Sunday, 27 January 2013


I was counting the birds for the RSPB this morning. Then they all suddenly disappeared! Last year it was a Kestrel, this year I suspect Megatron the neighbour's black cat. Fortunately they came back and in addition to the usual we had our tree sparrows and a pair of bramblings.
The survey over, I am looking out of my window - there are long-tailed tits on the feeders and a greater-spotted woodpecker in the old ash tree! Such is life.

The snow has done its damage, (we had 15cm (Wow! Metric)), - snapped a branch off the Magnolia grandiflora, flattened a rhododendron (it will sprout again from the stump). It rained all night and it is above freezing and now we have floods again. Water, water everywhere and not an albatross in sight.

To top it all one big sheep has found our grass is greener and climbed over the wall in the far corner where the fence abuts up against it, managed to knock part of the wall down too. So, wellies on and out I go before breakfast with some barbed wire and do a temporary repair. However, sheep are resourceful and agile. I will not be at all surprised to see it back in the garden. At least it was on its own.

Despite the snow there is still some shape and colour in the garden. The miscanthus is blowing in the wind now but yesterday was heavy with the snow, the brown colours contrasting with the white.

I am still staying off the lawns as far as I can and definitely off the upper banking as the snowdrops are just coming out and the whole area is peppered with daffodil shoots.

Now I have just seen three female pheasants ambling up the woodland path!
Maybe they are here because of the peanuts - the damp had got into the feeders so I emptied the contents on the grass and refilled with fresh dry nuts.
Even if the birds do not take them the wood mice will be nipping out and carrying them off.

I searched the garden for tracks but apart from the bird trampled areas under the feeders nothing - except sheep. We have had a fox, rabbits and even bullocks in the past but today nothing. The voles have tunnels under the snow in the longer grass - a network of paths out of sight of predators.

Bullocks in a garden are a disaster - they trample everywhere leaving deep hoof marks for yours truly to fill in and seed.

Now the rooks have arrived.
Where were they an hour or so ago?


Oh! Yes - on my blogsite,, I now have a sign in facility in the top lefthand corner. Wonderful thing sons! There are 300 blogs on there!

Thursday, 24 January 2013


Let us hope this cold spell has reduced the sluggery that goes on in the garden every year. Plants are not safe out in the summer. There they are enjoying a mild day, thinking about their flowers and fruit, when suddenly this slimy gang creep out and chew hell out of them - I call it sluggery.
This is not the same as snailery. They do not hide underground and ambush vegetation - they are more obvious, not so sneaky. Snailery is not the same as sneaky sluggery.

The paths are gravelled, the fallen wood and twigs collected, more muck barrowed and spread despite the frost and snow. Actually we have not had that much here, maximum 3". I did not even get the toboggan out and there was not enough for an igloo. We have had our tragedies with a couple of small bird deaths - this is a window hit from a blue tit and I found a dunnock frozen in a flower bed.

Our buzzard dropped in but was soon harassed into dropping out again by the rooks. I suppose that is a case of rookery?

Today has been Seville Day - I have been making this year's Marmalade. Old recipe, Sadie's Best. I may have blogged this a year or so ago but for the G&G Garden bloggers, here it is again. (I know this is last years batch so do not look too closely at the labels.)

9 Seville Oranges
8 lbs Sugar,
9 pints water if softening on top of cooker (I do it in the simmering oven of the Aga with the lid on so only 6 pints water).
2 lemons
1 sweet orange,
yield 14 lbs or so.

(You can see I am not Metric Man)

Cut up fruit, squeeze out juice, tie pips in a muslin bag, and any other bits.
Cut up peel and put through mincer (have old Kenwood).
Put juice and peel in big jam pan and add water.
Put pips and bits in muslin bag and hang in pan.
(NOTE: I need to do it in two lots so need to divide bits into two bags.)
Boil up without sugar and simmer for 1-2 hours till peel soft and transparent.
Now I divide it in two and add half sugar (warmed in bowl in oven).
Stir from time over gentle heat till dissolved, then boil hard, lid off, for 10-12 minutes.
Put jars in bottom oven with lids on a baking tray.
Test regularly by taking off heat and putting a teaspoonful on a saucer. I put the saucers in the freezer to make them cold and speed up the testing.
When you push your finger into test sample and it wrinkles it is ready!
Fill hot jars and screw on tops straight away. As the marmalade cools it vacuum seals the lids. No need for waxy discs and rubber bands and such.

A bit of a faff but once a year should be enough except for extremely avid marmalade consumers, those with a marmalade waistline.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


What can you do when the ground is frozen? We are just above the snow line here at 365 ft and all is rock hard. First wear gloves, two or three pairs of socks (except then you cannot get your wellies on), several old jumpers and so on.
Of course what I do is go out in one pair of socks, a good pair of trousers and a good shirt and get really mucky. R has given up.

So, four tons of Burlington blue slate chippings are barrowed onto the garden paths to repair the damage done by last year's weather. We could have had welsh purple chippings or green slate ones but the blue is less intrusive.
The path edges have rotted and new ones are being put in. Steps need to be remade, not, this time, with discarded scaffolding planks but I have found a cheap source of pressure treated fence posts. So, sawn up into lengths of about two feet, they can be used as the risers, pegged well and then infilled behind with soil and the chippings. I have abandoned the wood chip path through the wood as the surface rotted (especially this year) in a few months. Stone, I hope, will last longer.

Another victim of the rain was our electric gate at the bottom of the track. (R insisted she did not want to get out in the rain to open and shut it so it was one luxury we indulged in when we built the house.) The water has affected the motor and penetrated the seals. The paper lady arrived one day, popped the paper through the letterbox and then could not get out! Trapped by a shut gate. As it was very early it was a pyjamas under trousers job.

The track will need repairing, the ponds will need redigging, lining and the boardwalk repairing. Bankings are rough as all was so wet in the late summer and autumn that strimming was not possible. As the daffs are coming up any cutting back will have to wait until July at the earliest so they can build up their bulbs for next year.

It always amazes me how much wood falls off our ash trees. we have been collecting it and storing it under cover.

And the muckwork goes on, wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow up from the horse heap off the lane below the house.
Hard work but one of the secrets of a garden which bursts with growth later in the year.
Whilst we were watching the rain the creeping buttercups have been having a field day, well a buttercup field day - tough to extract their clawing roots.

And, much of the lawn areas are still out of bounds,
boggy and soggy, the grass sparse, (I'm a poet and don't know it).

First buds on the snowdrops and the mahonia coming into flower and woodpeckers pecking nuts at least mean we are the right side of the dark days. The world is waking - which is more than can be said for myself.
I have found a cure for insomnia - sleep!
No, the cure is shifting manure, heaps of manure.

And now is the time to try Cousin G's mole disperser again - out with the human hair and down the molehole it goes.

Friday, 11 January 2013


I am a fogey in a fog - a cold chilling fog - it penetrates to the
bone. The trees are long-limbed ghosts, dripping in the mizzle.
Everything is still, so still that the movement of a bird stands out and draws the eye.

The shifting of horse manure goes on, day after day, one barrow pushed up the steep hill from the muck mountain in the corner of the horse field by the gate. Now I am clearing the dead remnants of plants from the flower beds ahead of the spreading and loading up the compost bays. The grasses, miscanthus and stipa, are left and look good - fountains of light brown against the grey of the day.

Yesterday I had an urgent telephone call from my Grandson - he had been out walking and found a fossil in a stone. So, out I go to the garden and root amongst the many pieces of stone gathered from all the places we have visited. I find a good fossil, clean it and put it with the gathering collection of bits and pieces to take down to him and his sister (and his parents) when we go later this winter to grandchild sit, (not on them).

The chipping paths in the garden have suffered with the rain and are muddy. A new layer was needed so two large builders' bags of blue slate chippings were delivered late yesterday - lorry too big for our narrow gate and so on of course despite warnings. The sacks now sit atop a low wall (easier to fill the wheelbarrow from above) waiting for muscle power (he comes on Monday).

The rain eased, the water level in the stream has fallen to reveal mud and silt washed down from the field and filling the two ponds - more digging needed!

Just once since the beginning of the year (perhaps twice) has the sun shone. Then it lights up the pansies in the pots - a success. So is the sarcococcus by the door where its scent wafts over me each time I pass. I put the winter-flowering honeysuckle on the banking - this was a mistake. it needs moving to somewhere I can smell that as well.

So, what can one do when the days are drear and the darkness pervades all?
The woodburner can be lit, a mug filled and magazines - such as the three shown - read, and catalogues perused.
R has said that we do not need more plants, we have more than enough.
I wonder if she knows I have twelve catmints and twenty senecios (whoops brachyglottis now) rooting in the shed?

I did not put in any more wallflowers in the autumn, the slugs ate the lot, but have noticed last year's are coming into bud already. They are now small shrubs with woody stems.

So from the fogey in the fog, here are good wishes to all for the New Year.
(ps. 6 month scan OK, next check in July)

Yesterday I sat out in the chill for an hour waiting for the delivery of the chippings and it just felt wonderful to be alive, a very small part of this fantastic thing called Earth, a part of the magic, listening to birds call and distant voices across the fields, feeling the sharpness of the air on my face, to be happy.