Tuesday, 31 January 2012

End of Month Review - January

Gosh January is probably one of the grimmest months for me.  Generally cold, dark and frosty and usually with snow; though this year has had mildness and thankfully a snow free month.  Cold though, really quite cold at times.

When the ground is frozen I find it hard to get outside in the garden.  I am not precious about the lawn so I am not one who fears to tread on it in case it gets damaged, but I cannot weed successfully with frozen solid ground.  The mildness of the month has meant that weeds are still growing.  I actually don't mind weeding most of the time, I find it useful and meditative to get down close to the soil and see what is going on.  This time of year I enjoy seeing what is starting to grow, which to me is always a sign of hope that Spring is returning.

So what of January in the garden: I shall start with a rare view of my front garden.  It looks a mess, I know that.  One day it will be a knot garden, one day I will like it and be happy with it......

..... but not yet.  The box cuttings that were tiny when planted are starting to knit together a bit now and that makes me happier, but at the moment its just scrappy.

The big border in front of the conservatory lacks colour, until on closer inspection that ray of hope appears:
 The first winter iris is flowering, it may be small but it is a glimpse of welcome colour. 

There are great signs of growth though in the borders.  This Cynara cardunculus is doing really well.  I grew these from seeds and planted them when I first arrived in this garden.  These were planted before I moved in properly, I planted about eight of them altogether, now I only have three left as they swamped things a bit but I wanted something big and bold to get the garden started.

The pond border is not really any more colourful - it looks quite sparse.
The border was only extended in the Autumn so it not trouble me too much that it looks fairly empty at the moment.  The wallflowers are waiting to do their thing.  I still have alot in the vegetable beds that never got planted out, they are sort of weed suppressent at the moment.
The hamamelis gives some colour by the pond.  This orange one is rather fine.  Not very big but its thriving and that is good.
The dahlia border is of course without dahlias so looking a bit poor too.  The woad will bring this border to life soon, it self-seeds itself around and looks stunning when it bursts into flower.
The Erysimum Bowles Mauve is flowering away as ever in the Dahlia border.  I have owned this plant for years, the original must have been two gardens ago, but cuttings always moved with me and I take cuttings regularly to ensure I still have this plant.  It is such a good doer, in flower for most of the year and beloved by bees and butterflies.
The broccoli sits in the vegetable garden like a morose sitting tenant.  It's days are numbered, it will not successfully broccle, but it just sits there, waiting, glaring at me as its my fault as I do not know how to succeed with it.
The Rosa 'Hyde Hall' hedge that is the boundary of the vegetable garden is showing signs of new growth.  I have high hopes that this year the hedge will really start to flourish.  Last year was its first year and it flowered quite well, but I shall feed it this year and cosset it a bit more.
As I move walk further down the garden, into the wild area, the snow drops are starting to open in amoungst what should be grass but is rather a carpet of weeds.  Still pretty though.  The wild area always does spring best I think.  It is here that it really shows well.
The quince tree is showing the first signs of green.  Will I get a quince this year?  I shall be watching it closely to see how it does.  I had blossum last year but it did not set.

I did do something very brave.  I tackled one of my compost heaps.  I generate a lot of garden waste, some of it in compost bins but a lot just in piles near the vegetable patch.  I have always been wary of digging into them in case rats or something jumped out at me but I decided to throw caution to the wind and move some of the pile into the proper compost bin as the level had settled right down.
I moved one pile into the first compost bin and nothing squeaky jumped or ran out at me.  This was a great success.  My greatest fear of all was actually injuring something with the spade so it was a great relief not to do so.
This compost bin is now full to the top (this photo shows it half full).  Next week I have to move the rest of the un-binned piles into the two other bins then maybe I can be a real gardener and use the compost in the garden........ maybe

and finally, as is now tradition, the pond.  The pond is pretty much full, not quite but most of the edging stones that should be touching the water now are.  I reckon about another inch and it will be as full as it gets.   I know this photograph is a bit dark but I liked the reflection and Chesney posing on the edge. 

Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Of lupins not lycanthropy

I just ordered some lupin seeds.  I have been thinking about lupins quite a bit recently (as you do) and the combination of various thoughts coming together meant I decided to buy some seeds.

I do already have some lupins in my garden, the standard perennial type and a tree lupin.  The perennial I acquired by picking up fallen seed pods from a friends garden (with their permission, I am not that ill mannered).  I grew them on anyway to see what would happen.  Funnily enough, when you sow lupin seeds it appears that lupins grow from them.  I would never have bought lupins I think at that time; I associated them with the garden I first remember as a child and sort of locate them badly as a thing of the 1960s.  This is odd as I even liked them as a child, I liked the furry seed pods, though I got shouted at if I picked them I vaguely think I was told that it would stop them from growing the next year.  I just remembered this as I started to write and realised for the first time that it doesn’t make sense as I know now that to keep them flowering they should be deadheaded.

I was also reading about the concentration camp at Treblinka the other day.  It was a news story about how the Nazis had tried to hide its existence by bulldozing the buildings and creating a mock farm where it had been in the hope that no one would notice the horrific activities that had happened there and they planted fields of lupins.  This was not a memorial, or a WW1 poppy field of peace, this was a concerted effort to hide the death camps under fields of flowers. This made me pause and think as it is something that is more likely to make me never plant a lupin again.  Except of course the lupins are not to blame, it is the true horror of using something so beautiful to hide something so evil.  

Thirdly, because my mind is odd at the best of times, I have often mused upon the name lupin itself and wondered if it was something to do with wolves (lupinus) and of course it is.  Lupins grow as weeds in many areas and are believed to ‘ravage the land’ like wolves do. (do wolves ravage land?)   Also their seeds were believed to be only fit to be eaten by wolves, though apparently they can be found in some areas sold in salt solution to be eaten a bit like olives.  I don’t eat olives so I am definitely not going to eat salty, bitter lupin beans (seeds)  On saying that apparently they are now being grown commercially as an alternative to soy.  These are obviously the non-poisonous lupin seeds, not the poisonous ones that kill cattle.  So I will err on the side of caution and not eat them.

They are useless with werewolves by the way, only wolfsbane (aconitum) will help you there.

Now I await the delivery of my seeds, Lupin 'Sunrise' and Lupin 'Red Flame', I ordered them from here and now I wait with great excitement for their arrival.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

What will be waiting in your room?

“Its funny, you don’t know whats going to be in your room until you see it, then you realise it could never have been anything else.”  (Dr Who, Episode 11/13  The God Complex  Toby Whitehouse).

What a great episode of Dr Who that was: the whole series that played often on our innermost fears and this episode focused totally on what made us afraid, what made us reach out for help.  As the characters opened doors they found many things, several struck a chord of fear in me, the ventriloquists dummy (I am more afraid of puppets, but it was close enough, it is the unnatural movements they have, I shudder at the thought), the clown, I have never liked clowns, I have always had a fear of Santa’s Grottoes in shops.  Odd that no spiders were involved, but maybe that was too obvious.

Now I am not going to say that things in the garden frighten me, funnily enough outside in the garden even the spiders are fine, its only when they get in the house I am really scared.  It did make me think though, a sort of this room but for gardens, what is it that I would put in my room that I would need to shut away.
Would I find hostas in my room? I don’t like hostas very much, but I have a few now that are relatively pleasing.  It could be conifers?  Again, not all though, I love my ginkgo trees.  I would also really love to get a Japanese larch; space says this is a bad idea but they are such beautiful trees.  Dwarf conifers though, those little lime green pyramids I see in garden centres and lining people’s drives, they are edging towards the door of the room.

Petunias, I am not a fan, sorry.  Bizzy Lizzies (they have mildew apparently), not keen on many, apart from the ones I like.  How about begonias? Bedding begonias: urgh  except, except, then I see them in a context, or a shape or form that I think, oh you’re ok I like you.  I grow some begonias.
So its not going to be a plant, what about slugs and snails?  Well, I don’t like them munching my plants though the main garden does not suffer too badly in general from them; I think the abundance of birdlife helps with this.  Where I do suffer from them is in the greenhouse.  There they hide and pop out when I least except it and eat all my seedlings.  I lost all my Dahlia Merckii seedlings last year to this, I was not happy.  Snails I can deal with better than slugs, snails I can pick up and throw over the hedge into the field.  Teaching them to fly makes me happy.  Slugs I can’t pick up.  I do in extremis use organic slug pellets in the greenhouse.  They do help.

Then I know what I will find: wasps, without a doubt that’s what I would put in the room.  They terrify me, I try and act brave but I fail miserably.  I turn into a flappy hysterical child if one comes near me.  The thought of one in my car with me is sheer unadulterated terror.  I know people will tell me they are beneficial and do something good in the great chain of being.  Fine, I will accept that, but not near me please.  I even know how many wasps will be in my room; there will be five.  Three will be buzzing up and down the window, a window that will not open so I cannot let them out.  One will be buzzing around in that zig-zaggy fashion, dive-bombing down towards me and then silently getting ready for the next attack.  Number five will be waiting, lurking, under the sheets or under my pillow.  Waiting for that moment when I least expect it and I put my hand on it or lie on it.

So what would be waiting for you in your room?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Lasting legacy

People come and people go in our lives, some staying for a lifetime, some for a significant amount of time and others fleetingly pass to and fro weaving around us like maypole dancers.  Not all these people make an impression, not all these people make a good or a lasting impression but sometimes it is right to take a step back and consider for a moment.

There are times when people come into your life, they throw your life around, turning it upside down and you feel like a helpless witness to the chaos you are suddenly living in.  It can be very hard after such a time to think of the good and the positive and sometimes it is not possible at all.  I feel the need to look to find the sign of the positive, the thing I can point to and say – yes, that is your legacy and it is good.

I look around my garden, which is my territory and definitely my sanctuary.  I cast my eyes around looking at the different elements that make it into what it currently looks like today.  It is still a newish garden, not yet five years old, but it is starting to mature well.  I look at my roses and smile, my various trees that I have planted and the shrubs and perennials – all planted by me and all making me happy.  No, correction, not all planted by me; there is the acer, known as the Carol Klein acer as it was bought from her nursery many years ago in another person’s life.  It lived for years in a pot and then was finally planted out in the garden not long after moving to this house.  It is in the wrong place, it gets horribly wind burned and I need to move it.  I had hesitated to move it, it was possible it might have been reclaimed, but that can’t happen now can it.

I look at the pile of sandstone rocks at the top end of the garden, not my creation and too big, too difficult for me to move.  I am encouraging things to grow over it to hide it away and one day it will get a Brenda to make it into a tiny grotto (or a grotty).

I look at the pond, I remember its creation (which involved the loss of a portmeirion mug), I frown at the memory, I liked that mug.  I now love my pond, originally built to be a goldfish pond, but subverted by me into a wildlife pond.  I successfully undid what I could and made it what I wanted.  No, that is still not the thing I seek.

The search continues, what can I light upon, what can I say left the good impression and then I find it.  Yes, of course, the greenhouse.  You put the greenhouse up and that in itself was a major development for the garden.  Where would the garden be without the greenhouse.  Oh and the raised vegetable beds, you made those too.
So the search stops, I can look at the greenhouse and the raised beds and say ‘you contributed those and they are good’.  I truly hope you now can rest in more peace than you had in life.  Good bye.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

A mouse's tail

It began as an ordinary day.  A nice sunny cold winter's morning.  I went out for a wander to inspect the garden before deciding what I would do first in the day and then came back in for a cup of tea.  Tea is the fuel that keeps me going.

When I walked into the lounge Lawrence-cat was up to something and making that singing noise that cats make when they have a mouthful of something they shouldn't.  He turned and looked at me a little wide-eyed and dropped the mouse onto the floor.  Unusually for Lawrence, the mouse was still very alive and made a dash for it.  In the mean time I had run to the conservatory door as the nearest door to the outside and opened it.  I shouted at Lawrence (there may have been expletives involved) and Lawrence grabbed the mouse again quickly.  I grabbed Lawrence and made to eject him and mouse through the open door.  Lawrence then dropped the mouse again and it made a better dash for it.  Before you could say "for F sake Lawrence pick it up!" it had disappeared under the sideboard.

This I did not want.  I did not want the mouse dead, but I did not want it in my house.  Lawrence took up residence in front the sideboard waiting for it to emerge.  There was little I could do so I left things as they were for now, confident that in a house with four cats they would deal with the problem faster than I could buy a humane mouse trap.

I do not condone Lawrence's killing ways.  Of my four cats he is the only one with any inclination to hunt at all.  Geoffrey is too old and was always too lazy, Austin has had her moments but these days she is more concerned with keeping warm and keeping away from Chesney.  Chesney is too fluffy and bouncy, really he ought to be called Tigger, in fact all the time I do believe this is what he is singing: "The wonderful thing about tiggers / Is tiggers are wonderful things / Their tops are made out of rubber / Their bottoms are made out of springs / They're bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy fun, fun, fun, fun, fun / But the most wonderful thing about tiggers is I'm the only one / IIIII'm the only on!" (The House at Pooh Corner, AA Milne 1928).  Substitute the word Chesney (for he is the one and only) for the word Tigger and now you know why Austin avoids him as much as possible.  So, Lawrence is the only hunter.  He spends a lot of time by the compost heap - waiting, waiting.  He has had a collar with a bell on it, it seemed to attract the birds so I had to remove the bell.  It is one of the more unpleasant sides of cat keeping that some will hunt, it does not please me.

In honesty I sort of forgot about the mouse after a day or so.  I imagined that Lawrence had had it as he was taking little notice of its hiding place any more and the lack of remains or evidence was not a sign that it was still alive.  Lawrence rarely leaves a trace (though he does leave piles of vomit - anyway, moving on swiftly.....)

Fast forward to the next Friday.  I get downstairs to the kitchen and find this...

I then knew for certain the mouse was alive and well and under the oven.  I had to get to work so left him to it.  When I got home he was still there.

I then fed the cats and whilst they were all busy eating suddenly the mouse appeared.  It ran across the kitchen and into the dining room.  This was not a great development and I was not too pleased at this.  I decided I had to deal with the mouse issue in some way (I had no plan at all).  I thought it was shut in the dining room, but no, somehow it had got into the hall (limboed under the door I reckon), my son opened the front door and puf, like Keyser Söze the mouse was gone.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Sunrise 08.11 Sunset 16.19

"The shortest day has passed, and whatever nastiness of weather we may look forward to in January and February, at least we notice that the days are getting longer.  Minute by minute they lengthen out.  It takes some weeks before we become aware of the change.  It is imperceptible even as the growth of a child, as you watch it day by day, until the moment comes when with a start of delighted surprise we realize that we can stay out of doors in a
twilight lasting for another quarter of a precious hour."  Vita Sackville-West

‘Nuff said

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Imperial March

Now I have to start by saying I am not actually a huge Star Wars fan.  My younger brother and son are (though they will explain which films in which order for claritys sake) and yes I have been known to use light saber chopsticks from time to time.  I have watched nearly all the films (I haven’t seen the last one, episode 3) but I fully acknowledge the significance Star Wars has had on our culture today.

When ever I consider the building of evil empires then the Imperial March pops into my head.  It would be wrong of me to imply that I consider my garden an evil empire and yet as I develop it further each year, when I remove more grass and tame more weeds (or fail to tame more weeds- the weeds are the Rebel Alliance I am sure) then I do sometimes consider is what I am doing benign/of benefit and of benefit to whom?

Oh I grow lots of native plants/trees, but also some non natives.  I have also planted lots of wild flowers in the wild bit of the garden and this year in particular I can see that they are really starting to spread and mature.  This is all to the good – I think?  Did Darth Vader think he was doing the right thing…..?

I have to question sometimes whether my garden happier when it was just lawn?   Did it like just being mowed every now and again and not being constantly bothered by me to do a variety of what I think are interesting and exciting things?  Yet now with less lawn I see it as having more freedom, more variety and diversity, so I tell myself that I released the garden, gave it the ability to have more potential - but have I?

Am I Darth Vader or the Rebel Alliance?  I am not sure that thinking in terms of good and bad are helpful, really is it about different points of view - or is that falling for relativism?  Are the people who plant petunias everywhere the Darth Vaders of gardening?  Is guerrilla gardening just imposing your will on other territories?  and if it is, does that make it a bad thing or a good thing or is it just a thing and totally dependent on what you actually do?  (the latter is the important bit I think).

See – so many questions – yet the biggest question of all remains the carpenter question.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Find a dolphin in a rose

Now I admit  when I first saw this I had no idea what the title of this post means.  Someone found my blog through using those search words.

Being a curious sole I did the same search and I found this:  http://www.planetperplex.com/en/item/beach-rose/

This seems to answer question quite neatly.  I had to stare at it quite a bit I confess.  I am useless at these sort of vision games.  I can stare at Magic Pictures for ever and I never see the sailing ship or a schooner, I just get a headache.

Still, a nice rose nonetheless and an amusing five minutes whilst I pondered on it.

I have had some other interesting and at times puzzline seach words that have found my blog, but this one is probably the most enigmatic to date.

For those of you who care, it picked up my blog because of this post


Thursday, 5 January 2012

Ghosts of gardens past

I have just read the excellent article in the January edition of The Garden by Lia Leendertz about the ghosts of the gardeners who created the great historic gardens.  I like the piece as it talks of the working men and boys who did the physical work, the ordinary people rather than the rich.  It reminds me of visiting gardens with a friend who would mutter as we walked around 'this is built with the blood and sweat of our forefathers.

This made me think further about the ghosts that lurk in my own garden.  The house was built c.1927 by the local authority.  As mentioned in previous posts the garden was almost totally lawn when I bought the house.  However, when I look from the bedroom window I can see the shadow under the grass of the straight path that once cut through the lawn.  If I go through the back door, directly in line with this path there is a hook attached the house.  It is clear that the washing line once ran in parallel to this path.  If I traced it to its end and dug down I am sure I would find the remnants of the concrete post that held the other end of the washing line.

I think there was a greenhouse at the top of the garden, along the line of the rear boundary.  There is much glass in the soil there.  It is largely window glass (though some appears to be bathroom window glass).  I think at some point previously this garden was gardened.  The house was built for a sewage farm worker, the sewage farm was close by (yes I live in the House at Pooh Corner).  These would not have been wealthy people, they would have grown their own vegetables because they had to especially in the hard war years when flowers took up needed space.  I am certain that my apple trees date from the building of the house and are a key part of its past.

As I have dug new borders I have found various lumps of concrete under the grass.  Previous occupants appear to have dealt with unwanted areas by grassing over them rather than removing them.  I do a lot of concrete removal.  As I do this I try and work out what am I removing.  Some of it was the washing line path, but there is some in other areas of the garden, I don't think its anything decorative like a patio, but it must have had some use.

In some areas of the garden the soil is quite good and rich.  This is nothing to do with the covenant on my house that forbids me to spread human slurry in the garden if it causes a nuisance (clearly it is possible to spread it without causing a nuisance, yet I have held off from the practise nonetheless).  In other parts of the garden there is little topsoil, there is just thick clay.  In some areas I find broken crockery.  I would like to think this is a romantic Victorian rubbish tip, but the shards of pottery look 1960s to me and as mentioned before, the house was not here in Victorian times anyway.  I have taken to collecting this pottery, in my optimistic mind I have ideas of creating a mosaic of some sort using the pots I break (frequently, I'm clumsy) and the pottery found in the garden.

I also wonder when the 1960s pottery-discarders were the same people responsible for the crazy paving?  Well someone liked it at the time and I confess that I see it as a part of the creation of the garden.  Yes I could have it removed and put some wonderful classy stone work in its place; which in 40 years time someone will look at and think it is as old-hat and cliche ridden as the crazy paving appears now.  So for now I let it lie, it is a part of  the story.

The ghosts of the previous owners are there in my garden, not so much in the planting.  The trees are the patient witnesses to the last 85 years, they have seen so much and still hopefully have much to see.  The ghosts in my garden are ordinary people, who lived their ordinary lives.  There was no great historic gardening yet they linger on, as I hope when I have left this house, so will I.  In decades to come someone will look in the garden and say "which flipping idiot thought it a good idea to plant that there" and my ghost will smile.