Sunday, 31 March 2013


Forgot to get R a plain chocolate egg for Easter. So, I hard-boiled three eggs, one with pansies, one with onion skins and one with cochineal - and now I am red handed. A little deftness with  a marker pen embellished them (One with a sad face as the shell had cracked.)
Also made Easter biscuits as per the Marry Berry show on tv - they are v nice, a bit like brittle Welsh cakes.

I have been fencing - not with epees, foils and rapiers but planks, hammers and nails. The idea is to hide the veg beds etc from the house.

I have ordered a climbing rose - chose Golden Showers - and have stuck a sheep skull on top of the right hand post. This fence will become adorned as time goes on.
The blue alkathene piping you can just see through the fence is the framework for some improvised protection for the beds. Fleece early on then netting later.
This year I am determined to try and keep pests out.

Then I show you a picture of our rhubarb forcing pot with some stunted stems and leaves in the foreground. The plants inside the pot are not much bigger.

I wish to update you on the efficacy of human hair in getting rid of Moles. Gilly, it works, BUT having left its hairy run it has set up twenty feet away with a new one, more bigger mounds, more soil and so on. So more hair and hope.

Yesterday we went to the outstanding Garden Nursery run by Abi and Tom Attwood at Halecat, Witherslack - We bought some plants for the new cutting bed - prices very reasonable, place spotless, a pleasure to walk around.

Back to the garden - I raked out part of the banking by the wood yesterday to clear dead grass and stuff. This revealed all the primrose plants we had divided and replanted last year.

Soon they will be out and glorious.

The third photo is of tiny taddies in the lower pond. The frogspawn is becoming a seething black mass. On the left you can see a water snail trail shaped like a hook.

Mr Pheas. in all his splendour is rooting about under the shrubs at the top of the garden. They nest there every year so he is casing the joint.

The big mower is still not out - the grass is hardly growing - but it cannot be much longer, can it?
Everything is waiting - seeds, plants, cuttings - the soil is too cold, the gardener is too cold!

April 1st tomorrow, ten weeks to the longest day and we still freeze in a Siberian wind. I wonder of Putin knows something I don't. Is this a ploy to up sales of natural gas?
Well, let me tell you Vlad. it won't work with us.
(We don't have gas.)

Thursday, 28 March 2013


And water like a stone.
And air like a vacuum cleaner sucking warmth from me.
Yesterday I potted up 32 Senecio (Brachyglottis greyii) and by the end my hands were like ice. You cannot do this properly in gloves. R like the shrubs and we have a patch of doing nothing so there some will go, others to Christmas Fairs, coffee mornings and so on.

R clips them early every autumn so that they are comfortably round. You can see one in right foreground  in the photograph, the writing shed, for R not me, above it and the stables over the hedge beyond that - source of the wonderful manure.

R like to clip things, not my ear 'ole, well, not often, so more and more plants are becoming shaped. Is this a topiary fetish, I wonder?

I have completed the manuring, mulching, top dressing at last having repaired the barrow wheel.
So now I have to think of new projects - a fence between the garden and the veg and fruit is on the agenda, perhaps.

So to the current topic of SNOW!
Cumbria is inundated, cut off, submerged we hear - well, not all of it. Here around Morecambe Bay it came and went quickly - there is still a bit behind the hedgerows and the occasional flurry in the air but that is all. The rabbits are out in the garden trimming the grass and birdlife everywhere. There has just been an almighty row outside my windows - fighting wood pigeons - MEN! (It could be WOMEN! but I do not think so.)

Plants are emerging despite the prolonged winter - chives by the path in the kitchen garden, day lilies in big clumps, some things? - I am not sure what they are - bulbs of some sort, I think - oriental poppy leaves and so on.

Yesterday I also wandered across the lawns and through the woodland picking up sticks - the ash trees shed all the time - and snapped them into 9" lengths for kindling for the wood burner.

The garden is like unexploded dynamite waiting for the plunger to be rammed home. We will get milder weather one day, warmth and soft rain (like you get in Ireland) - then the ground will erupt with growth.
Trouble is I am getting fed up waiting.

The pots that have had yellow pansies flowering all winter now have tulips pushing through. I think they are red - I think. I know - label things, label things, label things. But there is something special and delightful about wondering what things are and then getting a nice surprise (or not).

It is almost time to divide and plant the snowdrops - a ritual every year - divide and multiply. Half of each small clump gets moved and the snowdrop carpet spreads.

Off to town to peruse the market stalls to look for bargains for the garden. Will I buy seed potatoes - probably not - I like to grow things that are difficult to get - or expensive - if the weather will let me.
Surely it cannot be as wet this summer as last - can it?
Probably can!

Friday, 22 March 2013


White flakes are driving across the garden from the east, pausing and scattering in disorganised fashion, then resuming the urge to go west. Tree trunks are white on the eastern side impaled by the soft snow.
Spring is here - well, came yesterday with the equinox.

The heron has been back and now the mallard are mopping up for breakfast. They know, obviously, that I am not a very early riser. The frogs have survived under the mesh protection I put across one corner of the pond and under that are large clumps of spawn.

Now the wind is whipping the flakes up into a maelstrom, swirling, driving, eddying all at once. (Read Robert Frost's poem). The gnome has an extra hat, shawl and is slowly disappearing from the feet up. In the wood the statue of the small boy looks cold and lonely.

I have been bereft this week - how one depends on a wheelbarrow - because of a puncture. So I did the logical thing - bought a new inner tube over the internet and then mended the old one with a bicycle repair kit. Having done that I am back to more barrowing of manure. The cutting bed is now completed and ready. (Cutting for cut flowers not cuttings though you never know, I might use it for both).
I am a very much lesser form of Gorbachev having impaled my forehead on a branch of the pear tree - just a scabby patch, not a birthmark.

Still only the odd daff.

I notice in the Gazette that this weekend Dora's Fields at Rydal (William Wordsworth stuff, daffs in hosts) are open. People will enjoy all the leaves I am sure.

The walkway through the boggy area is repaired but only for this year. I am cogitating, (NO, cogitating), about getting in a lad with a digger and excavating the garden bottom, putting in  a proper liner and having a gurt pond rather than a li''le un. (Pardon lapse into local dialect).
But then I would have to get into waders rather than Wellies (capital letter for the Duke) - concrete? That is not very Eco is it? So not concrete, then bog? And let it go?
You may have noticed that my hold on English grammar has departed (not that it ever arrived). Watching the snow go around and around, (old men of Aran and such? (prize for the source of that bit of lateralness)), has confuddled me.

Pots means plants.
Hence plastic tubs waiting for carrots, upturned bottomless flowerpots with copper tape around the middle protecting the broccoli and my rhubarb forcing pot (£1 at a house sale many years ago) in the rhubarb bed.

So I have lit the wood burner, have a coffee, feet up and a bit of thrillery words - no, Paul Temple, Lee Child, Reg Hill, Ian Rankin . . . I think I will return to the ultimate fireside read with John Macnab by Buchan - and as I am on a diet - again! - a sweetener and a banana.

Bananas are 0 points! Mmm!

Friday, 15 March 2013


Long time passing -
indeed, Mother's Day is done and only the tete-a-tetes are out. Winter draws on and all that stuff.
One day there is hope and warmth in the sun, then up I get and lazily glance out of the bedroom window and - snow!
Off I go to try and spread a little (no, not goodwill) manure but the heap is frozen solid, a rock cliff.
Phew! One job I can get out of - but not for long.
It was so cold I had a great idea - all that dead grass on the lower banking could be burned off. (For new readers I have a strimmer phobia).
So, out with the matches, I will just light this small tuft - and whoosh!
The old man is running around like a squirrel in a cage (I know what that looks like) with an upturned lawn rake batting away at the grass desperately trying to save shrubs. (Which is more than can be said for the hair on the front of his head.) (Smell of singeing locks - equivalent to a Number 0. For (most) ladies there is a haircutting device which shaves at various lengths according the the attachment on the end - Number 1 is very short, 2 a bit longer etc.)

Mind you, it worked and half the banking had its old grass removed in a few minutes. I think the other half can just stay long for now. Anyway it is finally warmer - and raining.

The last few days the pond has been frozen over so we hope the frogs are ok - they must be, anything that can spend the winter buried in the mud at the bottom must have amazing powers of survival - I know, they are frogs but could we do it?
Having said that, there are times when hibernation under a blanket of duvet is appealing - in the dark dismal days.

The first surprises have started to appear. Cyclamen by the cherry - should they be, were they not, out in the autumn?

Buds are getting impatient, breaking, then stopping for the cold, then opening a little more with some sun and so on.

White butterbur is ignoring the weather and, as usual, getting on with flowering so that its big bristly stems and leaves can do some heavy photosynthesising as soon as possible.

And the garden is so full of birds, everywhere. The policy of habitat maintenance and feeding, come rain come rain, whatever, is working. There are so many birds I wonder how they can all find nesting space.

There is one very good piece of news - the blackbird that drove us mad last year attacking its reflection in our windows has moved. Last night a neighbour informed us that they were being pestered by it!

So, in all, I have a new saying for the English language - replace waiting for the paint to dry by waiting for the hair to grow! (Not a quote from Burns.) (Hair today, gone . . . enough.)

Saturday, 9 March 2013


One of the side effects of gardening without gloves is kins - splits in the ends of the fingers which is why I am typing, as usual with two fingers, but with the ring finger of the left hand as the thumb and first two fingers are split.
They, of course, will take time to heal but plasters come off, get wet and are pretty useless.
So - use superglue. put a little into the kin and wait for it to dry. A good skin is formed under which the finger can heal. You might need to repeat the application from time to time but it certainly takes the soreness away.
Currently there are other parts of the body aching too as I have been ramming stakes into the ground with my marl - a big metal mallet. When I ordered it I had a choice of weights for the end and picked one that was too heavy - about 14 pounds - 6.35 Kg. (The metric weight is for those of us who have managed to move on to that system.) Hence I ache!
Then our order of 2 cubic metres (!) of logs arrived and needed barrowing to the shed. I was going to do it myself but R came out and moved the lot whilst I stacked them. What a wife! We would have used our willow crop but they need another 10 years and I did not want to chop down one of our own trees.

I have put in a new length of fencing to visually separate the flower beds from the rest of the garden - it does nothing other than act as a demarkation but creates a sense of a room space by the house. There are just uprights and two horizontals.

At this juncture I was going to show you a picture of our surviving frogs - I counted over twenty in the bottom pond this morning from our bedroom window but if I get anywhere near they do a disappearing act. They are so aware - I was walking along the path by the house, 30 yards (about 27.5 metres) above the pond when they must have seen me and submerged.
I contemplated getting out the camera and tripod and remote
control but was distracted by breakfast.

The veg bed picture shows the near half with a heavy mulch of well rotted horse manure. In the far half where the sticks are, a further mulch of extremely well rotted horse manure has been added. This latter application is about 8 years old, beautiful stuff - if muck can be beautiful.
Under the wigwam of sticks a trench was dug and this was also filled with discarded horse stuff. Beans, for instance, are very hungry plants.

I am also in the process of creating a cutting bed for a  mixture of annuals, biennials and perennials - there is something wonderful in a house wrapped in scent, filled with flowers. It only needs a further topdressing of the horsey product and a path made in the middle so the flowers can be harvested without treading on the beds.
We have a vase of flowering currant in the kitchen and vases of snowdrops, primroses and small daffodils - lovely.
The garden continues to be full of surprises - the wonder of spring.

The far dry-stone wall is redolent with moss forming intricate shapes and patterns. This is also an indication of the purity of the air here. After a few days without rain, if I look out over Morecambe Bay towards Lancaster, I can see a blanket of dirty air below me. It seems to reach up about 250 - 300 feet (75-90 metres) from the sands at sea level. We are at 360 feet. (No, work it out yourself.)
Then along comes some rain and washes all this gunge away. This is one reason, I think, I love the northwest coast of Scotland and Ireland - the air is so special.
Yes, use rainwater on the garden - but it might be full of dissolved smog. Also, you might think water filtered through the earth and rock, emerging from springs might be better, perhaps it is, but it has got minerals in it. We have some arsenic in our water supply. (Just a very little.) (Might explain a few things though?)
Soft water, hard water, did not matter last year - just too much water.
It is raining today - soft rain gently soaking the world - none of the downpours we experienced last year.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit - sometimes I do go on! (And off).

Time for some more superglue. (No, not the lips.)

Tuesday, 5 March 2013


Frog alert at The Nook - the heron is back and having lunch!
I covered one corner of the pond with a piece of metal grid (reinforcing grid used in concrete). I hope that will put it off - but is that truly "eco"? Should I be letting things get on with life and not interfering?
If one thinks not then no environment is not manipulated, especially a garden.
The pic was taken a year or two ago - the daffs are not yet out. (Except the tete-a-tete).

With the lack of rain the manure mulch is very dry and scattered everywhere - blackbirds and thrushes are the worst but dunnocks are at it too. 
The milder weather - well, it is still cold but warms up nicely during the day (hence the frogs) (they are amphibian and need a bit of warmth to get them active) has brought out the bunnies - we feed all here, no one turned away - rabbits, herons, blackbirds, slugs ....

I have had the MOWER out - the little one. The lower garden is still boggy but needed a skim badly. It looks so much better now. One has to make a few concessions to order, even in an eco garden.

I am still digging and manuring veg beds, have set out the bottomless plastic pots for carrots, pruned the oldest wood out of the blackcurrants, R has finished cutting back the buddleias, I have snipped the top off the beech hedge at the maximum height I wish it to achieve, edged the goosegog bed with salvaged stone, checked the grease bands on the fruit trees, cleared around the lower stream and ponds and even had time to stop and smell the flowers on the winter-flowering honeysuckle.
The snowdrops are flourishing even though the snow has gone (and will not come back, I hope).

I have given some thought to how diverse are the habitats we have in the garden. We have the lawns, veg and fruit garden and flower beds, of course, but also the wood with mature trees, bramble patch, shrubbery, stream, bog, pond, field hedge and bank, a big decaying log pile, manure heap, bird boxes, feeders, dry stone walls, rough grassland, wild flower area - and so on.
Maintaining all this takes some time - well, not the wild bits - generally they are left to their own devices yet prevented from taking over the rest of the garden. The sycamore and ash seeds would soon have the whole garden a potential woodland if nothing was done.

Every winter one forgets just how much work is involved in the garden and as I gradually fall to bits (it is called ageing) I wonder each year how long I can go on doing it. I suppose, if I stop, the whole lot will become an "eco" garden.
Yet it is variety and contrast that make the whole thing a joy, the surprises - yes, even coming face to face with the evil eye (I mean the heron).

Just glad I am not a frog.

Friday, 1 March 2013


Now, do not get alarmed, I am not heading off to Rome to elect (or become) a new Pope. I am going to pontificate about bonfires.
Bonfires are strange animals - you carefully judge the direction of the breeze - it is always good to have a bit of a blow to get the bonfire roaring - light the heap (often with difficulty) and then the wind direction veers and suffocates your neighbours, makes their washing smell and covers it in smuts.

Well, I lit our two heaps at the far end of the garden - before the blackbirds built in them (One flew out as I approached) and after disturbing the structure and checking for hedgehogs - and away they crackled. Around came the wind and sent the smoke next door.

The principal picture is of the far top part of the garden in the wooded area and shows one of our streamlets (open drains) running down to the main stream.

I am still barrowing muck - nuff said.

The garden is getting tidier and the stream has almost dried up through LACK OF RAIN!!! The mower is nudging the shed doors and trying to escape - and it is only March.

Went out for lunch to a place down by the estuary and they are eating their rhubarb! Our plants are struggling to get out of the ground, even under the forcing pot. Of course there is still plenty of rhubarb here in the house (on this page) etc.

Ewedini, the farmers great climbing sheep has been in the garden again. It comes over the wall in the far corner (knocking half of it down) and then wanders around with a face which seems to say, 'What are you doing in my garden?' Cheek!
Barbed wire is now coiled across the corner, wall rebuilt - we will see how it goes. It will soon be time for the lamb gang to escape into the track up to the house. I tried to fix the gap under the fence by repositioning a post and marling it in more firmly - nearly drove the thing through out underground electricity cable! The black line was only three inches below the surface! Shocking work.

And of flowers - snowdrops, small daffs, crocus, odd daisies and celandines, promise of much more to come. At this time of year with low sun much is backlit like the Acer sango-kaku and the witch hazel. There are still some teasels left on the lower banking and they catch the light beautifully.

I stepped out this morning - a beautiful, calm, sunny, warm day - and a skein of geese went over heading for the Duddon - magical. The garden is full of birdsong. The pond is full of frogcroak. How an earth do we survive the dark days of winter?

It all makes me feel good to be alive and part of this amazing world.