is noisy.
I make spelt flour bread - 300g white, 200g wholemeal, 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix well. Put 1 tablespoon sugar in 300ml warm water and add 1/2 teaspoon of dried yeast. Let it get going and froth then add to flour in mixer bowl and let it rip for 5 minutes or so.

Butter well a bread tin (I had endless trouble to start with sticking loaves but a good smear of butter works well). Put dough into tin and then in a warm place to rise. When that is done I don't knock back, just into hot oven (220C Aga) 15 minutes uncovered, then 10 minutes covered with foil. 
Turn out, slice off end, smear with butter and get indigestion.

Thursday, 13 July 2017


Dead and dropped on the tarmac by the car, this mole or mouldywarp had been taken, probably by a hawk, possibly by a cat and left as I disturbed the predator. It must have taken a lot of animals to make a moleskin waistcoat.

And then the guided missile that is a sparrow hawk takes a fledgling blue tit in front of my eyes (well, it wouldn't be behind them). This is not much of a photo but it was a snapshot through the window - only had a few seconds.
The big whites are staring to go over,
the Rambling Rector Roses and the Philadelphus. The deutzia is done and even the white willow herb starting to seed. I think I shall have to cut that one down as it self seeds a bit too freely. It is bad enough having its runners spreading through the banking grass. On the other hand it is lovely.

Sometimes plants exceed expectations - tall plants, the eight feet tall lovage, nine feet tall rue growing up through a cherry tree, (even the foxgloves are tall) cardoons and stipa gigantea, even one broad-leaved willowherb (yes a weed) at six feet - normally smaller and widespread. Then there are the Lilium regale, stuck in a pot for four years, this year they should have been small and in need of moving - but!

So bad back, R tells me to go easy - so what do I do - weed the whole place, trim box and sarcococcus etc etc (and take paracetamol) - but cannot moan - self inflicted problem. And now - a bonfire, some heavy mowing followed by a shower and some alcoholic analgesia (just a small Peroni.)

I will, soon, have to attack the lower banking as the grass is getting too long and I cannot use the excuse of letting daffodils build up their bulbs for next year.

 The anthemis and self sown feverfew here light top a dark corner whilst Crocosmia Lucifer is blasting out its red. I put some in a vase in the church porch for the weekend - I wonder if anyone realised they had Lucifer in the church?

And then there are the ducks - by the pond. As we walk around one way the duck waddles ahead of us, just keeping out of range. Today I saw a cock reed bunting in the vegetation at the side of the water.   

We have two nests of house martins though sadly no swallows this year. Sitting out is interesting as the feeding parents zoom past our heads.

Still eating raspberries - and finally bought some cream.