Tuesday, 24 July 2012


                                    (Words and music - Peretti/ Creatore/ Weiss)

First, a statement of fact - I have been berated today for pontificating on how perfect our garden is when she tells me I am idle and she wants order, not weeds and more change as I cannot keep up with what we have. I use the continuous rain as an excuse - yes, it may be a heat wave in the south but “up north” “Still falls the rain.”
Back to being berated - so what do we do - fence off chunks and leave them to do their own thing, get someone in to strim and stuff, stop playing so much golf and sitting in front of this computer, messing with photographs and churning out blogs?

So to another blog - I have weeded the veg and fruit beds and cleared grass from the shrubs on the banking as well a violently pruning the huge broom so can justify a little blogging.

Now we are well beyond the daffodil damage time - do not cut back the leaves of spring bulbs and corms until they are over or next year’s show will be much poorer as the plants will not have time to build up reserves - we can strim the long grass. (Or someone else can.)
One Council not far south from here planted thousands of crocuses in the grass strips between the road and pavement on the road leading into the town. Then they mowed them as soon as the fantastic display was done. Next year the show was poor and finally zero. What a waste.

Now, I have inadvertently strimmed trees and killed them (wrists slapped) by effectively ring barking them. (Taking a strip of bark from a tree trunk all the way around will kill all growth above that point.) The lads working on our local golf course regularly kill young trees by doing this. Sigh!

 Some local Councils have sense and only cut back verges enough to ensure safety for traffic and leave the rest - a wonderful habitat for all sorts of flora and fauna.

Wild plants thrive in the garden, some in the wood, in the bog, in the pond, the hedges, on the grass bankings and some in the flowerbeds. Foxgloves seed themselves around the beds and are welcome - spectacular plants wherever they are (in moderation) - and they grow in the woodland. Amongst the trees and in the long hedge there are wild dog roses (which I do prune when they get out of hand - you can be ecologically sound (whatever that means) and still exert some sort of control).

We have the wild Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle) as well as the garden kind. There is a difference - the leaves of the wild sort are not so hairy and the plant is less bulky. The third sort - Alpine and much smaller - we do not have.

When, years ago, I worked in Southport (it was YEARS ago), and my wife worked in Woodvale, she used to take the back road from Pilkington Road, where we lived, and this ran across an area of waste land covered in tree lupins growing wild. They were yellow and for some years, in previous gardens, we grew them. In our current garden we have the white variety, which can be very beautiful. R says she does not like the way it turns pink/mauve as it ages. We also grow Evening Primroses for their wonderful yellow. They grow all along the shore and dunes around Southport.

Some weeds were once medicines - time for a poem.



In the marshy edge,
where vegetation hesitates,
Woundwort sends spires
of pink through the shade.
The hollow stems are brittle
and, if crushed, smell strongly.
Its leaves are nettle-like
but have no sting.


In Kent a poor man scything Peason
sliced his leg to the bone..  He crept to
some Woundwort, bruised it with his rough hands,
tied a bundle ‘round the gaping cut
and secured it with a piece of shirt.
Day by day he poulticed it with stems
stamped in lard - was cured.  Gerard saw this,
and thought that he had found an all-heal.

Mr E Cartwright of Graye’s Inn, Holborne,
who had been thrust through the lung and stomach
by himself, was found dying in his bed
with a frothing discharge staining his shirt.
John Gerard, herbalist, gave him drink, found
one wound leaked - the other snuffed a candle.
He took the leaves of All Heale and stamped them
with hog’s grease, strapped a tight poultice
to the chest of the injured, healed him.


In the woodland edge,
Woundwort is a wild flower.
Flowers, six round the stem,
taper to the top; long
lower lips kissed with white
bend under bee weight.
Once it was a cure,
Gerard’s all-heal.

(after 1.  Geoffrey Grigson, The Englishman’s Flora,
            2. John Gerard, Gerard’s Herbal.)

I suppose growing up on a Lake District farm and roaming wild, plus an interest in botany from my pram years, (thanks Mum), instilled a love of nature. Days spend creating tunnels in high bracken, mucking about by the lake or in becks, climbing hills or just wandering in the woods must have influenced me.
I like to take a little of my childhood (R would say all of it) with me as I get older.

So, there you are, I do not need to return to my childhood as I age, I never left it!

Thursday, 19 July 2012


Yes, that is right.
Rabbits have increased by one - which seems to mean our invaders (actually boarders as they have a burrow somewhere in the bramble patch) are poor breeders. I wonder if Brer Fox has been in the bramble patch?

As to the jays they are everywhere cackling and squawking like a load of witches from That Play. In fact they are timid if approached - twitchy witches.

So, rain on Monday.
Tuesday deadheading and I collected a load of aquilegia seed and sealed it in a brown paper envelope.
Whilst picking raspberries R came across a triffid nettle five feet high which bit her, I pulled out two stout stems and I was stung.
I also collected blackcurrants by the handful so I could pick them over whilst watching the TV in the evening.
Some of the raspberries are now jam, the rest eaten with meringue and ice cream.

Wednesday it rained all night and the garden was soaked and squelchy. The rain eased early and later in the day and we cut back all the aquilegia stems and weeded and deadheaded and trimmed as we went.

The first, yes the first, sweet peas are in a vase and smelling heavenly. 
Suddenly there seem to be more bees in the garden - it is a pity they do not eat slugs and snails. My new attempt at a delphinium came to an abrupt halt yesterday when something mollusc assassinated the growing stem.

We are watching our flowers and praying they will come right for next week as we are providing small decorations for the tables at our son's wedding.
So, naturally I give you a multiple image of borage (not suitable except in a Pimms or G and T), Alliums (now over) and a mixture of honesty and wallflowers (also over). It is just that I had these pics in my Blog file and thought I would use them.

Some plants are getting too rampant - Mimulus in the pond and stream, a white campanula in one of the main beds and japanese anemones all over the place. I must remember to deal with them in the autumn. I do not chuck them away but try and find a corner where they can do their thing without me worrying.

Time to nip out and gather some more blackcurrants to distract me from the tv.
We had our first broad beans last night - yum! 
It is amazing into what horse manure can be turned!

Saturday, 14 July 2012


So the wife’s away and what do I do?

No, you are wrong.

Raspberries will rot if I do not make them into jam - recipe in Mrs Beeton and a year or two ago on the blogspot blog.

And the old plums and apple in the freezer need to be used so space is ready for this year’s crop. Mind you I think some of the fruit in there is from two years ago. We do not eat it fast enough to keep up with supply.
So add an onion, some raisins, ginger and chillies, sugar and salt and we end up with Chutney.

Delia S. has a good recipe called Old Doverhouse Chutney.
Then, after jarring it, (not really bottling), it should be left for at least three months to mature.

(Do you like the Cow tray?)

I keep picking blackcurrants and freezing them, the broad beans are nearly ready but the beetroot is very poor this year - I seem to be having great difficulty getting them to germinate.

And it keeps right on a-raining, every minute every hour. Having said that, as I sit here typing out comes the sun.

This morning there was a terrible din behind one of the sheds and what should I find trapped there but a jay! I rescued and released it (put on some tough gardening gloves first) and what a kerfuffle! They are fantastic close to - British parrots, I think, is an apt description - and all the rest of the day the bird has been recounting its escapade to the rest of the family in the big trees next door. What a row!

I do have a habit of using things in the garden that, perhaps, should be binned. A few years ago I bought a couple of white Polish (it said so underneath) dining chairs and put them up in the wood.
No one sat on them and they gradually rotted away and ended on the autumn bonfire. Odd things hang in trees like old goggles and broken wind chimes. At the base of one rhododendron pruned to grow on a single trunk is a sheep’s skull.

And the dark wood is lit by two Rambling Rector roses in full bloom - their white flowers tumbling in masses in the half shade. I can see them from my window - as I can see that everything needs dead heading, weeding (broad-leaved willowherb everywhere this year).

Then I see it is half-past four and the skimmings off the raspberry jam are waiting to be eaten in the kitchen. The kettle and a mug are waiting too . . . 

Sunday, 8 July 2012


We have had sun and warmth - collapse with shock, moan that it is too hot and then dive for cover as water is everywhere.

Mowing the lawn yesterday for the first time for almost a fortnight because of the rain, I had to avoid the lower garden and the areas where springs miraculously appear. 
Then the dreaded CLEGS struck and sucked my blood. If you have the benefit of horse manure in the next field - hence horses - you have the down side of Clegs, (horse-flies for the uninitiated).
These hungry insects are, of course, in no way, politically inclined. They will bite a member of any party.

So the squirrel trap is set and has caught nothing. The bait has gone but no trapped prey. I suspect the mice have been in and out without setting the thing off. Then, looking on the Internet I found that Grey Squirrels are classed as vermin. This means I have to kill them and cannot release them into the wild again. (So, if I do trap them I will not be telling you). This does not mean I have killed them or released them or . . . . . . 

We are eating raspberries - the best of all flavours? - Though run close by blackcurrants. These are also coming into ripeness and it looks like we will be swamped. Branches are bending with the weight of fruit. I have picked the last of the gooseberries and, topped and tailed, they are snugly tucked up in our freezer.

In the wood, in sunshine, with water on everything, the light is astonishing and magical.

In the garden the oriental poppies have succumbed to the wet and have been cut back to ground level in hope of a second flush in the autumn. The huge crambe is over and cut back. This is also being done with the geraniums so that there will be regrowth and a second flowering.

There will be no figs this year with the weather so bad but there are leaves - you never know when one might come in useful.

In the garden some garden plants will naturalise themselves - survive and compete with the wild plants. Examples in our garden are Acanthus, Geraniums, Oriental poppies, white willow herb (not as vigorous as the wild pink variety) and, on the top banking, sweet williams. I am not sure where they came from but now there is another patch to leave till the autumn.

I have had to go up the back field to inspect where the field drain enters the garden. A previous farmer just drained his land through our fence, (when the property belonged to TJ.) The cows and sheep had trampled the channel and the water was running off to the north-east before entering the garden and flooding the path lower down. I dug it out and replaced the stones moved by heavy animal feet.

Now, my son is here from London and has said I should put more how-tos into the blog.

Time to explore how-to make a nice cup of tea.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012



Big Coca Cola bottles and similar ilk with the bottoms removed make fine mini cloches, at the same time keeping predators at bay.
Milk cartons with the top cut off are great to fill with seed and take out into the garden to fill the bird feeders. You can actually make feeders from them but the squirrels here just tear them apart.
We have eight feeders at the moment plus the compost heap - robins like to forage on the latter amongst the kitchen scraps. We do not use the council garden waste green bin as we recycle everything in that field ourselves. The green bin is used as a water container by the veg. beds.

Two of the hanging feeders contain black sunflower seed, as does the one attached to the kitchen window. Five have peanuts. We buy our seed and nuts in bulk from a local farmer’s supply warehouse. I did try the mixed seed but the birds picked the ones they liked best and threw the rest on the ground. As a consequence there grew some unusual plants!
At this moment the peanut feeder outside my window has two juvenile great tits, one young cock chaffinch, a cock greenfinch and a coal tit on it - and it is raining.

Sheet plastic, if black, can be used to clear an area of weeds - black bin liners held down with stones will do but heavier duty stuff is better.
We also use a sheet of pond liner (we have no liners in our ponds)(so they do leak a bit) as a water slide down the banking for the children, both young and old. (We are not wasting water, as we do not have a shortage (borehole)).

I have used old fishing net found on a beach to aid a climber go up a tree but it is a bit too gaudy.
I have avoided plastic edging to paths using old branches off trees, old scaffolding planks and such instead. I had to be careful with the branches, (and wasn’t enough), because we lost a mature ash tree to the dreaded honey fungus. We then chopped the wood up for logs for the wood burning stove and left them in a heap near the manure heap - ERROR! The logs sprouted toadstools and the bootlaces of the mycelium spread into the heap. We had to burn the logs in a bonfire and even now I find traces of black cords in the manure - these are carefully removed and placed on the bonfire. The manure is never used anywhere near shrubs and trees but seems to be ok with the veg.

I wander from the subject - Plastic.

One of the most useless pieces of plastic I have come across was as a blade on a small hover mower in the days before this garden when the lawn was the size of a pocket hankie. They lasted no time at all. I have tried to make replicas from old cans but they are not very good. Any way that mower has been retired - but, as with many things - put in a shed. You never know when it might be of use?

Finally, I do wonder as to whether there is a connection between plastics and a disease such as cancer but plastic is ubiquitous. At least many plastics could be made biodegradable - couldn’t they?

The Senecio greyii, now called Brachyglottis, what a mouthful, are in full flower and spectacular.

They would look better if the sun was shining.

Sunday, 1 July 2012


So what does a green gardener do about snails and slugs?
Options - slug bait - not on, nematodes are much hassle and expense and how green is infecting the poor molluscs with nasty parasites? Then there is the squash 'em idea - mmm! Lastly bucket - pick them up, pop in a bucket and take them a long way away. If you only go a hundred yards they will return. Lastly cultivate blackbirds and thrushes but they can only stomach so much food, sadly.
Of course having toads and frogs in the garden is a bonus but there seems a never-ending supply of the slimy veg. eaters.
Our wet climate and mild winters are not good news - when we had the two hard winters the numbers especially of slugs was much reduced.
Last year I had slugs feeding on the runner beans eight feet off the ground!
My brother as a small boy would line up slugs on the ground and walk on them with bare feet - not a control method that would appeal to most people.

Let me move on - caterpillars - butterflies are beautiful and we have our nettles for the peacocks, red admirals etc and garlic mustard (Jack-by-the-hedge) for the Orange tips but the whites are a problem on the brassicas. Does one rub off the eggs and if caterpillars are removed do you squash them or throw them as far from you as possible hoping they will go elsewhere?

Poor old vegetables have a rough time but, I think, I have found a way to avoid carrot root fly. I knock out the bottoms of big plastic containers - the sort you can buy pelleted hen manure in - and place on fertile soil, fill with a sandy loam and sow into the top. The sneaky fly zooms along like a cruise missile just above the soil surface but misses my carrots nine inches up in the air.
Well, it has worked so far.

I use lots of netting to keep the pigeons off the seedlings, the birds off the redcurrants, the butterflies off the broccoli and so on. Keeping the wood mice out is another thing altogether and they just munch away.

Now to SPIDERSQUIRREL - I have discovered why we have no fledgling house martins. This morning I looked up at the nest 7 metres up under the east end gable and there, clinging to the wall was a squirrel. It ran down the wall (coloured render) and around the corner at two metres from the ground with me giving vociferous chase.

How does it hold onto the wall?

So it is either a gun or a trap - I have bought a trap - or should I let nature take its course and the house martins lose their young, let alone all the other birds in the garden.
A trap - and garden, no matter what its description may be, is a managed space and I am not a killer. So trap them and deport them - a long way away.
I know you will say that other squirrels will come in to fill the vacant space - true - but they are going to get deported too.

And I promise to release them well away from any garden.