Thursday, 29 May 2014


We have swallows nesting under the roof outside the kitchen. Never thought they were coming.

This is a path!
The plants, especially the day lilies, have grown over it. Now, this is fine in dry weather but definitely to be avoided when the leaves are wet. Then you emerge the other side with wet leg disease.

 The garden is bursting with flowers and we are amazed at the white lilac - before it has only had the odd flower but this year - well! And the scent of that and the sweet rocket next to it is heady.

As usual the comfrey has self seeded despite attempts to avoid this. Now I have to decide whether to leave it be, dig it out or make an evil brew from it. The evil brew is a foul smelling concoction created by steeping the crushed plants in water. However it makes a good plant food if diluted in water.

This comfrey has particularly blue flowers and is rather beautiful so I will be leaving it be, for now.

I am in need of mowing but the weather is overcast and spitting, the grass wet and it will clag up the mowers. (Don't you just love the word clag - it sums up what happens when the grass sticks and the blades grind to a gluey stop. The word is of Scandinavian origin - sticky mud. (Danish - klag.) (Isn't the internet wonderful?)  (Sometimes.) There is another word we have here - clart. This means almost the same and the OED just gives it 17th century origins. (Much older than that, I think) (Words like clag and clart must be Norse or Anglo-saxon in origin - they are not latin like at all.)

Where was I?

This is a big foxglove, big because it is growing in the manure placed around the variegated horse radish - small white flowers.

So many plants in the garden have medicinal uses - digitalis for heart disease from foxgloves and we all know what you get from poppies - heroin, but also other opiates like codeine, morphine and so on. Mint to settle the old colic, Oh! cannot go on for ever - Herbals are hundreds of pages long.

Some plants are strongly aromatic. I went out to a poetry meeting last night and R had cooked pasta with lots of GARLIC! I had to sit a bit away from the fray. However there is something special about aromatic leaves - brushing the hand through them or occasionally rubbing a leaf - lovage, sweet cicely, catmint, santolina.

I just read that lovage can be Chelsea chopped - cut half of the long flowering stems back now and they will flower later.
I will not be doing that though as I like the eight foot high stems making their statement by the back door. (The one at the side.)

 To finish - here is a photo of the boardwalk (rotting), Wendy House (okay) and invisible pond before the big pond people get at it.

Feeling a bit nostalgic already.

Monday, 26 May 2014


Fiona Clucas is up the garden at this moment doing my Christmas present. I am rurally looking forward to this - see not about wood and photo below.

Let me start with a load of old plastic sacks - these are the tulips evicted from the spring pots and bagged up until they die back. Then the best bulbs can be stored until next year.

One of the emptied pots was the one made from a hot water cylinder we bought at Canon Frome last year. This has been bedded with annuals.

So from sacks to boot wearing - this is the parsley, unfortunately beginning to grow successfully. I say unfortunately because of the old saying that where the parsley grows well the lady of the house wears the boots.
I do not really mind as she has always worn the boots and I like parsley. (Had to put that in.)

Today I have been fighting the weeds which I had left far too long. Bindweed and the odd grassy weed I am used to, creeping buttercup is a real PAIN!!! and now we have been invaded by common vetch, latin name vicia - so you can see where the word vicious came from. It has entwined itself through the saxifrages and amongst the white campanula.
I filled two wheelbarrows with the stuff.

The aquilegia are again fantastic and the deep purple ones put into a vase with the overwintered campanulas - the big orange ones - are a great together.
I love purple and orange together but they are not complementary colours - like red and green. Orange goes with blue and yellow the one for purple (or magenta.)
Anyway I like the two together.
Be bold, I say, be bold.

This morning I got out of bed and took a leisurely look up the garden and there, down by the asparagus was a RABBIT!
Here we go again.

Up in the wood the wild flowers are just magical, especially in the early morning light, wrapped in bird song and before the breeze gets up.
Early or late can be the best time to walk the garden.

Coming back from the wood towards the house our chappie is still reading his book by the ash tree. At least the weather is warmer now.

And then around the front of the house the clipped shrubs are getting too big - lovely shapes but a hack back will be called for later in the year. The greys are Brachyglottis and the yellow one a something else - It will come to me one day.

The lower photo shows how it was six years ago in the early days.
What a change time a (and a load of well rotted horse manure) can do.

It is a pittosporum.

I have just read Gardeners World Mag. and sent off four images to their readers' photos page - well you never know. (Perhaps I do.)

So Chelsea Flower Show is over. I did not watch it all on the TV - talk about overkill - and anyway I am not interested in hyper-manicured plots, things that cost tens of thousands of pounds, gadgets that every gardener should have but will never use. (I call this Lakeland Plastics Syndrome - the things one has to have but will never use more than once.)(Our ice cream maker sits in the Utility conceding defeat to a plastic tub from the supermarket.)

Totally disconnected thought - somebody needs to make an efficient, quiet and light to handle strimmer.

Thought over.

We had asparagus for lunch - but only two spears were our own - the rest were from the supermarket - and tasted poor compared to our own. I have decided to try and restore the asparagus by moving it, and getting some new stock, to another bed. This one will have better drainage and a lot of grit and sand in the soil to make it lighter. I remember as a young man the plant growing wild back of the dunes near Southport.

Perhaps I will divide and move the rhubarb to the existing bed to revitalise that. It has become overcrowded.

Perhaps I will not?
Perhaps I will have a cup of - no - a glass of beer!
Yes, that is it, beer.
Two barrows of weeds - I have earned it.

Saturday, 24 May 2014


I am still recovering from wonderful scones I ate two days ago - thank you Barbara. I need half an hour in the Gym and water for a week to balance the calorie count. But they were superb.
Then I took R to see, well rather listen to the Courtney Pine Band at the Coro. (Coronation Hall in the local town). Sound blasted and stunned - some virtuoso playing.

Back to gardens -
So, I am talking white, in the month of May, when the track up to the house is bounded by hawthorns dripping in petals like snow. The May blossom has been wonderful this year.

And then, when one gets close up it only gets better. The energy required to shove out so much must be staggering - it is such a pity the fruit are not as luscious. Imagine if the berries were like small Victoria plums - sweet and juicy straight from the branch.

Out in the garden the left hand side of the lower banking is now a haze of Hedge Parsley - though with it being a wild plant, weed I hear some cry, you have to be a bit careful or it can spread everywhere. In fact, this year, I am surprised by the number of hogweed seedlings in the flowerbeds - a nasty plant that can burn you with its sap - but majestic in stature.

To the right of the paved area, by the path up to the wood is a white lilac. This has flowered a bit before now but this year it is splendid. Across the path the white Dame's Violet is falling onto the path. The rain has weighed it down. As soon as it starts to go over I will trim it back and move to another location. It has become very large and is really in the wrong place - hiding the oriental poppies from view as they are also coming into flower. 

Above on the banking are two cercidiphyllums (cerciciphylli?) and R thinks one should be moved. However I like to flout "rules" if I can - plant in 3s, 5s etc - and want to see how the two close together develop. (And I have just realised that the entwined willows by the pond will go when we excavate - Boo!)

This plant is an osteospermum - not fully hardy previously in our garden, it has survived the mild winter and is flourishing. There is a big one at the golf club locally and this has thrived for many years though they are nearer the sea and its warmth.

In the banking in front of the house is an area with very poor soil and here saxifrages like this one and London Pride grow happily.

The white of the cherries has passed on to the May and to finish on a grey note, the collared dove is still ensconced on her sticks on the beam above my bench. Not much of a nest, is it!

(I hear a cry - 'What mucky paintwork under the roof!'
Well, yes - but we have a man coming this summer to repaint - which causes all sorts of bird nest difficulties. And the colour in the image is wrong - something to do with low lighting - we paint with a Leyland double for Farrow and Ball Grey Number 91.)

Just had my cuppa tea so must go out and fill the bird feeders now. Wooly top on - temperature has dropped 10C in the last few days.

Well, I am English (albeit with some Scots and Manx chucked in) and we cannot go long without talking about the weather.

Thursday, 22 May 2014


Well, plenty of rambling as usual.
I water the rhubarb and it rains. It pours with lightning and thunder - cause and effect?

Look at this, only a couple of months ago here was nothing here except a leafless white lilac. There is also white hesperis everywhere - scented sweet rocket. Another name, for the pinkish variety, is Dame's Violet. I got some seed from Sarah Raven and whizzo!

Chelsea Flower show is upon us and, this year, I have not chopped back my sedum spectabile etc but remembered to tie them in to a central stake. We will see if it works or the plants just do the Chelsea flop as per usual. The paths in the wood are looking more pathlike and I am going to experiment with the rough lawn area. paths will be mown with the small mower set low and on mulch. The rest will be mown with the big mower set high and we will see. I am thinking that I will save seed from the bluebells, red campion and pignut and sow this amongst true white birches. Perhaps I could follow this with Ox-eye daisies.

I have just been to see how much old sleepers are and found that they are about £30 plus - and I need about ten at least - and that does not include the thought of steps down to the new pond.                     (:-( )=
Why do smileys lie sideways? 
The green flowers are naturally sycamore - I muttered about them before as poor man's laburnum and such stuff.

These are the six white birches in the far garden where I may (pricey) plant another dozen or more.

The red candelabra primulas are in full swing with an odd creamy one. The yellow are about to come out. The orange ones seem to have gone and a new sowing will be needed after the pond is done.

I have just taken out the old tulips from the pots and bagged them up in old plastic sacks (thank you Sue) in some compost. Holes were put in the sack bottom for drainage and now we wait for the foliage to die down. Then the fat bulbs will be cleaned and put somewhere dry until the autumn. The small ones can be thrown away. (Or you could plant them in a disused corner and wait a few years fro them to fatten up.) Sue has given us a tray of seedlings including white cosmos. A concerted effort will be made to not let the slugs and snails have them this time.

We are about to have our second meagre meal of asparagus - not happy veg. May have to scrap them.

A bit about birds - we may have two cock pheasants and partners, long-tailed tits nesting somewhere nearby, kestrel overhead, collared dove steadfastly siting on her beam, swallows nesting in the stable next door but NOT here, tree sparrows making a din and mess at the gable top in their purloined martin nest and so on. And the cock chaffinch outside my window is still singing all day - now for nine weeks - some voice box.

Finally here is my lovely willow avenue again.

'Nuff said.

Monday, 19 May 2014


It is hot - well for here, 21C and my extra lard cover is causing overheating, (let alone overeating), problems.

Just noticed our variegated phormium has put up a flowering stem - this is going to be dramatic but we must be aware of its self seeding potential.

The garden is bursting with stuff and my willow avenue (that was meant to be a tunnel) is looking fantastic. So, will I be resistant to it being cut down and taken away under the new plans?

The removed clematis and honeysuckle are doing well in their pots - will I want to put them back?
Will R let me?
Will Gary Primrose put his foot down?
Who cares if it does not lead anywhere?

Have put in a big leaved rhododendron from Stonefield Castle at the foot of the path up to the wood - it can grow away there without care.

I have trimmed back the grass, put down a black permeable membrane and covered with old manure as a much on the small shrubs below the path. The strawberries are strawed as they are in flower. I have been told I should nip out all flowers this year but Hey!

So now I am going to talk blue for a moment, no not that sort of blue - I mean, would I talk like that? Well, perhaps after nettling myself or grasping a bramble in error. I mean as in bluebells in the wood or forgetmenots in then rose bed as shown here. Blue is such an interesting colour in the garden - good blues are hard to find as so many are violaceous (big word) or purply. Actually bluebells are a bit like that. 

And now for Sweet Cicely, a wild umbellifer with an aniseed flavour in the leaves. It seeds itself about so one has to be wary but it thrives in the garden. Here it is already becoming dwarfed by the lovage (lemony flavoured leaves) at the back. Umbellifers are welcome - most of them - in the garden. The wood is a sea of beautiful pignut, small and delicate. Queen Anne's Lace (hedge parsley) had responded to being sown on the banking by R and flourishes, the garden is host to wild angelica - ok - and hogweed - dramatic but a nasty piece of work.
And here is the inside of the rhubarb forcing pot - a thrushateria with ready to go snails.

I read today that if you throw them more than 65 feet away from the garden they do not come back so i must go out and get a catapult. Actually I could make a catty with some knicker elastic and a forked twig.

On the left are flowers on the crab apple, on the right red currants behind netting. I have hopes that we might get some before the blackbirds but they are cunning and persistent b****rs. No, not that but beggars - you thought different? We are back to blue?
Well, I am exhausted, my thought processes and inspiration is/are exhausted and I fancy a beer - yes not a cuppa tea!

More soon.

Friday, 16 May 2014


This garden, this England etc etc (parody on Dicky 2 from Billy Shakespeare).

Let me start with the news that we are back from holiday in northern Scotland in proud possession of two (possibly three) young rhododendrons from the garden at Stonefield Castle - picked up on the way back. Yes, the Mull of Kintyre is a strange way to return from the Summer Isles but that is what we did.

Secondly the 'do not go away' adage for gardeners applies - lawns now recovered somewhat - but the asparagus is twisted and stunted. (We have eaten it and it is okay (ish)). I thought that it might have been slugs hence the buried jam jar part full of cider (cheaper than beer in a screw top). And I have caught some victims. However I now think I have the dreaded cutworms in the bed. These are moth caterpillars and there is not, much I can do if we want to eat our asparagus. Perhaps an insecticide after we stop picking? Not too keen on chemicals on the fruit and veg.

Not a sign of a nesting swallow nor house martin. The tree sparrows are once more ensconced in the old martin nest under the eaves and then we found a dozy collared dove has made a rudimentary nest of sticks on the green oak beam above on of our seats. It matters not that I sit there and read, she sits firmly on her nest and must have eggs. It is not a bad place to nest - sheltered and pretty safe from predators but they do strike me as a bit mentally slow birds.

Up in the wood the three yellow azaleas are in bloom and scent - such a heady pong.

The wood still has bluebells but they are now giving way to campion and pignut, herb Robert and wood avens.

The wild garlic or ramsons has been splendid if not the most sweetly fragrant plant in the wild garden and the top pond is choked with watercress - both the wild and the cultivated variety.

Preparations have begun to deal with the bankings, started at the far end (because it is the smallest area) and the jungle is being cleared prior to planting up.
I have bought a second hand chipper from a friend (the old one I had died) and this will, I hope give us some wood chipping mulch to put around new shrubs.

The Bramley apple tree is clearly not on a dwarfing rootstock as it is shooting skywards and picking poles will be needed (if we have fruit) - (we have blossom).

R has been weeding, I have netted strawberries and red currants but am disappointed at the no show of the various sowings of flowers and broad beans. The sweet peas in the shed are through though.

Time is approaching for the return of Fiona Clucas and the realisation of my Christmas present from R - a painting of the garden. Excitement reigns -  like my paintings.

Whilst in Scotland we loved the silence and the dramatic scenery - this is Suliven from above the Kercaig Waterfall.

This has nothing to do with gardening but just sitting on that hill and looking over the expanse of moor to the mountain made me realise how small a 1.75 acre garden is.

One other peak which was visible from our cottage was An Teallach. Oh! The wonders of the gaelic language and its pronunciation (let alone its spelling.)
Give it a go.

And whilst you are contorting your tongue and lips here is another photo from our cottage of a sunset over Rubra Mor -

So, here you are - it sounds something like - An Tchollock.

I hear cries of anguish from the Gaelic world at my attempt but that is what it sounds like to me. Anyway I can pronounce Aberlour, and Talisker - at least when open the bottle.
Did you know they have whisky distilleries now in Switzerland!
Anyway, not as good as the Japanese stuff. (That will get me into trouble again.)

Still, good to be back in our own claustrophobic plot.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014


I am not topping up the feeders as much - the birds have spaced themselves out, I presume for breeding purposes, rather than all of them coming for breakfast, lunch and tea. 
What - no, not spaced out, what do you think I am feeding them, but spread out.

 Primrose still flourish and in a couple of weeks will be divided and spread. A banking of this wonderful wild plant in spring is a delight.

The buddleias that were pruned back hard earlier in the year are now sprouting madly. These are the ones around the septic tank and you can see that you cannot see it any more. The shrubs put on so much growth every year and they do not demand luxurious conditions. In fact in town they have self sown up brick walls and all sorts of crannies.

Behind the Wendy House where words pour onto paper, well into a lap top, (not me but la belle dame from the Mersey)(sorry Keats) the wild cherry trees have been full of blossom. The last few years they have been a bit straggly but the mild winter seems to have given them a boost.

With my back to the bluebells and the brambles wot need removing, this view is down the stream. At the top of the image the water bears left but the intention is to take it straight on to the hedge ditch.

We have eaten our first asparagus - one stick each - but on examining the bed there are many more to come. Recent years have been poor for the vegetable so fingers crossed. (And knees, feet and teeth.) (Whoops - a sentence with no verb - naughty writer.)(Sorry sir.)

We have also eaten our stewed rhubarb and R has found a recipe for rhubarb chutney - a sort of savoury laxative rather than a sweet one. Liking rhubarb runs in the family. (Very weak joke.)(Another verbless production.)
Also I have noticed lots of nascent figs on our bush - come on weather, let us have sun and ripen the crop.

Tadpole update - to all tadpoles in the pond, you are doing well, keep swimming. To newtpoles - are you there?

Now Harry and Cressida have had a tiff so I issue my Gadaffi/Putin invite to come for tea and let us sort this thing out. I know they will not even reject my offer (as they will not know about it) but, Hey! as Alastair says in As Time Goes By - it is an age thing, watching old gentle comedy series on the Drama channel - but Hey!

Trees in leaf, well, not the ash, they are way behind, and views up the garden become restricted, yet this creates framed vistas as one walks about.
(I know, you can hardly have much of a vista in a smallish garden (well, not smallish as it is nearly 2 acres) - cannot think of a word for a small vista - vistalette, minivista, hasta la vista (beware the Terminator)(Schwartzenegger means 'Somebody who lives up a black mountain'.)

I ramble.

As usual.

No it is not lateral thinking.

Just thoughts wandering off and getting lost.

Go on - show 'em another tulip.

All right I will.

Friday, 9 May 2014


One of the joys of gardens is experimenting with colour combinations. Sometimes they work, sometimes - AAAAArgh!

Some are planned some are surprises.
Here are some dark purple tulips and forget-me-nots - not a combination that leaps out at one but it works, at least I think so. Not planned as the blue is self-seeding and I forgot where I had put the tulips.
In actual fact the tulips are darker than this photo shows so the contrast is more dramatic.

A surprise came when the forget-me-nots sowed themselves in a pot with a brachyglottis. The grey foliage and blue flowers work well.

Every year some of the catalogues sell bulbs as preordained selections - like the one below by Sarah Raven.

Now, orange and purple may not seem like an ideal match and as seen here it is challenging.

One last mention of tulips, a complete change from the bright deeply saturated shades above, here white tulips and pale daffodils commingle to lift the garden.
Every garden needs white - it is an essential colour (or non colour).

The predominant colour in almost all gardens is green in all its varieties so though the alchemilla with their yellow/green flowers are wonderful, mix with catmint and one enters a different dimension.

Our garden in May becomes a sea of old fashioned Aquilegia (Granny's Bonnets, Columbine) in pinks and purples all self sown as I leave the seed heads on. They are a delight, especially where the come up through grey foliage

Some years ago, before Askham Hall near Penrith ( became a hotel and cafe the gardens were open to the public under the Gardens scheme and they had a large border of cram be and pink foxgloves - wonderful en masse.
Now you cash go to the gardens, eat in the cafe and then cross the river and see the gardens at Lowther Castle (

One of the loveliest whites is also a foxglove, here in the garden at Holker Hall with climbing tropaeolum. (

Some people find the combination of red and white has other associations (like death) and so do not use them together. This is a sad piece of superstition as the combination can be good.

Of course gardening is something that has gone on for millennia.

Here is a poem to illustrate this -

The Gardener

I took money and bought some flowering trees
And planted them out on the bank to the east of the keep.
I simply bought whatever had most blooms,
Not caring whether peach, apricot, or plum.
A hundred fruits, all mixed up together;
A thousand branches, flowering in due rotation.
Each has its season coming early or late;
But to all alike the fertile soil is kind.
The red flowers hang like a heavy mist;
The white flowers gleam like a fall of snow.
The wandering bees cannot bear to leave them;
The sweet birds also come there to roost.
In front there flows an ever-running stream;
Beneath there is built a little flat terrace.
Sometimes I sweep the flagstones of the terrace;
Sometimes, in the wind, I lift my cup and drink.
The flower-branches screen my head from the sun;
The flower-buds fall down into my lap.
Alone drinking, alone singing my songs,
I do not notice that the moon is level with the steps.
The people of Pa do not care for flowers;
All the spring no one has come to look.
But their Governor-general, alone with his cup of wine,
Sits till evening, and will not move from this place!


(Translated from the Chinese by Arthur Waley)