Monday, 31 December 2012

End of Month Review - December 2012

So 2012 has finished its turn and the end is truly in sight for it.  The minutes are ticking away inexorably to the tolling of the bell that means a year ends and a new one begins.

December 2012, how shall you be remembered?  What is that word I am thinking of, that simple small word that sums you up pretty neatly, oh I know: wet.  December 2012 has been wet.
So, firstly the front garden is still looking good.  Some small weeds and nigella seedlings are starting to come up in the gravel and some bulbs.  I shall get them weeded out (not the bulbs) over the next few days.
The magnolia is covered in buds.  It looks like next year will be a good year for flowers.
Just under the Magnolia shelters this Rhamnus, bought many years ago from Hidcote.  It spent its early years in a pot and is now thriving.  The eagle-eyed amongst you may notice the green string tying it to the tree, it toppled a bit so needed some extra support.
Still in the front garden the Rosa Ballerina is still trying to flower, but bravest of all is.....
This gazania, not quite dead yet and not quite given up on the hope that it might flower.  Who knows, it may succeed.

Into the back garden now.
In the rain-sodden veg patch a few scraggy looking leeks are trying to  keep going.
The green manure is patchy, I think I sowed it too late, but it is there and will be dug in at some point.
I took this photograph to show the Tea Tree, this is about four years old now and is thriving.  It gets overlooked a bit but it keeps going and is very pretty when it flowers.  It is one of the few evergreens allowed in the garden that is not holly or a camellia.
I also noticed the cardoon, about five years old and grown from seed.  This time of year it is a mix of the seed heads and the new growth, a transitional piece you might say.
The courtyard now contains the Olive Tree of happiness that I won a few weeks ago.  It doing wonderfully and I am so glad that it has added to the ever-improving courtyard.  (it is a courtyard, not a scrappy bit of no-mans land).
I then decided to do some over-view shots from each corner of the garden.  The above is from the conservatory border.
This is from the veg-bed corner.  Not a view I often show, amazingly the Rosa Hyde Hall hedge that divides the veg garden from the rest of the garden is almost invisible, but I think next year it will come into its own.
This is from the top right hand corner, it makes the garden look quite big, its not really, the house is small (not far away).
and from the top left hand corner, over the prairie borders and back towards the pond.
The patch of teasels is still looking good.  I am now looking forward to editing the many many seedlings that will appear.
The woodland border is largely covered in leaves from the adjoining poplar trees.  Shining through them is a self-sown hellebore, it is about two years old now and I am just waiting for the great day when it flowers and I find out what it looks like.
I did some pleaching adjustment the other day.  I moved the bars up higher.  The top level is new, the bottom level has gone and the middle level remains.  It is a very long term project.
What how now (as of today) become know as The Long Shoot is looking good.  I have straightened the edges a bit (no really) and I am toying with narrowing the grass runway a bit further.  Not too much though I think it needs some width.  The lawn at the end is good, except I keep looking at it and wondering, wondering, could I carve out a border into the middle of it making it a sort of island, a sort of island border that Percy Thrower would be proud of....... no, no, move away from this notion at once!
The Spring border is not looking very ready for Spring yet, but it will be, I have faith.
The first hellebore is in flower.  That caused a little whoop I can tell you.
The hamamellis are starting to unfurl their spidery flowers.  I love them so much, great plants for great colour.
The prairie borders are looking remarkably good considering all the wind and rain.
The winter flowering clematis on the eating apple tree is doing very well.
The pond border is a bit sparse, and has spent some time rather puddled of late as well.  I have never seen standing water in the garden before (except the pond), it has been incredibly wet of late.
Yes, really wet.
So is it any surprise to say the pond is full?  I would be very worried if it was not!  I did spent some time the other day clearing out fallen leaves and more of the dratted parrot week.  It looks a lot clearer though there is still work to be done.

So that is December, wet.  Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme.

I wish everyone a happy new year.  I hope 2013 brings you want you wish for and some good things that you could not have imagined.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Prize

For some reason when I win prizes, which is really not that often, the prize tends to involve fruit.  I have a real knack for winning hampers of fruit.  This would be great, except I don't like fruit so I end up giving my prize away to grateful fruit-eaters.

So imagine my joy when I win something fruit-based that I actually want.  There I am wandering around on Twitter as I often do when I come across a tweet from @VillaggioV saying that there is a 'free' olive tree available to win on their website that day, all you had to do was it find it.  So I spent a few minutes having a quick look at their website.  I could not find the tree so I gave up and promptly forgot all about it (as you do).
Later that day I got home and again I am having a quick look at Twitter.  Again there is the message saying that the tree has not yet been found.  Well, I had a bit more time so I thought I would have another look.  After a few minutes I found it, I could not believe I had found it, but I had.  I promptly popped it into the checkout box and claimed my prize.  I was still surprised to get the confirmation that I had indeed won and that my tree would be sent out to me.
It arrived a few days later, it is a beautiful and very healthy tree.  A good size and covered in olives.  I don't eat olives so this is not particular use to me other than to look wonderful which indeed it does.
I potted the tree up at the weekend and it is now pride of place in the courtyard, where I think it looks very fine.  I was pleased that I had a large unoccupied pot that seems to suit it.  It is a Mediterranean blue I think, suitable for a Mediterranean tree.  I am very pleased with my prize, at last a fruit worth winning.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Late one Christmas Eve....

or the tale of tomato soup

Why tomato soup?  Actually, lets go back a step, it is a specific brand of tomato soup where the variety has 56 other siblings.  Somethings it does not matter what brand it is, others it does, there is only one type of tinned tomato soup.

Anyway, back to the point.  I associate Christmas Eve with tomato soup.  I am not sure what year it was, I know I was fairly young and probably not yet in my teens, but I cannot be sure of actual details.  It was a Christmas Eve and I could not get to sleep.  I was far too excited and try as I might I could not make sleep happen.  I was desperate to go to sleep, I knew there was no chance of Santa arriving whilst I was awake and I wanted my presents!  In our house at Christmas Santa always left our presents mainly in pillow cases at the end of our beds.  I still remember the excitement of waking up, moving my feet and feeling the weight of presents and hearing the rustle of the wrapping.  I had to sleep as if I did not do then morning would never arrive.

I still could not sleep, my parents kept checking to see if I was asleep yet, but I could not even pretend that I was.  At some unearthly time, about 11.45 ish, I gave up and went downstairs half expecting to be shouted at and told to go back to bed.  My mother had gone to bed by this point but my father was still watching tv.  One of my brothers also appeared, but I am actually not sure which one (that makes it sound like I have many, it is one of three, I vaguely think it was the eldest but I am happy to stand corrected).  I think my vagueness probably means I was not really fully awake at the time.

I have no idea how it happened, but we ended up all eating tomato soup watching Midnight Mass.  This is the only time in my life I have ever seen any sort of midnight mass I think it fair to say that religion was not big in my upbringing.

Yet the memory of the soup stays with me.  It is a good memory, as warm and heartening as the soup itself.

Even as I started to write this and I began to think about tomato soup, I also thought about the first time that I made home-made tomato soup from tomatoes that I had grown myself.  I rarely grow tomatoes as to be honest I do not like raw food so never eat salad.  Sometimes I do grow tomatoes but they are only for cooking with and my success with them is patchy at best.  It was quite a revelation though the first time I had soup made from my own tomatoes.  The taste is quite different to the tinned sort.  I like both equally but for different reasons, it is not that the tinned sort is not made with tomatoes, but there is a clear taste difference.  I have decided I shall grow tomatoes this year again, I shall spend Boxing Day as is my tradition, working on my seed list.

So endeth my praise of soup.

Can I also add, I also associate Christmas Eve with rain, with wet grey days rushing into town to buy last minute presents.  Ah, internet shopping is such a better idea.

Festive wishes to you all.

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Shortest Day

It turns out that I probably look forward to the shortest day of the year more than any other.  More than my birthday (I’ve gone beyond looking forward to them), definitely more than Christmas and New Year; no in my calendar in my head, without even being really aware of it, the shortest day is the day I welcome most.

It does not improve quickly, it does not even improve perceptively straight away, but it is the turning point at which time the days get longer, the dark gets less and everything feels just that little bit better.

There are many traditional festivals this time of year across most cultures in the world.  Some involve sacrifice, some involve birth, others ritual bathing but there is also a theme of reunion and feasting and I shall raise a glass to that. 

The word solstice is derived from the latin ‘sun stopping’ apparently (Wikipedia, where-else).  Basically, the sun looks like it orbits the earth and it does so on an elliptical path.  The tilt of the earth and this path either increases or decreases depending what time of the year it is.  When it reaches full tilt the sun appears to stop and reverse, so starting the process of either lengthening (Winter) or shortening (Summer) the day. 

However, what I liked best when I was reading about the solstice is that (obviously really) is that what the northern hemisphere calls the Summer Solstice, the southern hemisphere will call the Winter Solstice.  Well of course it is like that, but until someone points it out I admit to not really thinking about it.  I think I like the terms Hibernal solstice (Winter) and Aestival solstice (Summer) best, they sound a bit more grand.

Any hoo

The Winter Solstice occurs this year on December 21st at 11.12am.  Hurrah!  That’s it really – just hurrah!

(I shall just whisper that according to the wonderful sunrise/sunset app I have it will be January 2nd before the morning gets one minute lighter.  Even so, one minute is  a minute to be treasured and is the start of many more.)

Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Christmas Wreath

or good things come in purple packages
So it was a usual sort of day when I received an email asking me if I would like to a feature a Sarah Raven product on my blog.  Well I thought about it for a millisecond and said yes.  I have been a customer of Ms Raven for many years and I have watched as her business and her catalogues have grown and grown.  I have bought seeds and dahlias from her many times and the odd vase too.  So when thinking about what it I would like to trial it was quite a difficult choice.  I wandered through the internet site thinking and thinking, but then the choice came to me easily: the Christmas Wreath kit.

I have bought Christmas wreaths for several years now.  Starting with the cheap couple of quid ones from the local greengrocers and, oh no, actually just buying the cheap couple of quid ones from the greengrocers.  I have seen on other websites some truly beautiful wreaths and I have had wreath envy, but I confess I have found the price of many of them difficult to agree to.  I can see they are very beautiful and that they are of great quality, I do think they are worth in general what is charged; but then I think how long I will use it for and I get a bit miserly.  So the kit seemed a way of having something beautiful for no great cost.
The kit arrived on a Tuesday, I knew I would not have a chance to do anything with it sensibly during the week as I work long hours and generally in the evenings I do not feel like doing very much.  I had the Friday off work though and I thought I would look at it then.  I opened the box and then reality hit me, it was pouring with rain outside and I needed garden material to make the wreath.  Slightly cross with myself I packed it all away again.
The next day was a beautiful, cold, but sunny day; perfect for what I needed to achieve.  So, cup of tea at the ready, I moved operations outside and started again.
Moss was applied to wire ring, the more eagle-eyed amongst you may notice the free 'lucky yellow snail' that was enclosed with the moss.
I then wandered around the garden, trug and secateurs in hand, collecting stuff to put on the wreath.  I rather enjoyed this.  The opening of the box the day before had made me think quite a lot about what I wanted to put on the wreath and this fore-thought was a good thing.  It meant some things I went straight to and clipped and other things caught my eye as I wandered around.  My trug quite enjoyed this too as it is generally used as a hand-held wheelbarrow, filled with weeds etc.  To be doing something a bit more dainty I think made it happy.
Then the help arrived, thankfully a brief offer of help.
Thirty minutes after starting there was a small, but audible, ta da!  I declared the wreath complete and went to fix it by the front door.  I know it should be on the front door, but I can't bring myself to knock a nail into my door.
I like it.
I like it a lot.  I am not a very 'craft' type person, I knit and sew etc, but making things like this is beyond my usual habits.  Whilst I usually have cut flowers in the house to say that I arrange them is an insult to anyone who has ever arranged a flower.  I surprised myself at how good I think it looks, I did keep it quite simple and I think I could have done more, but I like it as it is as a first attempt.  It felt that all those years of watching Blue Peter were not in vain after all.

So, thank you Sarah Raven, I can honestly say that I enjoyed making the wreath, I am pleased with the result and your kit pushed me into creating this when I would never have bought the constituents separately.  I can thoroughly and honestly recommend it and I will buy one next year without a doubt.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Life on the margin

or the back country.

I was going to call this post ‘the Wasteland’, I thought about tying it into TS Eliot’s poem of the same name.  I read the poem and thought again (fine poem though it is, it just didn’t work for what I wanted) and actually this part of the garden is not wasteland as such, it’s just on the margins really.
I talk about different areas of my garden a lot, I have taken the fanciful step of naming different bits of the garden; sometimes to be descriptive such as the Coal Bunker border and the Conservatory border, sometimes to amuse myself such as The Dancing Lawn.  There is also the never previously mentioned ‘hinterland’ right at the top of the garden.  I think there might be a slight incline to my garden as I do definitely feel like I walk to the top of it, there is no bit I regard as the bottom, but then as people who know me will testify, my map reading ability is interesting and often quite creative.

So, the top of the garden, the hinterland, that strip of garden just this side of the fence, it probably one of the most ignored bits of the garden in many ways.  Though on saying there it is where the Portmeirion bench is situated, one of my favourite places to sit and drink tea especially post-lawnmowing.  It is primarily part of the wild garden along its full width.  From the gingko of happiness in the left corner, past the horse chestnut which is fairly centrally placed, to the pile of stones/non-laurel in the right hand corner.  There are a variety of bulbs planted around this area but there are also the neglected shrubs.
I did not plant these shrubs, these pre-existed me.  The previous owner said she had planted some thorny stuff to be a barrier and I never really thought anymore about it.  Largely because to reach the fence and thorny stuff they would have to get through a thicket of hawthorns on the other side that are thorny enough for most people.

So what is there that I have thus far totally ignored – well there is a garrya.  I don’t like it.  I removed one from my previous garden and part of me feels I should remove this one, but I actually don’t care enough about it to do so.
There is a cotoneaster, a poor specimen, it has a few berries but I suspect it is too much in the shade to do well.  Shame really as I like it.  
There is also a mahonia.  I knew it was there but I rarely look at it.  It is also a shrub I have had absolutely no opinion on.  I made an effort the other day to have a real look and think about it.  I suspect it too is not getting enough sun but I think I might see if I can look after it a bit better.  I think I might like it, not sure yet.
I’m feeling a bit guilty about this wanton neglect, I shall apologise to these shrubs and look after them better.  For now that thing has happened, after five years of taking no notice of them, suddenly they are on the agenda.  They have unwittingly popped their heads over the parapet and the spotlight has fallen upon them.  Oh garrya, poor poor garrya, yes I fear your days might be numbered in favour of a more favoured shrub, c’est la vie!