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 |

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.

Pitting Our Wits

This Covid situation we find ourselves in can be unpleasant, scary and inconvenient – but I always try to think positive. We have been pretty much confined to our own homes but the weather has been good, so that extends to the garden if you are lucky enough to have one. My job is busier than ever at the moment but during my time off I feel I have achieved great things. It has been useful to have a resident Odd Job Man (alias Grumbling Rose), who is unable to carry out his regular work at the moment and has so far not been selected for any volunteer work. There is an area of our garden known to us as “the gravel pit”. It’s at the bottom of the garden and is a real suntrap but it has fallen into a sorry state of repair over the last few years. Finally there has been time to tackle it, so after several long days we are pleased with the results.


The one thing spoiling it was our old barbecue – it was in a shameful state – rusty and worse still hadn’t been cleaned out since the last barbecue of 2019 – grim. Odd Job Man announced he had ordered a new one – he reported that the web site feedback was generally excellent but there were one or two comments about it being a little challenging to assemble – they were probably from people not used to self-assembly he said. The box arrived in record time and after 3 days sitting in the garage while any viruses clinging to it had time to expire, he ripped it open. I was cleaning the bathroom – I could hear a lot of clanging and grunting going on outside. I imagined I would look out of the window and see a fully assembled barbecue but no – what I saw was an array of parts laid out like an operating theatre. I ventured out and asked what the problem was. 26 pages of instructions for a start. Close up I could also see numerous small storage pots from the kitchen cupboard, each containing different numbers and sizes of screws, nuts, bolts and washers. He looked completely exasperated and befuddled. I started to look at the instructions – it was a mistake – before I knew it I had been lured into the construction process. 4 hours later our new barbecue was born!


The story doesn’t end there. He decided to put the old barbecue out on the pavement in case the scrap metal man came by. I said I didn’t think he would in the current situation. It sat there for days. I felt embarrassed – what would the neighbours think? Then on day 5 a young man called out to Odd Job Man who was in the garage and asked whether he could have it, saying in broken English he could make it work and only lives around the corner. It was filthy – I’m so ashamed. I envisage him getting it home and being ordered to put it straight out on the kerb again!

Feeling Frugal

Towards the end of February I wrote about the Sweet Pea seeds I found when clearing out my Dad’s flat. The packet had been opened, was displaying signs of water damage and the expiry date was 2016. I optimistically planted the seeds but nothing happened. Monty Don says they should germinate within a week! A fortnight ago I very nearly turned the seed tray over to something else, but a little voice said “just give them a bit longer“. I was so excited last weekend when I found a lone seedling had appeared! Since then another has started to emerge. The challenge now will be to stop any beasties eating my precious crop!

Talking of Sweet Peas, Victoria and Albert have a new addition to the family – a young rescue cat – she is called Sweet Pea. The other day Victoria and I were conversing through the natter-hatch – what a blessing it has been since lock-down! She was telling me about Sweet Pea’s less favourable habits such as shredding the lounge carpet and running about on their bed all night. I was a little disconcerted when later in the day I received a WhatsApp from her “I am just in garden stringing up sweet pea S 🙀”. I have seen Sweet Pea sitting in the window since then and she does move, so I think we can rest easy.

Some weeks ago Victoria told me that she grows carnations by taking cuttings from the cut flowers Albert buys her from the supermarket. Next thing I knew she presented me with a handful and told me to pop them in a glass of water. Within days I could see roots appearing and I now have a number of plants growing in my conservatory – I’m not supposed to use it as a greenhouse but I haven’t got one so hey ho!

At the end of last summer I was feeling particularly Scrooge-like and decided to carry out an experiment. I begrudge spending money on geraniums every year only to see them killed off by the frost. Did I mention I don’t have a heated greenhouse? Anyway I Googled and found a method of overwintering geraniums by hanging them upside down in a paper bag. I carefully prepared the 5 plants which had flowered gloriously in my outdoor pots over the summer. I made sure they had a quality home to hang out in and left them to it.

Last week I brought them out of the darkness, gave them a spruce up and potted all but one that hadn’t taken well to the experience.

Look at this only a week later!

And finally, my Mum and Dad’s Christmas trees are now side by side in smart matching pots – they look very happy together.

A week of irritation, idiocy and invaders

This week seems like it has been a catalogue of disasters. It started on Sunday with a much awaited outing to see an interview with Helen Fielding in Leeds. I did some pruning in the morning and checked the weather for Harrogate and Leeds – less than 5% chance of rain it said. Great – can take lighter jacket without hood – less bulk on bus and theatre.

I walked the short distance from home to the bus stop, far too early but I was happy to sit on the bench next to the stop and enjoy the sunshine. I fished my phone out of my pocket. To my horror as I looked down I realised my right foot was sitting in a pool of vomit. There followed lots of Effing and Jeffing as I tried to scrape it off on the grass verge. Not happy with the result I spied a puddle and proceeded to paddle and scrape. Just then there was a red flash as the 36 bus sped past – it must not have been clear I was waiting for it. At the same time the heavens opened and I hurried towards home resembling a member of the royal family as I tried to cover my newly straightened hair with my scarf. Luckily Victoria was able to come to the rescue and drive me to the bus station in time to catch the bus. However this didn’t help the no hood, no brollie situation as it rained heavily all afternoon, so the scarf was well and truly soaked by the end of the day.

Yesterday I tried to pay in my local Coop by presenting a £5 note to the card machine. By the smirk on his face it was clearly going to be a good story for the young man behind the till to tell about a batty old woman.

Today I arrived for my Personal Training session 2 hours early – I was a week ahead of myself. I spent 5 minutes insisting I was right only to have to eat humble pie when I got back to my car and checked our text exchanges. The error meant I had to reschedule a meet up with a friend. I texted her to say I would be with her at 1230 only to find, having hit send that I had sent the message to my PT, which of course caused even more confusion! Worse still I then received a message from Victoria to ask whether I knew badgers had dug up my lawn. I sent the following message to my husband but again inadvertently sent it to my PT:

“Got this from Victoria – she says it looks like they have dug up our lawn – I didn’t notice when I looked out this morning:

“Oh dear you look as if the badgers have been in your garden ☹️ Tony had 2 and also Trevor, 



I replied to Victoria “Ooh what have they done?”

Victoria – “Oh from upstairs it looks as if they have dug your lawn, maybe, hopefully it’s an illusion “


I googled and spent the next half hour worrying about photos I found on the Saga web site:

A hole in the lawn dug by a badger

Victoria then texted me to say:

“Had a look through natter hatch I may be mistaken can’t tell!! Sorry for the worry I ‘m good like that!!xx”

It turned out the badgers had not dug up our lawn – it was disgracefully long and tufty though and hence the illusion. However Tony and Trevor have been treated to the above in multiple areas of their lawns. I have to say I am quite pleased there are badgers in the vicinity of my garden, but they can stay off my lawn please!

PS the Saga article is worth a read – it contains a few laughs!

Keep it Clean

This week I have finally cleaned out my bird feeders. I know this should really be done regularly to minimise the spread of finch trichomonosis and Paridae pox. However the thought of the task and the time it takes has meant I have left it far too long between cleans. Most of my bird feeders are the squirrel proof variety and do come apart, but I am always worried about getting all the bits back together and in the right order. Because I had left it so long it made the cleaning process all the more difficult. Green algae needed removing from corners and crevices and some of the seeds were sprouting! To my shame, I am sure the last layer of peanuts in one of the feeders was starting to ferment and my fat tray was a disgrace – a layer of black mouldy seed husks, stuck fast to the bottom of the container. The cleaning process involved scraping and probing with a variety of instruments, lots of changes of hot soapy water and a pan scourer, now designated for the purpose. I felt very virtuous as I refilled the feeders and hung them out for my birds – I hope they appreciate my hard work!

Next I turned to my bird baths – I have a couple of smaller ones on spikes and one that hangs from a fence bracket. They all needed a good scrub but it soon became clear that my larger bird bath has seen better days. As I took hold of it, bits of concrete started to come away in my hand until it resembled a part eaten pie. I’ve cleaned what remains but I feel my birds deserve a new one!

It brought to mind the bathroom I had put up with for over 16 years. I could bear it no more and embarked on a refit last year. I am now at the bird bathroom design stage – what do I replace it with? The outgoing free standing one is made of concrete – clearly water has seeped into cracks and expanding ice has caused it to break. An online search reveals a variety of alternative materials to choose from, but they all have their own disadvantages. Plastic/resin is not very heavy so these may blow over unless pinned down with stakes – and to be honest some of them look really naff. There is an array of metal ones available – some are really cheap, so likely to be flimsy and have similar issues to plastic. Others are more robust, so you would think heavier, but they’re also expensive. Then there are the coloured glass ones on metal stands – I feel sure it wouldn’t be long before a careless swing of a spade or fork caused a breakage. The stone ones are pricey and I would need help with lifting. I can see this going the same way as my bathroom – weeks of indecision, starting off with a price in mind which had at least doubled by the time I’d finished!