Thursday, 30 April 2009

Disaster Zone (2)

The last cherry stump was a monster with horizontal roots as thick as my leg.

One of the smaller lateral roots

Which reached a frightening distance - still want to plant a cherry tree near your house?

The lateral root between the digger bucket and central trunk is thicker than my body . . .

And looked like something John Hurt battled with in Alien as it came out of the ground

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

No orchids were hurt in the making of this disaster zone (1)

01.00 - Ollie needs to go out. 20 minutes in wellies and dressing gown followed by cleaning him up.
03.50 - ditto
05.45 - ditto
06.10 - make the mistake of climbing back into bed
08.25 - wake up realising John and the crew would arrive sometime between 08.30 and 09.00.

Not a good start to the day (Tuesday 28th April), it could only get better. Instead it got worse - well, certainly in terms of mess, and mud, and more debris to be dealt with.

One of the Leylandii stumps in the area which has to be cleared for the shed & greenhouse. John was not impressed - it put up rather more of a fight than he expected.

The huge (4 foot diameter) stump of a eucalyptus tree which, thankfully, was felled before we came here. Fortunately partly rotted, it was removed by chopping it up in situ.

The middle-sized cherry stump which was in the way of the vegetable beds.

Never underestimate how far cherry roots will grow - some of these reached neaarly 40 foot away from trunk, well in excess of the crown of the tree which is normally considered the extent of root spread.

There are more pictures, will sort them out when my head is less fuggy.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Mum, there's a monster in the garden!

The Hairy One has had a very slow, quiet day, still suffering from a badly upset tummy probably as a result of all the shock he's been through.

He did rouse himself enough, however, to tell us that there was a monster in the garden!

I fear that by the end of tomorrow there will be even less grass

Although the crew know that if anyone damages either of the orchids they will be in seriously deep do-do's.

Change of plans (again!)

Mr Hairy had a very quiet Sunday, not surprising really - suspect it was delayed shock once the drugs had worn off.

After a long conversation this morning with Helen Gould we decided to postpone the acupuncture until Thursday. Ollie is obviously stressed, we did not want to add to his distress with a car journey and he cannot be relied upon to "enjoy" his complementary therapy and has had to be muzzled on a couple of previous occasions.

When he is stressed he always reacts in the same way, and despite being the cleanest, most house-trained lad you could wish for, accidents do happen - so a carpet cleaning company is visiting tomorrow to see if the hall rug can be rescued.

And as if that wasn't enough excitement - John Lowe is planning on bringing the digger round and removing tree stumps tomorrow. Never a dull moment at Bag End!

Sunday, 26 April 2009

NGS Garden Visit

Took myself off to Blitterlees this afternoon, about 20 miles up the coast near Silloth. I knew I was in trouble as soon as I walked in and was faced with a bowling green of a lawn - perfect stripes and not a single daisy to be seen.

Next to this wildlife wasteland was a large(20 foot across?) gravel area. Now if the gravel had been raked to represent water in Karesansui style I wouldn't have minded but this bit of garden was decorated with concrete "items", that were painted in bright colours, your mileage may vary but this was certainly not to my taste! I would rather they had been gnomes - after all, you can have a deep philosphical debate with a mature gnome but these were of the more "varied" and decorative kind.

Too many tulips, strictly controlled planting, way too much concrete & hard landscaping and not a weed to be seen, someone spends a great deal of time and effort on this garden. However I spent most of my visit peering over the fence to the plot next door, now THAT was a garden I would have loved to spend an hour wandering around in, a pond, small stream, loads of Honesty flowering its heart out! The NGS guidelines for gardens wishing to be considered for the scheme says there must be at least 45 minutes of interest for the visitor. Sadly I went round twice and left after 20.

The fact that I took no photos completes the picture, but in a way I'm glad I went. Both the garden I visited and the one I peeped into confirmed that a relaxed style where nature is very nearly in control, not the gardener, where wildlife are actively catered for and weeds are only weeds when they are really in the wrong place, is definitely the way we want Bag End to be.

Update on Mr Hairy

Friday afternoon was one of the, if not THE, most dreadful things I have ever witnessed; struggling for breath I think he actually was dieing in front of me and it was only sheer fool luck and probably Divine Intervention that meant he rolled into a position where his airway cleared.

He was much better yesterday - the only visible sign of the trauma is bruising to his front legs where the needles went in. He got up surprisingly early, about 10.30, and by the time we had finished in the garden he had fitted in TWO walks up the road and TWO bowls of food, both of which were consumed at a healthy and enthusiastic rate.

From what little I can find online about this soft palette collapse and thinking about exactly what happened, it was definitely not epilepsy (he did not lose consciousness), and might have been caused because it was very warm Friday afternoon. God forbid it happens again, I know to tip him upside down to make the palette drop back to the roof of his mouth, I'll also be giving him air by blowing into his nostrils (that First Responder training was always going to be useful).

Thanks to all his extended family for the support and messages - very much appreciated.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Dowsing, part three, or, didn't get much done today

8.30 on a Saturday morning after the yesterday's scare with Canine One isn't the best way to start a weekend but Brian was determined to find that damn water pipe and ready to get started with his pick and shovel.

I was so glad that Management was here today and took control of the situation. Frankly I was fed up with the digging which was no longer for our benefit but continuing because B. didn't want to be "beaten". The hole where our stop-tap should be was enlarged considerably during the morning but when it was over 3 foot deep Management called a halt, the hole was back-filled and marked, and the tools were cleaned.

In the near future we will have two diggers here - either when John is removing tree stumps or when Alan is here to do the groundwork for shed and greenhouse bases, and we will continue excavations but with mechanical assistance.

Although Canine One had a good night, Himself and I were exhausted from yesterday's shenanigans. It was a fresh, sunny morning so we just cleared away the last big pile of brush that was along the back fence and moved it to join the existing big pile of brush along the side boundary.

This enables me to get at all the fence for creosoting and opens up access for clearing and eventually digging over in preparation for hedging. That task completed, we decided we were both cream-crackered, didn't want to play any more, and went to MacDonald's for lunch!


I've been meaning to write an "Ollie update" for ages but there has not been much to report. He continues to be a very old dog, with severe arthritis, BUT, his quality of life is good, the acupuncture is making a huge difference to his mobility and (we hope) to his pain levels and generally - given he is the human equivalent of about 98 years old - he's not doing badly.

Yesterday afternoon however, he scared the wits out of me. He was having a "slow day" and refused to get off his bed. Despite regular visits and suggestions from me that we go for a WALK, go OUT, go into the GARDEN plus every other trigger word I could think of, he was very comfortable, thank you, and "more zzzzzz's would be quite acceptable, so please will you quit with the interruptions"? As he seems to have a mega-sized leak-proof bladder, we don't force the issue until it gets to silly o'clock.

So out we went, and he happily wandered about, pee'd a few times, sniffed at lots of things, said "hello" to his girlfriend, an elderly Retriever who lives a few doors away, and the walk was proceeding in a totally normal fashion. Until he "gagged" a couple of times as if he had a bit of stick caught between his teeth and then collapsed. He had a long and frightening seizure which seemed to last for at least 60 seconds. He was gagging for breath, bulging eyes, convulsing, couldn't stand. Eventually it ceased and he struggled to get up, but until then I honestly thought he was going to die in my arms whilst I tried, and failed, to do anything for him. I was able to call a neighbour whose husband came rushing over and carried all 30kg of limp dog back to our garden by which time I had phoned our vet.

Within 15 minutes a vet and nurse arrived from Millcroft. By now Ollie was trying to walk around, very unsteady, very anxious and wanting to be close, very stressed. Diazepam was administered to calm him down (which he objected strenuously to) and the initial diagnosis was epilepsy. My friend arrived to see if she could help and comforted Ollie in the back of my car whilst we followed the vet back to the surgery (in their haste they'd come in a car, not the ambulance, and it was easier to transport Ollie in our vehicle). He spent the afternoon in a quiet, cool room on a drip and did not fit again. With the benefit of hindsight I deeply regret this much intervention because he hated being at the vets but at the time, we did not know what the hell else to do.

Whilst this was going on Management was 100+ miles away on the M6. In hindsight I wish I had not phoned him because I now know how fast he completed the rest of the journey, but he's since said "what else could you do?" and we've agreed that it would have been worse, in a way, for him to find out when he got home.

We collected him at 7.00pm. Based on my description of the symptoms, the vet discharging him feels this was what is called a "soft palette seizure", usually only found in King Charles Spaniels. The soft palette collapses and blocks the airway. He has regular acupuncture scheduled for Monday which we will continue with, a check up with his usual vet on Wednesday, and if she feels he is up to it, we will proceed with an appointment that afternoon at the vets' grooming studio to have a summer hair cut.

He spent Friday evening comfortably on the sofa with me, eating ravenously (apparently that's the Diazepam), and generally behaving fairly normally. He's the only one who did have a normal evening. Max is obviously concerned but doing the man-thing and trying not to show it and I spent the evening with one of those horrible post-shock headaches that will not go away having had a very big, very frightening wake-up call. I might have talked to friends recently about Ollie's age and the fact that "he might not be with us for much longer" but I learnt in no uncertain terms that there is absolutely no way I am ready to say 'good bye' to a small Hairy Person who is such a huge part of our lives. Sorry this is so long and wordy, but I needed to write it all down and doing so has been very cathartic.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Dowsing, part two

What can you say about continuing to dig a deep hole in the ground? Brian kept having to extend the trench because it was getting too deep to be able to work in. We have been referring to it as "the Grave" (as his brother used to be a grave-digger and now runs Bereavement Services for the council we figured we could make a bad joke like that and get away with it).

I'd been frustrated that the rods would not respond when I tried them. Told this to neighbour during the Hairy One's lunchtime wander around the block. "You need my rods" she says immediately and disappears . . . returning five minutes later with a pair of dowsing rods, her boots and the exhortation "come on, let's get to your garden"!

Using N.'s rods both she and I could get very strong responses to the missing water pipes and the telephone cable. The rods reacted so positively that at times we were nearly smacked in the face as they crossed! Brian also tried them and reported "hmm, I need to make a set like this, they're better than mine". High praise indeed.

So the digging continued, when Brian got to 63" in the grave we were both thorough fed up. Given how the land slopes and soil may have been banked up after building, it is quite possible that the pipe is buried even deeper and we decided to turn our attention to the missing stop-tap. We had identified where it should be on the grassed area of public land the other side of the back fence. This was a patch of ground that has been used for many years as a dumping ground by one of the neighbours covered by years of prunings and a couple of self-seeded elder it was a horrible mess.

Once again I experienced the 'kindness of strangers'. The grass-cutting contractors arrived, chatted, thanked me for clearing away the over-hanging branches and then asked if I would like them to "clear up" the dumping ground. Five minutes with a powerful mower/shredder and the whole lot was reduced to small chippings that were easy to pull away with a rake!

That was where the magic ended. Brian and I had identified the water mains and the supplies not just to our house but to all adjacent properties. So we dug, and dug - and two foot down concluded that at some point in the past, a previous grass-cutting contractor had got fed up with his machine hitting a metal stop-tap cover and knocked it out of the way - but we haven't yet found the access pipe which should still be in the ground. This has stopped being funny. We have a shut-off valve under the sink but not being able to turn the water off at the mains is a worry. The plumbing on this estate is old enough that many neighbours have already had leaks. United Utilities were here months ago trying to find the stop-tap for us and failed, but because we have the kitchen valve they were not interested in helping further - so it's down to us.

I'm fed up with the whole performance. At 5.00pm Brian and I covered the new trench as safely as we could and left it. Rain forecast for Thursday. He is going to get his dowsing mentor to come and double-check our findings but I can't see that making a difference - both he, my friend N. and I have all "found" the pipes in the same place. Not sure what to do next, other than to keep bl**dy digging?

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Dowsing, intermission!

The missing water pipes might be frustrating, and the amount of soil that has come out of the hole is horrendous but one good thing has come of all this. I've got my "test pit" that Mrs Flummery (with her 'archaeologist hat' on) didn't come to dig!

The soil is very much better than I could ever have hoped for (well, certainly in this part of the garden - Bag End is large enough that it could be very different somewhere else). Nearly 12" of topsoil, sadly with very few earthworms and in much need of organic material. Then what must technically be subsoil but it is really very good, I've had gardens where the topsoil was worse than this!

In Hampshire, I hit solid, wet, sticky, blue clay if I dug more than one spit deep. By the time Brian had finished on Tuesday night we were at more than 48" deep and although the soil is definitely "clay" and will clump when squeezed hard, this had great potential and a few years (10, 20?) of adding as much organic material as possible and I could have something rather special here.

Dowsing, part one

The weather has changed and this morning brought a bitterly cold wind and low cloud. A great day for hunkering down inside, catching up on paperwork and maybe some sewing.

Plans + Bag End = failure.

8.00am: phone call from Brian, he's got his dowsing rods, alright if he comes round? Now? So much for my lie-in and lazy day.

Seeing him slowly quarter across the back of the garden near the log store was amazing. I was watching his hands like a hawk - no way was he faking where the rods crossed and soon we had identified the line of our main telephone cable (way too close to one of the cherry stumps . . .) and where our water mains appeared to be.

There followed a period of skilled and intense digging - this is a man who knows how to dig a hole efficiently and without waste of energy. If we were in Lancashire I'd think he was digging a witches pit near Pendle* - this hole got deeper, and deeper, and deeper. Brian refused to stop or be daunted, cheerfully telling me "the last one I found near Isel was 5 foot down".

Rain stopped play around 1.00 and he went off to work on something else for the afternoon.
There's not a lot you can do to make a hole in the ground look interesting!

Safely covered for the night, or so I thought.

After a trip into Cockermouth I decided to chill out for the afternoon, it's not often I sit and do nothing. Remember Plans + Bag End = failure? I had barely finished a mug of tea when a familiar white van reappeared on the drive. The weather had brightened and Brian refused to be beaten by a hole in the ground.

I eventually managed to "get rid" of him after 7.00 when the hole was more than 4 foot deep and I needed supper. He was not happy that the water pipe was still hiding.

* Great stories about witches in the "south of the county" in these Joseph Delaney books. Written for children, there are quite a few adults who have enjoyed them too.


Sometimes waking early is not so bad, it meant I was able to enjoy this wonderful sight, which was gone within half an hour.


Sun just breaking over Uldale

Rag covering the bottom of the valley and hiding the Derwent.

Rag? No, I've not lost the spellchecker. It is Cumbrian dialect for hoar-frost or frozen dew but also used in this village to describe mist hanging over the river in the early morning.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Who knew setting out could take this long?

This momentous event deserves a post all of its own!

Who knew that marking out an area could take so flippin' long? No wonder builders always seem to be standing around just "looking". I was having one of those spatially-challenged Sunday afternoons and managed to spend two hours pegging out perfect parallelograms until Management returned from a bike ride and pointed out in 5 minutes where I'd gone wrong . . . Actually, I had already worked out that the base line I was using (front hedge) wasn't right and if he'd ridden another 20 miles I might have managed to fix things on my own!
The cherry stump continues to be in the way
When John was assessing the nemesis that is the cherry stump he suggested if I mark out exactly where I want the raised beds before he arrives, then whilst the digger is here he'll scrape off the top few inches of lawn, that could save me hours of work with the Mantis.
The plot is on a slope . . . deal with it, all photos are going to look drunk! The large pegs in the ground are where cherry roots are so close to the surface that I have to be careful with the lawnmower.
It all looks rather splendid (although surprisingly small), and Management is very happy to find we still have 60 feet from the end of the timbers to the fence (that's across the width of the front). Plenty of room for a little bit of "proper" lawn and a big wildlife pond. I think he's temporarily forgotten the plan for compost bins which are also going against that fence . . .
The View From the front door - strewth, this looks so neat and tidy it must belong to someone else!

Whoo hoo - creating not destroying!!!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

First, clean your chainsaw

Doesn't everyone have a dismantled chainsaw in the utility sink on a Sunday morning?

Despite the mad dash to get both chains sharpened and all my cleaning, we didn't even try to start it all weekend. Who would have thought I'd be complaining before the end of April that it was too hot to garden, and certainly too hot to work in thick protective trousers. Another beautiful weekend with temperatures around 15 degrees and most neighbours enjoying their own gardens, we didn't really want to shatter the moment with 90 decibels of Husqvarna!
The sycamore had made a right mess of the saw and the air filter was full of muck

Doesn't mean we had a quiet weekend though:

Many logs moved, Management built a new pile next to the log store which swallowed up a huge amount of timber and provided a nicely sheltered sitting place.

Prunings and general rubbish chopped up and cleared away.

More leylandii rubbish and brush moved so that John will have sufficient access to the cherry stumps when he and his digger arrive.

All the vegetable bed timber moved for same reason.

Management had a "moment" with screws and fences and repaired all the wobbly staves in the back fence AND removed the nails from a section of driveway fence and replaced them with screws so that we can quickly remove them in order to get the digger in.

Plastic compost bin installed next to log store to be a 'kindling bin'. Much raking and removal of weeds in the area between the log store and fence with the happy discovery of a small pile of leaf mould, must have been a dumping ground in the past, and a small pile of very well rotted grass clippings. This area is now - TA DA, drum roll, ready to be dug over prior to planting new hedging. I'll move the leaf mould and composted grass, dig over as much as the roots of the Maple will allow, and then enrich with manure and leaf mould.

It's interesting (well to me at least, and this is my diary) to look back on this time last year and see how far we've come.

There is a distinct danger that very soon we might actually be gardening. That's gardening as in cultivate, grow, plant, nurture as opposed to whatever you call the activity of the last 12 months which feels like non-stop demolition and destruction.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Red Squirrel antics continue

We are now certain of four different individuals visiting the garden almost daily. Two are much larger, perhaps fully mature animals, and the other two are considerably smaller and very stupid - perhaps they are young from last year entering their first breeding season?

Helping to establish a hazel coppice, whether I want nuts planted in the lawn or not!

Eating buds/flowers on the Sugar Maple tree

Discovering conveniently placed sunflower seed hearts outside the Utility Room