Saturday, 29 March 2014


March is still with us so beware the Ides, weather and cast no clouts.

So, this summer the boardwalk and ponds will go and become part of something bigger, pond wise.

The grandchildren have been down there this morning with nets catching tadpoles and we have a washing up bowl outside the kitchen door with them in, and a bit of watercress. (The taddies not the grandchildren.)
The willows in the distance will come out and I have an idea for them in the dell in the top of the garden - something sculptural R will probably hate.

I have seen no newts yet though we did introduce them last year but the odd toad has returned from its amorous adventures overland to a nearby tarn.

And we have had some blue sky!

We tidied the stream where it comes down from the top garden to the lower removing dead grass, old brittle angelica and hogweed stems, fallen sticks and other mess. We have a small maple there and it has been revealed. The royal fern had dead stuff taken away - no croziers yet.

The hawthorn is in leaf and the blackthorn coming into flower so I hope we are frost free so the sloes can set. We have not made any sloe gin for a year or two so, perhaps we can do that - if we have any fruit.

It is mother's day tomorrow and C has sent R a card with old photos of her and the three children taken from our Dropbox site. Fortunately I am not on them (being the one taking the snaps) to spoil the moment.

I am in two minds what, if anything, to do about the zig-zag path up from the lawn above the veg beds to the wooded area. The easiest solution would to be do nowt but then . . . ?

One of the joys of a garden with woodland is shadow, or rather the contrast between shadow and light. It moves with the sun (and occasionally moon) and adds an extra dimension to the garden. In the winter the tree shadows are sharper than when the leaves are on and the darknesses become denser.

Even at this time of year there are surprises in the garden - I had forgotten the purple anemones on the banking below the kitchen. Wild daffodils seem to spring up in new places.

April is almost with us, the swallows and martins returning - I hope they nest this year before the tree sparrows get in first. There is something uplifting when I am in the garden and the first swallow scythes air above my head, the sky becomes full of chatter - whoops, getting emotional - perhaps the winter for all its mildness was too long.

And this summer we will return to Wales, to Pembrokeshire, for a week with family, a walk to Broadhaven along the cliffs for a paper, tide out - a stroll to Madoc's Haven at the edge of the sea, watching Peregrine's dancing in the sky, listening to the grasshoppers in the sun, watching the sun set over St David's across St Bride's Bay.

Time to put the taddies back in the pond, must go!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014


So we have a small problem - lawnmower man versus nowt but paths and grass woman. Can we compromise? Can we? Mmmm! And we have the proposals from Gary re changing the garden. And I have still not got my mowers back from the service agent.

Let me get the daffs done first - they are splendid up by the wood and I love them tumbling over each other. I would have preferred them to be wild daffodils - we have some as you can see below - but

many bulbs were here before us and they just burst from the ground every year. We pick them, fill vases and the house is full of scent. So to those of you in Canada, especially London, at 43 deg north - come over here - we are at 53 deg north and, unlike you, it is not snowing. In fact it has not snowed significantly all winter.

Between the daff clumps there grow primroses - one of the most delicate and pretty flowers of spring. The narcissi are all a bit stiff and sappy but the primroses, especially when wet from rain or dew are a delight.

R has just been out blasting the back paving with the Karcher as it had become very slippery when wet. She seems to like doing it so who am I to object. Whilst she was doing this I weeded the bay bed by the shed and found it had become riddled with ground elder! There is, however, some satisfaction in digging up the long underground roots and following them to the end. Unfortunately there is probably no way I have got every bit. Weed killer might be called for - it is not somewhere mowable.
At this time of year the list of things to do grows faster than they can be done - well faster then I do them. The cutting garden has been tidied. Here you can see old tulips in the front and then a line of Sweet William (Stunkin' Wullie if you are Scots) which, of course, is grown as a biennial.

At the far end are the alstromerias and in between room for calendulas and other annuals. Actually there is a clump of last year's marigolds in the bed. I cannot throw them away without seeing how well they will do in their second year.
Our garden designer told me off (gently) for not using matting and mulch around all my trees and shrubs so they would grow faster without competition at the roots. Correcting this has been added to the list, slap wrist, naughty lazy boy.

Back to R and the lawn thingy - she hates lawns and wants long, wild bits with paths through. This is ok but it means that later in the year will come a need for strimming. Now my regular readers will know that I love strimming (Hem, hem) so she said we can get someone in to do it. Should I shout, Whoopee? (Love the Ray Charles version of Making Whoopee by the way).

So a big garden year approaches, my back twinges, my knees knock (and grate), you should see me - 'What a figure, what a bank balance,' what a load of rubbish. (Quote is from Major Bloodnok.)

The Invasion of the (not body) Time Snatchers comes this weekend. We are both looking forward to it and the joy they bring - the grandchildren. These events are also known as the Lego explosion when the big box in their spare bedroom is emptied onto the floor. Then from a seemingly meaningless jumble of bits of plastic comes a vehicle with a motor and flashing lights.

And final here are some pulmonaria in flower.

When I worked, in the 1980s, I had Sir Austin Bradford Hill as a patient. He was the statistician and epidemiologist who, with Richard Doll, were the first to demonstrate the connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. (So pulmonaria - lungs etc.)(Get on with it.) Well I visited him fairly regularly and he was a great talker but I never put two and two together (well I did and made zero) so finally he asked, "Do you know who I am?" I mumbled something negative. He then told me in no uncertain terms who he was. However he remained my patient whilst he was in the area despite this.
One just does not expect famous people to pop up in places like here.

Just a minute, there is someone at the door . . .

It is all right. It is only Mr Putin asking my advice on how he can become buddies again with Mr Obama.
(I did tell him - get everyone at the next summit to learn the Hokey Cokey but he had forgotten.)

(Any way mentioning him ups my readership numbers in Russia a lot.)

Sunday, 23 March 2014


There is something so uplifting about being past the spring equinox even if I was woken at 5 a.m. with loud borborygmi! At least they were mine - perhaps from eating rhubarb out of the freezer? For those who have not heard the word - Wikip will enlighten.

Looking at this pic of the path in front of the house I can see why I think curves are more attractive than straight lines (not that sort of curve).

I am not a fan of regimented rows of parks flowers and parks mass planting. must be the nature boy in me (song by Nat King Cole?)(irrelevant)

We have flowerings - the camellia is coming on strong as is the male pheasant guarding his two ladies - they have just been feeding outside the window, with him on guard.

The day is sunny, hang on, no it is not - it is raining, no hang on it is both. Cannot see a rainbow though. And it has been windy but then it is March - and we shall have snow - I hope not.

I know - another pic of a goldfinch but they are stunning - and - despite the disease wiping many out we have greenfinches at last.

It is wonderful to have scented flowers in the house - hyacinths and daffodils Also we have a skimmia in a tub outside the door we use (on the side, not the front etc etc). It is lowering well and filling the air with aroma.

Yesterday we cleared the dead grass and stuff from the stream cascade - it is already struggling - water level a bit low - despite the weather. It must have been drier than I thought. We burned off some of the dead grass and a few sticks were added to the bonfire.

At lease two of the damsons are showing promise of blossom and the pear is almost out.

The rhubarb is still too short to pull (and I forgot to put the forcing pot over some of it) so no fresh stuff yet.

I think the mower service people have sold them as no sign of a return.

I pruned back our weeping willow - except it is not - and has orange stems and is to be low pollarded to give new growth in the summer and winter stem colour. The prunings have been shoved in by the far fence where there is already some osier.

Now, I know I talk a lot about stuff so here is some really artistic stuffing - Textile Sculture by Paola McClure. We went to the Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries and she had on this wonderful exhibition.

Clearly this is of me after gardening and before a shower.

Thursday, 20 March 2014


I have just transplanted the greengage I and A gave us from the main lawn to beside the zigzag path. The reason is to make way for moving all the beech hedging up from the bottom garden to act as a screen for the veg and fruit beds and as a continuation of tun existing hedge.

Once in the tree was staked and mulched. Then a layer of water permeable sheeting was placed around the tree and a further layer of mulch added. Hopefully this will keep down weeds and reduce  competition for the young tree. Ideally I would have moved it when dormant in the late autumn but wanted to get on with it before it sprang into leaf.

 The top of the garden is now getting going with a wide expanse of daffodils and the primrose area. these are the wild native primrose not the cultivated primulas. Dividing and replanting the clumps is paying off.

I have yet to tidy where the stream leaves the top of the garden, to cut back the grasses and mulch the royal fern and small maple. We do not have many ferns in the garden and most of these are in the bottom hedge bank in the shade. R is not a great fan of them.

At the diagonally opposite corner of the garden we have a seating area by the Wendy house - this is a late afternoon sun trap. The stripy mug of tea is mine.

The stream from the current pond (watch this space) divides into two and this small channel will later be bounded by alchemilla mollis on the left and candelabra primulas and blue irises on the right. I have still to finish tidy ing this bed and removing the pendulous sedge seedlings.

On the other side of the shed from the seat is a shady bed mostly full of Fatsia but there are some crocuses there.
This is a stupid place to have put them as they are in the shade and need sunshine to open properly.

Mr Pheasant is outside my window and we have spotted two, yes two, potential partners for him. Then the strutting will begin - Oh! He is so full of himself (and a bit desperate after a long winter?)

The garden is greening, my cousin in Canada has green hair (for St Pat's Day)(which is odd as his name is Scottie)(and he lives in London)(Ontario).
So the hands of the clock are circulating towards evening and there are new leaves on the cercidiphyllum, we have three, so cercidiphylli? The Camellia is in flower - and planted out of the morning sun so the petals do not brown.
My golf is dreadful, my pot belly is worse and my, my, what a load of rubbish I produce. The cup of tea at my right hand is, nevertheless, welcome.

Monday, 17 March 2014


So, we have snuck off for a weekend to the delights of Balcary Bay in southern Scotland. and are back.

Before departing I chopped back a lot of the old dead grass on the upper banking and in the "natural" "wild" area by the stream. I placed hoops of the totally unbiodegradeable blue alkathene piping, left from the build, over the new strawberries in readiness for the netting. This will be to keep the avian fruit fanciers away. I know they are unsightly (not the birds) but they function well. I dug over any remaining veg bed undone, not really because I needed it done, though I did, but because we were being inspected by an eminent garden designer at the behest of R - who thinks, correctly, that I have run out of inspiration and run away to play golf. He was excellent and made me realise that I am a mean and lazy gardener.

He wants to enlarge the pond, I think, and do mass planting - I have been out calculating how many Betula Utilis jacquemontii I need to make the stand of trees decent. I came up with the figure of 15 more to add to our six! So with that and the pond my new car is on hold. (It was anyway). And the copper beech hedge is to be transplanted to extend the existing hedge and hide the veg beds from the house. Though the beech are not evergreen they do carry their leaves through the winter and look splendid in the sun when wet.
Now I have to admit that I do not have the final suggestions from Mr Gary Primrose and he may change everything but I wish I had the eye he has, the knowledge he has and sometimes it is a pleasure to meet someone who is genuinely nice. (20% off the bill for that I hope.)

We have lambs in the back field and they are already ganging up and sneaking under the gate into the track up to the house where the grass is greener. They are like a pack of crazy children, up to no good and in search of mischief. 

Then there is the grey thing eating my peanuts and now stealing the sunflower seeds from the feeders - I should say things as there are two. And, just when I think the little birds can feed undisturbed, Megatron, the local black cat stalks the garden or the woodpecker arrives and scatters all. And the frogs, well taddies, are vulnerable to predators so I have replaced the steel mesh - a bit of concrete reinforcing stuff - over a corner of the pond. This makes it difficult for the mallard and the heron does not like stepping into it.

Time for some inertia before the mowers come back from service - no, they are still away - so here is a photograph of stones on a windowsill corner.

The house is full of flowers - daffodils, primroses, the first forget-me-nots, wallflowers from the cutting garden. 
On of the joys of the garden is bringing it into the house and filling the rooms with colour and scent. In fact, even the Christmas hyacinths have final flowered and are on the sill under the Westmorland Window on the stairs. (This window is about ten feet high and narrow lighting the hall stairs and landing.)

Last night in the hotel I ended the day with a Talisker Whisky - very nice but hotel measures are so small (and pricey). I am not a big whisky (or any other alcohol) drinker but I did sleep well last night.
In fact I think I will just nip into the kitchen and have a big . . . cup of tea.

Thursday, 13 March 2014


Having received considerable comment at me getting R to slave away in the garden, down on her knees, I post another image - this time she is transplanting snowdrops in the green up in the woodland fringe. Whilst she was labouring away I was picking up a few sticks and then made a cup of tea - this we drank sitting on a seat by the house. It is very useful to have a grand grafter in the family (makes up for me!). I just give her her little pink plastic trug, she dons her gardening gloves, grabs a hand fork and off she goes. She does not need winding up and runs on tea. Robots eat your heart out!

This is the view in early March up the garden from beside the pond and below the view of the house on top of the lower banking from the same place.

One of the joys of the spring garden are the clumps of small daffodils carefully placed on a corner here, at the foot of a tree there, in forgotten places after the leaves have died down.
I have plans to do more of this all across the garden. I will use the smaller bulbs as the big daffs and narcissi are better, I think, in swathes across the bankings.

Whilst I am writing I have some classical stuff playing - Canteloube, Chansons d'Auvergne, George Butterworth's A Shrospshire Lad and Che Gelida Manina by Puccini. The latter sung by Beniamino Gigli was a favourite of my mother though she also loved the singing of William Heddle Nash.
I love this music though I might suddenly change to Don MacClean singing Empty Chairs or Howling Wolf and Spoonful!
On the way down to the Wendy House we have a bank of evergreen Euphorbia now unfurling its flower heads. R loves this display and they go on for months. There are a few montbretia (crocosmia) here and an ornamental pink flowered strawberry but these latter plants are being shoved out of the way.
I will have to tame the invasive euphorbia as it tries to come up through the paths.

This small shrub covered in pretty flowers is a corylopsis - each individual blossom is a delight, it flowers before most others and does not have the harsh yellow of the common forsythia. (I know, there is a pale yellow one.)

Now I will probably be sued for adding this fantastic cartoon by KJ Lamb which I  have nicked from The Oldie magazine (a sort of cross between Private Eye, Punch and Saga magazine) but it is wonderful.

I will delete it if requested (some chance - no one from The Oldie, nor Mr Lamb is likely to read my blog.)(Unfortunately.)

No more to be said today.

I shall now depart and take a slug of something good, perhaps Irish whisky like 12 year old Redbreast?

Do you ono it is almost impossible to type with a slur.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014


Last Thursday it rained all day, all night and into Friday. Then at 9am the sun came through. Everywhere was glistening and sharp. The air had been scrubbed clean.
The stream was roaring, the pond overflowing at three points. I walked the garden where I could. The first wild daffodils were flowering (much preferable to the many garden varieties)(but then I am biased - living in Wordsworth's country) as are the wild primroses.
Just standing still and hearing the coo-ee of the goldfinches, a robin giving forth in the big sycamore, even the guttural croak of the cock pheasant was wonderful.
We have two squirrels - on Friday morning hungry and chewing at the feeders - both bedraggled.

The spring that has appeared just above the Bramley apple worries me - it cannot be good for its roots as the water sogs the ground. (Good word sog.) Perhaps I will have to put in some sort of drain and divert the flow.

The far top area of the garden in the wood is laced with small water channels all heading to a confluence on the right of the picture. I have to keep these open as best I can. They often dry up in summer and overflow at other times. Drains could be put in to replace and hide them but then, when we have a downpour, these drains would not be big enough to cope - thus flooding.

I have repaired the chiming duck C gave me. It needed restringing after being taken apart in a gale. Whilst I was doing this I found a hibernating ladybird under one of the feet.

And so to a bit on birds and our sparrows.
This is the view through the gazed double doors in the kitchen. The bush outside is the sparrow roosting site (you can tell by the droppings underneath) and when they are feeding on the nearby seed they queue up here.

More garden news - R rang a garden designer but he was away - a week's reprieve!

The greenery sprouting through the soil (well the manurey mulch) is like a few days beard growth all at once. With this week's weather forecast for high pressure (the first time for 3 months) it will mean warm days and frosty nights but, more importantly, no rain.

As long as the water level stays up the frogspawn will be ok.
As you can see there is enough to cause a biblical plague in the area. (Assuming it is not all eaten).

And so to hugging - not trees but peanut feeders. This squirrel has found the thing it has been searching for many days. It is not going to let any other squirrel or any bird have access to its peanuts.

I have just had a friend I. here for coffee and he only has two or three pots in his yard. However I felt, not admiration for the garden, but sympathy - for mowing, weeding and gardening. You know, there is a part of me in agreement with this.

And so as the little hand gets to twelve and the liquidised beef stroganoff masquerading as soup is about to be reheated I bade you a temporary farewell.

(ps. Gillie - I have entered the poem on Donegal into the Strokestown Festival Poetry Competition where, no doubt, it will founder without trace.)

Saturday, 8 March 2014


I start with a pair of collared doves, usually together wrapped in their lovey relationship. You can see where the colour dove grey gets its name. Here he is puffing out his chest whilst she gets on with the important things like feeding. He ponces around smothering her with his affection. She must wonder at his display - 'It is all very well, dear, but sometimes you are a bit of a prima donna.'

Then a cry comes from the bedroom (nothing to do with the doves), there is a heron in the pond.

Another grey bird but one with an evil eye, an eye on frogs for a tasty morsel. It moves along the walkway in slow motion, a big bird so it will need a lot of amphibians to fill its crop. It comes every year but there always seem to be enough frogs and new froglets (post taddie) to provide new spawn at the start of the year.

In the wilder part of the garden, by the stream, the golden saxifrage is coming out. A small flowered, yellowish green plant that forms carpets of early colour on wet bankings.

Today is a mizzly day - mild with very fine soaking rain drifting into the trees. The grass is sodden so I stay off the lawn. From my study the far top garden is misty and mysterious. Despite this precipitation the birds are crammed on the feeders. It says something for how waterproof their plumage must be.

One plant that has flowered all winter is the shrubby honeysuckle and, because of its scent, I think I would like more, near paths and doors not just on the lower banking.

I have been manuring again - mulching the climbers in the willow tunnel. (It is no longer a true tunnel as the osiers have grown out at the top - more a small avenue of trees.) The horseradish is stirring and has been mucked as the back of the herb bed. However, the herbs at the front need poorer soil so no feed for them.

And so to the purple crocus, one of R's favourites. These three are in our garden and I must remember to get a lot more for naturalising in the autumn.

At the church the whole graveyard is a sea of crocus colour - a purple pasture.

One of the problems with bulbs is recalling where they were after the leaves die down.
In the example shown a Fatsia has been bunged in by yours truly and plonked on top of some daffodil bulbs - which are now flowering.

I am useless at remembering what is where and too lazy to label everything. So, year on year, quirky things happen, surprise associations between plants - which, occasionally, work. (Mmm! Occasionally.)

Pastrami sandwiches for lunch. I say this for my North American readers, both of you, so you feel more at home. Then some toast and marmalade - I say this for my British reader the make he (or she) not feel ignored. Then a cup of tea for my Indian reader.

Enough prattle, I am hungry.