Wednesday, 31 July 2013


R is out judging the Rusland garden competition with her friend J. 20 gardens to judge and, if her opinion of what I do here is anything to go by, she will be fair but clear. (I have to be a little careful what I say as she seasons my food sometimes!)

So to kick off here is our Brachyglottis, or one of them in full flower. Why they cannot keep the old name of Senecio - well, I suppose it is not botanically correct, but easier to use and remember. Actually it is going over now so R will have to do a hatchet job on it. She loves the topiarish side of things but has a tendency to overcook it.
I have still not planted out the 20 or so cuttings I have (they are now small shrubs) - not good enough for a garden judge I would think - let alone our "wild areas". It is useful to have such parts of the garden because I can say the tangle of bindweed and goosegrass was intended for the sake of wildlife!

We have a brown rat! Of course this is not really a surprise with stables next door but to see it peeping furtively out from the skimmia under the feeders by the kitchen was not a delight. One has to admire the dexterity of rodents' hands, be it mice, voles, rats or squirrels - paws not hands I hear the cry. I stand corrected.

The wasps have stripped the big shed of a wafer of wood - photo shows the vertical scrapings.
The buddleia are coming out and, suddenly, so are the butterflies - phew! I thought all we were going to have were a few small and cabbage whites.
There are - small tortoiseshell, red admiral, peacock and, down by the hedge, a gatekeeper.

We have a butternut squash plant, the one survivor from the seeds from the supermarket fruit. However it is becoming an enormous thug and I am trying to restrict its spread with netting over alkathene piping - six feet in diameter and not a flower in sight. The courgettes, on the other hand, are prolific. They have loved the warm spell (and my watering and feeding.)
I think I will give up on the purple sprouting broccoli - too many caterpillars in the head. I will come out and I can use the ground for something else.
We have eaten our first carrots but the currants are over.

Anyone up here, South Cumbria, who wants to visit a wonderful garden centre/nursery and have a biccy and cuppa coffee, go to Abi and Tom's at Halecat in Witherslack. Turn off for the Derby Arms and follow the signs.

This morning is a blackcurrant jam day after feeding the birds and picking odd remnants of raspberries.
While the judge is away I am going to have a jammy time.

I cleared 20ft of the stream yesterday scattering a handful of froglets but it may be time to seek succour from M - our occasional helper.

I have just finished a smaller version of my self-indulgent doodle and poem book, The spontaneous Line. (If that title is not pretentious what is?)
It can be found at -

Well, I must steel myself to the . . . stove and start the process of jam making - in  a minute - first, time for a coffee and a Crossword.

Sunday, 28 July 2013


There is a door to heaven from our living room and it has been largely shut these last seven years - until this July.
It has been open most days during the heat wave (now over).
It poured in the night has filled the stream and the pond and flattened the long grass. The lovage, all nine feet of it is bent with the weight of the water.
The garden has a different scent to it - washed and refreshed.

From my window I can see the birds on the feeders but tragedy again - a young chaffinch hit the window with a thump, scared by the clattering arrival of a lumpy wood pigeon. I picked it up, still warm but dead. These small birds are incredibly light in the hand and their plumage so soft.

Outside the pheasants burble around and the goldfinches 'Coo-ee' from the upper banking.

The alchemilla mollis is coming to an end and must be cut back hard before it seeds itself everywhere. It breaks like a golden wave over paths and paving.

My daughter contacted me to ask if I had any spare herbs going for their new garden in Herefordshire. I asked what she wanted and she said this and that and that and that and that . . . . . everything but marjoram of which they have an abundance.
One of our herb beds, shown, has rosemary, sage, thyme, lemon balm and marjoram. There is a pot of herbs outside the back door and other things elsewhere so no problem with supplying her with her wishes.

Nor far from this bed are the exiles. These are plants that have been dumped on an overgrown banking for lack of other space.

Here we have Acanthus, Sidalcea and Crososmia Lucifer.

The Cutting Garden (for cut flowers not plant cuttings) is flourishing and the house is overflowing with vases.

There are alstromerias, calendulas, ammi (which is a wonderful white umbellifer and continues to grow in the vase), phlox, rudbeckias, nigella and wallflowers and sweet William for next year. We also have a wall of sweet peas. It is important to keep feeding and cutting so new flowers come and the plants do not set seed but we are running out of room!

The lawns have been mown again and R has been weeding. The last of the blackcurrants have been picked, much to the annoyance of the blackbirds, and I am scavenging the few raspberries we have, hoping to get enough for some jam. Broad beans are in and we had them last night. We were also going to have broccoli but there were just too many caterpillars in the florets.

It is all happening - a spotted flycatcher hawking outside my window, Prince George popping out, Mr. Pheasant nosing in the kitchen door, being swamped by wamps (local for wasps), a cleg bite on my right ring finger, my grandson holding a slowworm, my son and daughter-in-law C and P having their first wedding anniversary. (I wonder what they bought each other? Paper Anniversary I think).
R washed my sun hat (English cricket type) and this proved fatal - hence the rain.
Yet it is still warm and we can sit out.
Which I am now going to do with a mugga coffee and soya milk (and sugar) (and a biccy) (and the last twenty pages of a good book),

Monday, 22 July 2013


So, straight in with poppies, papery petals, fantastic colours and they sow themselves whither they wish. Just as the main roses go over out they come and lift the soul.

R and I dead-headed, weeded, cut back and tidied yesterday. The seed heads of the aquilegias (now ripening) were dispatched to the lower banking where, we hope, they will spread. Geraniums got cut back to the ground so we can have a second flowering later in the year. I picked another 3 pounds of black currants and popped them in the freezer. The raspberries are a feeble disaster so when they are over, out they come and onto the bonfire. I will have to dig a new bed and plant new stock, as virus free as possible. How can one exist without home made raspberry jam?

This white mallow is known in the family as H's flower - H being my younger sister - she gave it to us in both white and pink and this (a mallow) also seeds itself freely. It is such a pure white and has delicate foliage.

A parcel arrived today - 3 Clematis montana I had forgot I ordered - so now I will have to think of where to put them.

It is still sticky and hot so I have spent half a day watering - we have our bore hole so no trouble with wasting water - anyway this is not wasting it - is it?

Disease is ever rearing its head - greenfly on the red currants I can take, but one of the wisterias looks decidedly sickly and I suspect one of the tomato plants may have the dreaded blight!

Having said that the courgettes are loving the hot weather and romping ahead as are the broad beans. The latter got to six feet high before the first signs of blackfly at the growing tips and the necessity to pinch out the top growth.

The horse manure heap has become overgrown with weeds and I began to clear them before they set seed, and then realised what a Herculean task it would be. (And it would make a good site for a new raspberry bed.) So I bowed to poison and rounded it all up. I am now waiting for the weed killer to work. If I had a posse of gardeners to help and unlimited resources then I could have done it the other way.

I have put in this image of an Astantia (Masterwort) to show how beautiful flowers can be if you look at them closely.

The last image shows massed flowers and foliage giving soft shades on the bank immediately below the house.

Now, as I sit here typing, the Duchess of Cambridge is pushing out a new heir to the English throne, poor lass. All are speculating over sex (nothing new there) and names.
She is, we think, overdue and a Caesarian section is not out of the question. (I prefer the old diphthong in Caesarian to without (Cesarian)). What would life be without diphthongs?

In this time of supposed sexual equality, (do not go to northern Pakistan!), perhaps a boy should be Prince Elizabeth or Prince Carole and a girl Princess Philip or Princess Michael - hang on - that has been done before!
From William's father you could get Prince Charlene!

Enough, whilst she pushes out I will push off.

Thursday, 18 July 2013


This is the crambe in full flood (the big things in front are Cardoons). The crambe is now going over, as 

are some of the roses - how the year marches on. It is 29C here today and humid. Too hot for me and my implants. I just have to think about movement and break into a sweat.

I still have not put anything in the Vietnamese Pot. It is sculptural in its own right. R has been hard at work as I split my M&S shorts from stern to - you know - so another pair of trousers has been cut up to size and hang, hemmed, to my knees from my pot.

I found a big toad by the old well yesterday but the big news is the Buzzard that was not! I could hear it but not see it. I was hoping it would chase off the blackbirds, well the hen bird, that was dive bombing me as I stole her blackcurrants. Then I saw the bird singing in the big cherry tree by the Wendy House. It was a jay doing an impersonation. I have heard starlings do such a thing but this was the first time I have seen a jay do it.

Sorry, cooking, off to cool off for a moment as my room gets the afternoon sun and, despite an open window I am braising.

Back again, not much better. Here a pic of a wasp chewing our oak posts. They have been at the sheds as well and they leave 1" marks where they have been. In another five hundred years I may have to replace the wood that is left.

I have been reading, in the cool of the day, ha-ha, Don Howarth's book, Figures in a Bygone Landscape. (He is the man who discovered Fred Dibnah.) (Now that will totally confuse most of my worldwide audience.) (Enough to say that Fred was a CHARACTER who loved bringing down factory chimneys and driving traction engines.)

Anyway, the book is about his childhood in Lancashire in the 1920s and thirties - an alien world, well, not quite for I can remember clogs and stuff. I can also remember horrible medicines. One he describes is Cascara - a strong purgative made from the Purging Blackthorn, Rhamnus purshiana, a shrub from western North America.
Once I had a patient (yes, I was a medic) who was on regular Cascara Evacuant and Liquid Paraffin for constipation. Every time they asked for separate prescriptions.

One day I had the great idea to mix both in one bottle and the pharmacist duly obliged. On my next visit I was greeted with a look of dismay.
The mixture was standing on the mantlepiece but there was no bottle!
The stuff, mixed, had set like concrete and they had broken and removed the bottle to get to it.
Back to separate prescriptions, but, it  always made me wonder what happened when the two laxatives came together inside the patient!

I have several herbals and hope that they never have to be used - it would mean a collapse of society had occurred - and anyway most of the remedies have dubious actions. Gerard and Culpeppper made up a lot of the plants' supposed 'virtues'. There are exceptions - digitalis from foxgloves, rhubarb (enough said), willow extract (salicylic acid), rose hips - vitamin C and itching powder.

To move on - these are Knifofias - red-hot pokers - and I grow them because they were a favourite of my father. They do not go with any other plant in the garden but what the . . .

Despite the dry spell parts of the garden are still boggy and sodden. Perhaps, as it is so hot, I should go and lie down in the pond to cool off.
On the other hand the pond is 20% water 80% mud so perhaps not. A shower will do.
As the ponds have to be kept going for their plants and wildlife I will be helping.
The water from the shower runs into the septic tank, overflows into the soak away, from there to the ditch by the lower hedge and into the two ponds so, by having a shower, I am topping up the ponds!

And - I am loving dining in the garden - we did it twice in the whole of last year.

Time for a g and t and some nibbles al fresco.

Friday, 12 July 2013


I have wild parts of the garden - try to accommodate wildlife, but sometimes it is a struggle. The gooseberry sawfly have finally stripped the bushes. They are too prickly to start picking off the munchers by hand. I do not want to spray anything on the fruit so the gogs will have to be picked now. We repel successive invasions of cabbage and small white butterfly caterpillars on the brassicas, slugs and snails elsewhere and I have not mentioned mites on pears, aphids on currants, wasps harvesting oak from the porch and benches, and blackbirds!

They have stripped the red currants again. I carefully netted the fruit but they forced a way in. I actually caught one inside the nets where it raised a terrible racket, squawking and flapping until it escaped.
And when it had gone the jays arrived.

I do not object to them having some blackcurrants as we have plenty but !!!

We have also had another tragedy with two birds, panicked by Megatron the black cat from down in the village, dying after flying into my study window.

And I have not mentioned weeds - so I won't.

All that said the flowers are wonderful and we have a house and garden full - at the moment - especially the roses.

The last rose is Rosa rubifolia and a seedling given to me by my late Aunt Phebe from the garden at The Manor, Wormleighton.
These are but a selection of the roses, the wild briars, Albertine and others I have not shown.
Most dramatic of all are the two Rambling Rectors - one up the old ash tree and the other sprawled over the flowering currant by the disused well. The first of these was the first thing I put into the garden when we bought the plot.

Gardening at this time of year is a strange mixture of harvest - both fruit and flowers - and a battle with the urge the garden has to swamp me with growth.

And I have not mentioned the unseasonal weather.
It is hot (for us) with temperatures in the upper 20s, has been for over a week and the spectre of watering the ground looms. However we do have our own water supply.

For the first time I can see that the trees around the garden have grown. One oak left in the hedge when it was laid is rocketing skyward and becoming special.

The windows have just been cleaned and the feather powder shadows of birds that have hit them removed.

Time for a pome -


There is a ghost on the glass,
a sparrow hawk silhouette
in feather dust, wings spread
in a late attempt to brake.

The tree sparrow escaped,
side-flew the predator
at the last moment, scraped
the pebble-dash in panic.

The stunned falcon staggered
away through the afternoon,
flew raggedly to a nearby ash
to recuperate and preen.

The garden was silent with fear,
waited for the grey missile to leave, 
which, in the end, it did, streaked
over the barbed wire, hunting.

Friday, 5 July 2013


Today we have cutting of grass.
Last week we had cutting of grass.
Next week we will have cutting of grass.
To quote Molesworth - 'Tomow and tomow and tomow...', 'Chiz!' (For those abroad - a book of childish stories about an English school called St Custard's by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle.) "Hello, birds, hello flowers," said Fotherington-Thomas.

Back to the garden - we also have to shear and to strim and to sickle . . .

3 grey squirrels in one day this week - bait Kit Kat or choc' teacake (and a few nuts).

This is the point in the summer when a bit extra is required as nature tries to get out of hand. Some parts of the garden will be left to their own devices, other parts need a little control. (Some parts need a lot of control.) I have contemplated developing some ingenious labour saving devices such as using the pigeons to pull out the weeds in the paths, getting the pheasants to trample areas or harnessing the squirrels to the mower but there have arisen certain difficulties over this!

Here is A Way Through the Woods, one small mower wide flanked by long grass and wild flowers under a canopy of hawthorn, all lower branches and twigs removed to 5 feet height. There is a small network of such paths in the wood and the wild area with one plank bridges over the small stream.

The week ahead is set fair with high pressure building (cannot believe it) and sun and warmth forecast. The outcome of this is that it will be too hot to work in the garden - lifting a glass with ice tinkling in it will be excessive exercise. (This will not be helped by the lemon, tonic, gin and borage flower also in the glass.)

The way through the willow tunnel is two small mowers wide. I should have planted them further apart so I could use the sit-on but hindsight is a very annoying thing.

This is where the chimes were (was?) hung but R could not hear them so they have been moved nearer the house where she can (if the wind blows) and I can reach a bit easier. In the previous location there is now a long piece of washing line hanging from the tree as I cannot reach the top to cut it off. Suggestions (polite) as to what I can do with this piece of line please.
R does the flowers for her church so what to put in this weekend? It looks like alchemilla and catmint (hope the pong is not too strong nor offensive) with white valerian (hope no one eats it) and tree lupin. Roses do not really last long enough and shower petals as they fall.

So, Whizzo, here we go!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013


Here I am blogging away for ages and now R and her mates have just started a blogging online soap opera and are in the papers and on the tele - the grapes are not very ripe!
I am left at home looking out at the rain (at least we completed weeding of the veg and flower beds yesterday despite it being R's birthday) with a freezer in the back of the car (I could go around Ireland with it and write a book?) waiting for an exchange.

There was worry, as the old upright failed, filled with fruit from last year not yet consumed. New one on the way but the delivery vehicle is too big to get to the house so have had to arrange a tryst nearby for a swap.

The asparagus is struggling but recovering a bit. At least all of the crowns are alive if only just. I must improved the drainage of the soil.
On the regular garden tour I noticed half of a nest box roof had gone - squirrels again - and will need repairing.

The garden is full of young, tiny froglets by the pond, yellow blue tits on the feeders, fledgling tree sparrows skittering over the Wendy House roof.

And suddenly the greater spotted woodies are back, one male trying to drill holes into a thin pole acting as one end of the raspberry cane support (it was part of an old flagpole from a previous house)(the pole was there when we arrived), the female on the peanut feeders and all other birds keeping well away.
Tree sparrows are raising a second brood in the house martin nest, we can hear them chirruping above out bedroom window.

Many of the plants in the garden are splendid - the crambe enormous, a white peony with flowers eight inches across and scented. R, she of lost taste and smell, having been to Norwich to see Prof. Carl, thinks she has some back but only nice smells. We hope improvement continues.
Here is a picture of the white tree lupin - a shrub exploding out of the banking. As the flowers age they turn pink and lavender tinted.

Having just caught a squirrel in the trap and thinking that that is the lot for now, I looked up from my keyboard and there is another on the shed roof outside my study window! The little breeders.

So, this morning R is off to meet the BBC and I am off to the supermarket with a freezer in the boot.
Such is life.