Monday, 30 January 2012


I realise there is a general perception that I am slightly mad. Most of the time my friends are quite correct and I don't complain about their assessment. Occasionally, however, I would like to point out that It's Not Just Me!

The large muddy-hole-in-the-ground-which one-day-will-become-a-pond collects about six inches of water when it rains. Although we've not had much cold weather this winter, the edges have frozen on more than one occasion.

This has led Management* to have all sorts of ideas. He reckons if Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite can freeze up then our little pond could get pretty solid if we have a prolonged cold spell.

He and his sailing chum are planning a Skating Party ..... I have reminded them that when full, the pond will "only" be three foot deep, therefore when they fall through the ice I will not try to rescue either of them.

I'll be too busy holding the body underwater on the basis that anyone who falls through the ice whilst wearing real ice-skates (oh yes, sailing chum intends to go about this "Properly") is going to slice a hole in a very expensive pond liner. I've also pointed out that anyone who commited such a transgression would find drowning in freezing water preferable to what I'd do to them if they got out . . . . Honestly, they don't have these problems on Dancing On Ice.

* oh please, did you think he was the sensible one in this household?

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Top Pond

It's a constant niggle that, nearly four years after moving to Bag End, half the garden is still like a bombsite and it looks like we're not really trying. Geoff and LP excavated the ponds mid-September and nothing has been done to the area since. Holidays, accidents and lousy weather have all conspired against us and I've been telling people "we need to leave the ground to settle after all the disruption with the digger". Yeah, right . . . I don't believe me either.

Liz over at Nutty Gnome knows a thing or two about making ponds and last week very kindly said to me "Ponds are meant to spend time as muddy holes first, it's the law!" Bless her, but on occasions the law is an ass and our muddy holes are taking their duties far too seriously. Which is why I spent three hours on Sunday afternoon crawling around a hole outside the kitchen window removing large stones and protruding tree roots in preparation for lining and filling. Also made a start on the piles of soil which came from the path excavation and will be used for levelling off the grassy area between the house and shrubbery.

Before and after, the photos probably don't look like there is much change but I can see I made a difference and that's encouraging.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Winter Gardening

Conventional wisdom is not to plant when the ground is cold and wet. That's all well and good but the Met Office are now predicting we're in for a month of nasty weather (aka proper winter temperatures).

The lovelies I purchased recently have been sitting in the nursery area and needed to be in the ground properly or heeled in somewhere safe as with the hornbeam. Despite horrible weather all week, Friday afternoon was dry and bright and not too cold. Only took an hour or so to bury the roses, variegated holly and fruit bushes in one of the raised beds. Hope they will appreciate being tucked up until Spring.

Good job I did this, Saturday morning showed the harshest frost of the year and much beauty on the distant fells.

There had been a vague intention to go to a talk at the Lakeland Horticultural Society. Cancelled that plan on the basis that whilst the speaker might be a hugely experienced botanist and RHS judge, I'd visited his Lake District garden under the NGS scheme and thoroughly disliked it so driving to Windermere probably wasn't the best use of my time. Instead, I managed about four hours outside and had a marvellous day.

Eight hazel safely planted in the Coppice, and I found a space for the ninth in the big Cottage Garden bed. There is already a big self-sown hazel next to the fence so putting an extra one in will be good for pollination.

Mixed things up a bit at the Bag End buffet. Working on the basis that rats are extremely neophobic (hate anything new) I have moved a few things around. If I keep doing this then Mr Whiskers might not get into the habit of feeding here and better still, won't tell all his hundreds of relatives about the place.

Moved stuff around in the nursery. When the weather is nicer, LP and I have plans to completely re-arrange the staging in this area but it will save us time if I clear up in advance.

Ratty update

As suspected, and hoped for, it would appear that we don't have a "rat problem". Mr Whiskers has not been seen again and the bait bags haven't been touched (although they've only been down 10 days and it can take two weeks for them to be nibbled).

This morning a friend of a friend dropped by. As is so often the case in a small community, we already knew Tom but didn't know we knew him; he's a driver for one of the builders' merchants we use and has regularly offloaded supplies at Bag End. He has also been catching rats and other pests most of his life and knows what to look for. A thorough examination of the compost/log store area confirmed our suspicions - no runs, no trace of regular visitations, most likely that Mr Whiskers was just passing through.

Coupled with the fact that sometimes I put extra poultry corn down in the afternoons and if it's not all eaten before dark it is still there in the morning indicates that we don't have an infestation. Tom confirmed if we had rats under the shed or in the compost bins there's no way any corn on the ground would survive until morning.

So we'll wait and see. The bait bags are tucked out of the way where birds can't get to them and they can stay put. I've mentally squared the need to deal with rats with my dislike of poisonous chemicals in the garden. We live in the country, it is the way it is.

Edit: 11.30am.
You've got to laugh. A few minutes after posting this self-congratulatory twaddle Management calls me to the kitchen window.

"You might want to see this" he says .....

Friday, 27 January 2012

Staying indoors

Despite the foul weather outside it has been a rather good week inside. Definitely got the quilting "mojo" back and have been more than a little busy turning orphan blocks into table runners and thoroughly enjoying myself. So busy in fact, that I completely lost track of time and forgot a meeting in the Village Hall which I'd promised to attend, ooops. Have now bought a clock for the sewing room. At this rate, when Management goes away on Monday I might just dust off the longarm and do some quilting. Unless the weather co-operates and LP and I try to get on with work outside . . .

Added to the already embarrassingly large pile of quilts requiring quilting are these. There are a couple of other finishes, but I ran out of trouser hangers and couldn't be bothered to go and find more!

Nothing particularly noteworthy, one or two slightly questionable fabric choices but I was intent on getting things sewn nicely and finished, rather than perfect. It was very freeing not spending any time agonising on this fabric or that. The only disappointment is that I did not make progress with any of the green/floral HST's (the zigzag stuff on the left), never mind, its time will come.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Indoors weather

Ground absolutely saturated, not the weather for being in the garden.
Cloud base around 250 feet, not the weather for being on the fells.

Definitely the weather for messing around on the computer and being in the sewing room. It's taken time and could not be hurried, but my new room is finally up and running and I want to be in there. In the last 24 hours I've got the makings of 7 or 8 different projects on the design walls and taught a neighbour how to make a fabric basket!

Although these fabrics didn't come from the Scrap Basket Shelves, my collection of "food fabric" is now well and truly matured and needs to be used. I found 16 nine-patch blocks left over from a quilt made at least 7 years ago and it is time they found a purpose. Table runners seem to be in my brain at the moment. One will be offered to a friend who may, or may not, like it. If she does - great. If she doesn't no offence will be taken. The others will be sent to Mad Bat for finishing and then passed on to someone else who will sell them for charity. Everyone wins, and I get a little fabric used up!

The bright log cabin blocks were surplus to requirements when making quilts for James' boys last Christmas. After a good chat with Mad Bat this morning we have A Plan to make them into a playmat for a young mum she knows in Southampton.

The green/floral half-square triangles make an appearance every now and again. They were started nearly five years ago as the last project before I packed up the Hampshire sewing room. Since then I've changed my mind numerous times about what to do with them. Half have been turned into blocks for the Diamonds quilt from Sue's excellent Pick Four book, the remainder are currently heading for table runner status (with inspiration from Trudi) but as with all quilting plans, that might change . . .

At Christmas I promised to show my neighbour how to make fabric baskets and yesterday evening we settled down for an impromptu class. Ages since I've taught anything; I got everything prepared in the afternoon and she went home with a nearly completed basket and much enthusiasm for making more. I'd forgotten how much fun they are to make, and how simple. Note to self - must make more!

My finished basket. Love making them, forgotten what a pain in the **** they are to photograph well.

There are also four million, eight hundred and eleventy-seven 3½" squares of pale floral fabric, cut all those years ago in Hampshire. The piles to the left of the machine are barely a tenth of what is already cut and bagged. In between other distractions I am piecing them together; I have A Plan for some for some of them and as for the rest, who knows?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Your mission, should you choose to accept it

I have a very generous and healthy stash of quilting fabric and it's about time I started using it up.

This shelf unit contains the baskets of scraps, but not scraps as in rubbish & leftovers, but scraps as in "lovely fabric pieces which are too small to fold up and put in the cupboards with the main stash, and small projects which are half completed".

I've set myself the task of emptying these baskets by the end of the year, (and losing nearly a stone in weight, which is only a pound a month). Wish me luck ...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Glorious progress

Another day which the weather forecasters got completely wrong. We expected rain and got very high cloud, some blue sky, sunshine all morning and only a few showers to dodge in the afternoon. Neither too hot or too cold, so perfect weather for the hard work of moving the latest delivery of quarry waste.

I did my bit, which amounted to about a fifth of what LP can shift. Who knew quarry waste was such horrible stuff to move? Not just heavy, but unyielding and difficult to get onto a spade.

We're definitely on a roll this week, making up for all the lost time in the autumn. One hour later:

And a borrowed whacker plate (thank you, Walter)

Followed by many metres of black membrane and spiky pegs

Topped off with the nice bit, shredded bark from the bags in the Coppice.

Most folk will think we've created a path. The resident avians think we've created Blackbird Heaven and are already investigating this potential new source of lunch! Whilst moving the bark we found a large stash of buried hazelnuts (thank you, Mr Red Squirrel). At least if they bury them in the path in future and any germinate, they'll be easy to transplant.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

More construction

With a day to wait until more path supplies arrive, LP decided to continue with construction at the back of the shed which has been waiting patiently since October.

In best Rolf Harris style: can you tell what it is yet?

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Precision delivery and a path

We constantly are blessed with some of the most helpful delivery drivers in the country. On Saturday morning I asked the driver from Atkinsons if it was possible to put two huge (and heavy) bags of quarry waste onto the garden (behind the tarp-covered cow muck) as it would save a few yards of barrowing.

He excelled himself, backed the wagon as close to the house as he dared and seemed to view my request as a personal challenge. At Hogwarts this would have garnered an "E" for Exceeds Expectations and will save LP quite a bit of work.

When Geoff excavated the path last autumn we never intended for it to stay like this for so long. That, of course, is 'normal' because life, weather and goodness knows what else tend to interfere and we don't get tasks completed as quickly as we'd like. Even with paving slabs as stepping stones it's been muddy and horrible.

Monday afternoon LP was available for a couple of hours. Slabs were relocated, ground carefully evened off ready for the next step.

Tuesday afternoon - the next step - lay carpet:

There is manner is our madness. Instead of using black membrane to stop the quarry waste sinking into the soil we've laid LP's old sitting room carpet. Yes, it will rot in time but it saved him having to make a trip to the council waste site.

3" layer of quarry waste spread over half the path because we grossly under-estimated the amount needed!

More ordered and due for delivery on Thursday. It were ever thus at Bag End - the job which is started and finished with no delays has yet to be dreamt up!

With a very heavy heart

The trouble with creating a wildlife friendly garden is that you can't be picky about which wildlife moves in. After four years we have seen our first representative of Rattus Norvegicus, and whilst this one was small, sleek and fairly attractive*, if there is one there will be dozens nearby. Ignoring them is not an option. I can tolerate mice coming into the house occasionally but rats are another matter entirely, and once the birds start breeding the pheasant chicks won't stand a chance if we have a rat colony under the shed or log store.

One of our friends is a gamekeeper and spends much of his life raising pheasant. On his advice this particular chemical is said not to transfer if another predator eats the body.

There was a very good reason why I spent all yesterday afternoon working on the compost bins. I've covered all vegetable scraps with at least 6" of pony poo and for the time being will put kitchen stuff in the council bin, not where rats can find an easy midnight feast.

It is with a very heavy heart I have put packets of poison under the log store and shed, and around the compost area but it has to be done. The bags are tucked away where (hopefully) nothing other than rats will get to them and I'll check in a few days time to see if they've been disturbed. Rats are neophobic and highly intelligent, it may be a while before they touch the bait, if at all.

* OK, I know that's nuts but a friends daughter used to keep pet rats and they were not at all unpleasant.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Death and decay

Pleasantly warm in the sun and nice firm ground thanks to another hard frost. Time to move the latest couple of deliveries of pony poo, mix with some leaf mould and leave nature to do the rest. Even by being 'sensible' and not overfilling the barrow it was surprisingly hard work. A couple of years ago I'd have done this in an hour or so but today I kept stopping to stretch out muscles, have another cuppa, and it took all afternoon. Perhaps messing with all the bird feeders and chatting to Bert & LP might have had something to do with it as well . . .

An unexpected find this morning, and as there were no obvious signs of cause of death he went in the hedge rather than my fridge.

More birds

Flying lollipops - next to the red squirrel, possibly one of Bag End's cutest visitors.

Female Bullfinch - a bit early to be looking for nesting material?

Bag End Buffet update

With the ever-present threat of Trichomonosis I wash out the bird feeders on a regular basis. That's not a problem it itself, but what is difficult is that they're longer than the largest bottle brush I could find and therefore ruddy difficult to clean completely. I saw these small (and very cheap) feeders in Wilkinsons - three small ones instead of two medium?

Easier to keep clean, more food available (surprisingly three small holds more seed than two large), and hopefully, by spacing them out on the trees I make it less stressful for the birds who are competing to get on a perch?

Rubbish photo - feeders almost too small to see, window glare ....must sort out the windbreak net where the string has broken . . .

Let's try something ...

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Is winter here?

The winter aconites would probably be happier* if they were in the ground rather than still in pots in the nursery area but it isn't stopping them flowering. I am consoling myself with the thought that as the pots are on a bench I am more likely to get the benefit of their scent.

Lovely high pressure has given us a few crisp, dry days with cloudless skies so the night-time temperature has fallen sharply. Half an inch of ice on the small pond this morning. Although I haven't managed to photograph it yet, most days there are three or four blackbirds splashing around in the shallow water having a good bath.

Regular winter visitors are back. Sometimes we see as many as seven Yellowhammer, yesterday I saw the male Bullfinch for the first time, and today two female Bullfinch.

* actually, the plants probably don't care. I, however, would be MUCH happier if I'd managed to get the Coppice planted last autumn.