Sunday, 30 September 2012

Loving a bargain!

Management is a clever chap.  "Why don't you have a drive over to Lamberlea" he says "if Dobbies were selling off their pond plants last week, Lamberlea might being do the same".  The weather was absolutely foul and he wanted to watch bike racing so late morning I had a wet and windy drive down the coast.

The pond plants were looking robust and healthy, not like the pot-bound left-overs from Dobbies.  Over the last two years I've purchased a lot from this garden centre, they are the nearest pond specialist and certainly one of the best.  Feeling rather cheeky I went to the counter and asked if/when pond stock would be reduced in price.  "Right now, if you're interested" was the welcome answer and a short while later I couldn't squeeze another pot into the back of Hattie!   John and Margaret went to a lot of trouble to find waterproof fish boxes to put all the plants in and helped load the car despite the incessant rain. 

Management suggests I go back tomorrow for more, he might be right . . .  The Big Pond is very large and I want to make some planting changes to the Top Pond and the Little Pond in the Cottage Garden which has been somewhat abandoned this summer.

Spent pleasant hour spreading the new acquisitions around the pond, and found yet another use for the marvellous blue mushroom boxes :}

I know I'll lose the labels, so this list is for my benefit

Caltha 'Yellow Giant'
Caltha polypetala
Caltha palustris var. alba (Marsh marigold)
Orontium aquaticum(Golden Club)
Sisrinchium californicum (Yellow Eyed grass, although it's more like a miniature Iris)
Eriophorum (Cotton Grass)
Geum rivale
Carex panicea
Carex riparia variegata
Thalia dealbata (Powdery Alligator Flag)
Saururus cernuus (American Swamp Lily, or Lizard's Tail)

It's not a pond without water

When we created the Big Pond I was under no illusions as to how large it is but photos can only show part of the story.  If it looks big in these pictures you should try standing next to it!  

Given how ruddy huge the hole is we figured it would take quite some time for it to fill with water. Of course, we hadn't reckoned on a ludicrously wet September.  In the last three days I have added 45mm to the rainfall total for the month, and 28mm of that (nearly an inch in old money) just last night.  The greenhouse IBC tank was overflowing first thing, over 500 litres added since 6.00pm yesterday.  That's been drained into the pond and it is still raining.

Yesterday I moved far more stones than possibly I should but managed to clear the pile that remained up by the Top Pond and moved all of the pallets which were queued up by the hornbeam hedge.  Found a missing tape measure under one of the pallets but surprisingly, no mouse nests.  One of the pallets has a solid top . . .  it's a bit high but for the first time we can sit and look over the water, that was a lovely place to have a quiet beer before I came in last night (when the views were considerably better than they are now).

The waders came out to play again and now I've got over the strangeness of wearing them, they're rather good :}  So much so that plans for a coracle have been put on hold.  Thanks to the waders I've been able to position some very large stones on the bottom of the pond and balanced slate slabs on top.  I'll add more stones next time I feel like paddling - childishly (?) creating little underwater caves.  I tell myself that I'm creating another habitat option.

Have moved all the tubs of pond plants to what I hope will be roughly their final positions.  Tallest plants on the far side so as not to obstruct the view from the house. A couple of 'perching posts' complete the playing around.

Wish LP wasn't working away at present.  I need his help to fill 100 hessian sandbags with sieved topsoil so that the planting can begin.  I'd hoped we would be able to position the underwater growbags before the ledges were covered with water but it doesn't look like that is going to happen.

Last bit of good news but no pictures - have now seen a large dragonfly on three consecutive days!  It quarters back and forth over the water and has given some of the plants a fairly close look. 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Turned out nice again

When it's not raining constantly, weather at Bag End tends to take a turn for the better after lunch.  That has been the case the last two days so Tuesday afternoon I messed around with the pond for a couple of hours and laid spare liner over most of the ledges.  We will end up piling a considerable weight on these ledges in the form of stones, soil, plants and water so the more protection the liner has, the better.

On Wednesday I was able to finish the second layer of liner (the stones won't stay exactly where they are, just acting as paperweights for now) but there was a section which needed trimming.  Management was persuasive in his suggestion that it would be a lot easier to cut if I was IN the water rather than bending over it.  He may have been right although I suspect his motivation was the opportunity to take some silly pictures.

First outing in new waders; very strange feeling, never worn them before and even walking into two foot of water the pressure on my legs was surprising.  And it was cold, very cold.  But the job got done, I didn't get wet, so success all round.    Height of sartorial elegance they are and I won't hear a word against them {snigger}.

Have also moved all the waiting pond plants to one place where they can stay wet and (hopefully) safe until LP is available to assist filling loads more underwater growbags and I can get them planted. 

There was time at the end to test out the overhanging edge of the decking!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Nothing to do with gardening - a cautionary techie tale

Although I love my big desktop iMac I don't have a 'smart' phone (my phone doesn't need to be 'smart', it just needs to deal with calls and remind me it's time to stop for lunch).  Despite Management regularly offering to get me an iPad, I can't see the point of something that would probably only get used as a browser-cum-games console and has the irritating problem of refusing to accept any files or uploads that haven't come from the unwieldy and cumbersome iTunes.

I don't want a Kindle, can't understand Face-wotsit and I have never worked out what the point of Twitter is.

However, after having a spectacular hard-disk failure 25 years ago at work (which wasn't my fault!) I obsessively back up my data regularly and the chances of my storing irreplaceable photos of Ollie in (on?) a "Cloud" are less than slim to non-existent.

With occasional and self-confessed Luddite tendencies, I have never been keen on the idea of trusting several critical systems to one operator or organisation which is why our internet, phone and TV packages come from three different suppliers, even though I'm sure we could save money by combining them, and I feel the same about my online life.  I use different passwords for everything (that dreadful Type A obsessiveness has its uses) and I am uneasy about the ever-extending tentacles which Google are spreading around the web so have steadfastly ignored their suggestions to 'link my services' and share personal information with all and sundry.

So you might think that when I read Mat Honan's recent account of how his life was hacked I'd be feeling a little superior? 

Not a bit of it;  I've done another backup of all my photos, created another backup of the blog in a different format to the existing ones and and some other stuff too.

And, probably, so should you . . .

Sunday, 23 September 2012


A brief respite from constant rain and an opportunity to make good the path excavations which LP carried out for us.

By Hobbit standards, a fairly easy task to remove a little more soil, cover the whole area with black membrane, and then use Miss Daisy to shift numerous buckets of bark chips/shreddings.  These will definitely need topping up before long, there's a lot of leaf in this load and it will break down and compact fairly quickly.

Does look nice though :}

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Hobbit Hills: Dodd

We are blessed with the most amazing view from the house, it's one of the main reasons we bought Bag End.  As the TV programme says:  Location, Location, Location.  In an elevated position west of Cockermouth and above the River Derwent, on a clear day we see for miles and much of that view is fells.

Hobbit Hills are those we can see without leaving the garden, although weather, time of day and time of year affects visibility significantly. When we moved to Cumbria in 2007 I thought I'd be doing a lot of fell-walking.  Life in the form of house & garden renovations and the injuries incurred therein means that four years on I have made very little progress in doing the obvious thing: walking to the summit of every fell we can see from the house. It's about time that changed.  Ignoring all previous ascents the counter has been reset to zero.

Dodd is a moderate lump of rock nestling under Ullock Pike and Skiddaw.  Famous for being the site of nesting Osprey, the lower slopes are still wooded although the top has been cleared in the past few years.  It's also Forestry Commission land and as such has manufactured paths all the way to the summit.  Trees and man-made paths: two things I dislike intensely when out walking (the third is people, and Dodd is busy because it's small and easily accessible).  So really, Dodd has little to commend it to me (apart from an outstanding view from the summit) and that's why I decided to do it first, get it out of the way and then I don't have to go there again.

So, to the views which are lovely for a little fell that only reaches 502m.  To the north is the Solway Plain and Scotland, and looking south many of the Lake District's most gorgeous summits are clearly visible.   Not quite so clear for compact camera, however, because looking directly towards the light source might be something the human eye can compensate for but the photos are a bit hazy. 

Oh yes, and the reason for the walk?  Here's the obligatory "I can see my house from here" photo!

My journal therefore I can have a little rant if I want to.  Shortly after I set out I was overtaken by a young man walking at breakneck speed.  Usual cursory nod, "morning", thought no more of it.  Until half a mile further on where I find him crashed out at the side of the path, obviously deeply puffed out, and having a restorative cigarette.  This was the pattern for the next half hour.  He shot on ahead like a rat up a drainpipe only to be found having another fag a bit further on. Later I saw him heading strongly up the fellside, maybe to Skiddaw.  Who knows, he was well kitted out and despite the numerous cigarettes, looked like it wasn't his first ever fell-walk.

Behind me a group of three people, a 30ish couple and maybe a Mum.  They were obviously on holiday and enjoying themselves but they looked rather like it was their first ever fell-walk.

Now, seeing as I am currently over-50, over-weight and completely unfit (but at least I can improve the latter two conditions!) I wasn't exactly walking briskly or without perspiration (it was surprisingly warm and sunny).  Every now and again I'd stop, lean on my walking poles and have a sip from the Camelbak.  Whilst I was having a breather I could often see the group of three stopping too, and admiring the views.  What they weren't doing was drinking because there did not appear to be a water bottle between them.  There wasn't anything else in the way of walking gear to be seen either.

Half way up the path forks and is clearly signposted "Dodd summit".  Going straight on takes you back down to the car park and bearing left over a stile takes you to White Stones and up to Carl Side, Ullock Pike or Skiddaw.  A few yards up the summit path I heard one of the group of three say "shall we follow him, he looks like he knows where he is going" and I didn't see them again.  Thankfully, Keswick Mountain Rescue Team website reports no call-outs for Saturday afternoon.

whoever you are, I'm sorry. They're lovely boots, just not walking boots.

Changing seasons

Autumn Equinox and far too soon the clocks will go forward.  A wall of cloud at the bottom of the drive this morning and if I'd got dressed and rushed off in a hurry there was probably a good cloud inversion to be seen.  Instead, a shivery trip to the greenhouse to find the lowest temperature of the year overnight.

Also to pick the first tomato of the year - first tomato at the end of September?  Riddikulus.  Actually it was three tomatoes which went in a box of salad that made up my lunch at 500m, but more of that later.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Pretty things

It's not all endless slog at Bag End, sometimes there are pretty things too:

The ever beautiful Gertrude Jekyll

Unfashionable and utterly gorgeous!  Hope these gladioli bulbs make it through the winter.

Verbena bonariensis, competing with the crab apple for Plant of the Month and very popular with butterflies and bees.

A perennial problem

Back in the Spring, such as it was, I embarked on the usual frenzied round of sowing seeds.  A selection from the RHS, a few from the box which has lived in the fridge for far too long, but all perennials, an investment in the future of mixed borders at Bag End.

As always there was varied success (and failure - Tagetes minuta being a case in point) but generally the Hobbit's fingers remain fairly green and plants germinate, to be pricked out, to grow on and . . .   What should happen next is 'be planted out' but that hasn't happened.  Most of the plants I've grown were intended for the long side border that's about 25 metres long. That would be the side border which hasn't seen a single spade so far thanks to the wettest and coldest summer I can remember.  Once again I have a nursery full of plants and nowhere to put them.  Sigh.

The mushroom boxes are proving to be invaluable though!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Being in the right place at the right time

Sunday afternoon;  damp and drizzly, definitely a day for messing around indoors doing nothing much in particular.  LP phoned unexpectedly:   "W. just rang, he's at Dobbies in Carlisle and they've just reduced ALL the pond plants to 50p, everything, including the big pots that are usually £12 or £13."  Karma?  Synchronicity?  Ten minutes later I was in the car and shortly afterwards was pushing a big trolley into Dobbies Garden Centre!

An hour later I had a very full car and there were very few plants left in the pond section.  Yes, everything really was 50p, but with a Garden Club discount of 10% I ended up paying £18 for 40 plants which would have normally felt very wrong but this is part of the Tesco Group - their profit margins can take it.

Most of the plants are a bit tatty; some dieing back because it's getting colder, some are grossly overcrowded and needing out of their pots.  Either way, even if only half survive they're the bargain of the year.  A 'temporary' pond will keep the roots damp until I'm ready to plant them properly.

They will go very nicely with a generous collection recently received from a friend up the village whose own pond needed an autumn clear-out.

Together with the remainder of the Flag Iris I received from Jackie's pond earlier in the year I now have a great start on the plants needed for our Big Pond.  Trouble is, it's not nearly enough!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Be careful what you wish for?

Saturday morning:  an awful lot of spare pond liner!

Be careful what you wish for - I wanted rain and we certainly got it, this is after a deluge plus two 1,000 litre IBC tanks and the 500 or so litres which came off the shed/log store roof on Friday night.  We seem to have got a fold with some air in it along the bottom but that doesn't matter, over time sediment will build up around the surplus and create all sorts of hidey-holes for tiny pond life, and once I've plonked a couple of baskets of oxygenator on top of it the fold won't matter.

Management gave vital and practical assistance and we cut away most of the surplus liner, at least things don't look quite so black and out of control now.  During the excavation we had LP create a small ledge underneath the bit of deck which overhangs the water and the liner has been cut back along this section and held in place by a row of stones.  As always, securing the remainder of the edge will be a little trickier and take much longer.

The 'hedgehog escape ramp' is back in place and I made a start on building small 'rock walls' to hold piles of soil on the bottom ledge but it started raining hard before I could finish.  I'd also concluded by this point that the water in the main section was quite deep enough, thank you, and I didn't fancy getting wet wellies!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Big Pond: We did it!

What a day, a few paragraphs and handful of pictures just don't do it justice.  Just to recap, this is how we left things last night:

  I don't normally feed the troops before starting work but I was expecting rather a lot from them today :}


    Bert was showing off his new trailer and had a free hour to help move bark chippings.

Management resumed welding duties and LP continued the mammoth task of cutting turf from the path-to-be in order to build up the ledges and everything went very well until late morning when the weather decided to be unhelpful.

LP took the opportunity to go to Workington, bless him, and collect some steel so that Management could continue working on the decking frame and I shot off to Cockermouth to try and find more black pegs to hold the under-path membrane down.  Didn't find the pegs I wanted but did find this, which did not improve my mood at the time:

Thankfully, after lunch things settled down.  For anyone who thinks we live in palatial splendour, this is the state of the utility room now I've taken the carpet tiles up.  Like many people in the country we never use what urban folk would consider to be the 'front door'.  This is the main entry into the house so I guess it's a good thing we don't feel the need to impress anyone!

I'd spent the morning moving stones and assorted debris off the ledges and LP kept raking over the soil for me until we were confident we'd got rid of as much potential 'liner puncturing material' as possible.  Over the last few weeks we have collected an assortment of non-organic carpet, underlay and other fabrics to go directly onto the soil.  Hence the idea to re-use the carpet tiles.

I laid out all the material, covering the soil as best we could.  Finally found a use for all those left-over builders' bags once Management had cut them open enough to be laid flat.  The idea was to put down a layer to prevent the sand from, over time, dissipating down into the soil.

There followed the absolute slog of moving five tons of sand.  It quickly became apparent that LP was the most skilled when it came to spreading it out so Management and I took turns at filling or moving the wheelbarrows.

The conversation at this point was probably along the lines of "that's a bloody big hole".  To get a sense of scale, both LP and M. are 6' tall . . .

A friend came round to help with the 'proper' underlay and actual liner.  We bought all the pond supplies from Bradshaws who always seem to send far more than actually ordered.  Using underlay left-over from the Top Pond plus this delivery we were able to cover the entire hole twice. It looks relatively simple in these pictures - of course, this was the point when the wind came along for a laugh, hence all the bits of wood to anchor things down (and yes, we had to crawl around UNDER the liner to ensure all of them were removed!)

Sadly, not recorded for posterity was the 'experience' of unfolding the entire liner on the grass in order to re-fold it to make fitting it into the pond a slightly simpler task.  That was when we realised that, once again, Bradshaws hadn't sent us what we ordered.  I'd bought a 12m x 15m liner to give us plenty of 'wiggle room' and offcuts to lay on the ledges.  Bradshaws sent us 12m x 18m.  Bless them.  Try unfolding that and refolding it in a windy West Cumbrian garden!

TA DA.  Hosepipe hooked up the big IBC tank next to the greenhouse and collected rainwater starts to trickle through.