Tuesday, 25 February 2014


So, just to start with something other, here is a photo of my daughter's orchid and cyclamen in Herefordshire. Cyclamen die with me but orchids, once they have found the right place are not all hard.

To here - where R has been pruning back hard the buddleia outside the kitchen window. This leaves the bird table a bit exposed until the new growth gets bigger - fingers crossed. I have done the same for the banking hedge of buddleia and all the prunings have been either placed on the bonfire heap or some have been shoved into the ground by the top fence by R (without telling me) as a fait accompli. I have begun the weeding of the bed by the decking and pond removing carex pendula seedlings and other undesirables. Then I dumped a barrow load of old compost on the top.

After that I bolstered the ponds by blocking one or two leaks and giving the frogs an ideal environment to add to the bucketsful of spawn already produced. We have a few wallflowers out now as above and here is the beginning of pulmonaria flowering perforated by daffs. The garden is exploding with vegetation. 

I also tidied up the dead apple mint stems and the cut-leaved elder from which I took two experimental cuttings and shoved them into the appropriate place.

This is one of our several flowering currants coming into blossom - everything is about two to three weeks early! This is because of the mild weather (and the incessant rain).

This does not seem to deter the birds from guzzling all day though when I fill the feeders there is a skerfuffle of wings as the take to the trees. All that remains as evidence can be one small down feather on the paving. Working in the garden is still something I am not dashing out to do in this damp winter. Last night I dashed out to a poetry group and today I dined out with my friend NC before visiting a secondhand bookshop in Windermere. We arrived after 1pm and were his first customers of the day. He said the winter is killing trade in the Lake District. (Well, if you want green fields and lakes you have to have a little rain now and again - BUT not all the time!) And here are some of the manured beds showing new growth - especially day lilies and white campanula. 

The Winter Olympics are over and Putin's in his nest (but looking out at the nest next door where the birds are squabbling - a bit like our rookery. Apologies to those concerned - I do not intend to trivialise what must be dreadful.

My keyboard is no better and connects up when it feels like it so a new one with a wire sticking out  is on the way. 

I have dug out my Wainwright drawing (Alfred Wainwright - look up Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Wainwright) that he gave me years ago. He used cheap paper and it is going brown so I have done a copy and photoshopped it - put the original away in a drawer.)

Which, talking about the Lake District, makes me think the mists of the mountains may be closing in on hidden villages, Herdwick sheep at risk of removal from the fells - resulting in regrowth of scrub and finally trees to change the very man made (well the odd glacier may have been involved) scenery.

And the final cry this February to the British people is, 'Move to the high ground, physical or moral, stop building on the flood plains and to the person who answered the quiz question (thanks Private Eye) that asked in which English county was England's highest mountain? with Norfolk, come up here - we have Scafell Pike and no Broads. (That is an English use of the word, not American.)

Sunday, 23 February 2014


Saturday -

I have just been out to top up the bird food and the sun is out. (Forecast is for storms and rain again Sunday.) The song thrush is belting out its call for the first time. It repeats a phrase 3 or 4 times, then another phrase and another and so on.

The garden is beginning to bloom - purple crocus, pulmonaria (lungwort for the spotted leaves that look like a nasty disease), tulips and daffodils pushing through everywhere.

Yesterday afternoon a parcel arrived with twenty small strawberry plants, especially ten Cambridge Favourite. These are now in the preprepared bed inside the rabbit proof fence. Eighteen inches apart and in rows three feet apart they will probably not give fruit this year. In fact it may be wise to nip out the flowers to let the plants build up strength. (Might have to make one or two exceptions.) So we will, I hope, have three years of fruit before the virus comes. This reminds me the raspberries need replacing because of a virus infection.
The strawberries will have to be netted and straw placed between the rows to keep the berries off the ground. I will do this in early June after the last chance of frost. Mind you, if I am pulling off the flowers there will be no fruit so may not have to do all that this year. The plants will need regular watering as they do not like to be too dry.

I do a bit of the old photography and have a site on Flickr -http://www.flickr.com/photos/duncandarbishire/

I received a message from the continent from someone wanting to use one of my pics in a catalogue. Being mercenary I kindly asked what they were thinking of paying for it.
Funny, I have not received any further communication from them.

Even the kitchen garden is stirring. The red tops of the rhubarb are showing. Mind you, friends down by the sea, three miles away and a hundred metres lower, have almost reached a height where they can eat it. (I do not mean they have reached a height, the rhubarb has . . .)

Now why, you might say, has he put scream in the title.
The answer is - I have no idea. It just seemed a good title.

Actually there are times when I could scream - being a gardener does have its agonies - and I do not mean backache, thorns in fingers and so on - when the slugs go rampant, the pigeons eat all the newly planted seedlings, the mower gets stuck in a ditch, I realise the banking is a sea of bindweed, hammer my thumb instead of a staple, R asks me to move the stream I have spent two weeks digging etc etc.
And we have still not decided to do with the twenty box plants I bought in the autumn. They sit in their pots by the cold frame looking cast aside.

Sunday - they were right, gales and rain, inside messing on computer, going over seeds - when to sow what and so on.

Wild day. This is how it looks from the house on a good day!!

The big buildings are Heysham Power Stations - bit of the old nuclear you know - help light up my life!

Friday, 21 February 2014


A Golden Rain was a firework popular when I was young - no bangs and shooting things, just a powerful shower of yellow sparks.
Now that spring is underway the hedgerows are full of hazel catkins - another golden rain.

And the feeders are full of goldfinches and yellow siskins, the latter a more delicate bird than the chinky greenfinch, more a chaffinch size. 

We have had a flurry of birds - greater spotted woodpeckers, both sexes, long tailed tits, goldfinches and the siskins - apart from the usual tits, sparrows and other finches, robins, dunnocks, wrens, blackbirds and thrushes. Not long ago, when the squirrels had demolished one of the peanut feeders, I bought a squirrel-proof one. This has delighted the blue tits and they hide inside at the back pecking away, safe from the sparrow hawk. In fact R did see the sparrow hawk catch a blue tit. She looked out of the kitchen window to see the hawk on the ground staring up at her with a small yellow and blue bundle in its talons.

As we have been away for a week I had no excuse and work in the garden beckoned. The dead teasels and grasses were cut down and added to the compost heap. The roses were lightly pruned - they are almost all shrub roses - and the twigs put on the bonfire heap. 
I have been wanting to tidy the lawn grass up but it is all too wet and anyway the time for the annual mower service is here so I will be mowerless for a few days.
It is also becoming evident that I will have to decide about moles. Do I call in the mole man and have them caught or do I just let the garden become a collection of small soil mountains.

Then I went down the garden to the ditch and dug it out, removed the watercress (still thriving) from the top pond making the reed mace as a small island and dragged up some of the deep sediment from the bottom. All the stuff I took out has been left beside the water do small creatures can return to it.
The bottom pond has one or two leaks in it and these were plugged temporarily to enable the randy frogs to continue their mating swim and preserve the spawn.

Now, we have no snow to mention but whilst we were on top of Orcop Hill last week we had a brief covering one morning so I nipped out and did an Andy Goldsworthy with my Wellies. This is not a self portrait - ears a bit on the sticky out size. However, as I look at it there does seem to be a vague resemblance to Prince Charles?

Wednesday, 19 February 2014


I thought this was an original title until I looked back a year - FROG BLOG, SPRING SPRUNG - so not so clever.

First daffodils out by the shed under a shower of robin song. These miniature daffs came here in a pot from our previous house and were popped into the only place available as the rest was wasteland, ravaged by the builders of our new house.
Every year I say to myself that I must move them but do not. They seem happy and if there is one golden rule I stick to, then, if the plant is thriving and happy leave it where it is if possible.
This, of course does not apply to weeds - I must go down to the pond again and the bed beside the shed, and dig up the pendulous sedge that has seeded everywhere. (The Yeats influence petered out fairly quickly.) My father used to stay at Inisfree for his summer holidays between the wars. It was only some years later I found it was a summer rented house in Bowness-on-Windermere in the English lake District!

Snowdrops everywhere. These by the big sycamore are dug up whilst in the green every year and planted elsewhere in the garden. Obviously we do not get them all.

I love the spring when the garden fills with birds singing their soprano arias. The bass line is not so beautiful and is generated by frogs. The pond is a maelstrom of sexual energy at the moment. It has so much frogspawn in it that it is becoming congested.
The amphibians swim into hiding when I approach but, with patience and waiting, they gradually emerge to climb over one another in a mass of writhing bodies.
I have not seen evidence of toads nor newts yet though I know both are there.

The evergreen euphorbia R is encouraging to spread beside the path to the pond has begun to sprout and its coloured nodding shoots are on every stem.

We have been away in Herefordshire and Oxford. (Went to the Pitt-Rivers Museum and came away with backache from stooping to examine the exhibits.
What an astonishing place.)
Now back and with gales having struck there are yet more fallen twigs on the banking - which I had just cleared.

The Witch Hazel, Hamamelis × intermedia 'Jelena', is showing its rich orange scented flowers. It lost a branch last year in a storm but is recovering well.

It is good to visit the grandchildren - I helped plant 13 fruit trees on Orcop Hill whilst there - but we both wish they were nearer. (The children not the trees.)

Sometimes I wonder for whom I am gardening. Yes, myself for exercise and for R to enjoy. But I wonder if the effort is worth it. Would I be happy living in a house surrounded by chaos? The wildlife would be perfectly contented with untended lawns and beds.
Perhaps this year I will cut the grass further away from the house longer. But then I say this every year and the control freak within me cannot let that happen.

Come on trees and shrubs, grow bigger and fill the empty spaces.

Saturday, 15 February 2014


We have had a sharp frost. The roof outside the bedroom window was covered in ice.
But it soon burned off in the sun and we were left with a mild, sunny day, warmth in the sun and a real feeling of spring - in early February.

Nothing seems to be harmed much and there are even, albeit sickly, nasturtiums in the green.

Preparing the garden has to move on apace - I noticed that the sides of the steam where it passes through the lawns really need digging out.

We are being entertained by our grandchildren - which remind me - congratulations to G and R and family and their imminent grandparenting - well in August.
Grandparenting is an event which comes as a surprise - yes, we'll look after him/her/them for a few days whilst you have a break then they return to find the grandparented couple sitting on a sofa staring into space wondering what hit them.

These are chives pushing up through the winter litter. Each year I have divided the bulbs and tried to make an edging to the blackcurrant bed - but I forgot this year. Nevertheless they are thriving and, like much, ahead of time.
Very tasty in salads and as a fine chopped topping to fish and stuff.

Our long suffering dog - he stands outside all year round (except when he is blown over by a gale) is going rusty. I think I will have to treat him with a rub down of oil. No matter what I say he either stares blankly or nods.

Note the winter pansies flowering behind him. The pot also has tulips now just shoving there plumules above the soil. (Nice word plumule?)

By afternoon and sunshine Doc is basking (if fading a bit) and the chimes are still.

Crocuses have opened and the wood is full of birdsong, thought mainly sparrows, tits and finches so twittering and chirping rather than singing. Then the robin begins to belt it out and all is well with the world.

Actually, as I was waking this morning I heard the laughter of a green woodpecker - but still have not seen him (or her).

One of the main clearing jobs is collecting fallen sticks - bits blown off the ash trees and some are now heaped as a small bonfire at the far end of the garden. However there are many subsidiary heaps that need to be gathered and moved. Anyway we will probably have a gale and then I will have to start all over again.

In the garden I can almost hear the plants muttering - shall I, shall I not? Is it time to grow? Is it too early?
I do have a sense of foreboding that we could undergo a cold spell (probably will - here we call it summer).

Really we have been so lucky up t' north when I hear of the floods in t' south. So what can be done? More flood defences, dredge rivers, plant lots of trees in the hills and inland to soak up the water, stop building on the flood plain, make tarring over gardens illegal, shift houses to higher ground?
They said on the television that some parts of the east coast are eroding away at two metres a year - so - in 25,000 years the tide will have reached the foot of the Pennine Hills - mm? - don't think I will worry about that one.

The settlements up here formed after the last ice age were up on the hills. No one much lived down in the boggy valleys where the wolves and wild boar roamed. Even in the fens one lived on highish ground if possible.

So, transfer everyone within 15 metres of sea level (or below) to high ground and grow rice on the food plain in paddy fields. Use the low land for crops.

It is easy to be smug sitting here 100 metres above the sea and three miles inland but it is terrible for all those affected. I hope it all dries up soon and the Gov. and Dept. of t' Enviroment gets its act together. Perhaps the centre of London needs to be flooded, the Houses of Parliament to be inundated and then something might get done.

ps. G and L - I hope your flash flood ruined caravan situation in Le Lavandou is resolved soon.

Thursday, 13 February 2014


And so early!

Here are there of the first clumps in amongst the water cress.
So, off I went down the garden carrying a rake and a plastic sack. I filled the sack with loose stones and buried into the hole in the pond wall. When the stream flow falls the pond will empty and leave the spawn high and dry. Then I raked mud from the bottom of the pond over the sack in an attempt to keep the water level high. I had meant to properly line the pond before spawning but have been to tardy.

Now it is too late.

The pond is on the bottom east corner of the garden in front of the Wendy House (R's writing shed) in the boggy area. The stream runs into one end and out true other. Unfortunately this means that silt and muck are washed down and fill it up.

I am glad to report that, despite slipping in the boggy bank I failed to fall in and lighten your day.

So, what does the next picture show?

It shows manure, good ripe horse manure lavished on the flowerbeds. I have been ranting on about this for a long time so thought I would let you see what it all about. The green shoots in the foreground are day lilies, a camellia to the right and roses straight ahead. The green bush on the left is a genista.

Not all parts of the garden are actively cultivated. The old log pile by the path down to the pond, well rotted and now gathering moss, is left well alone. This is a haven for invertebrates, small mammals and toads. It is infested with fungi and full of interesting nooks and crannies.

Now I know these are not our native wild primrose - still in leaf only - but a bought primula - I think given to us in a basket full of plants. It was plonked by the Wendy House and every year it starts to flower in January - a little ray of sun in a dark corner.

And so to the Winter Olympics - how contrived can events become - sliding on ice on tin trays, dancing on ice - is dancing a sport? Then there are Moguls - bumpy skiing - and suicidal jumping on a a skateboard without wheels.

I am surprised they do not have timed ice lollipop eating, whippy ice cream serving, standing on one leg on ice after dark whilst eating dry crackers competitions, curling hair and so on. Anyway it would be no good holding them here this year - speed skating would be breast stroke and crawl, backstroke and butterfly.

Perhaps they might have a special Putin gold award for the best prat fall on ice - did you see that only four of the five olympic rings opened - I wonder which one was the flop (I know it was the right hand one)(actually that fits - with Russia's political leaning being to the left)(Then again somehow the regime in Russia reminds me much more of a right-wing dictatorship).

Just a minute, someone is knocking on the door.

"Ah! Hello Vlad. Have you come for me? Mr P. objected to my linking him to the Hokey Cokey, did he."
"Oh! No, he wants to learn how to do it. He thinks it would look good on Mayday if the Red Army all did the Hokey Cokey in Red Square as they go past."

The mind boggles!!

Monday, 10 February 2014


Now I do not usually wake at 6:30 am but on Saturday morning there was a bright light and the sound of a hundred people bashing metal pans together, then electricity went off and came on again (the clock by the bed reset to 12:00) and we were awake. Then it hailed, wind blasted the house and further thunder and lightning trundled around us.

Noah art thou out there? The waters are rising - at least in the south of the country with devastating flooding and the world weather is a mess.

Anyway we tried to slumber another half an hour but, in the end, R got up and made a cup of tea which we drank in bed, reading books and waiting for the heating to come on.

And all is snowdrops and raindrops and ice drops and even pear drops which my son R brought the other day.

Sunday - As the weather was awful on Saturday there was not much to write about.
As I breakfast there is a cacophony of bird chatter outside the kitchen door. House sparrows have taken up roosting rights in a low bush on the banking. Their droppings litter the soil beneath.

Today the artist Fiona Clucas has come. R has bought me a painting, not yet done, for Christmas and I have muttered about having one of the garden. So she has come to look. I hope she is good at painting rain - no, I know she is a wonderful artist and the perfect person to paint for me. (When she reads this she will regret agreeing to do the commission.)

Here is yet another photo of snowdrops - this time under the top hedge. The hedge was supposed to be of various hollies but they have grown so slowly Rosa rugosa has been added and overtaken the holly.

We have our first crocuses under the roses. They are pale yellow but only come out in sunshine (so they do not come out).

There is no doubt that the leaf/flower buds are breaking on the flowering currant. If I rub one between my fingers the familiar smell of cat pee/currant is very strong but, funnily, not unpleasant.

So the grey wet days continue, the grey man wields his wheelbarrow, moves his manure and mulches his . . .  well, you get the idea.
Given the opportunity I shall dash out and do bits between the heavy showers.

As it is Sunday it has got me wondering what to do with the Rambling Rector (a rose) by the old well. It has become too big for its location and too big to move. Perhaps I should just let it explode everywhere and trim it if it becomes a nuisance. This then reminds me I should soon prune the other roses. Normally this would be done in March but with the weather as it is we are already in March. This applies only if the jet stream persists in whizzing across the Atlantic as it has done for the last couple of months.

One would think, with all of modern science - we can pop out to a comet a hundred million miles away - there should be some way to nudge the jet stream into a more amenable strength and direction?

So to conclude laterally, surely the title Global Warming is wrong, I much prefer the suggested alternative of Global Weirding.
Thus, if someone is pumping out masses of polluting gases (not referring to cattle) should they be called a Weirdo?

Friday, 7 February 2014


Thursday -
So here we are wrapped in vortices - love the word - it's going to rain, the sun is out, no it isn't, yes it is, my hat's blown off, I'm soaked, I'm cold, feel the warmth of that sun . . . . I'll mow the lawn, the wind has dried it, you can't it's February, the grass has never stopped growing, D is here for a chat, I'll put it off, it was a long chat, now it is dark, another day?

Today's weather forecast was gales and rain so I am looking out on the garden bathed in sunshine. I have cancelled golf and am going shopping for stuff to make a pork stew, pay the paper bill and get my watch mended.  
In fact also made marmalade with R's mother's recipe. Yum! - No I did not grow the Seville oranges as our climate is tooooo cold.

All this has nothing much to do with the garden so STOP RAMBLING LAD. 

This is our flowering quince already glowing by a sheltered wall. It's fruit are not edible up here but the flowers are a treat.
The flowerbed manuring is almost done so then I will mulch the shrubs and finish the veg beds. The compost heap needs a good tidy and I have still not got planks and such for new stream crossings, bed edgings and so on so must get on with that.

Friday -
A fine day helps, between the climate frenzy - R has pruned the buddleias around the septic tank so the service engineer can get to it. When they grow - summer on - they hide the thing. I have finished completely the manuring of the flower beds around the house and cleared some of the fallen sticks plus the dead stems of the wild angelica from further up the garden.
When the sun has shone today it has almost (I say almost) felt like spring in the sunshine. Having only light wind helps.

The snowdrops get better every day and the plan to have large areas of the woodland under flower is working. The first image shows the bulbs by the path up into the wood, the second using more localised planting, here by an old stump.

I have just bled onto my keyboard!
When I was making marmalade, see above,  I cut myself on R's super sharp knife. I put it down and it bounced up against my finger.
To help heal my finger I am partaking of a small can of Heineken lager. This is, of course, not a topical treatment but taken orally.

Outside my window dusk is approaching and there is not a breath of wind, the birds are fed up and the feeders empty.

You know, gardening is rather like a long race where the opposition keeps getting further and further ahead and all one can do is hope they dally at a feeding station so you can catch up - what a load of rot. As a multiple marathon runner - you can claim anything on the internet - I have never run further then four miles and that was five too many - I bet Mo has not shifted as much manure as I have.
Now there is a thought - not another one I hear you cry - I could get the British athletic team to come and shift my manure, dig my streams etc. It would be good training for them and I could supervise from my seat whist studying the pros and cons of a good wine. 
I could even borrow a Cryolab Sports cold chamber (they do not get into cold baths after running any more) from my friend PB. This would not be for the athletes but to keep the wine and beer cold. (Cannot afford champagne)(Anyway Prosecco is much cheaper).

Time to go before I get lost up my own vortex - another Low pressure system on the way - such is fate.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014


So it is February but it is still WINTER. At least you would think it was with snowdrops edging the strops and path up into the wood. That is how things ought to be at this time of year.


Yes, I know, It is a rose, a little moth-eaten (aren't we all)(well, I
speak for myself, sorry) but still a rose and beautiful, and scented.

So, speaking of scent, here is one or our sarcoccuses, or is it sarcococci? It is outside the back door (which is the side door)(which we use as a front door) and every time we go in or out its heady scent envelops us.
It is not a very pretty shrub and most of the year it is just a green bush - mind you R will be at it after it flowers to shape it into a nice ball - but at this time of year it is wonderful.

There are other things now out which ought not to be - like the wallflowers - and they have a glorious scent as well. These yellow ones are also by the back door (no I will not go into that again, you are reprieved) but we have some down in the veg/cutting beds that are nearly out.

Not all things in the garden, whether they should be flowering or not, smell good. This is the Corsican hellebore with its subtle green flowers. It has a close relation - the stinking hellebore - do not get close and have a good niff of that.
This is beautiful and it has been divided so we now have two quite large plants.

I put this photo on my Flickr site and got my knuckles rapped - I had said it was the stinking one but it ain't.

Now, gardens always produce surprises but this oriental poppy is completely out of season. Admittedly it looks a bit tattered but by February don't we all (unless we have been skiing in Florida or sunbathing on La Gomera.)

So, the Winter Olympics are coming up in Russia. You could not have held them here (unless you mean water skiing) but even the south of the USA might have been a possible venue. I hear in Russia they have changed the words to our good old dance, there Hokey-cokey. Out there they are not singing "You put your right leg in" etc but using inverse phrasing - "You PUTIN your right leg, you put out your right leg" etc.
Actually I have found that if I mention that man my readership suddenly blossoms in eastern Europe. Funny old world.

With the spring seeming to come so early so early - daffs in bud, goldfinches suddenly away from the feeders - flaunting their hormones and pairing up. (The sparrows never stop flaunting their hormones). Actually one of the most promiscuous birds is out little Dunnock. Small brown and grey bird - plenty of pics on Google - who knows which cock fathered which egg.

And so the low pressures again wind themselves into a frenzy and screech in from the wide Atlantic, rain plummets from the heavens and weather records are shattered. We non waterproof humans shelter from the chaos, watch our skin go wrinkly (okay mine is already wrinkly) and hair get tangled (not a problem for me as I have the family receding hairline and bald patch). Yet, the rain washes the goodness of the manure into the soil and later in the year the garden will be a riot of colour - well planned and subtle I mean. And as today's lack of winter frost means tomorrows plague of slugs I say come on ye amphibians, ye toads and frogs (and newts), gorge yourself and save my veg.

Saturday, 1 February 2014


Two days ago we had a light frost and sound carried like it had not done for weeks. Hedge parsley is out in the village - crazy world.

Now February has blasted its way in. Tides have been incredibly high flooding fields. Rain is lashing the window and the wind chimes in the old ash tree are going berserk. How the small birds hang onto the feeders when they are horizontal before the gale I do not know. The heavy wooden bench is on its back outside the kitchen door.

This morning there was a sprinkling of hail and sleet but it melted fast, turning sludgy and sloppy.

Prince Charles has had a go at climate change deniers (that is deniers  - nothing to do with grades of stockings and tights) and I agree. We always refer to the scientific evidence, when it suits us. There is NO DOUBT there is a more fragile climate, ask Americans over their recent cold weather, our floods and storms, California's drought and so on and so on. So to Prince Charles I say, 'Keep it up sir.' (Or something like that.) (No double entendre meant.) (I suppose I could go back to talking about gale force cows but will not mention them.)

Despite this dreadful winter some plants continue to thrive. The variegated mint should have lost its leaves long ago but is still growing. On the far wall the moss is thick and flourishing - though the damp mild weather will help there.

The snowdrops are out by the big sycamore, by the path to the writing shed. Every year we dig up about half of them and replant, in the green, elsewhere in the garden.

R has just bought some new gardening gloves at the Beetham Nurseries. I bought a slice of Bakewell tart and a shortbread biscuit. We did share them - after all I am on a diet (sort of). 
Now that is a silly statement. Whatever we eat is our diet so we are all always on a diet of some sort.
Just try not to eat too much dairy and beef - remember the venting bovines.
D***, I said I would not mention them, did I not.

So, there you are - a blog on climate change, Prince Charles and those cows but not necessarily in that order of importance.

Time for an apple.
Of course that gives me problems if the old saying is true.
If I have one a day does it keep me away? (Yup I am an ex medic - a past doc but not quite a Norwegian Blue.)(Yet.)