Growing Through Grief

I have written previously about how gardening helped me work through the grief I experienced when I lost my beloved dog Pebbles 6 years ago. Now I need its help again following the death of my Dad. Even in these dark, cold and wet February days, the garden provides distraction and hope.

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Victoria has been making regular deliveries of snowdrops from her garden in a tiny vase which sets them off perfectly. What is it about looking at these flowers that makes me feel so uplifted? The freshness of the bright green stems against the dainty white flowers makes me think that Spring isn’t far around the corner. I have so enjoyed having them in my home that I have resolved to plant more in my garden. I haven’t had much success in the past – I spent hours on my knees planting hundreds of the tiny bulbs some years ago – none of them came up. They may have provided a feast for the squirrels, but I have since read that planting the dried bulbs is often met with disappointment and that planting “in the green” is generally more successful. This has been my experience, having planted a couple of pots two years ago. The problem is if I used them for cut flowers there would be none left to look at in the garden! So yesterday I bought four more pots and as soon as it stops raining and blowing a gale, they will be joining the others.

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Last summer Victoria also provided me with regular bunches of sweet peas. They too are a delight to have in the house – their fragrance is delicious and the pastel coloured petals so soft and calming. When Victoria was away I was able to prolong flowering by helping myself to any blooms appearing in her absence. This led to another gardening resolution – grow some sweet peas of my own. I found a packet of seeds in my Dad’s flat – use by 2016 …..

… but I’ve read of seeds found in ancient shipwrecks being grown successfully, and I don’t subscribe too seriously to use by dates of any description, so I’ve given it a go. I hope they grow and provide me with a happy reminder of my Dad later in the year. Before planting, I watched a Monty Don video on how to grow sweet peas, so I reckon I’m in with as good a chance as any! He says they should germinate within a week. Think I might buy some new seeds as well though, just in case.

Another project is to re pot and keep alive these mini Christmas Trees. Following two stays in hospital in December, my Dad returned home to his flat where he wanted to end his days. His bedroom was cleared to make room for a hospital bed. I put the smaller of these trees on the table that went over his bed and decorated it with little star lights and tiny baubles. His Christmas cards were on strings on the wall opposite the end of his bed, joined by birthday cards on 30 December – 87 years. The bigger tree was from my Mum’s nursing home room – all the residents were given one and rather than see it go out with the rubbish after Christmas, I brought it home. The idea is that next Christmas she will be able to have both in her room, but if not they will take pride of place on my front door step, complete with fairy lights.

Feeling Waspish

angry wasp

Wasps have generally been a nuisance this week haven’t they? It’s that time of year when their thoughts seem to turn to annoying as many people as they can by persistently dive bombing, buzzing around faces and hair and trying to participate in any al fresco meal you may attempt to enjoy.

A few weeks ago the man fitting some replacement windows for us alerted us to a wasps nest at the front of our house. The wasps were entering just under the guttering through a crack in the fascia boarding. Things worked well on that occasion – we contacted our insurance company and they organised a wasp exterminator who appeared the following morning, climbed his ladder and quickly dealt with the pests.

I’ll just go back a step at this point. When my husband (better known as Grumbling Rose) had told me about the problem, I said to him that I thought there could be another nest on the other side of the house. He dismissed my concern outright – “they’ll be making their way to the existing nest” – “anyway I’m surprised you can see them at all with your eye sight” he scoffed. I wasn’t convinced but had more immediate issues to worry about and so left it at that.

At the weekend I was tidying up a honeysuckle at the side of the house when I caught sight of hundreds of tiny beasties buzzing about just above the eaves. I went round to the front of the house – our drive slopes steeply upwards to the pavement and from there I could see, with the aid of my 10 year old  varifocal gardening sunglasses, that the wasps were entering via the gaps between the roof tiles. So once again I phoned our trusty insurance company. Once we had navigated data protection and GDPR, they asked the usual string of questions – is the house detached, semi-detached, bungalow, how many storeys and where are the wasps. I supplied the required information – it’s a detached 3 storey house – ground floor, first floor and loft room. The wasps are entering via gaps in the roof tiles. A young man from WaspCo appeared on Monday afternoon with a set of 6 ft ladders. He claimed I had advised that the wasps were under the gutter. It took me all the tact and diplomacy I could muster to correct this misinformation and to query whether it made any difference, as the ladders would not have reached the gutter either! I offered a loan of our bathroom fitters’ ladders but of course this was swiftly rejected for health and safety reasons. He said he would have to take a photo of where the wasps were going in so he could prove to WaspCo that he wasn’t shirking and to secure some longer ladders or scaffolding. I felt scaffolding was a little dramatic as the wasps were only about a foot further up than the previous lot. One man and a ladder had been all that was necessary on that occasion. He said someone would phone me the following day but of course they didn’t.

After phoning the insurance company on 3 consecutive days WaspCo finally phoned me to arrange a further visit. Things seemed to have escalated out of all proportion. I was advised that the ladders are to be delivered next Monday afternoon – they need to be stored in a safe place and must be signed for. Then on Tuesday 2 men will come – one to climb the ladder to kill the wasps and the other to hold it. The ladders must then be stored in a safe place again until someone else comes to collect them on Tuesday evening . Today I received a call from my insurance company advising that they could not cover the cost of the work because the wasp nest is on the roof and therefore outside the property. I spent an excruciating 5 minutes trying to get across that it is not on the roof, it is in the roof. I was almost reduced to tears it was so frustrating. The insurance man insisted this was what WaspCo had told them and didn’t seem to be able to comprehend that this may simply be a use of language issue. He said he would check with his supervisor and call back. I was hot on the phone to WaspCo – the lady got my point immediately and within a short time the same insurance man phoned to say panic over and they would pay for the work. I asked for an email to confirm – surprise, surprise, it still hasn’t arrived …

Grow Your Own

Last year I grew baby courgettes, cherry tomatoes, alpine strawberries and baby carrots from seed and transplanted them into containers. Victoria kindly babysat the seedlings while I was on holiday. The carrots turned out well but a lot of effort for only one meals worth!

The tomatoes were prolific and while delicious all came at once – I gave a lot away and ended up making soup to use them up. The baby courgettes were a great success and provided us with veg several times a week throughout the summer. The alpine strawberries looked beautiful and tasted great but being  so small and only a few at a time being ripe meant they were only good for decoration. Some have survived over the winter in one of my pots – or have they reseeded – I’m not sure?

This year I’ve grown the same variety of mini courgette but decided to try growing some flowers from seed as space fillers for the bed at the bottom of the garden, which I started to plant up last year. I ended up with a lot of cosmos, candytuft and cornflower seedlings. I grew them in my plastic greenhouse which took on the appearance of the Leaning Tower of Pisa but seemed to do the job. The process was not without disappointment. One morning I found a lone snail had made its way up to the 3rd floor of the greenhouse and munched its way through two of my cosmos seedlings overnight. He was duly dispatched over the fence.

Where seeds are big enough I give them their own little pot to avoid the painful task of thinning out. I had to do the deed on the candytuft seedlings though. I don’t like doing it  – with some of the seedlings it’s obvious they’re not very robust  but with many it feels like performing a death sentence on a healthy little being.

I dithered for weeks about whether my seedlings were substantial enough to plant in the garden but took the plunge in May. The cornflowers have not been a great success. They are very lanky and several were trampled to death by fat pigeons or eaten by snails. The candytuft have flowered well but I think I should have repeated the thinning out process before planting them out because the end result has been rather gangly plants. I think they were all fighting for light and space. I’ve written previously about my Cosmos traumas Sadly it didn’t get much better – the survivors are all a disappointment.

My only real success is the courgettes. They are proof that you don’t need much space to grow veg. They’re already providing us with enough veg to go with a meal once a week and are delicious. Who cares if they’re not perfectly shaped ?!

Elusive Butterflies

The UK public has been asked to take part in the world’s largest butterfly count, to see if the nation is experiencing a once-in-a-decade phenomenon

The charity “Butterfly Conservation” has said that unusually high numbers of the painted lady butterfly had been spotted flying from Europe to the UK. They usually fly to Britain in the summer, but every 10 years millions arrive in a mass migration.

The charity’s Big Butterfly Count begins today and runs until 11 August.

To take part, you are supposed to spend 15 minutes in a sunny spot anywhere in the UK, counting the butterflies before submitting sightings online or via the app.

I couldn’t be doing with sitting for 15 minutes in a sunny spot – that would be a waste of gardening time in this wonderful weather. I decided I would just keep my eyes peeled for butterflies as I worked and take photos of those I spotted. This wasn’t entirely successful. I saw a “Painted Lady” but had left my phone on the window ledge at the top of the garden, to keep it out of the sun. By the time I ran across the lawn, up the steps and back again, she’d gone.

Then I spotted a “Large White”. She flitted about for ages without landing on anything. Having Googled, I am sure she was a “she” as she had two dots on her wings. I think she may have been looking for somewhere private to lay her eggs, which was difficult when I was looming over her space with a camera! Eventually she must have been exhausted and landed on a nasturtium leaf – so here she is.

I also spotted a “Peacock” and a “Red Admiral” but I couldn’t get a decent photo of them – they just would not keep still! This could have had something to do with Lily snapping at their tails every time they came near us. I did capture (not literally) a “Comma” though. It looks a bit like Lily might have taken a few chunks out of it’s wings but it was well away from her, sunbathing peacefully on our fence.

I have to say my Buddleia, commonly known as the butterfly bush was not doing a good job today. I didn’t spot one butterfly on it. In my opinion it couldn’t look more irresistible to a butterfly if it tried. I’d love to hear whether you’ve had more success with the Big Butterfly Count than I have?

More raisins to shop at Morrisons

Victoria invited me over on Sunday afternoon for Pimms in the garden and to identify a plant. After attempts with two different Apps which came up with some ridiculous suggestions, we identified it as Campanula. Even with my limited knowledge of gardening, I realised this is a very common plant and a name we should probably have been able to come up with ourselves. I think you’ll agree, it is very beautiful.

While guzzling our Pimms, surveying the garden, Albert joined us. This unfortunately meant the Pimms had to go round further. However, he told me about their blackbird visitors with a taste for raisins! Several of them, male and female, come to their back door every day to wait for these treats. Victoria and Albert have discovered that only Morrisons raisins will do – for whatever reason, the Asda equivalent have been rejected by the blackbirds!

I asked for a demo and it didn’t take long for a female and 2 males to make an entrance. Here is one of them enjoying a feast of the favoured variety.

All quiet in the garden?

Garden sounds are often a pleasure – small birds twittering, pigeons cooing, bees buzzing, the rustle of leaves and perhaps a radio playing in the distance.  Behind my garden there are trees,  a park and a playground, so I hear children chattering as they play and dogs yapping happily, other than the occasional fall out when they growl fiercely at one another while owners shout at them and sometimes at each other. Noise generated by humans does tend to be annoying though – lawn mowers and hedge trimmers for example, but I can’t complain because I need to use them too. Children often take a tumble in the park and after a deep intake of breath, cry out in pain for a few seconds, while they are dusted down and kissed better. A more prolonged annoyance is “the child” – I’m sure it’s the same one every time – she seems unable to play without emitting a high pitched scream every few seconds for hours on end. I am rarely conscious of traffic noise when I’m in my garden, other than the sirens of emergency vehicles or the air ambulance overhead, which nobody minds.

A couple of years ago we started to hear gunshots coming from the park. Initially this alarmed me and my neighbours, but after it happened several times over the course of a few weeks, we were pretty confident no one had been harmed. We  can’t see into the park when there are leaves on the trees, so when it happened again, it was discussed through the natterhatch and Victoria dispatched Albert to investigate! He discovered a man who explained he was firing blanks, with the aim of training his gun dog. He didn’t take kindly to Albert’s suggestion that there must be a more appropriate location for this activity. However the talk did the trick as he never returned and Albert survived to tell the tale.

A footpath running through the park is used by revellers returning home in the early hours – this brings a variety of noises – singing, fighting, crying and sometimes sounds of a sexual nature. The path also attracts skateboarders – what a racket they make – I breathe a sigh of relief when it stops and no-one has been mowed down. We always know when GCSEs have finished because teenagers start to congregate in the kids’ playground, their voices competing with their music long into the evening.

My latest bugbear is a drone! The first time I heard it I thought a swarm of wasps was on its way to attack me. It certainly lives up to its name, droning on for what seems like an eternity. What really brings out the Mrs Meldrew in me is that the controller of this contraption is not a child – it’s a grown man – grrr … I hope the drone doesn’t have a camera – I might be captured on film wearing my “never to be seen beyond the back garden” shorts!

The Drone

Birds and Roses

This is a video of my woodpecker eating me out of peanuts at a rate of knots. Clearly it’s not “my” woodpecker – I’m sure it will visit other gardens and  there must be more than one of them – otherwise based on the fact that I am filling up my squirrel proof peanut feeder daily rather than weekly, it wouldn’t be able to get airborne!  The RSPB site leads me to believe it is the greater spotted variety of woodpecker as the lesser spotted woodpeckers are smaller than this one. I know they are very shy birds (although not put off by the squirrel) – this is one reason the video isn’t very good. I was trying to maintain a steady hand while moving  across my terrace like a sumo wrestler crouched behind the mahonia. Mind you a sumo wrestler wouldn’t want to be anywhere near mahonia – too prickly!

Another bird siting this week you might like to see – not in my garden but in the grounds of a nearby country house hotel. A duck has been nesting in one of the flower beds for the last month. She was only spotted once early on when she hissed at a passer by. That is until Last Thursday, when she set off with her little brood to find the nearest water – it would have been quite a journey!
Am I living up to my name and rambling too much? Talking of which, how are your roses doing this year? On Friday night Monty Don said it has been a difficult year for roses. Some of mine are looking the best they ever have.

However one is not fairing so well. It started life as a cutting from one that climbed all over my my parents’ front porch. The buds are being attacked by something – I think greenfly or whitefly – I squashed a few I found crawling on them. The buds go a bit hard and misshapen …
and open out a grubby colour.
I have another cutting in a different part of the garden – this is how the flowers are supposed to look. The bee is a bonus!

Help – I think I’ve got thrips!

I decided to try to be thrifty earlier this year and grow some cosmos from seed instead of buying from the nursery. At first they looked to be doing quite well, if a bit stunted. Then I checked them one morning to find one was just a cut off stalk – I blamed snails and sprayed with my eco friendly snail deterrent.

Then as the flower buds started to open I noticed the petals were either missing or very ragged round the edges. There was no sign of snails. Having donned my specs I caught sight of minute flying insects scurrying about on the soil. This meant war! I Googled and decided these were thrips. I rarely use insecticide but having read about these beasties I decided there was no alternative if I wanted to save my plants.

Insecticide instructions are very suspect –  “spray between 7-9 am and 6-8pm when bees are less active”. Bees do not conform to these time-frames. I took my seedlings into the garage to spray them and left them there for 24 hours before allowing them anywhere near the bees. They look a bit better and some almost complete flowers are in evidence. The still don’t look anywhere near as robust as the ones I bought from the nursery last year though …

Gardening and me

For me my garden isn’t just about having something beautiful to look at – it’s a friend. When I need to, it helps me switch off from life’s trials and tribulations.

When I lost my beloved dog Pebbles in March 2014 I spent hours out there finding jobs that needed doing and some that really didn’t. Although it hurt to be in the garden without her and I wept so many tears that I didn’t need a watering can, it seemed somehow better than being inside the house without her. 

In 2016 my sister and I had to take matters into our own hands and find a nursing home for our much loved mum. Her Parkinson’s and associated dementia had reached the stage that made it impossible for my 83 year old dad to cope with the demands of caring for her. The first home she went into was the only one we could find with an immediate vacancy. It soon became clear that the staff were not geared up to caring for her needs and we found her in some distressingly undignified situations on a number of occasions. When I returned home from visiting her I would go straight out into my garden and work on it. It helped me take my mind of my grief because it did feel to me as though we were letting her down. After 3 months we got her into a nursing home dedicated to the care of patients with severe dementia. The staff are wonderful carers but it doesn’t take away the feeling that I have already lost my mum. She loved gardening. When I sold my parents house I transplanted some of her plants into my own garden, including some forget-me-nots. They reliably reseed each year and remind me of the warm, capable mum and granny she once was – never to be forgotten.

In May 2015 we took ownership of our new puppy Lily. I spent a lot of time in the garden with her but not much gardening got done that first summer! Close supervision was required. She thought it great sport to chase fledglings who hadn’t quite mastered the art of getting airborne on the first attempt – thankfully she never caught one. She tried to eat every plant and I spent hours scouring the internet to identify whether what she had munched was poisonous to dogs – most seemed to be. Miraculously she didn’t come to any harm. She also found wasps and bees fascinating, despite my attempts to teach her to leave them alone. How she has never been stung remains a mystery – she would pounce on them and bat them with her front feet until the tiny body no longer moved. Fortunately she has grown out of eating my garden, other than the odd blade of grass when she wants to make herself sick. I have not been so successful in deterring her from chasing insects but I do my very best to protect the bees and butterflies. Other than the risk of a sting, I don’t feel so inclined where the wasps are concerned, even though I know they are good for the garden too!

My next door neighbour Victoria also likes gardening. We chat endlessly about our plants and how they’re doing. We share cuttings and seedlings but frequently can’t remember their names and text each other later after a Google. A couple of years ago Victoria and her husband Albert (affectionately known as the Royal family) replaced the rickety old fence between our gardens. The new version ended up being so high that we could no longer see each other over the top. We still spoke to each other through it but it wasn’t the same, not being able to see a face. Last summer  Victoria’s  son made us a fence hatch with a little hinged door. It makes us howl with laughter every time we use it. It’s known as the natter-hatch.

I don’t profess to be an expert gardener – far from it. I have made many mistakes over the years but I just try things and often they do work, to my great surprise. Mine is not a manicured well planned garden, it’s simply a mishmash of the plants I love. When I am indoors I like nothing better than to settle down in front of the TV with a glass of wine and Monty or Alan.