Monday, 29 April 2013


I went to a funeral today, a lovely old chap, one of our neighbours.  The nearest crematorium is about a mile from my favourite nursery in Distington, well, it would have been rude not too ....  I don't know the family that well and wasn't expected to go to the hotel afterwards for tea and cake so I went plant hunting instead.

There's definitely a Euphorbia theme this week, more E. autropurpurea , and E. amygdaloides robbiae which I have been looking for for a while.  My attempts at growing Euphorbia from seed last year didn't go well.  Perhaps it was me, but a lot of the RHS seed I was so excited about didn't germinate very well.

Yesterday I saw Brunnera Macrophylla 'Betty Bowring' but they weren't very good plants, today I struggled to choose just three pots from a lovely healthy selection, plus two different Dicentra* - one the regular spectabilis which I expect will have pink & white blooms and another with deep red flowers called 'Valentine'. Some Centaurea Montana (Mountain Knapweed) which has spread like crazy in a nearby garden so hopefully it will do the same here, and a couple of Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve' which hopefully will survive a few years before it succumbs to mildew.  Will I remember to propagate from cuttings to keep the plant going?

A very pleasant couple of hours in the afternoon placing the pots where I think the plants will grow best and throwing Daisy's ball endlessly :}

* Dicentra no more, they're now called Lamprocapnos spectabilis. Bla bla bla bla ...

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Daisy time

She's been with us five months and has her paws very firmly under the table and across my heart.  Daisy has settled down into such a lovely girl and slowly we're overcoming her dreadful fear of water.  I realised last week that I can now pick up her water bowl and walk towards the sink without her cowering, fearful that she's going to get wet.  Although it's still not possible to give her a proper bath she is getting much better at allowing me to go over her with a wet flannel.

It's probably a good thing that I will never know what happened to her in the past and an excellent thing that I will never meet the person who must (we assume) have either thrown buckets of water at her or maybe even dumped her in water when she was abandoned.  The USA got into terrible trouble for alleged water-boarding and I suspect the authorities here would take a dim view of my trying the same thing out on whoever harmed Daisy.

   rolling on her back on the grass is this week's favourite activity

She's a very good natured and happy little soul.  When she wants to play she will go and fetch a toy and start throwing it up in the air - hard to resist being asked so nicely :}  Some days I am busy and she just gets a couple of walks around the block together with garden time, and other days she eagerly leaps into the car and we drive somewhere for a longer outing.  Whilst she obviously likes the big trips she seems equally contended with days spent closer to home so long as she can spend the evening on her memory foam bed in front of the woodburner.

Daisy has definitely found her "voice".  She has different barks and whines for different occasions.  When Management comes home there is delighted whining and squeaking, a mouth full of whatever 'gift' she is bringing him, lots of wiggling and a madly wagging tail.

When I come home the whining becomes a wailing crescendo and the delighted tail hurts like hell when she whacks you at knee level.

I won't take risks near lambs but on Saturday afternoon she was very good off the lead around sheep on Sale Fell.

   I was throwing biscuits to try and get a decent photo of her coming back towards me.  I failed :}

On Sunday morning we had a blustery walk in the dunes at Mawbray where she played with a few nice dogs we met including the two young Irish Wolfhounds.  After our walk I drove a short way up the coast to Bank Mill Nursery.  To be honest I'd forgotten it was so close and haven't been in there for months.

Serendipity - all the plants I have been thinking about in the last couple of weeks were available and leapt into a trolley: euphorbia, aubretia, an unnamed pulsatilla and a lovely pink hellebore that has finished flowering and set loads of seeds.

Daisy waited patiently in the car whilst I shopped; I could see her from inside the nursery and she was keeping a very close eye on the door for my return :}

Saturday, 27 April 2013

NGS Garden Visit: The Bishop's House, Keswick

This garden has opened just three years after work started on a major overhaul of a site in the middle of town squashed between the church, the Vicarage, Castlehead medical centre and some houses. There's an article about it here.  Setting aside the usual difficulties of on-street parking in Keswick the weather was extraordinarily kind and I had an interesting hour nosing around someone else's garden which is always a good way of spending some time!

The garden is in two very distinct and different halves.  The formal part is next to a classic slate-faced Lake District house.  The elevated building is imposing and dominates the plot.

Around the boundary are informal areas in a woodland style mainly comprising beds surrounding mature trees (beech?) which are edged by lumps of wood and larch slab - very "Bag End".  Bark paths connect the beds which are mainly planted with spring flowers and bulbs.  Add a pond, magnificent compost bins (all of which appeared to be full of leaf mould, yum yum) and a greenhouse/vegetable area and on paper this should have been a garden that I took root in, only to be dug up and thrown out when it got dark.


Trouble is, I didn't like it;  at the time I did not know why only that I had a distinct feeling of unease.  Even though there are benches dotted around the garden the last thing I wanted to do was sit in it.  It took a lot of cogitating back at home and a long chat with Management to try and work out why the garden had provoked such a strange reaction.

Eventually I came to the conclusion that much of my problem is that the garden felt disjointed and contrived.  There are two very different styles going on and they didn't sit well together in this plot.  The contrivance is that the woodland areas were lovely, but just too lovely - too perfect.  Not a leaf out of place nor a weed in sight, it was all just so neat and tidy.  Heaven help an unruly ground-cover plant or a sprawling shrub! Perhaps it is a garden which needs to grow up a bit and relax? 

It was interesting, although sad, to hear a chap mutter very grumpily to his wife "if we had an open chequebook and an army of helpers we'd have a garden like this too".  So I wasn't the only one to leave with a sense of disappointment.

Friday, 26 April 2013

The day dawned bright and clear

What a change to the previous couple of days.  LP arrived at 8.00am bright-eyed and keen to work; he spent Wednesday & Thursday at his 'other job' which has involved much sitting around waiting for nothing to happen.  He announced first thing that he wanted to do a 'proper' day's work - no complaints here.

Whilst he stripped off the rest of the old bark chips, I walked Daisy.  Madam and I returned to the very welcome sight of nearly all the old stuff moved to the big curved bed at the front.

Despite being driven inside a couple of times by showers we succeeded in moving what is essentially a thick layer of mulch across the entire bed and then planted the four yews along with a self-seeded copper beech. This must be a seedling from the huge trees in the nearby churchyard and although there is no chance of me living long enough to see the plant get to the size of its parent I am going to enjoy watching it try:}

Every garden (supposedly) has a problem corner and this is mine.  Since we took the leylandii out and let the light in it has been weed paradise and even with windbreak netting the plants get thrashed and nothing seems to be growing well.  Once established it will be our main shelter belt but in a chicken-and-egg situation, we're having trouble establishing the shelter belt because of the weather we need it to shelter us from. Just got to keep at it, surely eventually all the rotted pony poo, mulch and TLC will have an effect?   However, adding the yew has already made a huge difference visually (although it's not apparent in this picture) and a thick mulch of chippings might help me keep on top of the weeds. 

I think the other problem in this area is that right now everywhere is so brown, most plants are a month or so late coming into leaf.  What will help improve the look immensely is getting turf on the soil between the Big Pond and this bed but until the ground dries out a bit so we can finish the soil preparation that is going to have to wait.

More progress after lunch as the second row of larch slab was fixed into place in the vegetable patch without me having to work by moonlight :}

Finally, the piles which have been on the Cottage Garden lawn for far, far too long were distributed over one side of the new front bed.  The grass is trashed, once again, but it's recovered from far worse in the past and will probably do so again.

I bailed out to do the weekly shop but before he left LP moved loads more chippings, not much more to do before all the paths are relaid and refreshed.

You get three of this picture because Daisy was busy killing the rugby ball (again)and looking very cute whilst doing so.

Happy day, it feels like we have really turned a corner.  After the coldest March on record Spring is finally here, plants are just starting to grow (note to self, take some photos of newly emerged plants and do a post to serve as a record), and after months/years of preparation in most of the garden the end is in sight and I can see a time when the heavy work and construction is completed and "all" I have to do is play with plants.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Snow days?

Thankfully, not really snowed-in, but a couple of days when the weather decided to change and therefore my plans had to be completely amended too.  On the agenda had been to finish planting the free bulbs I scored last week, plus the yew which LP dug up on Tuesday, together with some of the far too many plants in the nursery. The wind and rain had other ideas.

No bad thing really, I was badly overdue some house-based time where I can catch up with domestic stuff and just chill out.  Management was in London and the friend most likely to drop in knew that I was having a couple of "AWOL days" when I didn't want to be disturbed.

Lots of help from Management at the weekend moving furniture back to where it belongs means we've nearly got the house straight after decorating - only took five months from starting the kitchen and boot room to getting finished, which is way too long, but that's how things seem to go round here.  I flatly refuse to have any more major work done until next year at the earliest; we spent twice as much as I hoped we would on the last refit and I am sick to death of the disorganisation, mess and having tradesmen in and out of the house.  Is it wrong to want to spend time being "me" and bimbling around in the garden, walking Daisy and (ssshhhhhh, say it quietly) maybe even doing some sewing?

I had a couple of sessions in the greenhouse and have potted up the remaining bulbs from last week's "free haul".  Also planted this year's tomato seed.

Am extremely pleased with how my first sowings are doing - this is "Fiesta Popcorn" from Suttons, part of the James Wong Homegrown Revolution collection, 100% germination!

I also discovered a carrier bag of forgotten 'February Gold' narcissus bulbs in the shed.  If there was a RSPCP* inspector in the neighbourhood then I'm sure I would be guilty-as-charged.  It is amazing to look at these little bulbs and see how desperately they have tried to grow despite no soil, no water and no light.  Yes, I am ashamed of myself :{

They look pretty knackered at present but a few weeks of TLC should see an improvement and I'll put them in the ground later in the year.

Close to home, Mr Clutter has paid the village handyman to cut down a load of overgrown hawthorn and elder on the open ground behind our house.  It's a no-mans-land of uncertain ownership but I'm not going to get involved in whether he should have or not (a neighbour tells me this isn't the first time he's done this).  We're shaking our heads and wondering why because it won't improve his view of the fells or the river but will give him a much better view of the back of our log store and the compost bins. It also lets far more light into that corner of the garden which our vegetable patch will benefit from.

I'm obviously still not on his Christmas Card list - the handyman stopped working to talk to me when Daisy and I went past and Mr Clutter stormed out of his house and shouted at me to "stop talking to him because I'm paying for this".

(I know I said it was raining - cleared up at the end of the day!)

I can't shake the nagging feeling that he's going to turn his attention to our gorgeous purple leaved Acer next.

* Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants?


Wednesday, 24 April 2013


Worth every penny of our not insignificant monthly bill from Birds' Bistro.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Slightly less insane

LP was available for an afternoon today but there was no way I was doing any more to the bark paths after yesterday.  Strangely, although he refused to admit it, moving more chippings wasn't high on his list of things to do either.  Fighting down the frustration of a task remaining half done I told myself just to be damn grateful I had any assistance at all and come up with an alternative plan.

We decided to work on the vegetable patch so he fixed up the two remaining 4" posts for me.  In theory I can make trellis on my own although I'm not quite sure when I am going to find the time to do so.

The four self-seeded yew were dug up with such huge rootballs of soil that we could barely lift each plant.

Finally, larch slab was fixed to define the edge of the back path and further boards laid out for the edge which will mark the front of our next hedge.  Another job supposedly for me - perhaps I'll be doing that by moonlight?

Monday, 22 April 2013


LP was only available for half a day today.  We made an early start and decided to try and sort out the bark paths. This involves shovelling off all the old, half-rotted chippings and replacing them with new stuff from the huge pile on the drive.

For four hours (until rain stopped play) I filled barrow after barrow and LP either trundled old stuff downhill to the big curved bed or pushed new stuff uphill.  It goes without saying that I did too much.  Collapsing into a bath after lunch didn't help and I spent the rest of the day in front of the TV watching Snooker and complaining that the paracetamol hadn't kicked in yet ...

What we did get done looks really good although once again I have the immense frustration of a job started and left unfinished ...

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Progress with a Capital 'P', and mild hypothermia

Friday lunchtime; not quite sure what came over me.  Could have been euphoria brought on by the decorator leaving half a day earlier than expected and taking the infernal radio with her?  Anyway, whatever the cause, the effect was to get outside absolutely determined to finally sort out the unsightly pond liner edge of the Big Pond.

When Management came out at teatime to see what was going on he found two-thirds of the edge covered and a fairly knackered Hobbit determined to keep going!  Needless to say I didn't get it finished that night but Management succeeded in touching up the paint on nearly all of the steel decking frame in readiness for the boards to be laid as soon as the carpenter is free.

Daisy hung around in a supervisory capacity, it was so warm that for once Her Ladyship didn't have a coat on.

Good reason to leave the blanketweed where it is - tadpoles are eating it!

Thankfully Saturday was dry and bright and we were able to get an early start.  Management asked if I'd mind putting waders on to paint the furthest edge of the frame which hangs over the water.  Not a problem and task completed quickly without incident.  As I was in the water it seemed like a good idea to stay there and plant out some of the Marsh Marigolds grown from saved seed last summer.  What was probably about half an hour later I realised I was feeling really weird*, couldn't concentrate, fumbling with simple tools, felt absolutely exhausted and was hating what I was doing even though everything was going really well.  Management had disappeared out of ear-shot but fortunately I had the sense to crawl out of the pond before I got any worse; I've never suffered from any degree of hypothermia whilst fell-walking but I know the symptoms of its onset.

Once I'd thawed out, stop shivering and recovered from the deep unpleasantness of core body temperature falling below normal I finished laying the hanging basket liner around the pond edge.  It's going to need a lot of blending in and I had to raid the huge log pile to find the right wood but it's progress and one more difficult job that I hope never to have to do again.

It also meant I no longer needed piles of stones and timber next to the pond so all the stone has been dumped under the decking (frog habitat?) and all the spare timber was moved up to the log store, cut to length and stacked ready for next winter.  I cleared all the rubbish wood that was laying around the vegetable patch as well which makes things look much, much tidier.  I realise that to some folk this pile is nothing like tidy but it's an order of magnitude neater than anything which has gone before.

It is also 'des. res.' to a blackbird who has ignored the purpose- built box 12" away and set up home under canvas.

That was quite enough garden work for one Saturday so Daisy and I rounded off the afternoon with a breezy stroll up Ling Fell before supper.

* OK, more weird than usual!