Monday, 30 December 2013


On a cool bright day, a hiatus between the low pressures sweeping in from the Atlantic, R and I have been in the garden - cutting back catmint, clearing debris, removing self seeded forget-me-nots and enjoying the weak December sun. 

We walked to town in the morning for a coffee and I took this picture from the road below the house. You can see my understuff on the washing line. You can see our Notable Tree - the big sycamore which hides the house in the summer - and the woodland beyond which protects us from the westerlies. 
After we stopped gardening we walked the garden as we often do and in the boughs of a small prunus - that has purple foliage - we discovered a nest. Everyone had walked past this without seeing it. The construction is of grasses and moss, then lined with sheep wool and incredibly soft.

All around the garden there were stirrings of a New Year - buds greening on the flowering currant, snowdrops showing the first signs of white petals, daffodils pushing out of the soil and grass.
When we reached the lower garden by the Wendy House (writing shed) we sat on the bench and looked back up the walkway over the boggy ground. It was clear that there is still a lot of work yet to do.

Moving on - we had another tragedy - a dead goldfinch. I suppose with all the Nyger seed feeders it was an accident that was going to happen sooner or later. The colours in the plumage are fantastic - perhaps only surpassed in Britain by those small blue and white jay feathers. One can understand, if not approve of, people keeping these birds in a cage as an adornment for the house.

Now, on Christmas Day I went next door with their card and on the way cleared out the drain in the field. The water comes out of the ground in the bottom right of the photo and runs into the top of our garden. A previous farmer drained the field and just let the run off go through our fence. To stop the upper garden becoming a quagmire I dug a small channel and this takes the water down to our stream (which is also a product of clumsy drainage in the field).

And finally - last blog I gave a list of books - to which readers have added their favourites.
This December I was presented by my friend Neil Curry with his translations of a selection of the work of Jules Supervielle - The Fable of the World (Shoestring Press). This is an interesting take on the Creation and well worth a read. You do not have to be a religious person to enjoy it - though God does pop up a lot. (That conjures up an intriguing image - God popping up.)

And so to the approaching year of 2014. The first stirrings of ideas are beginning to emerge. I have already been berated by R for making ANOTHER flowerbed. 
Mind you, if you do not have flowerbeds then you tend to grow weeds. 
Mind you, if you do you tend to grow weeds!
The difference is that, where there are beds there is weeding.

And then to the discoveries, bird nests, new shoots, four seeding buddleias by the corner of the house, a seedling hypericum, the gooseberry cuttings I thought were dead are not, the pink top of a rhubarb plant is poking through the manure, that we do not need a big pond - small dams in the stream will provide stagnant water for the frogs, toads and newts.

There is barely a breath of wind in the garden this sunset. I cannot hear the distant drone of traffic on the A590. This year is going out with optimism in view - which for miserable old me is a big surprise - more exercise, more diet, more hope and for my reader, more blog.

Have a wonderful 2014.

Thursday, 26 December 2013


Now is the time to gather up one's loin cloth and make with the exercise and diet restraint. The trouble is a huge plate of leftover turkey meat, boxes of chocolates and nibbles bought and not consumed, and an inner lethargy great enough to send me to sleep before I wake.

So, at this time of year, on dark nights, it is time to get out the books, light the wood burner and contemplate the garden.
(Actually I am reading The Black Box by Michael Connelly).
I have many books on my shelves - a list is below. Some I regularly look at, some rarely, but at one particular time they have given me ideas or answers.

It is clearly going to be a wild going out of the year, wind and rain rather than wintry weather, boggy underfoot and a bit miserable.

I have not yet dragged the watercress from the ponds nor trimmed back the dead meadowsweet. A good clearing is needed but I will have to be careful with the wild life - leave the stuff removed from the water on the bank for a day so creatures can crawl back into the water.

The Wendy House looks rather lonely at the bottom of the garden, waiting for warmer weather to be used again. R writes in the kitchen where it is always a comfortable temperature because of the Aga range.
There is a holly in the hedge near the lower pond and it did have berries but they are now well digested by the birds.
I ramble.

As soon as I am into this New Year there will have to be some planning - a scale back of workload, I think, letting the wild garden be wilder, less managed - but then, as I am a bit of a control freak, that may be easier said than done.

I promised you a list and here it is -

A Gardener's Book of Names - Michael Paffard,
The Englishman's Flora - Geoffrey Grigson,

The Natural History of The Garden - Michael Chinery,
Creating a Wildlife Garden - Bob and Liz Gibbons,
The Wildlife Pond Handbook - Louise Bardsley,
Managing The Wet Garden - John Simmons,
The Wild Garden - Violet Stevenson,
Collins Wildlife garden - Stefan Buczacki,

Gardens for Small Country Houses - Gertrude Jekyll and Lawrence Weaver,
The Essential Garden Book - Jasper Conran and Dan Pearson,
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation - Charles Jencks,

Silva - John Evelyn,
Herbal - Nicholas Culpepper,
Herbal - John Gerard,
Horse-hoeing and Husbandry - Jethro Tull,
The Gardener's Assistant - Robert Thompson and Thomas Moore,

Organic Futures: The Case for Organic Farming - Adrian Myers,
Coppicing and Coppice Crafts - Rebecca Oaks and Edward Mills,
Organic Gardening - Charles Dowding,

The Encyclopaedia of Plants and Flowers - RHS,
The Gardening Year - Reader's Digest,
The Illustrated Guide To Gardening - Reader's Digest,
The Encyclopaedia of Garden Plants and Flowers - Reader's Digest,
Hillier's Manual of Trees and Shrubs,

The Fruit and Vegetable Garden - Michael Pollock,
Home Grown - Denys De Saulles,
Vegetable Plotter - Dr D.G. Hessayon,

Grow Your Own Cut Flowers - Sarah Raven,
The Cutting Garden - Sarah Raven,
Grow Your Own Garden - Carol Klein,

The Scented Garden - Rosemary Verey,
The Houseplant Expert - Dr D.G. Hessayon,
The Complete Gardener - W.E. Shewell-Cooper,
Gardening on Walls - Christopher Grey-Wilson and Violet Matthews,
The Border Book - Anna Pavord,
The Fragrant Garden - Kay N Sanecki,
Spiritual Gardening - Peg Streep,
Dream Plants for the Natural Garden - Henk Gerritsen and Piet Ourloff,

This does not include Floras, The Concise British Flora, other natural history and wildlife books and magazines, the internet.
It does not include the many books borrowed from the library.

So to a New Year and wintry weather to come - fog and frost, perhaps some snow and ice.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013


We are past the shortest day - Hurrah!

BUT for the next two weeks the mornings continue to close in - some thing to do with a wobbly earth - Boo! 

We have flickering lights in the Magnolia stellata - somewhat appropriate? 

The photo shows the moon making a brief appearance through the rainclouds and the big sycamore. The yellow glow is Ulverston and its street lights a mile away.

However now the weather is atrocious with gales and pouring rain - no white Christmas for us this year.
The feeders are unpopulated with the birds sheltering where they can. 

Children have been, some have gone, driving south into the storm. These are truly the dark days (and wet). The stream in the garden is roaring and the pond is full of muddy water.

There is not much one can do but nip out, feed the birds and pick up sticks for kindling.
Well, not really true - one can have a mug of something hot (or a glass of something?) and a nibble. R loves garlic sticks from the Health Food shop - all fat and spice. Do not sound very healthy but are the best (and cheapest) in town.

It looks like the amaryllis will be open on Christmas Day - every time I look the buds have spread - but the white orchid had decided to do the dirty and the flowers are falling.

One thing in the garden that delights me at this time of year is the symmetry of waiting rosettes.
This is a teasel and the lower picture a euphorbia.
That reminds me to mention that the stinking hellebore is in bud and will flower soon. The winter honeysuckle and sarcococcus are out and, I presume, wafting the winter air with scent. The trouble is the persistent wind blows it away before it can get up my nose.

And we will have a table posy - roses and calendulas, alstromerias and such on the 25th.

Now, there is an intro - there are times when the peripheral hoo-ha of the festive season gets up my nose. I love to see family and friends but the organisation required to do cards and presents and then buying too many luxury foods and drinks mean the January diet is threatened and, and, and . .
If it was one big day - okay, if it was one or two parties and so on - okay, but it starts in July (or earlier). Perhaps they should ban all mention of anything until the week before - make it illegal.
SCROOOOOOOOGE!!!! I hear. No, not at all, give generously but if I have to hear Brenda Lee's, Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree once more - !
Actually her recording of I'm Sorry c/w That's All You
Gotta Do was the second 45 I ever bought.

Perhaps we should have a manure party and hire several wheelbarrows. There would have to be drinks AFTERWARDS though or the stuff would be spread everywhere and I would then spend a month clearing up.
So, it is, after further thought, better to spread good cheer (though that does not do much for the rhubarb).

Before I end - a confession - I have been known to put my foot in it. Once a rather large lady came to the surgery to see me at Christmas and told me that she had put on three and half stones (22 kilograms). So I naturally replied, "Well, we better have it off in the New Year then."
Silence for a minute, the consultation went on and she left.
My door was open and obviously she had told the whole of the reception staff, overheard by the full waiting room - the laughter was humungous.
Swallow, pretend nothing happened, smile vacantly at the next patient - aaaaagh!

Thus, finally, to my one reader - yes, you - have a good Christmas, New Year, and all the other days. 2014 coming up, I can hardly believe it.

Sunday, 22 December 2013


This is the Nook in winter from the beech hedge -

The grass is a bit long because it rained so much in October I decided to let it grow rather than chew it up with the mower. It means it may take an extra mow in spring to reduce the height but that is preferable to chewing it all up. As you can see there still some leaves - usually the buddleia keeps them till the big prune at the end of February.

We have one glorious yellow rose in bloom near the cold frame and I am saving it for the Christmas table. Most years I can get a posy from the garden to squeeze between the dishes and crackers.

I have included a spattering of flowers in this blog - photographs taken this week.
This reminds me that I had a clue in the crossword yesterday and the answer was spatterdash - from which we got the word spats - trouser protectors - I do not know why I am mentioning this as it is completely irrelevant to  garden blog  - or anything else.
I have crossed everything in the hope that the amaryllis will be out for the main day. They are in bud. The potted hyacinths are a disappointment and will not flower until mid January at the earliest - probably something I did wrong. (Often something I did wrong.)

I still have a bowl of corks - actually S, a friend, gave us a mat of corks for use as something to put hot dishes on. So, I have the mat, and I still have the corks. Soon I will have enough to make a cork boolie.
I know - I hear you - what is a boolie?
It is a floatation device for swimming - when we were young we used inflated tyre inner tubes. I am wandering again and have not had a drop.

That poem of Robert Browning needs modification - 'Oh to be in La Gomera, Bequia, Fiji, now that winter's here . . . etc' - even to be in a jacuzzi, even a hot bath, a warm bed.

Just been down the garden and noticed the pink top of rhubarb through the manure. I am suffering from a dose of trepidation. I am worried that this mild winter is going to turn vicious.

So, woolly socks on, feed the birds, drink the cappuccino, warm the cockles, light the fire, complain to the Council that they have not refilled the salt bin on the lane - and wish everyone a wonderful Christmas, Solstice, New Year and such.

Friday, 20 December 2013


Yup, a quote from Bill Shakey - most appropriate. Just been up the garden and one of the bigger rhododendrons has lost a third of its bulk, snapped off by the gale. 

In some places bulbs are through - here is the evidence.

Weather forecast has at least two more gales on the way. I have been out with the loppers and a small saw tackling the mess, collecting sticks and R had been clearing the last withered leaves off the alchemillas.

In reply to names of plants you would not give to children I have had the following suggested by I - stinkhorn and Mammillaria elongata. The latter my mother had - its other name is mother-in-law's tongue.
The former is a fungus so allowable? I mean, would you call your child mushroom? Truffle is a possibility but Puffball, Death's Cap or Destroying Angel - the last could be appropriate I suppose.
Oh! And congratulations to RJP and HP who are expecting grandtwins. I could manage two HPs but two RJPs - need some thought. I wonder if the names have been decided?

So to dead stuff that looks interesting like this sycamore leaf, lightly frosted (sounds like a recipe) and with black spot, or the hydrangea heads on the banking, back-lit by the afternoon sun.

The sun also lights up the six white birches at the dark end of the garden. If I were really keen I would be out there with warm soapy water cleaning the trunks but I do feel that is going a bit far and silly. Makes them look good though.

This time of year makes a garden blog a bit difficult as much is waiting around for spring apart from tidying and shifting manure. 
It is Christmas, Winter Solstice, New Year etc (keep everyone happy) so to go off at a tangent I would like to introduce you to the cappuccino grading system I have discovered.
The test involves dropping a teaspoon of sugar, preferably Demerara, onto the froth. Then time how long it takes before it disappears. In the cafe of our local supermarket, EH Booth, it takes 7 seconds. At the Swan Hotel at Newby Bridge, yesterday, it took 35 seconds - major froth there. I am not sure how chocolate sprinkled on the top affects the calculations so much more research needed. Do not try with a sweetener as it does not work, a test for sugar lovers only.

I am waiting to collect my copy of Gerard's Herbal as it has been rebound and restored by Dominic Riley - a wonderful bookbinder. He has done other books for me in the past including my Culpepper.
The smell of the leather  alone is heaven to an addict like me.

I love books which will make life amore difficult as the digital takeover continues. 
Compared with Video, TV, films etc which lead one by the collar, a book, rather like the radio but more so, leaves the images to the reader. Every one of us will interpret the writing in a different way


There is comfort 
in the rhythm of a book,

the rasp of a page
turned in time to a tale,

the sway of reading eyes,
cadence of breath

and though your book may
be the same book

it is a different book,
for every book - borrowed,

bought or stolen - when read
or re-read is a new book.

The beat of your book
is not my beat.

You blend with your book
in a different world to mine.

I wish I could hear
the voice of your book,

look in your window,
read your mind.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013


What a difference a day makes, twenty four little hours!

Suddenly the vegetation is cast against a blue background and all is well with the world, the sun is out, has not got his hat on, or has? I can never quite work out that song.

Architectural plants like these heads of cardoons, not cut down because of being dead, come into their own. A little hoar frost would improve them even more.

The garden has grasses to wave in the winter wind - so at this time of year when all might seem dead, it is not. The winter flowering honeysuckle - Lonicera x purpusii, skimmias, sarcococcas and daphne flower and give off scent despite the season. The viburnum x bodnantense "Dawn" can be covered in pink scented blossom.

And other trees and shrubs can light up the garden - white birch and eucalyptus, hollies, cornus and coloured willow stems. I have noticed the first signs of ash blossom (they do flower and how) - still tight but there.

Another statuesque dead plant is the teasel, this one growing up through a cherry to reach eight feet in height.

I have not mentioned heathers because we do not have any - not that we could not grow them but I do not like them much, nor does R.

These leaves are on the Magnolia grandiflora, (the Bull Bay). The undersides are golden brown and are splendid against a blue sky.
No flowers yet though - we may have to wait many years. I keep talking to it and asking it nicely, "What about this year, then?"
So far no sign of a response.

Just opposite the magnolia stands a tall eucryphia, a straight up and down tree. Some of its leaves have turned, some not. It did flower well one year but then not done much the last two summers. Must go and talk to that one too.

Mmm! Now there is a name for a girl, I think, Eucryphia - Teasel would not be too terrible though Cardoon is a non starter.
So many names are from plants, or plant names from us?
Mind you there are some one would avoid - mugwort, bladderwort,   creeping jenny (well, not the creeping bit), stinking cranesbill and so on - plenty to chose from.

Birdsfoot Trefoil (no you could not call her that) is also known as Old Woman's Toe-nails in Devon - can you imagine - "Will you, Old Woman's Toe-nails take him, Old Man's Glass Eye (another name for the scarlet pimpernel in Somerset) to be etc etc.

Ah! the joy of names - Baalam's smite, bladders of lard, bouncing Bess and these are just from the letter B in the index.
Buy a copy - it will need to be second hand but I can recommend The Englishman's Flora by Geoffrey Grigson to you. My copy was published in 1975 - ISBN 0 246 108209 7 - by Hart-Davis MacGibbon Ltd though it first came out in 1958.
You can get a second hand paperback version from Amazon for a penny plus postage.

Sunday, 15 December 2013


The squirrels have destroyed one of the peanut feeders and it lies on the floor in bits. I know they are a pair for they have been seen together, she is larger, he has a more rufous face (I think). They both look well fed!

The plant to the right is a Schizostylis (not the most elegant of names) or Kaffir Lily and is flowering well, deep into December. The sharp cold spell followed by the mild (but wet and windy) weather has tricked some plants to flower - there is a camellia out near Bardsea and bulbs are already showing themselves. Primroses  on the upper banking from where I have cleared sticks yet again have buds.

How long this warm period will go on for I do not know but suspect there is a nasty shock around the corner for some plants.
The wind blowing through the naked tree branches sounds like the bass drone on bagpipes without the rest of the skirl. I have been out and come in again - it is raining
When I went out first thing this morning the air was full of chattering birdsong - before the rise of the wind and rain.

In the cutting bed, now cleared of rubbish, I have left the calendulas alone, well, tidied them up a bit. They are like small suns in these dark days. They may well overwinter unless the cold is severe. The anthemis, below, are also still flowering sparsely - hence a photo with flowers in the corners.

When the weather is restless, as now, a low pressure whirling its way into Scotland and whipping us with its tail, there is a sense of being trapped - by the rain, the wind, the darkness. It is 2:30 pm and the twilight is drawing in.

This is a time for planning - and I know that the pond needs excavating and lining - a sweaty muddy job and one I will have to steel myself to. Ditches need digging, old vegetation removing from them and composting. Veg beds need new edgings, virus blighted raspberries removing and burning. Gardener needs new knee, less lard, more energy, better balance, (improved golf swing), more enthusiasm, more money (don't we all?), etc, etc, etc.

You have had flowers so here are some leaves. If I remember aright R bought this as a tiny plant at some coffee morning or craft fair. It is now a good sized bush.
It is outside the kitchen amongst the variegated shrubs - a contrast to green.

Collecting dead wood blown from the trees and building compost heaps, handling slimy nasturtiums and rich crumbly loam reminds me of an ash tree which grew beside Torver Beck just below the quarry at Bannishead. It was an ailing tree but gave new life to others that grew in its stump - call for a pome?


In a bracken free patch,
one cracked branch its own, 
an old ash, a half stump,
stands rotting and rotted and 
breaking into humus.

Above where the core was
some dead wood,
peppered by beetle jaws,
is crumbled, dry,
weathered - is compost. 

Polypody projects
through ivy stems
that tie the tree 
together in a net,
bind the bark,

and from the bole top
grow rowan, holly and alder,
roots down the hollow.
One tree is four trees,
is old life, is new life

Thursday, 12 December 2013


But first the old subject - Muck. Nothing to do with Scottish Islands - the manure heap never seems to get any smaller - but then life seems a bit like that sometimes, does it not.
Winter is here and, perched high above Morecambe Bay, we are into the season of sunrises as we face south south east - ish.

It is cold but not too cold. A southerly drift of air has kept things mild and damp for the last week or so.

A cock pheasant, known as Mr Pheas but probably a different one every year or so - one had a limp so not this one - is caught by the warm morning sun feeding from scraps dropped from the feeders. Soon he will be prancing around his mate with protective anxiety, getting her to lay eggs up in the shrubbery.

We regard our gardens primarily with sight, observing colour, colour changes, contrasts - shades of green, the predominate colour in the garden - as well as the rest of the spectrum. 
Light and shade create dappled areas especially in summer. 

We seek out the scent of flowers, warm grass, pine needles etc.

The beech hedge has clung tenaciously to its leaves but it is interesting to note that the flowering currant, one of the first to break in the spring, has its golden autumn foliage. The view below shows the house in December from the wood where debris still lies, uncollected, after the storm. 

Yet one of the overriding senses the garden stimulates is hearing.
Apart from the obvious birdsong there is the noise the water makes in the stream, dripping from the trees, as it falls as rain. 
There is the sound the wind creates in the trees and long grasses, from the falling of leaves and rattle of twigs.

Then there are the sounds created artificially by us. We have some wind chimes - I know, not everyone's choice - but they are up in a tree on the edge of the wood and are not intrusive. In some places the stream has small falls introduced - only a few inches high - but this adds to the harmony in the garden.
Feeding and attracting birds is another way of expanding the auditory experience, though the chirp of the sparrow can get monotonous. This is then completely overshadowed by a blackbird in the great sycamore singing at dusk.

And some times I can stand in the garden and listen to the silence. A sea fret may come in or a winter fog and it is so quiet. I can hear myself breathe.
When the gale howls through the branches, almost deafening at times, it dissipates emotion, blasts it away.


I walk into a hair-streaming wind,
lever lips back from the teeth of a gale
and watch leaves, marked by miner trails and old galls, 
splash and gather in the gutter.  

These pages of last year become brittle liquid, 
coagulate in flooded gullies, clog the roadside drain slots. 
Rivulets of surface water fill the farm road in the dip, 
slurry mud and dung.

Salt spray is blown six miles inland.
How trivial a sadness seems when the blast howls about me.
Cares taken to front the storm are scoured away.  
Who can see a tear in this rain?

Sunday, 8 December 2013


If you are not a Molesworth fan skip to the photo of the cherry leaves.

G said in an email re blog - Any fule no gardning good for sole. Even Fotherington-Thomas (Hullo garden shed, hullo mud) no that. Very insprashunaI.
Reply - Actually spend most of my time eating, watching telly, couching potato or is it couch potatoing?
Oh! And I play a bit of golf to keep the sinews working.
I am much more Fotherington than Grabber and not much Molesworth.
What ho!
ps could use this in blog?

It is good to get responses to my blogging. Even if they are like this - especially if they are like this.

The last of the leaf fall is done - the cherry leaves have been splendid so we move on from this -

to this -

Yes, I own up - this is a last year picture for we have not had any snowfall yet, a few hailstones and a frost or two but that is it. Anyway I thought I would show you the view from the kitchen door over Rosside.
(This is because I am a bit short on pics at the moment being idle and doing a colour pic of Cawthwaite Square for the boss at - ( news/drovamjqj1rpzsl7pi4jsub5n1w5xy) or click on The Cawthwaite Project in the links on the left and go to Cawthwaite Village News.

The birdlife in the garden just increases and increases - always goldfinches and tits, occasional dunnocks and robins etc etc.
Just spilled bird seed all over the place outside.
Will be inundated with real twitterers.

The clear up continues, the old growth is removed, weeds weeded and the manure is spread. I think that by March we should have got most of it done. The difficulty is garden versus golf handicap versus poem making versus telling the English cricket team to come home now from Aussie land (why waste time getting pasted when you could be down the pub, feet up in front of a good fire, Cumberland sausage and chips in front of you, a pint of Lancaster Amber on you mat.)

The collected stick pile is so big now that it will need sorting and storing properly. I sawed off part of a fallen branch for R to take to S's so it could be made (turned) into napkin rings.

Whoa - Greater-spotted woodie on the feeder. Not a great photograph but you can see what it is.
No siskins nor bramblings yet but the redwings and fieldfares have been by. Bye bye berries. (R has just pointed out I had written ramblings not ramblings - how apt!)

Time to go out and garden - Oh! Dear, it has begun to rain, how sad.
Whilst R is playing the piano I will get the soup on for lunch, make some toast and wait and see.

Lunch is over, it has stopped raining though we have not had much recently - the stream is almost dry. So out into the garden, sorting sticks, raking leaves off all the chipping paths - this is important to prevent the leaves rotting and giving weeds a good medium in which to germinate - and - I found our bin top - the one that had disappeared in the storm. It was up the big sycamore but near enough to knock down.
Of course R has been to town and bought another bin so . . .?

R is doing her clearing of dead plant material, filling her plastic trug and taking it to the big compost heap.
I am back inside washing the shoes I have got muddy - and should not have been wearing in the garden and thinking of cups of tea.
And a big vanilla slice from the Market Hall.
Yes, definitely thinking of that!

Friday, 6 December 2013


Thursday, early, the paper has not yet arrived, the house is surrounded by noise as a gale howls in from the north west. At the bottom of the garden the eucalyptus is bent over - we watch it anxiously. I look out of the window into the gloom (it is almost 9 a.m.) and see the squirrel has managed to unhook the peanut feeder. It lies on the ground and most of the contents are now inside the squirrel.

I go out into the roaring morning and walk up the garden towards the wood to assess the damage. Apart from the metal dog falling over there is none, only a few twigs and branches off.

I collect up a scattering of plastic pots but that is all.

The further I go up the garden the calmer it becomes - it is so sheltered by the trees even though the leaves have gone that my hair (what little there is) remains unruffled. I am in a haven of peace in a wild world.
That is not to say all our garden is sheltered, it is not. By the back door and across where we park the cars is a wind tunnel and the lid of the swing-top bin I keep by the shed for waste for the compost heaps is missing. It had a big stone on top to secure it but this has been cast several feet down towards the fence, and the lid is elsewhere - out of sight. I did search but found nothing.

One thing I love when it is windy is the dry
miscanthus grass swinging about like long tresses. It will not be pruned until the early spring as it is a feature of the winter garden whether blowing about or covered in hoar frost.

I have drunk too much coffee this morning and am twitchy, puffing a lot and restless. Good company in the Farmers' Arms is great but I must have tea or a drinking chocolate instead. (Bit early for a fine pint of Wainwright.)

And I have had a suggestion for my corks - no, not that - from G in Dublin, use them in the bottom of flower pots - I said flower pots - they aid drainage and weight nothing. My answer is yes, but (there is often a but) they take up limited space - I use bits of old plastic scrumpled up. (Is there a word scrumpled? There is now.) Thank you G, it is nice to know I have at least one reader!

Then the 'phone rang and NC announced that Hollett's bookshop in Sedbergh had closed! Alas, another one bites the dust. I blame the Kindle. Where will I go for unusual reference sources now?

It is hailing and frozen rain is blasting the garden. I am glad I am not out there. It seems to make no difference to the feeding birds. The goldfinches are squabbling again as they try to crowd a feeder.

Friday morning and the garden is still, the storm has gone, a passing cloud.
Now there is a memory - Passing Clouds! They tasted awful. I mention them as my reader and cousin S stopped smoking a year ago - keep it up lad, no going back now. My parents used to buy Cocktail Sobranies at Christmas - strong cigarettes in multicoloured papers. I stopped on May 1st 1980 (well, not completely true - I used to have the odd one when I visited my mother for several months). She smoked Peter Stuyvessant kingsize and lived to almost 90. They say, foodwise, smoking is a method of preserving so . . . 

I am getting way off course and this has nothing to do with gardens. Rap on knuckles, buckle down son.

Friday brings me to pruning (not prunes)(do not agree with me even when accompanying pork in a casserole). I am working hard on my fingernails, have always bitten them (stopped for the two children weddings) but am assiduously restraining the tendency that has worn away my front teeth and filing the sharp bits (not of my teeth).

In the garden the secateurs are usually in a pocket, tidy this, cut back that. Roses need a trim to avoid wind rock so a diagonal cut just above a good outward facing bud does the trick. The motto is, file your nails, prune the plants. I know it is December but it is worth chancing a few belated hardwood cuttings, one never knows.

Finally most of the hyacinths have begun to sprout and the amaryllis are well on their way. However, I have one pot with nothing showing and I cannot remember what I put into it.
Label, label label is the motto - which I repeatedly ignore and rue afterwards.

The bell has gone on the timer which means R has made her butterscotch sauce for Christmas - wonderful hot on cold ice cream (or eaten directly from the jar with a teaspoon).

Recipe - 50g butter, 75g brown sugar, the soft stuff, 50g caster sugar, 150g golden syrup, 110ml double cream, few drops vanilla essence. (Could have used ounces and things but I am a modern man. If you believe that . . . )
Put butter, sugar and syrup in thick bottomed pan. Heat slowly till sugar dissolved. Heat liquid for 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Stir in double cream bit by bit then vanilla. Stir 2 to 3 minutes till smooth. Use or store in jar - will last a few weeks in screw top jar.

Mr (or Mrs)(or Ms) S. Quirrel is back. It is too cold to go out. They, he, she, it can enjoy the peanuts.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013


Firstly this has nothing to do with nuns. However, bear with me, it does relate to gardening - in the end, and you will find out why I am showing a photo of ordinary wild daisies.

A habit is an acquired pattern of behaviour that occurs automatically and so it seems to have become.

It has to do with R and her reading the last few pages of a book before she starts. This absolutely destroys a denouement, renders thrillers etc as anticlimactic, and spoils a good potboiler.
I give her a book and tell her that this is a really good read. Then she turns to then back pages and says something like, 'I thought it was him' or 'That was a surprise." Aaaaagh!!!

Now gardening is NOT like that. No matter how one plans, how bad is the obsessive-compulsive disorder the gardener suffers, the ending is, as like as not, different from the expected. Gardening is rife with serendipity. A beautiful seedling (often an opium poppy) destroys a colour scheme, a plant dies, is not the one you thought you had bought, planted, grown, succumbs to disfigurement or is simply wrong. You can head for the denouement as much as you like but gardens lie in wait with the unexpected. That is one of their joys.

It is winter and I am walking beside the lawn when I see common daisies flowering. (They do bloom all year round). Now many lawn fiends will be appalled by daisies in the lawn but as our
lawn is mown field it is not a disaster.

We plant arbitrarily on the banking and find that, in November, The autumn colour of the cotoneaster and the yet green leaves of the variegated mint complement one another beautifully. Nether were put there for this purpose, the mint has thrived and spread to create a special combination.

When we first started to make the garden friends gave us plants. One gave us this Phormium with variegation and a pink stripe - I think it may be Rainbow Queen. It got stuck at the bottom of the washing-line pole by the path into the garden and was forgotten. However, as it has grown and has survived all the weather can throw at it, it has made the site its own and I would not move it now. The colours, thought muted, are there all year round every time I set off down the garden path.
The pole is not gorgeous but it does help get my damp clothes dry - a functional addition to the garden.

No matter how one tries there are things that are not beautiful - like the slithery stems of frosted nasturtiums, almost slug-like in feel. (Only horrible to those who do not like handling slimy slugs)(my brother, when he was young, used to line them up and walk on them in bare feet! Well, whatever turns you on, eh!).

We are well into the rotting season. Some plants have the good grace to dry out, especially grasses, and can be left but others just decay into a gruesome gunk. Grass cuttings in a compost heap, if not mixed with other vegetation,  can go like this. Autumn is slime time, the queasy season.

And the festive palaver is only three weeks away.
When that is over - and the New Year thing, winter solstice, dark January days, my sister's birthday and so on - then we can look for the first signs of snowdrops, birds nesting - wait for the coming surprises and joy -


Monday, 2 December 2013


 I shall start December with a mulch of well rotted horse manure (some of you think this blog is a bit like that don't you) - here in the oriental poppy bed with Adam Booth's flying birds.

There are gaps in the bed where we seem to have lost a plant but I have several grown from seedlings in the shed as replacements. 

The gradual process of weeding, clearing and mulching goes on. The manure creates a wonderful rich moisture-retentive soil though one has to avoid putting it by the grasses (they like a poorer medium) or too close to tree and shrub stems as the manure can soften up the bark and increase the risk of infection.

This bed had a few nasturtiums covering it and these, now slimy, have been removed. This is not before I have saved some seed for next year - placed on absorbent paper to dry and then put in a paper envelope. 
I have gathered them a bit late - should have been done before the first frost - so fingers crossed they will be ok - even if the are not, a packet does not cost a fortune.

There is a mystery wheelbarrow outside that I found when I returned from bashing the little white dimpled ball about (golf).
I think it is a sign that the occasional garden help  has been back and the wheel barrow another sign of his return. There is plenty for him to do.

R has been great collecting windfall sticks as kindling and we now have a good heap at the back of the house.

It certainly saves me getting out my blunt hatchet and chopping sticks.
She has been preparing for Christmas already - making mincemeat for the mince pies. (She makes the most fantastic short crumbly pastry). (She does not agree with my Lake District bent for a good dab of rum butter under the hot pie lid to melt and YUM!!! - she thinks is ruins a good mince pie.
Rum butter is just brown sugar, butter and rum - spread it on hot toast too - more YUM!

I have been having an 'it does not work' 'yes, it does' 'no it does not' time for a week or so. The air conditioning on the beamer went, was repaired at great expense, went again (a fuse) and now I wonder if I was charged for a new unit when all it was was a fuse. My big A3 colour printer would not print yellow so I ordered a cleaning cartridge, then just before using it tried once more and the yellow was ok. 

So from yellow to brown fingers - I cannot get the basil from the supermarket to last in our kitchen. It thrives for a month or so then goes all limp and flaccid. I wonder if the shop uses some exotic form of basil that will not thrive in a humble northern English kitchen. (Or I am just a clumsy assassin and the basil is rather particular with regard to its feed and watering.)

Changing the subject - what can one do with a hundred corks (no suggestions please) as I have been saving them for years thinking there must be something clever I could use then for in the garden - cannot think of anything. No terrible insects so no need to dangle them from the brim of my hat. There must be something creative like sell them to the SAS to use for night time camouflage - burn the ends and darken their faces stuff, cheap fishing floats, even as stoppers in bottles.

The garden is silent and still, waiting with baited breath for . . . ? Me I suppose, so out I must go and muck in (literally).
Time for a cuppa first though. (And then it might be too dark to go out?)

Update, R has just come in - the wheelbarrow is mine! After I left this morning the Fedex man came with a delivery and got stuck - half and hour of all sorts until R pulled him out with her Yaris!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013


Now we have had the first hard frost we seem to breathe a sigh of relief - autumn is over and winter is here. (This is despite the eucryphia, Rambling Rector roses and the Bramley apple still sporting green leaves.)

The bed by the back door is cleared and mucked and I have started weeding the Bay bed by the shed where the old compost heaps used to be. It is November but under a thin layer of topsoil daffodil bulbs have started to push up shoots! I covered them up quickly. I think that I will plant this with ranunculus when I have finished to give a bright show in a darker corner.
The back bed has a magnolia stellata that has not yet lost its leaves. I hope the blossom will be better next spring than this year - it was poor - ? cold or wet.

We are under an area of high pressure so the garden is cold but calm - just enough breeze to make the chimes ring quietly. R has collected a few golden syrup tins and I am wondering if they could be converted into something musical (well clangy) in the wood.

The reed mace in the top pond are just fluffing up before releasing their airborne seed. The brown heads are so soft when stroked. I like their sculptural quality.

I have been asked about the life of scaffolding planks. The ones I edged out veg beds with were discards from a scaffolding firm and VERY cheap. The ones in contact with the soil have now rotted  - six years. Those higher up are still ok (ish) but looking the worse for wear. If you really want something to last then it is stone, concrete, plastic (Mmmm!) or metal. I have noticed that the horses in the field next to us have got new railings and, whereas the uprights are wooden fence posts, the horizontals are plastic. Could they be used? Would they be strong enough?
The photo shows the asparagus bed in the distance and the bed that is half rhubarb nearer with some of this year's wallflower seedlings to be used as cut flowers for the house. Both are well manured.

The beech hedges are well coloured and the copper beech now looks the same as the common beech.

I would like to plant more trees but perhaps it would be wise to wait. The ones we have, when they are more grown, will make it feel a bit like we are living in a plantation.

I find it hard to believe that we are only four weeks from Christmas Day, the Winter Equinox or whatever. The bad side is that the afternoons are now very short, the good that it will be not too long before the new snowdrops will be up and give us a lift.

Down by the Wendy House the Fatsia is loving its position and thriving - flowers, fruit, the lot. Perhaps it love the sound of a tapped keyboard.

Anyone got some stamina for sale, or even loan? Gardening seems to have become a series of short strenuous bursts rather then an all day job - or no bursts at all.