B is for ….

Bugs & Beasties: Victoria’s found the probable cause of what’s attracting the badgers to excavate her front lawn – Chafer Grubs. Apparently they’re a particular delicacy where badgers are concerned. Victoria’s now converting a further section of lawn to a flower bed. Taking up the turf proved to be relatively easy because the Chafer Grubs had nibbled away most of the roots. They look revolting don’t they – akin to something served up on I’m a Celeb.

There’s no accounting for taste though – Matt Hancock seems to thoroughly enjoy devouring disgusting dishes! Of course Victoria wouldn’t use pesticides to get rid of the grubs, so pathogenic nematodes have been applied. They kill the larvae by infecting them with a fatal bacterial disease – gruesome eh? We’re keeping everything crossed it works, so that what remains of her lawn isn’t lost to chafer grubs, badgers or both.  

Birds & Bins: it’s the final garden bin collection of the year this week, so Victoria & I have been cramming as much garden rubbish as possible into our bins. Grumbling Rose has been enlisted to compact the waste as much as possible – he used a sledge hammer which seems to have been very effective. I just hope the contents will tip into the bin lorry and not be permanently wedged in the bin. We’ve also commandeered space in one of our neighbour’s bins (we did ask permission). Anyway while I was clearing dead plants out of pots I found a perfect blue tit egg. Remember we cleared out the bird box a few weeks ago – the egg must have fallen into the pot below – it’s beautiful isn’t it? Presumably the egg didn’t fertilise or maybe the embryo didn’t grow.

Brave human beings, animals and birds: we’ve been wearing our poppies with pride once more, remembering all those who’ve fought to protect us during war after war. Last year I wrote about my Great Uncle Horace who lost his life fighting in the First World War. I’ve been photographing some tributes I’ve visited over the last few weeks, which include the purple poppies, in remembrance of the animals who have served, and continue to serve alongside our military. In 2009 one Irish hero, Paddy the Pigeon, was awarded the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. This was 55 years after his death – what took so long! Paddy managed to survive German falcons and the long journey across the Channel. The engraving on his medal reads:

For the best recorded time with a message from the Normandy Operations, while serving with the RAF in June, 1944.”

A Gardener’s Dream

Last week I had a dream of a night out with Monty Don – if only it had been just him and me. Unfortunately I was joined by 1,999 others. The venue was full to the rafters, which should be no surprise really. I, along with as many as 2.7 million others, look forward to watching Gardeners’ World each week from March to October. The episodes I enjoy the most are the ones featuring Monty, his garden and his dogs.

My sister, a close friend and I arrived at the venue with enough time to have a pre-show drink, and discuss Monty as though we were life-long friends of his. We wondered whether he would bring any of his dogs along, but reluctantly dismissed this as a ridiculous idea. We speculated on how big his garden, Longmeadow, is and realised we’d never seen an aerial view of it. Then it was time to take our seats and enjoy the show.

Monty entered the stage to enthusiastic clapping, cheers and wolf whistles. He wasted no time in letting us down gently about the dogs – they would not be making an appearance in person, but there would be photos and he would talk about them. He showed us a photo of his new puppy Ned, taken the previous day. Monty had left his office for a few minutes to fetch a cup of coffee. He returned to find Ned lying innocently among confetti – his ripped up papers. He told us Ned is the naughtiest puppy he’s ever owned but is too adorable to be cross with for long.

We were then treated to aerial views of Longmeadow – it looks vast – it spans 2 acres. I’m not good at imagining what one acre looks like, never mind 2, but apparently it’s roughly equivalent to 32 tennis courts. My back garden is, I would think, around the size of one (tennis court that is). Monty dispelled any thoughts that he and his wife manage the garden themselves now. What with his book writing, programmes on gardens around the world and the laborious process involved in filming Gardeners’ World, there simply isn’t time. However he does enjoy getting his hands dirty in the garden when he can, and considers it essential for his mental health. Having suffered bouts of depression over the years he also works to support others with mental health problems.

Monty took us on a journey, showing us photos of the garden spanning over 30 years, starting with an overgrown field, which he and his wife developed into the Longmeadow garden we see today. When they started out they had very little money, so everything had to be done gradually – they were simultaneously renovating the condemned house and the garden. He told us of an occasion when he’d been under strict instructions to spend no more than £200 at a tree sale. He was shocked to find that at the end of his spending spree he had racked up over £1k. He had some explaining to do when he got home and had to hastily take out loans to cover the cheque he’d written. He used the ‘F’ word several times while telling this tale – not something you will ever hear on Gardeners’ World!

Before moving on to his dogs, he told us about the £10 pony he bought his children – at that price he should have known something would be wrong with it – it kicked and bit, so was unsuitable for the children to ride. However it gave them years of entertainment because it would fart loudly for minutes at a time, and as a bonus provided manure for the garden.

Even if you don’t follow Gardeners’ World you were probably aware of the death of Monty’s beloved Golden Retriever, Nigel in 2020 – it was international news. He told us that while Nigel wasn’t the most intelligent of dogs, it was soon recognised he had a talent for working on TV. He frequently upstaged Monty and became a celebrity in his own right. On one occasion the Gardeners’ World Director insisted on numerous takes to ensure that as Monty looked upwards to the camera, Nigel did too. This was eventually achieved with the help of a tennis ball. Monty has created a topiary version of Nigel – he used Yew because it can live for over a thousand years.

Three of Monty’s dogs appear on the programme now. Like Nigel, Nellie and little Ned are Golden Retrievers and get on well together. Patti, the tiny Yorkshire Terrier, is ‘top dog’. Monty described her as resembling a large bumble bee who hates getting wet – his daughter bought her from a nail bar believing her to be a Poodle!

Monty spoke engagingly for 2 hours without faltering, making us laugh at regular intervals – I did shed a tear when he spoke about losing Nigel though. He left the stage to rapturous applause and ear piercing whistles. The evening went by in a flash. In case it’s not obvious, I loved every second of it!

Life is full of surprises

I was so excited yesterday – I know, I’m sad! My Café au Lait dahlia has flowered – the bloom doesn’t look as impressive as the one on the packet but I’m still chuffed.

Earlier in the year I wrote about Mr & Mrs B-T nesting in our bird box. I never did see their babies fledge so I’ve worried ever since whether or not they did. I’ve reminded Grumbling Rose on a number of occasions that he needed to get his ladders out and have a look in the box, as we need to be good landlords and clean it out ready for next year’s tenants. This task kept slipping off his list, until today. A friend of Mr & Mrs B-T – a Nuthatch to be precise – tried to give us a gentle nudge. While I was doing my ablutions this morning I heard a lot of tapping going on outside. On looking out of the bathroom window I saw a Nuthatch tossing stuff out of the bird box. It reminded me of my Mum when she’d had enough of my untidy room. Anyway I went out onto the terrace to investigate and was met with a scattering of debris below the bird box. Grumbling Rose had no sooner returned home from whatever he’d been doing, than he was despatched up a ladder to open the box. My heart was in my mouth as I was convinced there would be a cluster of decomposing little bodies in there. I was wrong – another nice surprise – just an empty nest – a thing beautiful to behold – how many hours must that have taken to make? I was a little alarmed at first as my eyes homed in on a blood red patch, but on closer inspection this was just some red fabric fibres. The nest itself looked beautifully clean.

This set me thinking about how birds keep their nests clean. It seems many do, though not all (the slut birds). Blue Tits do keep their nests tidy. One way they’re helped to do this is that their babies produce what are called faecal sacs. Sounds revolting doesn’t it but actually it’s an amazing invention! I’d never heard of this, but the babies of many birds, including Blue Tits, poo into a membrane sac, which a parent (most likely the mother) then removes from the nest. This serves to keep the nest clean and sweet smelling to ward of predators and mites. Apparently some baby birds even give a signal that they’re about to poo. This set me thinking – there’s a definite flaw in human evolution here. Imagine how useful and eco friendly it would be if this applied to our babies and puppies!

Busy Bee

I can’t believe how busy I’ve been in the garden the last few weeks. It’s just as well I’ve been active really, considering how much food I’ve put away. Grumbling Rose is working away this week and I’ve eaten out with friends and family on 4 of the days – Italian on Monday, Greek on Thursday, wonderful afternoon tea with Victoria on Friday and again out with her today for a delicious Sunday lunch along with her daughter and Albert. Did I mention this is Victoria’s birthday week? I really don’t like the latest requirement to remind us on menus how many calories are in each dish. I managed to miss seeing the Sunday lunch damage, but the chocolate ice cream sundae I had for pudding contained over 900 calories – I think they must have got that wrong, don’t you?

So after all this I waddled into the garden this beautiful sunny afternoon. I used the soil I grew my courgettes in as mulch for the garden, refilled the containers with fresh compost and planted some shallots and garlic. I decided I couldn’t hang on to the calendulas and asters growing in my wall pots any longer – they were really starting to look sad. There were one or two flowers that still looked half decent so I’ve popped those in a vase. The lobelia still looks pretty good so I’ve left it for now but added some new seedlings. I’m not absolutely certain what they are though. Victoria grew them from seed and we think they’re some little daisy-like plants that grow well over the winter – but then again they might not be – they don’t look much at the moment, in fact they look pitiful, but hopefully they’ll get a spurt on before it gets too cold – on the other hand they might just die!

The garden is still looking quite colourful! The cosmos, calendula, zinnias and verbena bonariensis are still flowering away and larkspur, snapdragons and roses have come back for a second show. The sedum is finally looking an interesting colour – it always seems to take forever – the bees are loving it. You may remember I fell in love with the look of Café au Lait dahlias last year and grew a couple. They’ve been all leaves and no flowers but in the last few weeks buds have started to appear – I just hope they don’t get zapped by Jack Frost before they have a chance to open. I’ve planted some sweet pea seeds in one of my plastic greenhouses and I can already see shoots peeping through. The strawberries I grew in containers have just about finished producing fruit, but now there are runners coming off them left, right and centre. I think I’ve got around 30 jammed into individual pots which I’m hoping will root properly and provide me with free plants for next year. Grumbling Rose doesn’t know yet but I’ve decided to try growing them in hanging baskets so I’ve got some brackets ready for him to fix to the wall on his return.

Last weekend I took some cuttings from a beautiful salvia growing in Rosie’s garden – it’s a variety called “Hotlips” – it always makes me think of Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan from the series Mash. This spurred me on to take cuttings from my lavenders and penstemons. I had a bit of a disaster on my first attempt to make some more Geranium Rozanne plants. I tried to dig a clump out of the ground with a trowel but the handle broke clean off – to be honest I was being lazy – I couldn’t be arsed to walk up the steps to the garage to get the big spade. Anyway I was then forced to make the trip and I’ve potted some up. I have used the rooting powder I bought this year, so we’ll see. The problem I’ve got now is where to put everything – it’s a bit early to broach putting the shelving up in the conservatory. I’ve already secreted my 3 chilli plants in there for overwintering. I’ve had loads of chillies from them and most of them have turned red which is how I like them. When there’s only me and Grumbling Rose to feed we never use more than half a chilli at a time, so I’ve cut them in half and frozen them.

The trouble is the window sills are fast filling up with various pots, ripening chillies and tomatoes – oh and nasturtium seeds I’m drying (in case you’re wondering, the conker’s to ward off spiders). I got the seeds on a visit to a beautiful garden a couple of weeks ago. Before you think ill of me, I didn’t steal them. The volunteers were ripping out the nasturtiums to make a bed ready for its next purpose – they asked if we’d like some of the seeds. It’s a variety called Spitfire – the flowers are a vibrant mix of red, orange and yellow. I’ve a feeling it’s so named because it grows at high speed – I might put it in what I call my “dead bed” – a border next to where I park my car on the drive. It’s dominated by conifers and anything growing in their shade struggles for light. I’ve been doing some work on it too this week – well actually I’ve just thrown in a load of seeds that say on the packet you can plant now where you want them to grow – surely some of them will appear – I’ll let you know.

The Great Outdoors

It’s been like a wildlife park in this neighbourhood over the last few weeks. I might be exaggerating slightly and I confess I have only heard the activity, but Victoria and Grumbling Rose have had actual sightings! I have heard the badgers squabbling and foxes screeching while I’m trying to sleep at night. At first I thought someone was being murdered but having studied several YouTube videos this was definitely foxes fighting, as opposed to a crime scene. Grumbling Rose looked out of our bathroom window one morning a couple of weeks ago and yelled for me to come and see the fox in Jack and Vera’s garden, but I wasn’t quick enough.

Victoria has gone one (or actually three) better. Over the last week or so she’s made a start on clearing a section of lawn at the front of her house, the intention being to convert it into a rockery. It’s hard work especially with the ground being like rock at the moment. Over the weekend she noticed some digging had taken place overnight, but unfortunately not in the required area. This we identified as badger activity. Then in the early hours of the following morning, unable to sleep, she looked out of the window and there was the badger, bimbling across her garden, followed by a small fox. We’re thinking of making a sign with an arrow “Dig Here Please“! Apparently badgers don’t like the smell of citronella or scotch bonnet chilis – I wondered why there were pieces of orange scattered all over Jack and Vera’s lawn!

On the day of our Queen’s funeral, Victoria was watching the service on TV, when out of the corner of her eye, she saw a very large but skinny fox, stalking across her front lawn in broad daylight, heading in the direction of our house. It gave her quite a shock.

Our Queen loved the great outdoors, her gardens and her animals. I remember watching a documentary where she took Sir David Attenborough to view the trees in the grounds of Buckingham Palace . With a wry smile he queried why a sundial had been placed in the shade of the trees. This made the Queen laugh and she suggested to someone off camera that perhaps it could be moved, now that the trees had taken over. I’ve blogged about my sundial in the past and I can identify with this problem. Unless I were to put it in the middle of the lawn, which I don’t want to do, there will always be parts of the day when it’s in the shade.

The floral arrangement on the Queen’s coffin was made up of flowers and foliage from the gardens of Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Highgrove. These included Rosemary for remembrance, Oak to symbolise the strength of love and Myrtle, which came from a plant grown from a sprig in the Queen’s wedding bouquet. I didn’t know that Myrtle is an ancient symbol of a happy marriage, but I do now.

The Queen was frequently described as having a smile that could light up a room. She certainly had a good sense of humour, which was fortunate, as it must have helped her through a lot over the years! The Paddington sketch was just delightful. Queen Elizabeth II, thank you for being our Queen for 70 years – may you now rest in peace.

Butterflies

Aaagh! I spoke too soon in my last blog – the broccoli is no more – look at it! I think the plump light green caterpillars will become small white butterflies and the more colourful, skinnier ones, large whites. This figures as these are both notorious for destroying brassicas, the family to which broccoli belongs. I’m not sure what the skinnier versions of the plump green ones are – did they arrive too late, or are they a different variety – do you know?

I spotted what I thought was a more unusual butterfly last week, but on investigation I think it’s common as muck. My research leads me to believe it’s a Holly Blue. My wings closed photo is below left. On the right is a professional photo showing the wings open, taken by someone called Amy Lewis. Holly Blues have two generations each year – one in spring and another at the end of the summer, so that would tie in with my sighting. Apparently the spring ones favour holly whereas the summer ones go for ivy.1 As mentioned in a previous blog there’s plenty of ivy for them around here! However my butterfly is savouring one of my Veronicas – much more discerning than those pesky brassica lovers. I’m going to invest in a net cloche for next year’s broccoli – I’ve seen you can buy pop up ones. This sounds great in terms of space saving when not in use, but I’m not sure it’s a wise plan, bearing in mind the struggle I have when trying to cram Lily’s pop up sun shelter into its carry case!

Now you may have seen in the news recently that this country now hosts the greatest concentration of the rare large blue butterfly.2 It became extinct here in 1979 but was reintroduced from Sweden in the early 80s. Although still endangered, the increase over the years looks very encouraging.3 Broccoli doesn’t do it for their caterpillars – they prefer red ant grubs. 🤮 Bizarrely they manage to convince adult ants that they are their babies and then they feast on the real ones. Red ants suffered a decline – not surprising you may think bearing in mind the above. However it was apparently due to the ending of grazing on meadowland – the ants didn’t thrive in the cool of the longer grass.

It’s sad to think that many butterflies and moths have become extinct or endangered – not helped by the once popular hobby of butterfly collecting. Poor things, trapped in a net, pins stuck through their little bodies and displayed in a picture frame or mahogany cabinet. Are any of you old enough to remember Carla Lane’s 70s sitcom Butterflies? It starred Wendy Craig (Ria) and Geoffrey Palmer who played her husband Ben, a dentist – his hobby was collecting and studying butterflies. In the first episode Ria says to the man she contemplates committing adultery with (but never does) “We are all kids chasing butterflies. You see it, you want it, you grab it, and there it is, all squashed in your hand.” She adds, “I am one of the few lucky ones, I have a pleasant house, a pleasant man and two pleasant sons. My butterfly didn’t get squashed.

Victoria has been working through her collection of books, with the aim of donating some to charity. She came across one from 1912 by H Rowland-Brown. It contains beautiful illustrations of butterflies and moths and a wealth of information, but it’s clear from the text that butterflies did lose their lives to assist in his research. Thankfully now  “of the 59 species of butterfly found in the UK 25 are afforded some kind protection and six including the Large Blue are fully protected, meaning they cannot be collected, killed or sold“.4 Sadly there are still prosecutions. The name for a person who collects butterflies is a lepidopterist – it has a sinister ring to it, don’t you think? Attractions like Tropical World in Leeds allow you to walk among beautiful live butterflies – although come to think of it, this doesn’t conjure up entirely pleasant memories for me. I volunteered to go on one of Rosie’s primary school trips (this was a rare occurrence). My overriding memory is of kids throwing up on the coach – it was only half an hour down the road!

1 https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/invertebrates/butterflies/holly-blue
2 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/aug/25/large-blue-butterfly-numbers-soar-in-britain
3 https://butterfly-conservation.org/butterflies/large-blue#:~:text=The%20Large%20Blue%20has%20always,range%20and%20is%20endangered%20globally
4 https://butterfly-conservation.org/news-and-blog/legal-history-made-as-butterfly-collector-sentenced

There’s always something

What for me makes gardening a pleasure is raising and nurturing plants and admiring their beautiful flowers. I appreciate this isn’t everyone’s idea of a good  time though. Over the last few weeks I’ve been tackling some of the garden related jobs I’ve been putting off. There have also been some pressing issues to deal with. I started with the rendered wall that drops down from our terrace to the garden below. It was badly in need of some tlc. The wall is around 17 metres long. The paint I slavishly applied 2 years ago had blistered, so there was a lot of scraping to do first. It was hard work, especially given the temperatures we’ve been having lately. Once the prep was completed, the painting bit was quite satisfying. The masonry paint tin says Guaranteed to last 10 years but so did the one I used last time. I did some research online  – should I prime the wall with something first? The tin and most of the advice  I found said not – apparently this would stop it breathing – we’ll see. Anyway it looks a lot better at the moment I think you’ll agree. Look I did a before and after photo (despite Lily featuring in the photo, she was absolutely no help – luckily the paint is pretty close to her hair colour). img_5659 I’m wondering if I’ll ever finish the next job I’ve embarked upon😬– painting our terrace railings – they span the same distance as the wall I’ve painted. Grumbling Rose has handed over his electric sander to me. He has a good excuse – painful arthritis in his right thumb (this has been verified by a doctor). I think I’m going to lose the use of my entire right arm by the time I’ve finished. I’m trying to apply sensible elf and safety measures. I’m wearing my tennis elbow support (I don’t play tennis – think it should be renamed mouse elbow), padded gloves to try to dull the vibration, protective goggles over my varifocals, a mask and a hat on account of the sun. IMG_5876 Continue reading “There’s always something”

Here today, gone tomorrow

I love eating fruit and veg, which is why for the past few years I’ve tried to grow some of my favourites. I’ve had great success with courgettes and this year is no exception. In the last couple of years I’ve managed to produce scraggy looking mange tout plants, bearing very few pods. I gave them one last chance this year, in a different part of the garden. Success! I’ve picked  more than I had in the entire last few seasons and more flowers in evidence!

I like adding garlic to my cooking so I bought some properly prepared bulbs which I planted back in October, along with some shallots. Here are some of the fruits of my labours – they’ve had 10 months of tlc and this is the best some of them could do for me! However I am pretty proud of my garlic plaiting and I’ve used some of the shallots in a chicken casserole I cooked today – surely I must be entitled to call myself a domestic goddess.

I’m hoping my tomato crop will be better than last year – I’ve got lots of plants and many flowers that are now revealing tiny green fruits – so 🤞. Last year the crop was feeble and they ended up getting blight – there’s still time …

The mini apple trees I inherited from my Dad both look healthy – one has produced plenty of apples. I’ve had to pick some off to give the remainder the chance to grow to a decent size – that’s what the professionals advise anyway. Nature is supposed to do some of this for you, but it seems to have been caught napping in my garden. There were as many as 6 bunched together – apparently you should only leave a maximum of 2. I couldn’t bring myself to be that ruthless so I’ve compromised at 3 – I hope I didn’t pick off the wrong ones. The other apple tree has, if nothing else, been consistent in only producing one fruit, and that was stolen by a squirrel last night. I wouldn’t mind but it’s eyes were clearly bigger than it’s stomach – it’s left most of it!

The strawberries I’ve picked have been delicious – much nicer than the supermarket ones, but small quantities – 8 to date to be precise – but there are more flowers. I’m seriously thinking of giving up on raspberries and blackcurrants.  Blackcurrant Ben Sarek is frequently recommended for growing in pots. The label says “Both vigorous and high yielding, producing heavy crops of very large glossy black fruits”. It goes on to refer to the “heavily laden branches”. Well, once again Ben’s failed to perform for me in spectacular style – below is my entire crop – there’s no sign of any more flowers so, no hope! It’s a similar story where my patio raspberry bush Ruby Beauty is concerned. “Easy to grow producing an abundance of fruit with a traditional raspberry flavour” it says – well Ruby’s failed to impress – to date I’ve had 12 – admittedly they were delicious and thankfully tasted of raspberry. There are another 10 ripening – I’ve got net over them to stop the birds tucking  in before I do. What am I doing wrong? They were planted in John Innes No 3, pruned according to the instructions, mulched, watered and fed – they’re so ungrateful.

I had a modicum of success with broccoli last year- first time of trying. So far this year I’ve had lots of healthy looking leaves but no sign of anything resembling broccoli you could eat. I went away for 24 hours to see Tom Jones perform in Scarborough (he was amazing by the way – did you know he’s 82?). Anyway on my return I found devastation on a major scale. I’d had the broccoli plants netted but they were bursting out at the seams so I removed it. The plan was to install a netted frame around them – but I wasn’t quick enough. I painstakingly picked off all the plump caterpillars waddling round on what was left of the plants, and chucked them over the back fence – in the circumstances very charitable don’t you think? I figured either birds would eat them or they might hatch into moths or butterflies. There were also some unhatched eggs which I admit I squished with great glee – looking at what’s left of the plants I’m not hopeful.

A week ago everything in the garden was looking a bit limp on account of no rain and tropical temperatures – my 5 water butts were empty. I’ve bought a 6th which Grumbling Rose connected last weekend. Thanks to my keen powers of observation and grasp of physics I noticed he’d installed the feed pipe at an uphill angle. I gently pointed out there would be no hope of overflow from it’s neighbour. A few adjustments were made along with some muttering I couldn’t quite make out. Thankfully that evening there was a downpour of biblical proportions, so now they’re all full – just in time for the hosepipe ban that’ll probably be imposed after next week’s heatwave.

Maybe holidays and gardening don’t mix?

My goodness, I can’t believe it’s nearly 2 months since I’ve posted anything. I have been a tad busy though. I retired from paid employment in mid-June, but in the preceding couple of months I was heavily involved in the handover process. I’ve enjoyed a series of amazing retirement celebrations and gifts, which have left me feeling thoroughly spoilt. In among this I’ve been doing a University course on creative writing for non-fiction – don’t be expecting miracles though! I learned about different writing techniques and what to avoid – I realised I do all the wrong things, but will probably continue to do so! (excessive exclamation marks included). I submitted my assignment last week so 🤞.

I’ve also been on holiday to St Maarten – it was wonderful. One thing that struck me was how few insects I saw – hardly any flies, bees, wasps or mosquitoes – I’m wondering why? Was it the time of year? I hope it’s not due to insecticides. Do you know? I’m usually a magnet for mossies, but not one bite! A week home and I’m sporting 6 bites courtesy of beasties in my own garden. This is despite dousing myself in 50% DEET and lashings of Avon Skin So Soft. I’ve identified the culprits as flower bugs. I know it wasn’t midges as they’re minute, whereas flower bugs are 3-4 mm long. I’ve seen them on my skin, but not quick enough – by that time they’ve already taken a chunk out of me. The bites are quickly surrounded by a bright red area of inflammation the size of a 10 pence piece. They soon develop a large blister in the centre, which over time starts to ooze, before drying out – very attractive (not). They itch like hell and leave dark red scars for weeks afterwards.

While I was away I was lucky enough to have two friends willing to share the watering of my multitude of garden pots. I’m so grateful. It dawned on me as I was watering the night before I left, it was a very big ask. I regard the treks up and down my garden steps with a full watering can in each hand good exercise, but I realise this isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. It set me thinking that if I’m to ask again, I need to make it easier for them, or even make it automatic. I eagerly unpacked  a cheap watering system I ordered online. I was faced with  2 reels of narrow tubing and a multitude of brackets and sprinklers. The destructions were in a choice of English or German, but I suspect translated from Chinese. The diagram annotations were in minus 5 font. Anyway with the aid of a magnifying glass and my superior powers of deduction, I got up and running after a bit of a setback, due to lack of understanding of hose attachments. Grumbling Rose contributed plenty of high volume advice, I felt at times verging on the sarcastic – “didn’t you learn at school which way to turn a tap on/off?” Mind you, I’m not so sure he had either, as at one point a wrench was required to unscrew one of the fittings he’d supposedly been undoing.

My other big thanks has to go to Rosie and Daisy who were press ganged into minding Lily for the week we were away. The issue for them wasn’t so much Lily’s tendency to refuse to move another inch while out on walks, decline to eat breakfast when trying to get her off to day care in the mornings, before going to work, or to do her final wee before bedtime. No, it was her snoring of epic proportions during the night. Rosie and Daisy had to resort to separate rooms and take it in shifts to have Lily as their bed partner. I’m doubtful we’ll be able to go away for more than a night without Lily again. Thanks to everyone for making it possible this year though.

A Growing Family

This week I’ve had absolute confirmation that our tenants, Mr & Mrs Blue-Tit are now parents. For some weeks I’ve seen one of them making frequent visits to the Tit Box. I’ve read up about their nesting habits and have gleaned that this will be the male – he feeds the female while she keeps the eggs cosy – I believe it’s known as ‘courtship feeding‘. I hope he brought her some treats and had read up what is and isn’t advisable to eat during pregnancy. When I was expecting Rosie I had no idea I shouldn’t be eating prawns, brie, pate and peanuts – luckily no ill effects for me or her (at least I don’t think so).

Poor Mrs B-T will most likely have laid between 8 and 10 eggs. Apparently she’ll have laid one each day and it’s pretty precise – this will have been at around 0600 – no “stretch & sweep” or inducing medications needed for her. Imagine how convenient it would be if we could time our children’s births this exactly – even an elective Caesarean wouldn’t give you this level of certainty. I hope it’s not been too painful for her as no gas & air or pethidine available here – I’ve not heard any wailing or swearing at Mr B-T – hopefully he hasn’t said anything ridiculous like ‘you’re nearly there‘ when you’re only 2cm dilated. You could say she has plenty of time to recover between deliveries, but of course as every day goes by she’ll have more and more hungry mouths in the same bed, demanding to be fed, while she continues to pop out their siblings. The eggs can exceed her body weight (combined, not one – that would be positively eye-watering). Imagine if our babies exceeded our body weight – in my case, even if I had sextuplets, that would mean each baby would weigh around a stone or, to be fair, maybe slightly more.

According to my research Mrs B-T will have started sitting on her eggs when she knows there’s only one more to go – how does she know that? It’s not like she has a photo of her scan to refer to? This phase lasts around 13–15 days – heaven – she can put her feet up while Mr B-T delivers tasty morsels. I do know we’ve passed the hatching stage now as I can hear lots of high pitched chirping coming from the nest box and Mr & Mrs B-T are spending what seems like all day flying back and forth carrying tiny portions of food. They swoop at some considerable speed, straight into the box through a hole that is only a few centimetres in diameter. Goodness knows what it must be like for the babies – it must be akin to a jumbo jet landing inside your house! Mummy & Daddy must be exhausted – much the same as we are when we’re new parents – although duties don’t tend to be quite so equally shared for us humans – Grumbling Rose was pretty good, but not keen on the night shift.

I’ve no idea where we are up to time-wise and I’m getting increasingly anxious about the fledging stage which is due to be around 3 weeks after hatching. The Tit Box is high up on our house wall, above our flagged terrace, so not a soft landing for the babies. I was wondering if I should cover the area beneath with our garden chair covers to act as a crash mat – what do you think? I really hope I get to see them fly the nest and that they all live to tell the tale. I’m determined to install TV in the Tit Box in time for next year’s breeding season – hopefully that will be an added incentive for our tenants to return and if they do, we’ll be able to spy on them.