Friday, 27 February 2015


So February comes to a close with my younger son's birthday.
I have a discovery - we have frogspawn in the pond despite the heron - and a loss - the gold signet ring given to me when I was 21 by my Uncle and Godfather John Hay is gone - slipped off my little finger, I think in the garden. We have searched everywhere without success.

So to a look back and I will throw in a cake recipe for good measure.
This is the house and "GARDEN" at the time of building in 2006/7.

By the summer much of it had grassed over and a start was being made on early flower beds and the veg and fruit patch. Much of the far garden was a grassy bog. I had not yet hand dug the stream through the garden nor constructed the path into the woodland area.

To move on a few years and the change was dramatic - a bit of labour and a lot of muck and sweat.

The path had been constructed in front of the house and much planting done including the two cherry trees. The next shows both the path and one of these trees as seen from the house.

The blue seats, cheap and cheerful when bought, have long since disintegrated.

Down in the lower garden I had planted up a willow tunnel donated as withies cut from Urswick Tarn. (Thanks G). This grew out despite attempts at restraining it and this year was removed by order of the Boss.

Fifteen new white birches have been put in at the far end to add to the six already maturing.

Then there is the pond, now greening over, the stream has been rerouted and plans to drain the garden await implementation.

So the garden has grown up but will never be finished.
Threats await us with the spreading disease of ash die-back - most of our mature trees are ash - and the age of the gardener becoming more relevant (in other words he is becoming decrepit unlike his wife who gets (annoyingly) fitter every day. I will be told off now for mentioning that I am getting older and being pessimistic etc etc.

So to a recipe and my grandmother Hester's Sponge Cake. This is a well used page held together with old browning Sellotape.

3 eggs
Same weight in sugar as the eggs
Half the weight of plain flour
Grated rind of orange or lemon
Small teaspoonful (UK) of baking powder
2 tablespoons (UK) of cold water

Separate whites and yolks. Put yolks in basin with sugar and rind and beat till pale - then add water and beat again.
Whip whites of eggs till stiff. Add flour and baking powder to yolk mix and then fold in the whipped egg whites.
Put into lined (greaseproof paper) deepish cake tin.
Heat in oven at 380F or just hotter than moderate for 40 min to 1 hour.
It is worth while taking time to line the cake tin carefully buttering the paper thoroughly.

Yum, yum.*

*This was a record by my bro' and his band banned by the BBC after being played on Children's Favourites by Uncle Mac as they had not realised someone says the word S**t loudly in the intro!

So to end with a few more pics -

And finally Fiona Clucas's painting of our wood.

So is this the last blog - ?? Probably.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

THE 499th BLOG

In the beginning there was a squirrel, well two then, Oh! dear, a lot. So the trap had to come out again and in three days I caught three tree rats and broke the law by not killing them but transporting them well away from here to secret locations where they were released (including the local supermarket and golf club car parks).

I watched this one going in and out of the trap for fifteen minutes getting peanuts and then sitting at the entrance stuffing its face, however, finally, wham! Gotcha!
On the grassy path up into the wood I have watched them digging. Presumably they are looking for buried food - but they leave a mess.

Today is mainly raking off the lower banking and heaping the rankings by the fence.
This reveals that there is a scattering of daffodils on the slope - from when the topsoil was replaced after building the house.

Water has always been a feature of the garden - not always desirable as per this newly discovered spring by the apple tree. The thing that looks like a toad in the bottom of the pic is actually a stone.

This spring will be, hopefully, piped when we get the garden drained a bit later this year.

After heavy rain the main stream is chunnering away down the drop to the lower garden.
We have planted snowdrops here and more need to be moved.

We have our first daffs - little ones by the shed - and the last 

pot of indoor bulbs is about to flower - better late than never.

This is the 499th blog I have done. (I hear you say 500 too many!) I have tried to reduce the blog output in the past but it just creeps up again so I may decide that this is the last but one. It seems that 500 would be an appropriate time to stop.

Monday, 23 February 2015


I have just watched another of our frogs being consumed by Hades the heron. It was plucked from the centre of the pond and then held in the beak, dropped and speared several times then washed in the water. Still the legs wriggled so another spearing and washing, then a flick and it was gone.

The only thing in the pond is the reflection of the eucalyptus tree.


The heron concentrates 
down its splinter bill.
Its malevolent eyes burn
like sodium in a grey mist.

Without a ripple
the heron stalks water.
The headlamps of its skull
search the sluggish river.

It strikes! An arching frog
heads headfirst down the long throat.
The bulge that still lives
descends into oblivion.

There are so many gloomy days at the moment, so still and misty if not actually raining.
The windmill is unmoving.

The mowers have come back from servicing and are in the shed. It rains so for now they stay there but I will soon have to attach the trailer and shift muck.

Today's (March edition) of the Gardeners' World Magazine is almost 200 pages and stuffed with good things - especially a section on pruning. These mags always contain offers of plants - free but for the postage - so tempting but where would I put them. R has stated categorically that there are not to be any more flower beds as they need weeding and maintaining.

Talking of pruning the time is coming to cut back the willow - a la Gary Primrose.

Now it is brightening up and the rain has stopped (for now). I am running out of excuses for not going out and doing something.

I have yet to manure the banking in front of the house - a bit of tidying first. 
If I had a few dry days, perhaps with a drying wind, I could give the lawns a little scalping to neaten them up - if. 

Pots are showing life and the tulips I saved from last year and replanted in the autumn are through.

This morning I heard the song thrush for the first time this year with its endless triple phrasing without repetition - that is it repeats a bit of song three times or so and then does the same with a different piece. Each snatch is not the same as the one before or after.

Here is another pic of snowdrops.

And finally nurturing last year's amaryllis has paid off in a big way.

What a colour. One bulb flowering and the other stirring so when the first is over we will have the second to enjoy.

Thursday, 19 February 2015


Rake off the banking, cart the stuff to the far end of the garden beyond the bonfire, barrow muck, barrow compost, barrow well-rotted horse manure - phew - and the brambles go beneath the hands of the mighty brambler.

Here by the dead tree - allowed to rot as a habitat for wildlife - all used to be blackberries and now nothing but leaf mould.

Spring is sprunging and a cacophony of crows (actually rooks but a little alliteration goes a long way) greets the dawn as they scatter in the ash tops. We have no frog spawn yet but then we may not have any frogs as the heron is here every day for breakfast. It is a good thing we do not have any fish in the pond.

The snowdrops are magnificent and form a carpet in the upper garden. Lower down by the path to the Wendy House are more though every year we heavily harvest these for other places. Now R has cleared the brambles we will need plenty for the newly opened area. They should love the deep leaf mould and we will also be spreading our wild bluebells there.

Colour in the winter can be more subtle than at other times and the bark of trees becomes important. Here, left to right, brown birch, white birch and grey poplar.

 Having mentioned trees we are getting low on logs so I have tidied out the woodshed. The sacks contain dry sticks from the garden for kindling.

I am back on my diet having put on a bit (a lot I hear) of weight so no recipe today. We had pancakes on Monday - I know it should have been Tuesday - Shrove and stuff - but son came for supper.

Still odd flowers in the garden like this rose.

Then there are the winter specialists, the scented sarcococcus by the back door and this orange hamamelis (witch hazel).

 So we are in recovery mode after a few days in Herefordshire with grandchildren - wonderful but it can be tiring. They are doing wonderful things with their house and 4 acres (planted a wood and an orchard area) with views to Skirrid and Sugar Loaf Mountain.

5 squirrels on the feeders this morning - too much - trap out, caught one in 5 minutes, cannot kill them though so off into the wide outdoors for a distant release.
One or two is ok but 5!

I hear a voice, "Do you want a cup of tea?" 
Yes, please.

Saturday, 14 February 2015


Jethro Tull says in his book The Horfe-Hoeing Husbandry or an Essay on the Principles of Tillage and Vegetation regarding weeds (my copy published in 1733) - 

"Plants that come upon any Land, of a different Kind from the fown or planted Crop, are Weeds. . . . All Weeds as fuch are pernicious, but fome much more than others; fome do more Injury, and are more easily deftroyed, fome do lefs Injury and are harder to kill; others there are, which have both thefe bad Qualities."

So here we have brambles in winter in the far corner of the garden. There is a large patch of them beyond the den and R has been steadily clearing these. 

Brambles are definitely pernicious as well as tenacious and just plain nasty. I have been tidying the ditch and hedge lower down and am covered in scratches. They cling to clothes and tangle in one's hair. Of  course they do not have the nastiness of the stinging nettle nor the plain bloody mindedness of the creeping buttercup nor the won't go awayiness of bindweed but of all the weeds in the garden the bramble has it. The stems arch over and where they touch the ground they root. 
Ah! Yes, I hear a cry, but they have blackberries - not in our wood they do not, not a one.

 So to winter and grey and grey and grey.
The woodland then can be grey, the sky is grey (my beard, should I grow one would be white), the local landscape is grey.

Even the paving is grey, all right with a little white from snow or hail, and it can make interesting abstract patterns but most of all it is GREY!

What about garden foliage? Well so much of the winter foliage can be grey. I admit that there is some green and . . . enough moaning done!
Time to stop moaning and look at our lily - Colour!

And time for another of Mum's recipes.
So here we go -

I found a page headed 'Cocktails' and thought of you all but it was just prawns and stuff.


Pastry - 7 oz lard to 10 oz flour. Handle as little as possible.

1 lb sausage meat, 
1 cooking apple,
2 medium sized potatoes,
1 onion,
pinch of sage
A little milk or egg.

Line 8 inch tin with pastry. Slice half potato, onion and apple onto pastry. Mix sausage meat and sage and place in tin. Then place other half of apple, onion and potato on top. Cover with rest of pastry and brush with milk or egg.
Bake 15 m minutes at 450F then 45 minutes at 375F. (It can be cooked longer at a very low heat if desired.)
Serve with gravy or savoury sauce.
Good hot or cold.
(She does not mention seasoning so I leave that to you.)

Makes the old tum rumble - time for a snack!

Sunday, 8 February 2015


Bonfires, bonfires - lit it yesterday and it is still burning (with a little help.) Picked today as no wind as not too antisocial with regard to neighbours. In my own doghouse as wore my favourite fleece and burned a hole in the right sleeve. 

R did more brambly stuff and I raked the banking down and put the debris on the fire. Then more sticks collected etc.

On the banking either side of the stream there are big clumps of wood melick and R has decided these must go. Too lumpy to mow and digging out a nightmare so I have had to resort to spraying them. This is not ideal but I do not have an army of gardeners as they used to do in the old days.

The garden is not the only place with fire - the dawn sky yesterday was very dramatic.

In contrast the cool snowdrops are doing well on the banking and appearing all over the place - the problem being that we cannot remember where we put them when we divided them last year - I Know! We should have used labels but too lazy - and anyway get nice surprises in the winter when they flower.
I am listening to Elbow singing Lippy Kids - he does have a voice rather like my son R (or the other way around.)

Every morning that bird is by or in the pond looking for breakfast. So this presents a dilemma - we like the bird but feel for the frogs. There are no fish in the pond. 

It is so dry I could have mowed the lawn but the mowers are not back from their service. What a shame!

To ze recipe - 

This is called Apple Goody (you must remember some of these emerged at a time of rationing.)

1 pound thinly sliced cooking apples
2 medium oranges
4 level tablesp brown sugar
2 cups fresh white breadcrumbs (UK cups)
2 oz butter

Mix apple with juice and grated rind of 1 orange and 3 tablesp of brown sugar in a greased fireproof dish. Melt butter in a pan and stir in breadcrumbs with remaining tablesp sugar. Place over apple mix. Cook in moderate oven for 50 minutes.
Use last orange sliced as decoration. (If you want - not compulsory.)

I am going to have a - no not tea - I am going to have a small beer.
(I would have a big one but only have small tins.) This will slake the thirst (good word slake) caused by the fire.

And then there is morning - sun, a little warmth, not a breath of wind, the heron waiting for breakfast, birds singing everywhere.

It is good to be alive. We sat out before lunch in the sun (chilly) and had a cuppa and a crossword.

In the afternoon I dug out a new course for the stream where it was disappearing into the septic tank soakaway and rebuilt the various plank crossing points.

We think the lawn the house side of the white birches should be daffodilled but this will have to wait of the autumn now.