Worth waiting for?

Gardening has definitely improved my patience. For example I have no choice but to accept that I will have to wait at least another 6 months to start trying to improve on this year’s tomato crop – two small fruits that never ripened and ended up as chutney!

Every year I have to wait for seeds to germinate and develop into healthy plants – some are considerably slower than others. I planted some Evening Primrose seeds in April and kept them in my plastic greenhouse. Nothing happened for months. They were relegated to the bottom shelf – but something kept telling me not to give up on them. In early September I noticed two tiny shoots had appeared which started to grow quite impressively over the next few weeks. I planted them in the garden and look at them now on a cold, grey November day!

Back in June I wittered on about my poorly performing sweet peas – but they eventually turned into triffids and I am still getting the odd bloom from them now.

In the same blog I told you about overwintering some geraniums. They were definitely worth waiting for – they’re still looking amazing, but won’t be for much longer if I don’t get my act together and bring them in!

Right now we’re all waiting for the R number stop growing and for mass vaccination – so very sad that it’s going to be too late for many.

Golden Oldies

This week I became a domestic goddess – I made chutney for the very first time! This was prompted by a WhatsApp from Victoria – could I do anything with her green home grown tomatoes?

I couldn’t help a twinge of jealousy – at least she had what could be described as a crop of tomatoes – I had only managed to produce the grand total of two this year – I blame the compost I used.

A Google threw up a celebrity chef recipe that required a number of fancy sounding ingredients – namely “spiced pickling vinegar” and “light muscovado sugar”. This put me off a bit – in these Covid times I am minimising my trips to the supermarket and had a feeling I may need to try a few to get what was needed. I mentioned this to Victoria and in the blink of an eye my phone pinged – a list of ingredients and a photo of Victoria’s Grandma’s chutney recipe. I realised I had everything to hand – no need to don my mask and go supermarket foraging!

I set to – the tomato chopping was a bit tedious (this did include my two), but eventually I had everything bubbling away. The pan was possibly a tad small for stirring the contents without spillages. I persevered and after a while the mixture started to reduce in volume, making stirring less messy, but there didn’t seem to be any sign of it resembling jam, as per Grandma’s instructions. I was starting to regret not having chopped the tomatoes into smaller pieces. Maybe it was the sugar – now that’s a story in itself. I used some of the small amount of demerara sugar I have left in my store cupboard – it is almost 40 years old (I don’t pay much attention to sell by dates when it comes to something like sugar). My other half went on exercise to Guyana in 1981 and arrived home with a huge sack of demerara sugar. Since then the sugar has travelled with us all over the world – there is only about half a kilo left now. Anyway I digress – after what seemed like hours, all of a sudden the mixture began to resemble jam and it tasted delicious. But what to do now – Grandma’s instructions refer to jars without metal lids – I don’t even have any jars with metal lids – too efficient with the recycling. I managed to source one by decanting our coffee into a different container. Another WhatsApp exchange and Victoria came to the rescue, fishing an array of jars out of her recycling box.

Sterilising complete, I spooned in the chutney and felt even more domestic goddess like as I cut greaseproof paper circles to place on the top of the chutney. Finally I proudly labelled up the jars- 3 in total.

I really dislike wasting food (cue sugar) so I feel extremely satisfied with the results!

Pond Life

If you watch any of the gardening programmes on TV you will be aware that we are all being encouraged to add a pond to our garden for the benefit of wildlife. Not to be outdone I decided this was a must for me. I decided to start small – well minute actually.

I picked a container for my pond that looks like half a barrel. I chose a spot in the garden which gets the sun and isn’t right under a tree, so it shouldn’t get full of leaves. I decided on 4 plants – a Miniature Bulrush, Lesser Spearwort which is a member of the buttercup family, Water ‘Forget Me Not’ and a dwarf Water Lily. At this time of the year there are no flowers in evidence, but if they survive they should look something like the labels.

This is the kind of plant pot you need to use for pond plants – one full of holes! I used it to rinse the dust off some gravel I wanted to use later. The plants all come with instructions on how deep they need to be planted. The Water Lily needed to be deepest so first I put just a small layer of soil into the basket and placed the Water Lily on it. It was then a case of layering to add the rest of the plants. The soil is a coir (coconut fibre) and loam (sand, clay & silt) mix which sinks in the water without allowing large amounts to escape and cloud the water. However I used the gravel I rinsed to add some extra weight.

It was now time to take the basket out into the garden and add to the barrel. I watered the basket gently to get the soil well soaked before adding water to the barrel – this helps reduce the amount of soil escaping into the water. It’s inevitable that some soil will escape but it will soon settle. I also added a stone to the pond. This serves 2 purposes. It provides something for birds and insects to land on but more importantly, should any small creatures find their way into the pond, they have something to climb out onto. This is more important with a pond that is sunk into the ground, but I like to be cautious – just in case there are any mountaineering mice or hedgehogs visiting the garden, or a squirrel topples in while raiding the bird feeder!

In the process of assembling the pond I found another job to do – you might be able to make out an object just behind the barrel – it’s Jeremy the frog – but he’s hardly recognisable in his thick green moss jumper! I gave him a scrub in a bubble bath so he looks a bit cleaner now.

I’m really pleased with my pond – I’m looking forward to seeing the flowers and bulrushes which all being well will appear between May and September. They should attract lots of insects – hopefully Jeremy won’t put them off – or worse still, eat them!

I expect the birds will like it too, although I hope it doesn’t attract anything too big! A duck collided with my friend’s car (that was her story anyway). She rescued the poor creature and gave him a home in her parents’ pond. They weren’t too enamoured with Marmaduke who left a terrible mess all over their lawn. In addition, their cat was very interested and so for obvious reasons it wasn’t long before Marmaduke needed to be rehomed – yes “he” was in fact a “she”. The day came when she was wrapped in a towel and driven to the home of a lady who owned a small lake on which she kept a number of ducks. With great sadness my friend released Marmaduke who was instantly ravished by a rampant resident drake – she (my friend) has never quite got over this even though she has been reassured that Marmaduke is very happy in her new home.

Surprise Duck Illustrations, Royalty-Free Vector Graphics & Clip Art -  iStock

Colour My World

This week as autumn gets into full swing, the range and vibrancy of leaf colours has been particularly stunning. My front garden is no exception and while admiring it a song came into my head – Colour My World by Petula Clark (1966).

In case you’re wondering she has held a fascination for me since my Dad told me when I was about 7 that she once lived just round the corner from him and he would walk to school with her – they were both born in the same year, a month apart. The word ‘happiness’ features regularly in the song along with references to a range of colours – including yellow and gold. The song led me to think about experiences I’ve had this week that have made me happy, causing me to laugh out loud – while alone!

Victoria and I indulged in a session of schoolgirl silliness via WhatsApp on Tuesday evening. We had both watched Monty Don on Gardeners World telling us how we could plant our sweet pea seeds now, in an unheated greenhouse, ready for spectacular displays next year. This led to us fantasise about opening our gardens to the public. We acknowledged that Coronavirus will be with us for some time and discussed all manner of technicalities that would be involved in such a venture. This included one way systems involving garages and side gates, ensuring the routes wouldn’t miss the humble beginnings of our sweet peas in our plastic greenhouses. We agreed we would need to invest in some hand rails on account of our sloping gardens and a designated viewing point on my terrace for anyone unable to do steps. The natterhatch would of course be a feature not to be missed by visitors – it would need it’s own socially distanced queues, perhaps even a separate booking system – this would provide excellent opportunities for selfies – in fact we would probably need to impose a time limit for each visitor. Then we got onto catering – I thought this might prove a good opportunity to use up the numerous sachets of tea, coffee and hot chocolate Grumbling Rose insists on saving from holiday welcome packs, although thinking about it they’re probably out of date – we have eaten all the biscuits but I do have a slab of parkin that needs eating up – oh, and we would need to put the milkman on notice for additional supplies. Things degenerated badly when we started to consider the need for portaloos and where they could be located. This led me to reminisce about a friend and I using the portaloos in Settle prior to embarking on a Jane Tomlinson walk we did for charity a few years ago. In turn we took care of each other’s possessions while we used the facilities. We both laughed uncontrollably as the Tardis rocked about precariously while we were inside – the thought of this happening on our drives had a similar effect on Victoria and me. By this stage the complexity of opening up our gardens to the outside world all seemed too overwhelming and we reluctantly accepted it was a fantasy too far, but it had been fun while it lasted.

Another experience this week that caused me to laugh hysterically was the story of “acclaimed artist Hercule Van Wolfwinkle” who doodled his pet dog while colouring with his son. He put it on Facebook for a joke and offered commissions. Requests came flooding in and he has raised a significant amount for charity. I’ll leave you with a selection – I hope they make you smile too …..

You can have your cake and eat it!

Victoria and I visited Markenfield Hall a few weeks ago to take a tour of the garden. It was one of the hottest, sunniest days of the summer. Giles the gardener met us at the gatehouse accompanied by his little terrier “Plum”. He explained he would be guiding us around the perimeter of the moat which encircles the Hall. The west side involved walking through a field of cows. I had my walking sandals on – not the greatest choice in view of the numerous cow pats and thistles, but at least I hadn’t worn heels, like one of our party …

The moat was still and we could hear the buzzing of bees entering the hives at the side of the house. We learned about honey fungus which had attacked many of the trees. It spreads underground, attacking and killing the roots of plants and trees and then decaying the dead wood. It is the most destructive fungal disease in UK gardens. There is no cure – affected plants need to be removed, destroyed and replaced.

We were then directed through a little gate onto the north side of the garden. The moat and Hall were to our right and to our left bulrushes, an orchard full of trees heavy with apples, pears and plums and swathes of meadow flowers which Plum weaved in and out of, disappearing momentarily in the tall growth. I was disappointed not to see the black swans I had seen on my previous visit. Giles explained that otters have been regular visitors to the moat and have killed two pairs of black swans. The decision has been taken to welcome the otters and that it is cruel to keep replacing the swans in view of their almost certain fate! We admired various roses on the north facing wall of the Hall including one called Malvern Hills. Giles reassured us that they no longer use pesticides at Markenfield, preferring to let nature find its own balance, which is good to hear.

Through another small gate we reached the east side of the Hall from where we could get a real feel for the size of the 600 acre estate, with views across open fields  as far as the eye could see. We then needed to negotiate a small stile to take us back round to the south side. This took a little time, what with the need to social distance, a couple of walking sticks, the heels and Plum trying to join in, but everyone eventually got over unscathed. The borders on the south side of the Hall are a delight – there are even apricots growing there. Plum was obviously too hot so she dunked herself in the moat before using the grass as a towel to dry her belly on.

Giles led us through the archway of the gatehouse and into the courtyard. There we admired a fig tree, an amazing purple and white hydrangea, a magnolia with the biggest flowers I have ever seen and a carpet of Erigeron karvinskianus – apparently better known as Mexican fleabane or by me as very pretty pink and white daisies. I was slightly distracted during this talk because Plum had met up with a sheepdog – they were indulging in rough play on the lawn – Plum sounded quite fierce at times, but then began humping the sheepdog – must have been the excitement!

By this stage my tummy was rumbling, not helped by the knowledge that we had added to our ticket price a slice of what was described as “Yorkshire cake”. So when Giles asked if there were any further questions, I enquired where we should go to pick up our cake – I don’t think that was quite what he had in mind, but he politely pointed to the doorway that led into the undercroft of the Hall. Others indicated that they too had ordered cake, so I decided to take the lead and be first to venture in. It was all very efficient with paper carrier bags laid out on a table – two with my name on. I whisked them away and Victoria and I sped to the car park where we set up our picnic chairs and unwrapped our cakes. They turned out to be wedges of gargantuan proportion – mine a chocolate orange cake, complete with a segment of the famous orange on top. Victoria’s was a lemon curd cake. We hadn’t come equipped for anything of this size, so I ended up sporting much of mine on my face and hands – the heat of the day didn’t help the situation. The sheepdog joined us but I reminded him dogs aren’t allowed chocolate. Victoria saved some of hers to share with Albert – I think hers might have been a bit bigger than mine.

Rest in Peace

22 August 2020

On 15 January my father died aged 87. His funeral was held on 30 January. The church was well attended by family, friends and colleagues. The service was conducted by our family friend, the vicar who was curate at the same church half a century ago. Our family home was just around the corner from the church. Our vicar friend married me and my sister and christened three of our children in that church. 

As we took our seats, my throat was so tight I could hardly breathe. I found the strength to climb the steps to the pulpit and read a poem with my daughter, before I allowed the tears to spill down my cheeks. At the end of the service she and I walked out of the church, hand in hand. We watched as his coffin, laden with white roses and orchids, was lifted into the hearse. We stood side by side, motionless, as the car seemed to glide away from us and we could see it no longer.

We knew everyone was waiting to come out of the church and in that split second we all agreed we couldn’t face doing a line up. We dived into the funeral cars and in minutes arrived at the hotel where the ‘bit of a do’ afterwards was to be held. I still feel guilty about that as we knew not everyone who had attended the church would be able to join us, but we hoped they would understand. We spent a few quiet moments together, sipping a glass of whatever we fancied before everyone arrived. The next few hours were full of stories, memories, laughter and tears. By the time the last person left we were exhausted but satisfied that the day had been a very fitting send off for an amazing man.

Glass of Red Wine in Vineyard Posters and Prints | Posterlounge.co.uk

Little did we know then how fortunate we had been. Within weeks Coronavirus was with us. Families were unable to be with their loved ones at end of life. Funerals were limited to no more than 10 close family members and social distancing applied – no comforting hugs allowed. Lockdown delayed our ability to arrange a resting place for my father. Today, over 7 months since he died, his daughters, sons in law, grandchildren and great grandchild were able to meet together and bury his ashes in the garden of the church where his funeral took place. Our vicar friend conducted the short service for us. We had a much smaller ‘bit of a do’ afterwards – just me, my 2 sisters and our vicar friend. We sat in my garden, socially distanced of course – our toasts were to my father and our vicar friend’s wife, who died during lockdown – he drank red wine and we ‘girls’ shared a bottle of pink champagne.

Elegant Rose Pink Champagne Glasses With Bubbles On White Background..  Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty Free Image. Image 95354472.

The Rave

On Monday WhatsApp pinged and there was a message from Victoria:

Hello, you are cordially invited to a huge garage rave tomorrow evening at the incredibly daring time of 1830. Do hope you don’t have another party to go to.

This was to celebrate Albert’s  87th birthday. Of course I accepted the invitation immediately, while at the same time commiserating with Victoria, who earlier that day had experienced a similar plastic greenhouse disaster to mine.

The time came for the rave – I climbed our steep drive clutching a glass of wine and a small gift and descended theirs. Their electronic garage door slowly raised and inside were 2 tables and chairs – socially distanced with birthday bunting strung across the garage. On my table were nibbles and crackers – just for me! We spent an hour slurping wine – more emerged from the garage fridge – and I ate all my nibbles as I was very hungry by this stage.

Albert was able to reminisce about his days working on the Forth Road Bridge, supervising the team using the paint produced by the company he worked for. I learned that the metal work had to be completely stripped of paint before being painted and each of the thousands of rivets had to be painted individually before being assembled. Victoria used to join him while he was working in Scotland – they would stay in a nearby B&B. I am looking forward to seeing their collection of photos from all those years ago. I hope Albert enjoyed his birthday party – I certainly did – we have a few photos to remember it by.

A hive of activity

Bees have made a home in my lawn!

I have done some research and apparently solitary bees in Britain are highly diverse, therefore so are their nesting habits. The majority of British species nest in the ground, excavating their own nest. The female builds the nest by herself. She chooses a suitable piece of ground in which to nest and uses her body to dig out a nesting chamber in the ground. She adds pollen to the chamber, which is often moistened with nectar, and lays an egg. She then seals off that section of the nest before moving onto the next chamber. Although most solitary bees nest solitarily, in suitable nest sites you often find aggregations of nests.

There are definitely multiple bees entering this nest – I have watched them at length – they are fascinating – they emerge from the hole individually and fly off in search of pollen. Then they zoom back in with great speed and accuracy. I want to know how they avoid emerging at the same time or arriving back as another emerges. I would love to be able to see under the ground – how big is this chamber and how complex?

I do have to be careful as the entrance is right beside our garden bench and the border at the bottom of the garden. I have had close calls while gardening in that area, sandals are not a good idea near to a bee landing pad! So as a reminder to myself I have made them a house name – they certainly don’t need it to find their way home though!

Highs and Lows

What I’ve always wanted – well probably not always – I don’t remember wanting one as a child or a teenager! But what I’ve wanted for a long time is a proper greenhouse. Not a full sized greenhouse but one that has a permanent structure and the ability to provide heat to plants in the colder months. I do have what I refer to as my plastic greenhouse – it’s actually made of numerous metal tubes that slot into a plastic framework – you build it  in layers – then slip a plastic cover over it, which has a zip up front to it. This is OK but there’s no heating and it starts to resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa once you have any weight of pots inside it.

A low, or high, depending how you look at it, occurred a couple of weeks ago when it took off in the wind scattering soil, pots and all my seedlings everywhere. Grumbling Rose and I spent 3 hours in the gale recovering the disaster. I was scrabbling around for seedlings and attempting to repot them while at the same time hanging on to the greenhouse, which was determined to take off again at any opportunity. He was balanced on a ladder attaching hooks to the outside wall of our house upon which to secure it. If this is not proof that I need a more sturdy alternative, what is? – it’s my birthday soon – I am hoping – but otherwise I think I will be treating myself!

But then I start to feel disloyal – my plastic greenhouse has served me pretty well. I have lovingly machined the zips and plastic together where they have parted company and patched small rips with duck tape. It has repaid me with small crops of courgettes, tomatoes and mangetout.

There are more lows I’m afraid – my sunflower growing has been unimpressive – you can see below the one lonely specimen which has so far reached the height of around 15cms. And my sweet peas are pretty pathetic so far.

Highs for me this week are seeing one of my hebes come into flower along with my beautiful rambling rose. A very elderly honeysuckle I was going to pull out last year because it seemed to be diseased, has flowered, as has a newer one for the first time. And look how the gravel pit has burst into life!

Sweet Peas

In my blog on 12 April – “Feeling Frugal” – I talked about my attempts to grow sweet peas, my neighbours’ new kitten “Sweet Pea” and my quest to revive some geraniums I had over-wintered in a high-end shopping bag. The geraniums have been one of my successes – look at them now – this clearly reflects the quality of their winter abode !

However the sweet peas have been a bit of a “disaster daahling”. Only a couple of the seeds I found in my Dad’s flat germinated and their growth was stunted, which is not surprising. The new seeds I planted grew a bit and then seemed to come to a grinding halt. Some have remained vertically challenged but one or two do seem to be taking off over the last week or so. I was crestfallen though, when I visited our local RHS gardens a fortnight ago and saw their impressive displays – not only have they grown to about 2 metres high, but are also bearing masses of blooms – where did I go wrong?

Talking of sweet peas, last week I was on yet another work related Zoom call when I saw a WhatsApp message pop up from my neighbour Victoria. “Cat awol”. There was nothing I could do at that moment but I could feel myself becoming agitated as I could hear her calling for Sweet Pea – her voice becoming more and more distressed. Just as my meeting ended Grumbling Rose burst into our home office wearing only the top half of his running gear – “you need to get Albert round to the park to help Elizabeth with the cat – I’ve got to go, I’m late”. I raced out, grabbed a cat crate from Albert and hot footed it to the park behind our houses. There I found Victoria – she’d only had the pot taken off her broken wrist 3 days ago, the other arm still badly sprained. She was clinging on to Sweet Pea who was curled into a rigid ball shape while managing to simultaneously hiss and scratch. I’m not sure how, but Victoria managed to ram Sweet Pea into the crate with brute force and slam the door shut – I tried to fasten it but in a nano second Sweet Pea ejected at the speed of light and ran towards their back fence – too high for her to climb and no way in underneath. Victoria by this stage was in a state of shock – probably not helped by my expletive explosions as Sweet Pea escaped. We stalked poor frightened Sweet Pea and saw her go under the fence of another neighbour. Then began the shouting to Albert “go round to Geoff’s garden and take some treats Albert” – no answer – we could no longer see Sweet Pea but she hadn’t come back our way. Relief eventually came when Albert shouted – “she’s here – in the house”! I was exhausted and retreated to my garden with a glass of prosecco.